Thursday, 27 August 2009

Hawklords Gig - November 29th


The 229 Club, 229 Great Portland Street, London, W1W 5PN
Sunday 29th November, 2009 from 2 – 10pm

On 14th November 1983, the art and music worlds lost one of their most important and innovative figures with the death of the legendary graphic designer Barney Bubbles. His work as Hawkwind’s cover artist and stage-set creator established him as key figure in the Ladbroke Grove / Notting Hill counter-culture scene, whilst his subsequent work with Stiff Records (including his designs for Elvis Costello’s album covers and his fractured Kandinsky-esque cover painting for The Damned’s Music For Pleasure LP) established his relevance to the punk/new-wave generation. He directed the seminal video for The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ single, worked as art director at Friends magazine and was an early champion of Pennie Smith, who was to become one of rock’s most lauded photographers.

“ of the most important graphic artists of his time.” Will Birch, ‘No Sleep ‘Till Canvey Island – The British Pub Rock Scene’.

Barney Bubbles’ long-time friend and admirer, former Hawkwind saxophonist Nik Turner, has been instrumental in organising this memorial concert celebrating the life and achievements of this most singular of multi-media artists, with a view to setting up a foundation/annual award for innovative album cover design, and a memorial plaque for him...

Headliners THE HAWKLORDS, featuring Adrian Shaw, Alan Davey, Harvey Bainbridge, Jerry Richards, Martin Griffin, Nik Turner, Ron Tree, Steve Swindells and Terry Ollis will perform Hawkwind’s 1973 stage extravaganza, Space Ritual, up-dated to 2009, supported by The New Bubblettes dancers and lighting designs inspired by Liquid Len & The Lensmen.

The day’s extensive line-up also features key 70s Notting Hill band QUINTESSENCE, The Damned founder-member Brian James, fronting his own BRIAN JAMES GANG, Nik Turner’s INNER CITY UNIT and the band created by Barney Bubbles, THE IMPERIAL POMPADOURS.
Pentameters Players will perform their acclaimed staging of ROBERT CALVERT’s play, ‘The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam’s Dice’.

Also appearing during this memorial concert: JERRY FITZGERALD/LOL COXHILL’S ‘FRE-EX, TRIKIMIKI’S ‘3-D SPACE-WARP’, and D.J. JEFF DEXTER

“Barney was, as far as media direction of the youth of this country, probably the most important artist of our generation.” Douglas Smith, interviewed by Jonathon Green, ‘Days In the Life: Voices From The English Underground’.
The 229 ticket hotline 0207 323 7229
£20.00 advance, £25.00 door
For Press Enquiries, Interviews etc
Ian Abrahams - 07722519266

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Paul Roland - Demos & A Cabinet...

As regular readers to the blog will know, I’m something of a fan of Paul Roland’s work and take any opportunity I can to keep people advised of Paul’s reissue programme and his new albums as they arrive. Recently Paul was kind enough to send over his double-CD limited edition Demos album, and Syborg Records' twofer repackage of two of his 1980s works, A Cabinet Of Curiosities / Happy Families. I’ll be reviewing both of these in the music press in due course, so this posting is really to let people know that they are available, and to update with the next in the reissue programme – and, most importantly, how to get them!

In that respect, what better than to reproduce the details from Paul’s latest newsletter, which starts with some sad news, unfortunately:

“I’d like to thank you for your patience over the last couple of months. The sudden death of my graphic artist and friend Ralf Schuessler earlier this year meant unavoidable delays in the production of the series of CD re-issues, but I am now confident that the special releases I had planned for this year (to mark my 30th year of recording) can be realised in the coming months.

First up we have the next scheduled re-issue, A Cabinet of Curiosities / Happy Families which includes both acoustic mini albums from 1987/88 plus almost all of the acoustic radio sessions that were originally on the 12” EP that came with the first 500 copies of the German edition of Duel released the following year. These tracks were recorded live in the studio for various radio stations in Europe between 1986-1988 and have been taken from the original DAT masters. Only a couple of tracks had to be omitted for length and copyright reasons. The album is beautifully packaged, if I may say so, and features notes on the recording by yours truly and colour photos taken in the studio so that these two mini albums are finally presented in the way they deserve to be.

The next reissue will be Duel in September, and it is going to be a very special 20th anniversary edition of the album. I had expected to make it a straight reissue of the ‘improved’ Greek release from 2003, but on closer listening I ‘heard’ several subtle but significant improvements and additions that needed to be made while still retaining the original character of the tracks. These included adding harmony vocals to certain songs (‘Knights’, ‘Spring Heeled Jack’, ‘At The Edge Of The World’) to fill out thin sounding choruses and middle 8’s, plus the odd keyboard line to add an ethereal touch to tracks which sounded rather empty on the original release (‘Over The Hills’) and most notably adding a (subtle) choir to ‘Nosferatu’ which gives it a more supernatural quality. I am normally against artists ‘tampering’ with recordings after they have been released and I am not unsympathetic to those collectors who are not happy if they have to buy an album that they already own just because it has a few retouches or extra tracks, but this series of re-issues is my last chance to put things right – adding instruments and multi-tracking vocals that I did not imagine needed adding when I recorded the original album.

All the live radio sessions recorded with the band shortly after the release of the Duel album will be included as bonus tracks, but the most unusual addition is the inclusion of a copy of my unpublished novel, The Magician of Grimm, which is set in the same medieval fantasy world as the songs and was written just a few years after the album’s original release (and originally printed in parts in the PRAS magazine A Cabinet of Curiosities). The book will be a limited edition printing of just 500 copies, 300 of which will be included with the first 300 copies of German edition of the CD on Syborg and the remainder will be available to PRAS members who can buy it either with the Duel CD or on its own if they prefer. I will be intrigued to know what you think of it and whether or not you share my rather ironic sense of humour!

‘Haxan’ Soundtrack

The first few months of this year I devoted to the writing and recording of my first film soundtrack – created for the 1922 silent horror movie Haxan (‘Witches’). This cult movie by Danish director Benjamin Christensen has been released by two labels who included both the original version and an edited version (under the title ‘Witchcraft Through The Ages’ with narration by William Burroughs) on one DVD with a choice of soundtracks (a jazz score, a solo dulcimer track, an industrial rock track and an orchestral score) none of which I felt were suitable or did justice to the stunning images on screen.

It was my intention to share this exciting and ambitious creative process with two of my German friends, the musicians Ralf Jesek of In My Rosary and Nico Steckelberg of Elaine and a filmmaker and editor Siggi Bracht. For our version I had written a new script to reduce the number of intrusive intertitles which interrupted the action every minute or so and which would replace the long lecture at the start with a prologue which I would narrate. I then wrote about 50 minutes of music for the film (all carefully timed to the second to match the action on-screen) plus three songs which would be included on the soundtrack album (one of which would be played over the closing credits). Ralf and Nico composed the remainder. The soundtrack, script, narration and editing were completed in May and preview DVDs were made for various labels who we thought might be interested in releasing it. We immediately secured an agreement from a German label who were very enthusiastic and who were going to promote it in Goth clubs and sell it to TV. They confirmed that the film was Public Domain (out of copyright), but while plans were being made for the release we discovered that this was not the case in Europe and that we would need permission from the Swedish Film Institute who claimed to hold the rights until 70 years after the director’s death, especially as our edit was radically different from the original version. Frustratingly they refused permission and now we are forced to release the soundtrack on its own (this autumn) without the scenes we had so carefully matched the music to. Still, I gained invaluable experience while writing for the film and I plan to pursue similar projects in the future provided all copyright issues are clarified before I start.

Demos CD
In the meantime my complete soundtrack recordings for Haxan (more than 50 mins of music plus the three songs written specially for the film) will be included on CD 2 of the Demos double CD set which will be released at the end of next month (July). CD 1 will feature 24 tracks, including 12 unreleased songs which I do not plan to re-record for my albums. Four of these were written for the German band Elane who invited me to contribute songs for their next album which is to be based on the novels of German fantasy writer Kai Meyer. The band will re-record my songs which will be sung by their female vocalist Joran Elane. This is the first time that my songs have been covered by another artist which is very satisfying indeed.

As with the previous PRAS collector’s CD (The Werewolf of London) the demos CD will be a limited edition (of 500 copies) available only to members of the PRAS and for download on CDbaby. It will not be for sale on Amazon or in the shops. However, if anyone wants to buy multiple copies to re-sell on e-bay I really do not mind. Anything that helps to spread my music to a wider audience, or in this case, which helps to distribute an album that is not going to be available in the shops is fine by me.

How To Order
To order the Cabinet Of Curiosities’/‘Happy Families CD and/or the double Demos CD simply go to the paypal website and send payment to or you can send euros cash to the PRAS at Postfach 111064, D-76060 Karlsruhe, Germany.

Price of the Cabinet of Curiosities/Happy Families CD is 15 euros (postage included). The price of the Demos double CD is 20 euros (postage included).

Multiple orders – if you wish to order extra copies (perhaps one or more for friends) then all extra copies will be half price and postage will be free (1 x Demos CD 20 euros; 2 x Demos CD 30 euros; 3 x Demos CD 40 euros etc).

Please do not send money for the Duel re-issue or the book now as it will not be available until September 6th, but you can request us to reserve a copy for you (or multiple copies) of the CD with the book (17 euros postage free), or the book on its own (7 euros)."

End of public service announcement! But seriously, my analytics show that I get a lot of traffic here searching for information on Paul, so hopes this helps some keep up to date, or even reconnect with his work.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Scarlet Utopia - Adventures Under Black Light

There was a moment whilst listening to this five-track album by Cologne-based space-rockers, Scarlet Utopia that I wanted so badly to leap out of my chair in a Eureka! moment, similar to that experienced, as legend has it, by John Lennon on first catching sight of Ron Mael from Sparks on his television set, and shout-out (to nobody in particular), ‘Fuck me! It’s Metal Mickey!’ For, in all seriousness, at the start of track 2, ‘NGC 1365 Spiral Galaxy’, to someone of a certain age, it sounded, for all the world, as though that metal robot of dubious quality 1980s kids TV fame was making a come-back here with an introductory voiceover to the song in question. ‘Boogie, Boogie’.

It’s a pure coincidence, I assume, but actually... I rather enjoyed that moment of surprise!

Scarlet Utopia is a spin-off group from Cologne pysch-rockers Silverheat, established to take the music of Silverheat members Scarlet Rose O’Silver (vocals) and Jean D’Auberlaque (guitars) in a more space-rock orientated direction. Or, as they put it, “To make one step further – right into space.” What they’ve arrived at in doing so is a Krautrock-influenced take on space-rock, so it’s absolutely clear where they’re coming from. It’s Can on the German side, it’s Hawkwind on the British, and interestingly the Hawkwind side immediately becomes apparent simply by looking at the track listings and seeing two numbers with titles that nod to Hawkwind (the afore-mentioned ‘NGC 1365 Spiral Galaxy’ and the opening ‘Black Sun’).

The ensuing result, recorded in Düsseldorf over the early part of this year, is aptly described by the band as being comprised of tunes that are “all around 10 minutes long, but [not] progressive type ‘long-tracks’ with multiple chord, rhythm, or mood-changes. We just try to create a trippy atmosphere through repetition of key parts, pretty often.” And, you know, they’ve done that pretty damned well. They’ve laid-down driving rhythms that power their way across some very effective vocals (sung predominately in English – despite their German residency, I’m not clear about the nationalities involved here) that variously take their subject matter from the expanse and intrigues of the universe or from themes closer to home; in ‘Moonlight Society’, for instance, the ‘Lunar Society’ of the late 18th and early 19th Century, comprising some of the day’s leading thinkers and philosophers, is their focus.

Though much of their music is formed around a basic hook, it really holds together extremely well. D’Auberlaque has a terrific guitar sound which completely wraps their work in its gritty, angular shapes, underpinned in an unobtrusive way by Peter Sherman’s solid but restrained drumming. The overall collision of what’s going on here is that of a rush of influences, disparate but complementary, coming together to add some early Floyd and something 80s, something like Sisters of Mercy or Xmal Deutschland perhaps, to the mix, and you can hear these things absolutely meshing.

Its wide horizons stuff, demanding to be played very loud, and preferably on the move; a cracking release that I know will excite fans of the heavy end of space-rock.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Vespero - Surpassing All Kings

It’s interesting how scenes develop, seemingly sometimes because of the sheer will and presence of just one or two people and, perhaps, to outsiders, how these scenes develop in the most unlikely of places. Now, it might well be that the scene in question has been fermenting away in the background, unnoticed by the wider community, and that might be the case with the current outpouring of material from Russian space-rock enthusiasts. Its none-the-less very welcome to see the depth of quality that’s revolving around the RAIG label, and also the strength of musicianship there that’s being nurtured by Space Mirrors/Psi Corps musician and producer Alisa Coral.

Vespero are one of the bands that Alisa has a hand in producing, mixing and mastering; they come from a town in Russia called Astrakhan and have apparently released numerous live CDRs, but also have two ‘official’ albums issued on RAIG, Rito and Surpassing All Kings. Now, the latter is the only album I’ve heard by them so I don’t know how indicative of their work it is, but this is one of those predominately instrumental albums, not quite space-rock but leaning towards it, that I like to pop into the computer and have on as background music whilst I work. That’s not a criticism... what I’m talking about is an unobtrusive sound that blends with the task at hand and that’s nice to fill the background ambience with whilst writing or thinking.

What Vespero produce is music that manages to be both dark and ethereal at the same time, which sounds like a contradiction in itself, but in the sense that they have both prog-rock and avant-garde elements to their sound should start to make more sense. Now, I’ll be honest and say that the prog-rock influences happening here are a bit outside of my own interests, but I certainly found more than enough other things going on in Vespero’s work to make listening to this CD a most enjoyable experience. That’s because there’s some really haunting atmosphere at work (built upon by the occasional vocal contributions of Natalya Tujrina), and because I hear them at times, as on ‘Salma Sumiere (Cross and Crown)’, playing with some really good jazz undertones. A few reviewers have cross-referenced what they hear in Vespero’s music to that of Gong, and, though I’m not especially getting that on the album I’ve heard, I’d readily accept that there is some informing of the Vespero sound by Gong, particularly by Steve Hillage, in the background.

But it’s their willingness to experiment that I found particularly appealing, the way that they move from some weighed-down and dense tones to something like ‘Glide (Like A Swan)’ which builds from a gossamer-light touch that’s rather lovely into something busier without losing its underlying sense of fragility. Or the way that the slow-moving, lingering, ‘Sever (Surpassing All Kings)’ moves gracefully through the final seven minutes of the album to play things out with its beautifully reserved tones.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Litmus - Aurora

I've recently received a promo of the much anticipated third album from Litmus, Aurora, released right now on Rise Above Records. This is one that I'll be reviewing for R2 (Rock N Reel) so I'm not going to write it up in depth here, save to say that this is another major leap forward for this always interesting and enjoyable band who deserve far more music press attention than they get (the excellent reviews for their previous offering, Planetfall, in the heavy rock press not withstanding) and that it's a really great record that should be in the collection of anyone with even a passing interest in contemporary space-rock.

In the meantime, I really enjoyed talking to Litmus bassist Martin about the new album (available on both CD and vinyl) and the history of Litmus:

For newcomers, tell us a bit about the development of Litmus?

I’ve known [Litmus guitarist] Simon a long time, literally since we were kids, and we’d been thinking of doing something like Litmus for quite a few years. We managed to rope-in a drummer, made a couple of demo tapes, over-dubbed the keyboards ourselves, and they were things that we just ran off ourselves and gave away to people, very underground! We had a couple of line-up changes and what was going to be the next demo tape turned into an album, which was You Are Here. Our manager, Colin Allen, helped us release that, the label was set-up to get that album out and it did pretty well.

What were the musical influences at this time?

Early ‘70s Hawkwind was an important influence, but one of many. For me, I guess there were also Gong, Motorhead, and Black Sabbath, and to some extent Here & Now... those were the obvious ones. But in terms of the influences on the band now, they’re very much wider than that, but certainly early Hawkwind/Motorhead/Gong/Sabbath would be the only ones that we’d all agree on!

You Are Here was a good calling card to kick off with, and that got you a deal with Rise Above Records...

The first album got us the attention of Rise Above Records; we sent them copies and ended-up playing a gig with Witchcraft and Circulus, who were both on Rise Above... and so Lee Dorrian, who runs the label, saw us there and evidently thought there was something about us worth investigating! We were talking to Rise Above whilst we were pulling together the second album, Planetfall, and it ended-up coming out on that label.

But you were starting to get a bit more attention by then, you’d supported Hawkwind a few times but perhaps more significantly you’d attracted the attention of Julian Cope?

That was actually off the back of the You Are Here album. We sent him a copy of that, and he liked it sufficiently to make it the ‘Album of the Month’ on his website, which was fantastic, and he wrote a remarkable review of it that was entertaining to say the least! We did a few gigs supporting him and that definitely got us a few converts...

I remember the support gig at the Fleece in Bristol, where you went down a storm with the Cope audience...

A great gig, really busy! You actually had to go through the bar to get past the crowd and onto the stage! We seemed to do okay with the audience, we weren’t sure what to expect because Julian’s own catalogue is so varied that most of his own fans don’t like some of the stuff he does! So I think that some people who turn up at his gigs aren’t going to be that interested in the support band [laughs]. We chatted with him a bit at various times, we had a lot of common interests, a very interesting bloke and a nice chap.

In Record Collector this year I’d mentioned Planetfall as being, I hesitate to say ‘industrial’, but I’d described it as being ‘juggernaut space-rock’...

It’s certainly got a harder sound to it; You Are Here had a very warm sound but Planetfall sounded more contemporary perhaps. It’s funny that you use the word ‘industrial’ because in terms of industrial music per se, that’s something that Marek, our drummer, is very interested in, more so than the rest of us. I think Planetfall was probably where Marek found his feet, having come in halfway through the process of You Are Here, when much of the music was already written and he was finding his place in the band. Whereas Planetfall has Marek very much in the driving seat, so it’s interesting... I wouldn’t hear anything in there that I would think of as ‘industrial’ but maybe there is something in that, because getting Marek settled in to the band was one of the major turning points for us and brought everything together, somehow.

So let’s contrast that with the new album, Aurora, because that is a marked change, it’s like you’ve moved back to the sound of the first album, but in a much more mature and well-realised way.

I think that’s a pretty good description, actually. I think its warmer sounding than Planetfall but in its own way, just as lively without having the same hard-edge to the sound.

But I thought it had more depth, partly because of the keyboard/synthesiser stuff that’s going on that enriches the whole experience?

Well, our keyboard player, Andy Thompson, left about two years ago and we didn’t really manage to replace him for a long time. We were gigging as a four-piece: guitar/bass/drums and Anton on synthesisers and space-sounds but we didn’t have anyone playing the melodies and harmonies aspect. That was okay, as far as it went, for live gigs, but those keyboard sounds had always been a large part of the Litmus vibe so that when we came to work on what became Aurora, since there was no keyboard player on the horizon, we decided we’d better just do it ourselves. In that sense, it was almost like going back to the way we’d done our original demo tapes. With neither Simon nor I really being keyboard players, the upshot was that it was going to take us a long time to do it! We did the guitar, bass and drums down at Foel Studios and then decamped to my house to do the keyboard parts. So having got the guitars and drums down in a matter of a couple of days, it was a matter of months to do the keyboard parts! But the effect of that is that the keyboards are quite well considered, perhaps because we didn’t have the virtuosity to just play the first thing that came to mind. We weren’t just jamming the keyboards over the top of the guitars, we had to take our time, by necessity, to do them. What that means is that the arrangements are quite well thought-out, in the end. We made a real effort to make them fit the songs, so that when we came to mix the album, we found that they could be quite prominent.

How does that translate to the current Litmus live sound?

We did finally find ourselves a keyboard player, Oli, and he’s more than capable of reproducing my fumbling keyboard playing... and very much more besides! But he joined just as we were finishing the album, so he’s not on Aurora at all, but it does mean we’re able to play that material as intended because the keyboards are quite integral to the album and it would have been a great shame if we couldn’t have reproduced it live. I mean, it’s always going to be a bit different live, we don’t feel like slaves to the arrangements on the record but the important things, like melody, need to come through.

Let’s just talk a little about the album itself then. I absolutely loved ‘Red Skies’, which plays out the album and despite its position as the final track thought it was a great centrepiece for the record.

I see that more as a bookend though, ‘Beyond the Sun’ at the start being the other one, and I think they balance each other quite well, a lot of open-ended jamming and I think those tracks capture that aspect of what Litmus is all about pretty well. I mean, we record by getting the drums and the bass and guitar amps turned up really loud as a three-piece, and the other bits go on later, but I think those two tracks capture that really well.

What’s the working method on the song writing for you guys?

Generally, one of us will have an idea for a song and it’ll be relatively complete, one of us will have written the chorus and the verses, but in terms of arrangement we get in a room and the rest of the band will help with the arrangement, which is a very useful way to work in terms of how the whole thing comes together.

This was your second time at Dave Anderson’s Foel Studios?

Yes, we also recorded Planetfall there, but this time around we mixed the album there as well. Foel has been a big part of the album, we love going and working there, it’s really the ideal place for Litmus. You get away from distractions in the middle of nowhere; it’s got a great sounding live room, it’s got a good mix between recording digitally and analogue, a lovely sounding desk in the control room, a big old British Trident mixing desk. Chris Fielding, the engineer there, played a very big part in getting the sound we want, and Dave Anderson is always very welcoming.

A bit clumsy perhaps, but I’d labelled Litmus as the ‘Great White Hope’ of the UK space-rock scene, recently.

I don’t think we’d see it that way, though. I think a lot of the people who’ve come to see us more recently aren’t necessarily from that scene, though we’ve had such great support from within that scene and we’re certainly very appreciative of those people who’ve been behind us for a few years now. I’m mean, you’re right, our profile is slowly increasing but I think perhaps that’s people coming to us from different scenes; we’ve played a lot of gigs with different people. You mentioned Julian Cope, but there have been other gigs and festivals, and certainly in Europe we’ve had some excellent opportunities to play on festival bills. We played a couple of times at Roadburn, which I’d rate as the best festival anywhere, it’s my favourite; I’d be there every year whether we were playing or not. We just played one called Stoned From The Underground, about fourteen-hundred people, and we went on at 10pm, so we’re getting some great slots in Europe now. Hopefully that suggests that Europe is going to be a good audience for us!

In terms of other bands who are, rightly or wrongly, perceived within the ‘space-rock’ community, and I absolutely take your point about bringing in audiences from outside the genre, who is particularly impressing you currently?

If we’re talking about the UK scene, then a band that’s on the fringes of that, who I like, is Earthling Society. I’ve just today been listening to their new album and it’s really great stuff. I think they’re probably the most original band to be working on the fringes of the space-rock scene here. They’ve turned into a very strong act. Outside of the UK, I saw FarFlung at Roadburn this year, and they played a really good set.

So what next for Litmus?

Who knows! My instinct says the next stuff might be more concise, it’s hard to say, that’s just my gut-feeling. We don’t plan things; whatever comes out is what comes out. But the immediate future? We’ve got a gig in London on 12th September, at a place called the Bull & Gate, which is one of the few places in Central London where we can do our own thing and play without a support band, which means we can play a nice long set. For the kind of music we play, it’s nice to be able to stretch-out a bit!

Litmus Myspace Page
Litmus Official Website
Rise Above Records

Friday, 14 August 2009

Keith Hill - Oceanfire EP2009

Keith Hill (Citizen Zen, and sometime Vert:X collaborator) has sent over this EP of music intended for his solo CD project Oceanfire, a work-in-progress sampler of tracks that will in the future be re-recorded along with guest musicians for an album proper. Keith describes the music as “a kind of space-rock, ambient, psychedelic and eclectic” mix, but goes on to qualify that with “don’t you just hate musical pigeonholing.” The seven tracks were recorded in June, 2009 and are available to listen to on-line via Keith’s Myspace page.

What, then, do we glean about Keith’s intended album by these extracts and impressions? Well, first off, that there’s a most interesting and enjoyable work-in-progress going on here. It opens with one of those short and sparkling fx tracks, this one called ‘New Lands’, before moving onto the darkly-laden ‘Antimatter’, another most effective short piece that is followed by a heavier space-rock track, ‘Accelerator’ that sounds like a great basis for a really rocking number when it’s fully worked-up. ‘Waves (Magnetic)’ has spoken-word laid over fx backdrops, and I know a lot of people like this sort of idea though I find them a bit overdone at times.

‘Waves (Hidden)’ is a floating, spacey, bliss-out, with the only guest appearance of the EP going to some absorbing saxophone by Chris Swift, a really good work, leading into a very effective tribal drums juxtaposed with aquatic synths and voice fx piece entitled ‘The Sixth Helix’. The EP plays out with a quietly understated synthesiser wash, ‘Dreamtime’, its notes lingering in the air like an atmospheric undersea walk-through. It’s certainly the case that Keith has some great concepts here to build upon for the album proper, and I’m really looking forward to hearing the fully realised results.

Keith Hill Myspace Page

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Stovepony Records

Stovepony Records are an East London-based label who describe themselves as specialising in “, Americana, Blues, Garage, Folk, etc” but who go on to say, “We also like Psych, Metal, Prog, etc... just like any normal person, but not in an ironic way like.” Hmm, not entirely sure what that means, but I’ve received a couple of their latest releases, Waiting On The Outside by Walking Wounded and The Chronicles Of Solomon Quick by The Lucky Strikes. Neither are space-rock, but one I liked very much indeed, and the other I think plenty of blog readers here will enjoy...

Walking Wounded have, it seems, been playing their riotous brand of inner-city gypsy-punk for something like thirty years and have released eight previous albums, though Waiting On The Outside is their first to be commercially distributed. Their frontman, Dr Hugh Poulton, is a human rights activist who has worked in the Balkans and who for some twenty years was Amnesty International’s senior researcher there. That’s informed much of his songwriting here, but the over-riding tone of the songs comes from day-to-day living in Hackney and that’s the real flavour of the album because this is a quintessentially urban, specifically East London, work.

So, whilst Walking Wounded mix a multitude of styles in their raucous and totally catchy music, tumbling gypsy-sounds peppered with country, blues and a healthy pinch of punk attitude, their anchor is in the multi-cultural melting-pot of the East End and they have within them that honesty and camaraderie, so that this record has a real heart beating in it. It’s like party time with a social conscience, and in that sense perhaps this is an album that has some relationship to this blog in the way that Walking Wounded seem to possess a lot of that free festival ethos that’s often written about here.

Picking a few highlights (though most of this album is just really great, infectious, stuff), the opening ‘Vino Ulje Rakija’, the wine for the cheer, though it talks of the scars of war in the Balkans, is still delivered with a gloriously upbeat groove. ‘Pictures’ talks of help for someone who has slipped outside of mainstream society’, ‘when your back slides down the wall / I’ll try and soften your fall,’ and seems to encapsulate in these words a lot of what this record is all about. And the characters of ‘Betwixt & Between/Saturday Night Down The Balls Pond Road’ are sharply drawn, whilst the knowing and playful nudge and wink in the refrain of ‘and it’s a bit of this, a lot of that, you know what I mean,’ absolutely sums up this album.

And, lest this posting becomes a love-in to a really great release, let me just say, ‘Evolution’ (which talks of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace and their work on the theory of evolution), ‘No thanks.’ Not because of the subject matter, just because it sounds like one of those songs performed by a Year Six Junior School class and written by their music teacher. Sorry! The rest is just terrific, though...

The Lucky Strikes come from Essex and the concept album The Chronicles Of Solomon Quick is their second album, though their first for Stovepony. It’s a moody trawl through the gothic Americana of 1930s Mississippi, a fictionalised account of the death of real-life Delta blues legend Robert Johnson, a humid and taut retelling of Johnson’s murder, in legend, if maybe not in fact, derived from drinking Strychnine-laced whisky.

This one’s a bit of a grower, somewhat washing over me on its first play and then starting to get some hooks in on the second time around, though I do think its garage-country-blues-psych-rock will appeal to people here in any case. It’s an album loaded with period imagery that captures its time and place so well that it’s beholden on me to double check, and, yes, this band does still hail out of Essex. As slow and as dense and concentrated as a shot of Southern Comfort in some places, and hard rocking and as coarse as rough whisky in others. I loved the way they’ve captured the seedy atmosphere and, again, how they’ve drawn their characters and pinned-down that whole scene of poverty and desperation, outlaws and chain-gangs. So whilst I didn’t get moved by this release in quite the way I enjoyed the immediacy of Walking Wounded’s album, I heard a lot of stuff within it that worked really very well.

Walking Wounded Official Website

Monday, 10 August 2009

Exeter - Grey Noise, White Lies

See, I got really excited here. A release from Exeter! I love Exeter, it’s a city that thinks it’s a village, full of interesting little shops and big department stores, two Waterstones bookstores in the same High Street (or, at least last time I was there they were both surviving, though I believe the city centre has more recently been remodelled so perhaps now only one survives). There’s the Phoenix Arts Centre, a great venue where I’ve enjoyed everything from Hawkwind gigs to comic book conventions, and what at least used to be (and I hope still is) an excellent wine bar and eatery, Chaucer’s. What’s that you say? Not *that* Exeter?

Well, still plenty to be really excited about anyway, as this is a debut album filled with enormous promise and potential, from a four-piece spacerock outfit hailing out of Austin, Texas, described as being ‘four years, 30 songs and a hundred shows into its mission of leaving Earth without ever leaving the ground.’ They’ve released an EP, Intra Venus, and contributed to a couple of compilation albums, whilst 25th August sees this full-length calling card unleashed.

Exeter are spacerock in a similar vein to some other American bands I’ve written about here, most particularly The Upsidedown, in the sense that they are space-rock in the way that the term has become a substitute for shoegazer rather than a straight-forward Sci-Fi Hawkwind type thing. Then again, this is still really hard-driving, no-nonsense wall-of-sound stuff full of gritty guitars and hammering rhythms that can turn into ambient meditation on the proverbial sixpence and absolutely in the right territory for blog readers here.

There’s a real urgency and immediacy to their sound that grabs you as soon as ‘Bittersweet Vanity’ bursts out of the speakers to kick start this record as a blisteringly and furious dynamic salvo that possesses almighty verve and delivers an immense mission statement for what comes after. That’s not to say they’re a one note act, because there’s a powerful range in their work, so that ‘The Romantic’ can lean towards melodic power-pop one minute and drive straight back into a mighty cacophony the next, or ‘Red Dress’ can be swamped in dark mood whilst slowly moving from introspection to anthemic expansion and back again.

The title-track itself is a haunting and hazy instrumental drift, repetitive yet meandering and weighed-heavy with a brooding air. It’s an exceptionally well-realised, spot-on, mid-album track, setting up a second half that, in songs like the tightly-coiled ‘Window’, builds on that pensively hanging atmosphere that works towards the epic eight-minute play-out of ‘Planet X’. Dark yet blissful, swapping elegant and even life-affirming sounds with aural shock-force assaults; this record really is the business.

Exeter are Ky Williams (Drums), Rocky Reyna (Bass), Mike Parker (Guitar/Vocals) and Cameron Creamer (Guitar). Grey Noise, White Lies is released on Pop Up/Engineer Records.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

The Movements - For Sardines Space Is No Problem

On 10th December 2006, Arne Christer Fuglesang, physicist and astronaut, became the first Nordic person in space as part of the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery, awakening interest in space travel back home in his native Sweden and inspiring this tribute/concept album by Swedish spacerock band The Movements. In fact, Fuglesang had trained as an astronaut as early as 1992, joining the Cologne-based European Space Agency, being selected as a member of the back-up crew for the Euromir 95 mission, working out of the Russian Mission Control Centre in Kaliningrad and later qualifying as a ‘Mission Specialist’ for the NASA Space Shuttle. All of these achievements, and others, earned him the sobriquet ‘The astronaut who never gets to leave Earth’, one that Fuglesang was no doubt happy to be relieved of through his involvement on mission STS-116. For Sardines Space is No Problem is the motto of Fuglesang’s astronaut class at NASA.

Describing their music as a mix of spacerock noise, krautrock and Swedish folk music, The Movements recorded this album at their Parkeringshuset Studio during 2008 and into this year and the result is very approachable blend of styles, leaning towards progressive rock but having a rather nice lightness of touch. Is it a biographical album? I don’t know enough about Fuglesang to tell, but the track-titles certainly indicate that this is a linear walk through his life story. ‘A Birth Under the Northern Sky’ opens with solemn cathedral keyboards as though relating something quietly momentous before leading into a very spacerock ‘Mother, Someday I’m, Going to be an Astronaut’, all busy drumming, special effects and improvisational lead-guitar that has a riveting pace to it. ‘In the Footsteps of Gagarin’ moves them more into a progressive vein with Pink Floyd overtones and treated vocals, imaginative and spacey.

‘Trapped on Earth’ is a more gentle and reflective piece, a nicely realised piece of introspection that changes tempo mid-stream and tightly builds into a rocking coda with keyboards reminiscent of Dave Greenfield’s work with The Stranglers, whilst the overall style of thoughtful rumination changing into a driving instrumental seems to take something from Hawkwind’s ‘Space is Deep’. ‘Go Now My Friend’ takes the disc right back into introspection, a slow, studied progression that opens with a hint of Joy Division but quickly establishes itself as predominately a vocal chant that develops its own ‘lift-off’ dramatics before giving way to a short number entitled ‘That’s the Wrong Bolt Christer, Standby’, featuring sampled dialogue which appears to be derived from the Discovery mission and possibly relates to one Fuglesang’s two space walks.

The terrific nine-minute ‘Ministers of Space’ has one-tone Krautrock bass-lines overlaid with electronic effects and a background note of Turner-esque flute before the disc plays out with the upbeat, inquisitive and optimistic ‘The Grasp of the King’s Hand is Not Enough’. I understand that The Movements enquired about the possibility of Christer Fuglesang being involved with these recordings, which didn’t unfortunately happen, but there’s a promise of the music being taken up on Fuglesang’s next Shuttle mission, during this August.

Released on the Austrian Sulatron label, For Sardines Space is No Problem is a highly enjoyable concept album that makes effective use of its variety of styles and changing moods to deliver a really rather dynamic flow that’s accessible and enjoyable.