Tuesday, 16 March 2010

R2 Rock'n'Reel 20

Just received the latest issue of R2 magazine in the post, that's issue 20 cover dated March/April 2010... and for the spacerock enthusiast there's my old mate Oz Hardwick with a three-star review of the Inverse Gravity CD from Deborah L Knights and Joie Hinton - and their cast of thousands. Meanwhile, the most spacerock related CDs I'm covering this month is a rather good offering from Panic Room entitled Satellite (released by Firefly but distributed by my friends at Voiceprint) and, stretching the term quite a lot, Drawing Maps From Memory fron North Atlantic Oscillation. R2, though, arguably offers the most eclectic mix of new album reviews anywhere in the UK music press and is the place to find the most hidden of jewels in today's music output - and for that reason alone is an essential read.

Elsewhere in this issue, I'm covering The Moons (led by Weller-feller collaborator Andy Crofts) with their debut, Life On Earth, a reissue of Sonia Kristina's Cloud 10 album Harmonics of Love, for anyone who fancies a bit of meditative New Age in their life, the ecclesiastical Rev Simpkins & The Phantom Notes, Lions, West Country singer-songwriter (make that exceptional West Country singer-songwriter) Jenna Witts' Brother CD and a new DVD of Wishbone Ash celebrating their 40th anniversary Live In London. WH Smiths stock this magazine... please help them sell out of their stock!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Carol Clerk

My one possible claim to being anything approaching a 'proper' journalist is that I once enjoyed a boozy lunch with former Melody Maker scribe, and fellow Hawkwind biographer, Carol Clerk. I imagine having worked the inky weekly music press for many years, Carol was a veteran of such lunches and departed the particular tavern in question in total clarity and went off and interviewed Shane McGowan or something. Me, I crawled back to my hotel room (this was a few years back, so very probably the old flea pit itself, the now defunct Regents Palace) in the vain hope of an afternoon sleeping it off. But, God did I feel like I'd joined the real journalists club.

This morning, making what is a now an irregular browse of the Hawkwind yahoo group, I discovered that Carol had passed away and that made me enormously sad. I didn't know her terribly well - that boozy lunch was the only time I met her and enjoyed her company - but we had exchanged the odd telephone call and the infrequent e-mail, having been in friendly competition on our respective Hawkwind stories. The first time I spoke to her, she'd just been talking with Nik Turner, who'd told her about my book and given her my telephone number and she'd very generously called to apologise for treading the same ground as I was covering. Actually, it transpired there was a third book in the offing, that didn't appear in the end due I guess to clashing with our respective tomes and I believe the author of that book also received an apologetic call from Carol.

As it happened, I was able to help Carol with a couple of key contacts for her biography and she, in turn, e-mailed me Lemmy's phone number in Los Angeles, and a copy of his business card. Where was Lemmy in my finished manuscript? Ah, you don't just ring up Lemmy... surely? But we swapped a few contacts, some I had that didn't fit with her vision of her book she didn't follow up but were people I felt were key to mine. But that was probably the beauty of the two books - we followed different paths to get to our different end results. It's been a said a few times that if you put the two books together, you probably get to the real story of Hawkwind - others have compared the News of the World and the 'anorak's guide' and I believe we both thought those were valid comparisons.

When Carol's book, The Saga of Hawkwind, came out I of course read it, and of course enjoyed it greatly. What she'd included was quite investigative - someone once asked why Ian Abrahams didn't have the same background details as Carol had gathered but the truth, by and large, was that I had but that some of those details weren't for the sort of book I was writing and I'd consigned them to the cutting room floor. Where my cutting room floor was knee-deep in trims to make the word count limit (or, strictly fair here, my old friend and the person most responsible for making my own Hawk book work, Keith Topping's Newcastle pad's floor) Carol had been given her head by Omnibus and had produced a work of doorstop size full of outrageous stories and wild living that is rightly loved by Hawkwind fandom. I've not read all of her other wide-ranging books, though I did read her official biography of The Damned, Light At The End Of The Tunnel, back in the mid-80s, but for my money her achievement with Saga of Hawkwind was surpassed by her excellent book on The Pogues, Pogue Mahone, a couple of years later and wrote a very enthusiastic review of it for Record Collector.

So I didn't know her very well, I'm afraid, but what I wanted to say was that what I did know of her was all good things. Carol was very kind to me before my book appeared, despite Sonic Assassins being on pole position for the first 'available in bookstores' Hawkwind biography, generously plugging it in Uncut during a little piece she'd written principally to promote her own work. When she read it, she was kind enough to telephone and say that she'd enjoyed it, and to note the same on-line. She spared me her time when I was in town, to have that liquid lunch and so that I could listen to some greatly appreciated sound advice from a 'name' rock journalist, which she absolutely was. When I was writing a piece on The Damned for Record Collector, she phoned around and organised interviews with Rat Scabies and Brian James for me - and again contacted me to say she'd enjoyed the piece when it appeared.

She didn't need to do any of those things - but she let me feel like a member of the rock journalist club when others might have just seen me playing at and she took some time to encourage and advise someone who was just starting to work at something she was already an expert in the field of. I think it's a BIG person who does that, and the world of rock journalism is poorer for her passing.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Oresund Space Collective - Dead Man In Space

Spring is in the air in Cornwall, and that means... spring cleaning. And succesful spring cleaning means... my home office looks just a little less like a tip than it does at any other point in the calendar. But it does also mean a chance to pop in a few things that I've either listened to and meant to come back to for the blog, or to listen to things that have arrived and I've not had a chance to get properly acquainted with so far, whilst I'm trying to create semblance of order from the chaos of CDs and papers that surround me. In the first category, since anything by them is always a treat to listen to, is a three-track limited edition vinyl of Oresund Space Collective's Dead Man In Space release from late 2009 that OSC's Scott Heller had very kindly sent me a CDR of for review.

In true OSC tradition, two tracks are long, improvisational and atmospheric numbers, very laid-back in a way and which the band suggests harkens back to their early material. "We enter the into the realm of jazz space rock with the track 'Space Jazz Jam 2.2' which features Anders on saxophone," they note, whilst the other, 'High Pilots' they describe as "taken from the last jam of the studio session and is a very dynamic and moody piece of music." The final track is a brief spoken word piece, but the two main tracks are both a taster for a future full CD release of this jam session - always OSC's favoured and it has to be said, highly successful, methodology of working - but the limited edition vinyl run is also a tester for future vinyl releases.

I'm sure regular followers of this blog are well acquainted with Oresund Space Collective, but for newcomers, these guys are very much at the forefront of extended improvisational and melodic spacerock sounds. Their music is trippy, blissful explorations of sequence and mood that really floats away on its own mind journey. If you haven't heard them before, you really (no, really) should be aware of these guys; they've got the extended introspection of In Search of Space Hawkwind with a totally contemporary vibe - they really are the business. I believe copies of this release are still available from Kommun2/Pariah Child at £12.50/€15.00 plus postage, details can be found here or here, please don't forget to mention the blog when ordering, whilst OSC's own website is located on this link.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Pete Bingham - Sendelica Interview & EP

I stumbled upon Cardigan-based Sendelica a while back, when I interviewed the band's Glenda Pescado for the forthcoming free festivals book, wrote about them on here and then subsequently in R2 magazine. The band have a free to download EP, 'Screaming and Streaming Into The Star-lit Nite' on release as of last weekend (I loved my old mate Rob Dreamworker's enthusiastic commentary on this over on Facebook when he posted that he thought it a "seriously blissful EP" and then immediately posted again, "until the second track kicked in with its hobnailed boots on" and summed it up as "Very Nice Indeed."), and you can go and pick up a copy here. In the meantime, I got on the phone and had a great time talking about the history of the band with co-founder Pete Bingham.

What are the roots of Sendelica? How did it all come about?

It sort of came about back in 2006 as something fun to do, really. I’d been playing in a kind of electronic pop band at the time, for about four or five years and I’d actually put a gig on in Cardigan by Acid Mothers Temple which brought back fond memories of all the music I used to like as a kid. I first started going to gigs when I was about 13, bunked off school to go and see Pink Floyd at the end of the Dark Side Of The Moon tour and became very entranced by that kind of music and so [doing the Acid Mothers Temple gig] was like a flashback to my childhood and I decided I wanted to play that sort of stuff again, just for a bit of fun. So it was about getting together, this was the middle of 2006, on a Sunday afternoon for a jam and a bit of fun. Then I met Glen [Glenda Pescado] who I knew vaguely in the area, and Colin Constantine who became Sendelica’s producer, gave me his telephone number. I gave him a ring, he came down one Sunday and we had a great time but still we didn’t see it as anything serious, though I fondly remember it being said after the first rehearsal that it would be “something good to do on a Sunday afternoon for the rest of our lives!” It kind of just got out of hand from there, really. We used to record the jams and rehearsals and a promoter got hold of one of the CDs that we used to give to friends and we got offered a couple of gigs... and it took off. We’ve had a lot of line-up changes but me and Glenda have been the constant two, right from the beginning.

Glen’s a bit of a veteran of festival bands and the like...

That’s right, he’s had an illustrious past as a travelling circus man / musician, then he ended up settling down in this area of Wales, similar to myself, and he played with Nik Turner’s All-Stars for quite a number of years but he’d kind of reached the same point in life that I had and was looking to do something for his own enjoyment.

Were you both coming from the same area of musical love? Because you can hear a bit of the Floyd in your stuff, and a lot of Krautrock and in that respect Neu! are obviously an influence?

When we first got together I’d made a few really rough demos, bits of ideas that I had in my head, and he was, “Oh yes, a bit of Neu! there, a bit of Faust, a bit of Pink Floyd,” so we were singing off the same hymn sheet, but we also love a lot of modern stuff. I was really into a lot of dance music, was a huge fan of people like Massive Attack and Orb and Underworld and all that stuff was being thrown into the melting pot as well. So we had that historical stuff we were pulling from, but we also brought a lot of other things in as well.

The next stage was that Colin had been nagging me for ages to get a MySpace page, so I did a Sendelica MySpace and discovered this vast psychedelic community out in the big wide world. We became friends with this guy called Niko, who is the guitarist in a band called Seven That Spells, who did a lot of stuff with Acid Mothers Temple and was signed to a Russian label called RAIG Records and through him we e-mailed the label manager, Igor, who was really into the band and we ended up signing to them. That was quite bizarre really, because it came from something we had no ambitions for, or preconceptions of, that just took on a life of its own.

I’ve had a few e-mails with Igor and he’s got a really nice little label that puts out quite an eclectic mix of stuff.

I love it, it’s kind of like a psychedelic version of Factory Records, he has this vision of the whole label, not just from the point of view of the music he releases, which is mostly psychedelic or improvisational music, that’s what the label is all about, but he also has this vision of the artwork and this consistency of what the label puts out which is fantastic. We felt immediately at home being on the label. Fortuitously at the time, there was another label, a Welsh label called TidyLike who were interested in working with us as well and part of the deal we did with them was to record albums for both labels using equipment they had. So we recorded Spaceman Bubblegum And Other Weird Tales From The Mercury Mind for RAIG Records at the same time as doing a very ambient album, SleepWalker Fever, which eventually came out on TidyLike and of which we ended making a movie of.

That was released in a limited edition as a bonus DVD with your most recent album and clearly you’re interested in joining up the visuals with the music?

Yeah, that’s going back to seeing those bands like Pink Floyd all those years ago with the lights and the projectors and stuff, but also I’ve always been a huge Velvet Underground fan and interested in the Warhol EPI shows where they were bringing, oh, maybe a touch of theatre, but a touch of something else to the music. So when I got to know Igor and we got to talking, he really sees that as the future of music, releasing things with DVDs so that there’s a visual aspect to go with the music. It’s a double-edged sword, our music is very visual and very soundscape and landscape and puts images in people’s heads, so there’s a bit of me that’s concerned about giving people images to see instead of what they can see for themselves but then our music does really lend itself to working with cinematographers, like Grant Wakefield on the SleepWalker Fever movie which was a fantastic experience with an end product that was really satisfying.

It’s a very striking end result.

What’s strange about it is that we never sat to discuss what we thought the end visuals should be. We’d originally approached Grant with the idea of making some loops that could be projected onto the band as we played, as we did some shows in big cinemas. At the time I was putting the finishing touches to the album SleepWalker Fever and sent him a copy, and he said he loved it so much he’d like to turn it into a movie. We had no discussion about what he would do visually, so when he came back it was fantastic, a great marriage.

Let’s talk about the releases that you’ve put out...

We’d put out a few things on our own, before getting involved with TidyLike and RAIG, we did an EP with a singer called Chris Gibbs, ‘The Owls Have Eyes’ and then we recorded an album called Entering The Rainbow Light which again featured vocalists though we did have a lot of instrumental stuff on it. But from that point on the direction of being an instrumental band took shape and we moved on from there and released the ambient SleepWalker Fever and our first RAIG album Spaceman Bubblegum... which again was an instrumental album. We do use vocalists, but we use them as instruments for texture, choir-like sounds that we have singers in doing.

We touched on it being very improvisational, does everything come from just sitting around and seeing what comes out of jamming together?

We get together and jam a lot and record all those jams, then we try and take bits we like and over a succession of jams we come up with what would be the eventual track, but it’s always a lot of improvisational elements. Then again we have another way of working where, especially the ambient stuff, where I record a lot of material with guitars and electronics and then other people will come in and add their stuff to it. Two ways of working but it always has that Sendelica sound to it.

How does that translate into a live environment?

Well, we play a lot live but not necessarily in front of audiences [laughs]. There’s been a few gigs where we’ve just made up a track and it just kind of happens in encores and stuff. Tracks from albums do change a lot when we play live, there’s a track called ‘Manhole Of The Universe’ from the Girl From The Future... album, and there’s a live version of that on the new EP from when we played in America last year. It’s recognisable as the same track and has the same elements, but the live version is about twice as long, so we have certain starting points and middle points, and points we come to at the end but in-between those we do explore the songs, interpret them and move them around.

Okay, so we’re moving on to last’s The Girl From The Future Who Lit Up The Sky With Golden Worlds, which I reviewed for R2 and really enjoyed, so let’s talk a bit about that one?

That was recorded in America. After Spaceman Bubblegum... came out we got a lot of good press, especially from America and ended up making friends with a few people over there. I was invited to go to Boston and meet with a few musicians there, so I went over and did some recordings with a psychedelic-electronic band called Psylab and whilst I was there the idea of Sendelica going over and doing a few gigs was talked about and we decided to go for it. But I’d met a band in Boston called Axe Monkey and we got in touch with their drummer who was well up for drumming on the tour, picked up a keyboardist who played some of the dates with us as well and it was a fantastic experience. During the tour a guitarist from one of the support bands offered us a chance to do some recordings at a studio at Providence Rhode Island, a studio that he worked at, and it was free recording time. We finished the tour with a gig at the Knitting Factory in New York and the next day we were in that studio laying down some tracks that became the basis for the Girl From The Future... album. We brought the multi-tracks back with us, mixed them over here and that was the album.

Based in Wales, recording in America, released in Russia... very cosmopolitan then! But how do you go about getting the word out and getting people’s attention?

Myspace has been fantastic, and the prog-rock psychedelic community in itself has been very supportive in spreading the word. I mean, we have no huge advertising budget it’s just word of mouth. But we are a real Myspace phenomenal success, really!

So let’s talk about the new EP. I loved the really evocative saxophone going on there...

We started thinking about a new album in the middle of last year, we did do some work with a UK label but that didn’t work out for various reasons but out of the frustration of that I wrote a track called ‘Screaming and Streaming’ and Lee Relfe, the sax player, was in the studio with us and it just really came together as a track. So that’s on the new album, but we thought it would be good to do a free download before the album appears and RAIG have a download label where they release stuff that hasn’t been on albums and so we talked with them about doing the download EP.

So that’s the immediate future, but what are the ambitions?

We’ve just made a second movie but I don’t want to go too much into that because even with the visuals we want people to make up their own story and take what they want from the images and the music. There’ll be a limited-edition DVD with the CD of the new album, and in fact we’ve just started a storyboarding a third movie which we’ll hopefully film and record this summer. It’s amazing... we had less than £1,000 in the summer and from that we recorded the album, did a movie and a soundtrack for it, did a promo video for the EP...

You make it go a long way! Very impressive!

That’s the thing; technology now is fantastic – we can do things on budgets now that we could never even have imagined 10 or 15 years ago. When I became a musician, you were looking at ten grand just to record a basic album; now, if you’re prepared to work with the technology, and have the technology work for you, some really good stuff can come out of it. But Sendelica has attracted this really amazing team of people around us and we have the ability to really put a package together. It keeps us all quite excited... and makes it a joy to play!

Sendelica MySpace Page
Sendelica at RAIG Records

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Rockburn - Night On Fire

Just as an aside before I kick off this weekend's bunch of reviews and spacerock news, here's a cheery wave and "Hello" to the Japanese spammer who is regularly hitting one of the archive posts on the blog. Umm, sorry mate, not buying - whatever the heck it is that you are trying to sell...

It's been a busy week of interviews and the like, kicking off with a conversation last Sunday morning with Pete from Sendelica, who I've enthused about a few times on this blog and in print and that'll be posted here sometime over this weekend with the appropriate links to their free to download EP which aptly demonstrates the multiple facets to their music, in advance of their next album which should be appearing in the Spring. Mind you, nice sunny day down here in Cornwall and perhaps Spring is actually on the way already - so scratch that and let's say that we'll expect the new Sendelica sometime in the next few months. I also had the great opportunity of talking to one of the good guys of the music scene yesterday when I interviewed Ian McNabb about his wonderful new solo album, Great Things. Ian's a fascinating interview subject, very easy going and chatty and although his new CD is far removed from this blog's usual subject matter, if you've encountered his work before you'll love this even though it's a bit of a departure from his usual style. Perhaps I was a bit gushy as regards to this record when I spoke to him, but it was from the heart anyway... a bit like today, when I was out shopping in Sainsburys with the family and spotted my old English teacher from 1978/79 and, having probably not spoken to him in some thirty years, took the opportunity to approach him and tell him what a great teacher he had been and how influential on my wanting to be a writer he'd been. To my delight, he did remember my name and seemed thrilled to have been told how one of his long ago pupils appreciated what he'd imparted all those years back.

Anyway, none of that has anything to do with this entry but as my own blog rests in cyberspace neglected and unposted to in a couple of years it's useful to put down some things here from time to time!

Rockburn, who hail from Bellshill in Scotland have really got the press pack thing sorted (see my point on this in a previous post!) and sent over a two-track CD, a couple of photos, a biography and a selection of review quotes. That's what I call organisation - good stuff! As are the two tracks in question: 'Night On Fire' and 'Wishing Well'. Now, both of these are, again, somewhat outside of the original stomping ground of this blog, but actually I'm really happy that it's become less about a narrow framework of genre and is now a more wideranging and expansive collection of reviews and interviews - and that I get to hear a lot of stuff that might not have otherwise got onto my radar. So that's where I am with these songs, which are essentially no nonsense classic rock numbers that are blessed with great hooks, booming drums, grinding guitars and upfront vocals.

What they seem to be is one of those well-kept secrets that make you feel like they must have a dedicated core audience who relish in following them for just an old-fashioned damned good night out, since what I'm hearing here is so completely made for playing in the live environment with the beer flowing and the girls looking hot. That's very unreconstructed of me to say, but Rockburn own their share of what's missing in rock these days and that's the ability to put across simple but infectious hard rock 'n' roll and more power to their elbow for doing it.

In fact, they suggest that what they do is actually "born out of the frustration of seeing a lack of bands having the balls to play 'all out' rock 'n' roll," and that does make you wonder where all that passion and energy has disappeared, really. Rockburn, though, seem to be making real headway, with 'Night On Fire' being chosen by Celtic FC to be played at their home games, win Rock Radio's 'future classics' competition on 96.3FM and recently working through recording sessions at Lanarkshire's Foundry Music Lab with producers Sandy Jones and Graeme Duffin and just working their nuts off in the live environment at home and in Europe. They've got the sound and the ambition to do well.

Rockburn Myspace Page