Sunday, 21 June 2009

Links Updates 22/6/2009

Richard Millman of Carlton Melton, whose instrumental album was recently reviewed here has let me know that the band now have a new website, which can be found here.

Secret Saucer have just released their new album, Tri-Angle Waves. There'll be a review on this blog in due course, but the CD can be ordered here.

Eclectic Devils, the new studio CD from Alan Davey, featuring guest violin from Simon House, can be acquired via paypal direct from Alan by following this link.

Finally, Omenopus is a new project from Bridget Wishart, Louise Bialik and friends that has a myspace page here. "Omenopus is a collection of artists collaborating and coagulating digital noise across the planet, streaming analogue audio symbiosis over the great wide web of cyber space."

Hawklords - Live '78

There’s something of a cliché around live Hawkwind albums that a lot of people, myself included, have been in danger of slipping into when discussing them, and that’s the notion that Hawkwind as a live band is a greater concept than Hawkwind in the studio. So you have the argument, and it’s not one that I’d subscribe to, that Live Chronicles is a superior release over Chronicles of the Black Sword, to use an example where there is a direct comparison. I think this concept of Hawkwind live albums being something special really stems from Space Ritual, which is a great delineation of why some Hawkwind material worked so much better live than it got laid down in the studio, and it has gone on to apply to some other tour captures. The Love in Space representation of the Alien 4 concept is vastly superior to a studio album which at the time suggested it might be elevated to ‘classic’ status in due course but which has actually become rather overlooked in the passage of time and not without some justice. And, though I’ve never heard it, there’s a common belief that the ‘Passport Holders’ Live 97 compilation rocks the socks off Distant Horizons.

But I think it is a simplistic cliché to suggest that Hawkwind per se are better assessed as a live act than as a studio band, and the lie is given to this in a sense by the quality of the back catalogue reissue programme, which so far has been absolutely cracking in its releases and has done a huge service to the legacy of Hawkwind in the studio by creating the situation where these albums are being looked at again and reassessed. Sometimes it’s good to have a little time pass. I’d not listened to Hawklords since giving up the ghost of vinyl in the mid-1990s, so listening to it again recently (and having the opportunity to delve deeper into the recording of that album via Esoteric Recordings’s magnificent assemblage of out-takes included on their reissue) reinforced what a massive milestone that LP was in taking Hawkwind into a highly literate and intelligent, practically art-school, place. That’s a valuable rehabilitation or restatement of this album, dependent on your original point-of-view. In this respect I remember noting in Sonic Assassins the moment during a Hawkwind 1979 tour bootleg (Ipswich, I think), where someone close to the recorder says quite openly of that tour’s proto-grunge, “It’s much better than the fucking Hawklords, isn’t it?” The whole Hawklords concept clearly wasn’t every long-time fan’s cup of tea.

Of the ensuing tour, we’ve had precious little of real listening quality from which to assess and evaluate its success in delivering the Hawklords concept in the live arena even though it’s a tour that has a sense of notoriety about it in Hawkwind mythology. People talk of the way in which the original plans were hacked-around and Barney Bubbles’ concepts diluted, with particular reference to the dancers dismissed from the tour in its early days. “They cost too much, and didn’t add to the thing,” Steve Swindells once told me, deflating one Hawk-myth and stressing how, “the show was much better stripped down and with the focus on Calvert.” There is some existing live footage of the band in Hawklords mode; we’ve had a very small taster of it and one would hope that more extensive film will eventually see the light of day, though I’ve no insight into the practicalities of that whatsoever. But aside from a collection of not especially high-grade bootlegs, and the tracks from Plymouth Polytechnic included on The Weird Tapes, the Hawklords tour has until now only been represented by the distinctly average at best Dojo album Hawklords Live, principally recorded at Uxbridge University on 24th November, 1978.

This release from Esoteric somewhat steps out from the back catalogue in the sense that it isn’t a reissue of an ‘old’ album, it’s not Hawklords Live with a couple of bonus tracks, but is actually a ‘new’ album formed from the original concert recordings. When I spoke to label boss Mark Powell for Record Collector, he told me that, “from the point of view of Hawklords Live, the recordings made at Uxbridge are there in their entirety with four tracks that haven’t been released before. I’ve seen lists on the Internet where people have posted what was played that night – I don’t know where they’ve got it from but they are wrong. The recording quality of the gig is excellent, though the show itself was troubled by several power failures; apparently the lighting rig was causing the power to trip on stage. I know various members of the band that night have described the performance as a bit lack lustre but coming in with fresh ears, it sounds fantastic.”

The recording quality of the show is very good, and I’m both impressed and delighted that Esoteric have taken their passion for this reissue programme through to the extent of making what is effectively a new album from the original tapes rather than simply doing a dutiful reissue of what was already available. That the reissue programme was nominated recently for a Mojo award (it lost out, but the sentiment is fantastic) is so special and is an absolutely marvellous commendation for Mark and Vicky Powell and others are working so hard to make these releases such a critical success.

But, in the case of Hawklords Live ’78, does the reissue add anything to our appreciation of the original studio album? Well, to be honest, only in so far as it demonstrates what a good album the original studio LP was.

The original studio LP is an intricate and clever recording, the rather bombastic and clumsy ’25 Years’ aside, which has maintained relevance both in its lyrical and musical content. The live album doesn’t really live up to that legend. For once, the clean lines of the studio recordings stack-up as the superior renditions to those included here, whilst the show as represented here doesn’t play to the album’s strengths but instead mixes some of its lesser content, the somewhat pointless ‘Automoton’ and the afore mentioned ’25 Years’, with only a couple of its major successes (the exquisite ‘Age of the Micro Man’ and the masterful ‘Psi Power’) and elsewhere joins-in established standards (‘Urban Guerilla’, ‘Sonic Attack’, ‘Brainstorm’) with more recent non-Hawklords material (‘Spirit of the Age’, ‘High Rise’). What comes out the other side, Calvert’s ingenious ranting and Swindell’s very underrated keyboards aside, is a little bit too much like the last generation trying to out-do the new wave kids on the block and it’s hard not to listen and think that here is Hawkwind slightly off-kilter and trying, and largely failing, to be relevant in the punk/post-punk environment.

Dave Brock perhaps spotted that dichotomy when, sans-Calvert, he took the band off in a totally different direction as the MKII assemblage of Hawkwind and captured that as Live 1979. Perhaps he spotted that by trying to hang-on to the coat tails of a different generation he was letting something that should have stood outside of the music business, get caught up in trying to follow a trend. Who knows? I can see much of Hawkwind’s fan-base being absolutely thrilled with this retrospective look at Hawklords in live-mode, and fair play to them, but I’m going to look upon this one as a reminder of how great a studio concept Hawklords was.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Earthless - UK Tour

Tee Pee Records are excited to announce the debut UK tour for San Diego cosmic psychedelic rockers Earthless. The band are booked to play the following dates. Be prepared to tune in and drop out.

July 26th Birmingham - Supersonic FestJuly

27th Leeds - Cockpit 3

July 28th Glasgow - Captains Rest

July 29th Manchester - Retro Bar

July 30th Bristol - The Croft

July 31st London - The Borderline

August 1 Brighton - The Engine Room

“Earthless’s wellspring of convulsive leads and tirelessly caressing grooves are endlessly accommodating; as hypnotic as a bonfire.” Metal Hammer

“Light one up, close your eyes and get smoked off your feet again.” Terrorizer

Sonic Rock Solstice

No, sadly I won’t be reviewing this festival, which takes place this weekend in Bulith Wells, Wales, but in honour of a great line-up here’s a bunch of reviews that have appeared over the last two or three years of releases by just some of the artists appearing at the event. Others, like Earthling Society and Vert:x, you’ll find reviews of elsewhere on this blog. Have a fabulous weekend if you’re going!

Pre-Med: Medication Time

Former Bedouin and Starfield vocalist Danny Faulkner has been working on his latest project, Pre-Med, since 2004 - alongside guitarist Lewis Turner, now departed for pastures new, and bassist/producer Alan Davey. They, in turn, have enjoyed assistance from drummer Danny Thompson (son of the Pentangle double-bass player) and one-time Landmarq keyboardist Steve Leigh.

Medication Time has previously been made available for promotional purposes under the title Invisible Spies but gets its first commercial release here. Pre-Med are drum and bass led purveyors of highly tuneful and immediately accessible Space Rock, and are travelling at the ‘speed’ of light. In fact they like to hint that there’s quite a bit of substance in their playing. Once Upon A Line is a bright, sparkly and slightly new-age piece overlaid with Faulkner’s vaguely Jaz Coleman-like vocals, Up All Night a pounding and grinding thrash and Medication Time has urgent guitars peppered with electronic backgrounds.

With another album in the pipeline, though no sign of live dates at the time of writing, Pre-Med sound like they certainly have some mileage in them. On the basis of this release they shouldn’t be reserved for medicinal purposes only.
Label: Voiceprint

(Originally appeared in Record Collector)

Pre-Med: The Truth About Us

Last year the talents of former-Bedouin singer Danny Faulkner and ex-Hawkwind bassist Alan Davey threw down an impressive statement of intent with the first Pre-Med album, Medication Time, and its anniversary is now marked with this new offering. There’s no ‘difficult second album’ syndrome here. They’ve really hit the mark by developing their sound in a linear way so that whilst there’s few surprises (apart from a delicate and intricate cover of The Demented Man, a lesser-known acoustic number from the Hawkwind canon) there’s certainly plenty of kaleidoscopic Space Rock in their interstellar journey.

Think Killing Joke circa-Night Time meets the ‘Wind in ‘80s mode and you’ve got something of the style of a Pre-Med album. Swooshing synthesisers overlaying chopping guitars with compelling lyrics delivered through carefully understated vocals – a thoughtfully created mind-trip played and arranged with intelligence as well as passion.

There’s a nicely developing space rock renaissance going on at the moment and this band is very much a part of it even though they currently remain a studio-based project. Pre-Med maybe creating lightshows in your head with their music rather than projecting one in front of your eyes in a live environment but the sensory effect is still well realised.

Label: Voiceprint

(Originally appeared in Record Collector)

Quintessence: Self

Forming right in the middle of the Ladbroke Grove hippie scene, Quintessence were part of the All Saints Hall set that also included Hawkwind, Skin Alley and High Tide. Considered part of the “I’m going to India mob”, they actually did the reverse and brought Eastern mysticism to Notting Hill instead. Discovered rehearsing in the Grove by Muff Winwood and Chris Blackwell, they recorded three albums for Island and then this, their fourth, for RCA. Recorded at Olympic Studios in 1972, it also includes two elongated live jams; for this release their single Sweet Jesus and its b-side You Never Stay The Same have also been added.

Playing gently spaced-out psychedelic freak music, they were really all about the spirituality of their Indian influences. Where others of their era played lip service, Quintessence had a sincerity about them that extended to an involvement with the local Ashram community and adoption of names appropriate to their interest in Hinduism. This was also reflected in the tranquillity of their music, so that even their more rocking numbers, such as Cosmic Surfer here, have a typically early 70s introspective sense of, as the title suggests, Self.

Label: Esoteric Recordings

(Originally appeared in Record Collector)

Earth Lab: Element

If your contact book runs to former High Tide and Bowie violinist Simon House, ex-Pilot/Hawklords keyboard player Steve Swindells, Culture Club’s drummer Jon Moss and one-time Hawkwind front man Ron Tree, you’ll surely gather an ensemble destined to hit the spot.

Earth Lab is the latest recording project of Jerry Richards, once of free festival favourites Tubilah Dog and previously lead guitarist for Hawkwind. It’s a 21st Century world music exploration that successfully blends pounding tribal rhythms and driving chords with a fresh take on electronic space rock, to encompass what Richards justly describes as ‘Musik Cinematique’.

Element is a tad loose, with linking sequences of background effects that sometimes are in danger of lessening the flow of the tracks. But it admirably delivers strong combinations of textural changes through its imaginative and often hypnotic compositions. Particularly effective are the opening sonic cacophony Separation By Skin, Wheels Part 2 (a reworking of a number previously written for Hawkwind) and the “Terra Mystica” aura of the close-out instrumental New Light. Richards & Co clearly relish experimenting in the Earth Lab and have concocted an absorbing and highly enjoyable trip.

Label: Earthlab

(Originally appeared in Record Collector)

Gunslinger: Earthquake in E-Minor

Before commencing on over two decades of service with psychedelic warriors Hawkwind, bassist Alan Davey nearly cracked the music business with the harder-rocking Gunslinger. Now at the end of his second stint in Hawkwind, Davey’s been revisiting old tapes and long-buried demos and seeing what gems are lurking in his archive. One fascinating result has been his 4-Track Mind demo collections, stretching back to the initial days of his involvement with the Hawks and including many early instrumental versions of his trademark driving bass and spaced-out synthesiser Hawkwind credits. Another is his reworking of the original Gunslinger songs, alongside original guitarist/keyboardist Nigel Potter, resulting in this album of eleven out-and-out belters.

Gunslinger is where Davey’s energies are principally focused now, both in the studio and out on the road, and it’s not hard to see why. Earthquake In E Minor mines a rich seam of Davey’s influences, sounding like a contemporary Motorhead with a ballistic urgency of rhythm that’s dynamic and as fiery as Hell. On 27th February 2008 the biggest earthquake tremor for twenty-five years hit Britain. In times to come, legend will cite that occasion as the night this album got finished.

Label: Earthquake Records

(Originally appeared in Rock N Reel)

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Tee Pee Records and an Alarming Experience...

So I was completely foxed, ok? There I was, leaving a breakfast network meeting on Thursday morning and driving along the sea front at Falmouth with bright sunshine glistening off the bright blue sea and I hear my car alarm start to blare at me. Well, I’ve done really well with my latest E-Bay bargain, my second Mazda MX-6 but, bless it, it’s getting on a bit so I pull over to investigate only to discover that it’s nothing to do with my car but is actually part of the intro to track six of the new Hopewell album, Good Good Desperation. You got me, guys. On your way with you please.

I’d picked on that one from a particularly interesting PR sheet that landed in my inbox a few days ago and I’ll be writing it up in a future R2 (formerly Rock N Reel) so again not one for commenting on here at the moment in anything other than the broadest of terms but just to quote from the press sheet, this is what got me excited about this album and I wasn’t disappointed: “Purveyors of the new psych-rock scene, Hopewell has been blending vintage fuzz pedal jams with their early space rock and shoegaze roots for over a decade, their 2001 full-length, The Curved Glass, being the perfect, noisy bridge between the epic psychedelia of ‘90s acts like Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev and a newer generation of bands that include Dungen, Dead Meadow and Serena Maneesh. Now back with their sixth album, ‘Good Good Desperation’ effortlessly slips from cacophonous dueling piano passages, à la Stravinsky, to the Hammond-driven roots rock of ‘The Basement Tapes’, while creating something uniquely its own. From the opening vocal harmonies of "Preamble," which takes cues from the classical compositions of Bach and Debussy, to the CAN-inspired two-drummer tribal attack of "Island," listeners are confronted with expansive sonic images of a band's travels and conflicts. Good Good Desperation inhabits a world where The Album is not a lost art, and invites listeners on a journey from dirty downtown New York City scenes to blissful Californian deserts.”

I’m really impressed with Tee Pee Records who have released the Hopewell album. I received their Earthless live album last year, captured at the Roadburn festival, and reviewed here and in Rock N Reel a while back, and I’ll also note their release of The Atomic Bitchwax album Tab 4, which I haven’t heard yet but which includes Bob Pantella from Monster Magnet, and Assemble Head, When Sweet Sleep Returned, noted as being “a soundtrack for days and futures bright and bleak.” A label to watch.

My friends Rob and Anne-Marie at Voiceprint have been sending me over a plethora of (very welcome) review material recently and though at the moment I’m not sure what will be appearing in the mainstream press and what will be in review here, I’ll note their release of Our Best Trips by Don Falcone’s Spirits Burning as being of special interest to blog followers. Selecting tracks across SB’s output must have been quite a challenge for Don, given the variety and depth of material available to chose from, but his broad-church view of spacerock is well represented in the selections and features notables such as Porcupine Tree main man Steve Wilson, the always enchanting Daevid Allen, his multitude of Hawkwind contacts and many more key genre figures. VP also kindly sent me a copy of Matt Malley (ex-Counting Crows) solo album The Goddess Within, which has been in the car CD player regularly this week and which, though it’s off-topic for the blog’s original intent, is one that I’ll be writing up here if not in the music press. I’ve also received a copy of the Robert Calvert double-CD, Robert Calvert and Maximum Effect Live at the Stars and Stripes, with accompanying pre-tour demos. Now, I know this show is also released as a different version, direct from the band, so there’s a little bit of contention doing the rounds of the forums at the moment but I’ll have a listen and report back.

Voiceprint have received released a DVD of Hawkwind, Roy Harper and Here & Now from the Stonehenge Festival of 1984, complete with extensive ‘making of’ booklet by director Al Stokes. I’ve review this in the latest issue of Record Collector, but it’s worth noting here that this is not the same source as the Jettizound video that most will be aware of and the visuals, from a totally different source, are superior to those seen before. I’m also reviewing the latest set of Hawkwind reissues (Quark, PXR5 and Live 79) there, as well as a live Magazine compilation and the second volume of Daevid Allen’s Gong Dreaming memoirs (SAF Publishing, due imminently).

A word on the Hawklords front, I spoke with Nik Turner this week and he was hopeful that the disappointments of the cancelled Roundhouse gigs would be soon put aside and a late September (I hear Sunday, 20th September) date in London would be confirmed. Seems like there’s a new HawklordsZoo myspace page established as well – I really hope this guys can get this project to run as there’s most definitely a place for what they want to do within the spacerock scene and it’s too good a line-up to not get something going.

Nigel Mazlyn Jones - Sentinel

I’ve commented before how both Bridget and I have identified one of the great things about doing our Festivals book has been the fascinating characters that we’ve encountered on our journey through the history of free festivals. I’d highlight here a particular instance where we’ve received encouragement and support from a free festival regular, who has brought a lot of value to the project and that is in our contact with Nigel Mazlyn Jones. I’ve been lucky to meet Nigel on a couple of occasions, most recently in the last week when I was able to visit him and not only chat festivals but spend an afternoon looking through his archive of festivals newsletters and associated ephemera. I came away enlightened and enthused about our project, and also clutching a number of Nigel’s CDs including Kissing Spell’s reissues of his seminal works, Ship To Shore and Sentinel; on a previous visit I’d also been kindly given a copy of Nigel’s Planet For Sale album, which is highly relevant to this blog and which I’ll write about in its own review at a future date.

Sentinel is the latest reissue of Nigel’s work from Kissing Spell and I’ll be reviewing it in the music press before the summer is over, so I’ll not comment about it in-depth here, but it was an opportunity, sitting around Nigel’s kitchen table with the warm Cornish sunshine brightening the day, to ask him about an album that he considers one of the pinnacle’s of his output.

Sentinel was my second album,” Nigel explained to me. “Most of the material was written on the road in 1977/78, a few bits early in ‘79, and then the album was recorded and released in ‘79. I’d been a professional musician for eight years, my first album, Ship To Shore, had come out three years earlier. I was at the top of my game, because you tend to be at the top of your game when you’re in your twenties, as a musician on the road. My career was going up. I was being asked to support various famous names, because of Ship To Shore. I’d saved all the money off the first album, which was independent, put it into a better studio in Cheltenham, Dick Cadbury’s studio, who was the lead guitarist for Steve Hackett and various others. Dick played bass and some lead guitar on Sentinel, I had Johnny Coppin [on piano], the folk world all know Johnny Coppin, and I bumped into an engineer called John Acock, who used to work with Steve Hackett and was an acoustic expert.

“We were working on the world’s first production model of a SSL desk, which went on to become the name for recording desks. So it was great musicians, in a great studio, with great equipment, and there was a lot of care and attention towards my music from the great people who were working with me. There was a lot of commitment, a lot of camaraderie - as you only get in your youthful years - and I’d matured in my twenties as a song-writer and as an experienced musician travelling on the road. I look back on it now and I hear its technical quality is superb, by virtue of other people’s engineering and the playmanship of the other musicians, which was very sensitive to the material and the songs. Because they’d known me for a few years they all supported my writing and my ethics and stance, so the overall effect is that of a lot of very happy people and the synergy of that gave it some of its strength.

Sentinel, as a solo musician, it was a band album in a way so it put me in a strange league in so far as the folkies weren’t too sure about it, because it was very electric and the rock world wasn’t too sure about it because it was a bit acoustic-ish. By then, the Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span thing were very much folk-roots-electric, so Sentinel fell into an odd bag and didn’t really get publicised or pushed so it never got masses of coverage but it seemed to strike a bell with my core fans who loved that sort of singer-songwriter thing. It’s been hailed through the years, lots of people say to me, “Oh, we love that album, it’s our favourite.” I’ve looked back on it over the last year when I’ve been selecting tracks [for the reissue] that didn’t make it onto that album. I mean, you couldn’t put everything on it because there was a time limit on vinyl of about seventy-minutes and most LPs would be forty or fifty minutes, which I still think is a good amount of time for any album. I’d demo’d every song in my home recording set-up in Port Isaac, not terribly professionally but pleasantly. When I was in the studio with those demos, so people could be rehearsing the next track’s harmonies, or whatever, the engineer heard them, said “That’s really good quality, let’s put it through the big monitors and listen to it and what a shame you didn’t put a bit more treble and clarity on it because we could have transferred the lovely vibe of your home recordings onto the main tapes and worked on those to maintain the vibe you’ve already got.” But out of the songs came a short-list and some got left, and the ones that got left were the ones where at the time, as a new parent, I kind of felt some of the writing was deeply personal to me and my family and friends and I felt rather protective about that and that they weren’t as suitable as other tracks to put out for public listening.

“What I’ve done, thirty years later, is searched those tracks out and found them in remarkably good condition, remastered and tidied them up, and selected my favourite six tracks that weren’t included from about ten or twelve tracks that didn’t make it. I picked them to actually do the opposite of what I was trying to do thirty years before; I picked those six tracks to demonstrate who I was, what I felt and what was around me in my life at the time. I feel braver about them now; they’re historical – and I probably feel a bit more confident about what I was espousing back then. Most of the values I was espousing thirty years ago, they’re still my values. There were some interesting downsides to it, it’s not particularly healthy, as people will know, to go intensely trawling through your life of thirty years ago and bring back anything you were worried about or angry about, things that were happening that were negative, that quantum leap of moving from your twenties to your thirties as though you’re leaving your youth behind. There are some issues in there, so I found it quite revealing, because I trawled through all my scribbles, my on the road writings, poetry and ideas that came flooding out in all those hours you have to yourself uncluttered by daily activities. It showed me where I thought I was at, what I hoped for... and of course that made me look at what didn’t work out, what dreams weren’t achieved. That brings up why they weren’t achieved and leaves you with some emotion; measuring where you are in your fifties by looking at where you were in your twenties is quite intense but all I can say is its very positive and therapeutic if you can handle the truth!

“I fell off the end of my career in my thirties, in 1980, the year after, because I wasn’t prepared to... I supported a huge, well-known, band on a European tour for three and a half months and I got sight of what the real rock industry was like and realised that it wasn’t for me to swim in without getting eaten alive or losing my heartfelt writing.

“I love Sentinel, it’s very buoyant, very technically accomplished; I’ve now been looking back, from reissuing it, and realising technical things about it that account for its pristine, crisp and transparent sound, so Sentinel has set the benchmark for my next recordings. But I’m really chuffed that it’s out. We went to a lot of trouble to find all the artwork that was done by Julian Russell, who did the Ship To Shore cover. We found lots of wonderful black and white photos that he’d done, so the reissue has a lot of previously unseen artwork and sleeve notes, and we went to a lot of trouble and effort to make it a seriously professional, respectful, good deal, rather than just sling it out. We’ve set the bar very high for future releases.”

Nigel Mazlyn Jones Official Website

Alan Davey - Eclectic Devils

I’m doing a little bit of publicity on Alan Davey’s latest solo album, watch out over the next few months for reviews that we’ve been promised in the mainstream music press. Here’s the PR blurb that I recently put together for the album:

“When asked, in Bass Guitar magazine, of his last solo album, Human on the Outside, “What’s on the inside?” Alan Davey, former Hawkwind bassist, simply responded, “Its eclectic.” Since then, he’s enjoyed acclaim for his regeneration of early 80s Metal outfit Gunslinger, issued four CDs of tracks from his collection of demo recordings under the umbrella-title Four-Track Mind and now releases a new solo album that also promises a deliciously diverse selection of material: Eclectic Devils.

Always in search of the interesting collaboration (watch for his ‘Egyptian’ album, recorded with one-time Hawkwind band-mate Bridget Wishart), Davey has rounded-up some highly regarded contributors for this new album. Having played with Simon House (Hawkwind, High Tide, Bowie, Japan) during one of House’s irregular stints with the Hawks, there’s a great sense of symmetry when House plays on four of Eclectic Devils' ten tracks. With House’s classically-trained violin weaving and soaring across numbers like the driving opener ‘Angel Down’ and the dense and dirty instrumental ‘Waste of Space’, and juxtaposed with Davey’s trademark heavy bass lines, there’s a strong link back to classic 70s Hawkwind: Hall of the Mountain Grill and Warrior on the Edge of Time. That’s not to say that there’s a 70s time warp amidst the album’s swirling vortex of sound – Davey knows very well how to take inspiration from the past without ever failing to deliver a very 21st Century makeover. Long-time Hawkwind fans might nod approvingly at his reverence but won’t fail to recognise that Davey has a totally contemporary space-rock sound.

Elsewhere on Eclectic Devils, Davey pushes at his own boundaries with impunity; songs like ‘Encounter’ (with lyrics and achingly-beautiful vocals by Isobel Morris of festival-favourites Bruise) have a sureness of touch which demonstrates that it might be twenty-five years since Davey first burst into recognition by joining Hawkwind at the fabled 1984 Stonehenge Free Festival, but he’s never stopped looking to develop and refine his craft. ‘Encounter’, with its brooding structure, delicious lead-guitar and overwhelming sense of place and atmosphere hints at new directions and is quite possibly one of the best things Davey has done in his career so far. ‘Too High’ and ‘Ya Know Ya Should’ thematically follow-up ‘World of Fear’ and ‘Delusions of Ganja’ (from Human on the Outside) – you’ve got to keep a clear head to take on ‘The Man’.

Davey’s own path is made very clear in Eclectic Devils; he’s having a ball with his creative freedom!”

I think one of the things that’s so good about this latest Alan Davey CD is that where Human on the Outside was wide-ranging in its ambitions, perhaps not unnaturally given that Alan at the time was coming out of a long association with Hawkwind and enjoying the chance to highlight different aspects of his craft, Eclectic Devils has a little bit more focus. Now, it’s still quite right to say, as I have above, that Alan’s “having a ball with his creative freedom”, but where his last CD had a bit of everything gathered into it, for this one he’s spent additional time thinking through what he wants to achieve and the type of approach the tracks should take.

Some might miss the instrumental synthesiser-wash that he’d got a tad pigeon-holed into with Hawkwind (‘Blue Shift’, ‘Out Here We Are’) but what I’m hearing is someone refining his song-writing skills. He’s had some assistance... I’m really not overstating my case when I note that the Isobel Morris co-write ‘Encounter’ is one of his best tracks not just here but throughout his solo and Hawkwind career, in fact it’s the emotional heart of the collection. But there’s clarity of purpose to the whole which delivers a highly satisfying cohesiveness and elevates this album right up to the heights of Alan’s catalogue.

If you are a reviewer and are interested in covering this album in the music press or via high-traffic web presence, do please drop me an e-mail via my profile page.

Alan Davey Myspace

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Psi Corps - "Tekeli-li"

Here’s the second CD in recent months from Alisa Coral and Michael Blackman and, following on from the extreme metal of Space Mirror’s Majestic 12, they’re off at another tangent in this collection of cinematic instrumentals under the name Psi-Corps. And like other discs reviewed here recently, they’ve taken literary influences to shape their musical ambitions. For “Tekeli-li” is an aural representation of Edgar Allan Poe’s South Pole novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, a controversial entry from Poe’s canon originally published in 1838. Now, at this point I’ll confess to not having read this particular work but have certainly become intrigued by reading up on the Internet on the various theories and speculations regarding this fantastical tale that the entry-writer at Wikipedia describes as a ‘fairly conventional adventure at sea’ but which ‘becomes increasingly strange and hard to classify’.

So that’s another entry on my ‘to investigate’ list and I mention it as an aside to reviewing this highly accomplished and very well imagined suite of composition. But it’s right to note that the success of an artistic endeavour that sets out to take a narrative or an impression from one medium and transplant it as a personal reflection in another can often be summed up by how well it sends the, in this instance, listener, off to the source. So I can’t evaluate, for the moment, how well these soundscapes reflect the material from which they were dreamed, but on a level of how well the album works in creating an interest in where it originally sprang from, I’ll judge it a success.

Whilst Space Mirrors sees Alisa and Michael working across the ether with a range of notable musicians, here their two-way Internet collaborations remain strictly between themselves, with Michael contributing his fluid guitar-work across Alisa’s range of synthesizers, theremin, bass and drums. This leads to a compactness of sound in one respect, so whilst the tracks are extended and seem to shift their moods on whim there’s an organisation to the composing that suggest a considered, almost plotted, structure to the music that again falls in-line with this being a literary adaptation.

In this instance, then, I’m going to do something I’ve not done before and that’s to simply note here that this is a clever and complex collection of recordings, absorbing and multi-faceted and well-worth investigation – and revisit this review in a few weeks once I’ve had a chance to read Poe’s book and properly understand what this music is reflecting. Then I’ll post a little more here on it, which hopefully will embrace how well its six-tracks, starting with Pym’s departure, through his sea voyaging to the land of Tsalal and eventually to the Hollow Earth, realise the source narrative. Which should be an interesting voyage in and of itself.