Sunday, 31 July 2011

Sendelica – The Pavilion Of Magic And The Trials Of The Seven Surviving Elohim

I've written about the prolific musical activities of Pete Bingham and Glenda Pescado previously on this blog, including an interview a year or so ago with Pete, and reviewed recent Sendelica releases for R2 (The Girl From The Future Who Lit Up The Sky With Golden Worlds) and Record Collector (Streamedelica She Sighed As She Hit Rewind On The Dream Mangler Remote) ... or was it the other way around ... but despite the releases coming fast upon each other, a real outpouring of improvisational ideas, it's always a delight, actually an event, to receive the next one. Long, meandering and absolutely obscure title? Check! Neu!, Hawkwind and Pink Floyd influences? Check! Krautrock and space rock sensibilities cut through with a refreshingly contemporary vibe? Check!

The Pavilion Of Magic... comprises seven new tracks plus their excellent and luxuriously exotic cover of 'Venus In Furs' with Alice Davidson providing vocals which was originally issued as a 7" single by vinyl specialists Fruits De Mer in 2010 and another bonus cover, this time a delightful and very pastoral reading of Captain Beefheart's 'This Is The Day' featuring vocals from Molara. Those are great additions to the main event and a nice contrast to Sendelica's usual instrumental-only methodology, and both, for my money, better renditions than their take on 'Urban Guerilla' on Fruit De Mer's recent Roqueting Through Space LP - which is the only instance I can think of when I found myself just a little underwhelmed by what was delivered.

The main event itself though. First off, I loved guest saxophonist Lee Relfe's work on Streamedelica She Sighed... but Relfe's contributions here, on the sprawling and shiny 'Banshees & Fetches, and most particularly on the simply exquisite blissfulness of 'Arizona Spree', totally excels and is completely mesmerising.

'Zhyly Byly' opens proceedings, a muscular and strident composition with a definite Russian tone to it (the band have been out there playing live – and good friend of this blog, and someone very much at the forefront of Russian space and heavy psychedelic rock, Alisa Coral, mastered this album) that also for me has something of the feel of Hawkwind's 'Snake Dance' to it in places, whereas the next track, 'The Elohim' is a studied and pensive piece that seems to evoke something of Pink Floyd's Meddle in its tone and atmosphere. On to a couple of shorter pieces, 'Guiding The Night' and 'Orion Delight', the former another strident and relentlessly insistent number while the latter is a bright and uplifting with a definite vivaciousness to it highlighted by some lovely bright guitar work from Bingham.

We've touched on the next couple of tracks: I keep coming back to 'Arizona Spree' and just immersing myself in its idyllic layers but in addition, writing about it, I'm finding it to be a perfect companion piece to 'Orion Delight' in that each, in their individual ways, are enriching pieces that just have a feel-good vibe to them. The album 'proper' rounds out with the more experimental 'The Pavilion Of Magic' which, being honest, I found less engaging than what comes before and just a bit grey in comparison to the really inspiring compositions earlier in the record. And yes, I know we have to have texture and contrast but what I'm finding in the middle of the album is a mood that I don't really want to be shaken out of and that's probably why this one jars because it lifts you out of a state of mind – like waking up in the middle of a really nice dream to discover it is Monday morning. It pales in the success of what we've heard before simply because of the mood change that it invokes.

So that personal note aside, this is another terrific Sendelica album. I trust the aforementioned prolific outpouring will long continue! Like some of the previous Sendelica albums, this comes as a standard CD and as a CD + DVD package that includes 'Ritual', another in a series of films that marry striking visuals to Sendelica music, the band in aftershow jamming mode in Cardigan, and a promotional video for 'Banshees & Fetches'. I've fallen a little behind with blogging here due to print deadlines and a trip up to London to attend the playback of Porcupine Tree's Steve Wilson's new album at Air Studios – which I'll blog about during the week – so haven't yet properly sat down to watch 'Ritual', which is a 38 minute film of laid-back and calming soundscapes juxtaposed with imaginative and evocative visuals that deserves far more of a write-up than I can provide at the moment but which I'll revisit as part of a general blog entry in the next couple of weeks.

Something aside from this album that I should note here; the rights to Sendelica's earliest recordings have now reverted to the band and are available to purchase as downloads from the Sound Awesome Market Place here. This includes their 2007 debut album, Entering The Rainbow Light, their first ever release, Theowlshaveeyes EP and The Alternative Realities Of The Re-Awakening Somnabulist.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Leave No Star Unturned – Steve Pittis Interview

Here's the second in a sequence of chats with labels associated with current Hawkwind related releases. Easy Action Records will soon be releasing a live CD and a vinyl pressing of Hawkwind at the Cambridge Corn Exchange from January 1972; it's a show that's been rumoured to exist, talked about and even wrongly assigned as being featured on other live albums over the years. Soon we'll be hearing this highly dynamic and significant recording for ourselves, but in advance of the release here's a chat with Steve Pittis who, along with Carlton Sandercock, has been behind the acquisition of the source tape – the original recordings of which also includes sets by The Pink Fairies and The Syd Barrett Last Minute Put-Together Boogie Band. I started by asking Steve about his own interest in Hawkwind:

Hawkwind, and all things like that, have been a constant for me from the early '70s onwards. It goes back to school days and In Search Of Space, or X In Search Of Space as it was. I'm not going to go all 'Pistols at the 100Club' and say 'I saw them at the Sundown', because I didn't; the first time I saw them was on the Warrior On The Edge Of Time tour at the Southend Kursaal because, let's face it, I was too young for my dad to let me go to Edmonton! But it remains, without a doubt, the best gig I've ever been to, that incredible 'being in outer space' feeling. It just takes me back to school days and borrowing each others' Glastonbury Fayre and Greasy Truckers records. Just before Doremi... came out we were all fanatics, to the point of going up to London, to Shaftesbury Avenue and knocking on record company doors with our squeaky voices, asking 'Have you got any memorabilia... photos... stickers?' The kindest to us in those days was this wonderful woman at United Artists who was trying to shove the Flamin Groovies down our neck but we wanted Hawkwind and walked out with some fantastic memorabilia, such as photos, and I had an original 'one sheet' for 'Silver Machine' which I've still got. So when I was old enough to tell my old man that I was going to this gig, I went! But, alas, I missed the Space Ritual and stuff like that.

Now, this Cambridge tape has been rumoured and talked about for a long time, hasn't it? Different things have come out that have purported to be this show, and aren't, and now you've sourced this tape we have the confidence and the provenance to say really is this show, so tell us the process that enabled you to acquire this reel?

It was on auction at Bonhams. There was a piece in Record Collector to say that it was expected to sell for around three and a half grand and Carlton and I spoke about it. The auction was on June 24th last year, but unfortunately I was unable to go to London and Carlton was away. We were going, "We really want this, it's got the Syd thing, it's got the Fairies, Hawkwind, we really want this." Now, difficult to clear all of this stuff [for release], so we just concluded we had to let it go and if it sold, then it sold. But it didn't sell so I suggested to Carlton that he make the guy who was selling it an offer on the basis that if it wasn't used as a stick to beat anyone else with we'd close the deal, and he went along with it. I met him in a pub in the West End and he handed over not only a reel to reel but studio transcriptions of them on CD-R and I went home wondering how we were going to clear them, which is Carlton's department! So he's been in touch with Russell and Sandy of the Pink Fairies and we thought that would be the first to come out but he also knows Nigel Reeve at EMI, spoke to them and yes the Hawkwind element was their period so got it cleared without any problems.

It's important to have that legitimacy...

I completely agree with you, it has to be made clear.
What have you had to do with the tape to master it for release?

Well, the tape was originally not very high volume, very warts and all; Patrick Bird [PSB Music, London] did the mastering and did a splendid job but he phoned me and said, "There are various sounds on there like tapes rewinding and things, I'll get rid of those," but I said, "No! Don't get rid of those, that's all part of it." There's some left and right phasing, that disappears from one channel to the next and back again, which there's not a lot that can be done about. But I whacked it into mono, which didn't eliminate those sounds. We could have dealt with that using cut and paste but I didn't want that at all. The EQ is so such better than the tape I originally bought, Patrick's brought the volumes to the right levels and it sounds like... well, it sounds like it has been mastered. It's so much better. But, I really didn't want to destroy the integrity of it by messing around with cutting and pasting. I'd rather have something disappearing from one channel to the next and leave it where it is, and I've added something at the last minute to the booklet to explain that. What I'm saying is that Patrick has done a wonderful job on this tape, and we could have cheated but as a Hawkwind fan I wouldn't want that and I'm absolutely certain that others wouldn't also.

When you get a historic document like this, you want to know that you're hearing 'front of house' on the night...

Absolutely. It's not a four-out-of-ten recording from a cassette recorder in somebody's pocket. It's not Text of Festival or Yuri Gagarin, it's a very good recording and, yeah, it needs to be the document that it is. I was quite surprised because the guy who sold it said, "I don't think it's the whole show," so I was delighted when it just went on and on and the encore came in and it was everything, the whole show, a really pleasant surprise.

It sits quite well with the pending EMI Parallel Universe collection; they have a very early 'You Know You're Only Dreaming', almost a busker-number, and what we have here in early 1972 is another development of it again, different than In Search Of Space.

I thought it was the precursor when I heard it, but of course this is 1972, but there are no vocals and yet obviously it is that track but I'd never heard it in that way before. On 'You Shouldn't Do That', the whispered 'shouldn't do...' parts sound almost off the beat, on a different part of the rhythm, almost like the monitors weren't working properly and they were doing the wrong bit at the wrong time but then the 'do that...' chorus is right, so it's really weird and gives it a different tinge again. And the obvious 'Silver Machine' being different to the Roundhouse version, with the Calvert vocals and it just blew my mind, as a fan, thinking "I don't care about the cost... I can hear this!" It's a real find!

So much so that there's going to be vinyl release alongside the CD...

I can die a happy man with a Hawkwind vinyl release! I'm in the process of getting the artwork done for that now, it'll be the same front cover but there will be coloured inner sleeves, coloured vinyl, really decent heavy gloss laminated board... make it something beautiful. Realistically that will be a good month after the CD I'd say but I really intend for it to look fantastic.

Can we touch on the Pink Fairies and Syd Barrett tapes?

The Syd Barrett... Syd's on it, Twink's on it... lots of people. I think clearing that with all those guys and Syd's estate it's, let's put it that it's going to be a long job and there's no short cut to a record label for that one so it does have to be the people and it only needs one person to say "I don't want it coming out," and that's it. The Pink Fairies, I'm working on that one for a project with various tapes that I've got. There's a Pete Drummond show that's never been released, so we could do a 'Cambridge plus expanded rarities' box set and we'd hope Rich Deakin, who wrote the Fairies book, would be involved with that...

No better person to be involved!

Exactly... so time will tell with the Syd tape, the Fairies will appear I'd imagine, as long as we can get their agreement.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Hola One & Subterminal - Tangency

If some of the music I've been writing about here might be described as the aural equivalent of wandering around the 'space race' section of the Science Museum in London, all rockets and technology, hardware and spaceware, equipment and dreams that are modern, even futuristic, and yet retro and abandoned at the same time, then Tangency, to continue the metaphor, is like an hour spent prowling Tate Modern as an artistic layman. Some of it impresses, some of it baffles and some of it is just bewildering – contemporary, vivid, experimental, challenging. Though it has nothing in common with their music, it resonates with me when I think of The Stranglers and their 'Aural Sculpture' declaration on the Feline LP, not because of content but because of the texture the idea of an aural sculpture itself suggests. And, though again I'm associating a concept outside of its actual definition with the work that's been laid down, carved even, on Tangency, I'd like to suggest that these tracks are almost akin to a continuous tone poem.

So, not our usual fare then. It's a collection of electronic sounds with intoned words where the sounds have a sheen to them that's like opaque glass, a sort of smooth surface but without an immediate transparency to it. Introverted and repetitive rhythms dominate giving the atmosphere of the album a thoughtful and sometimes softly calming aura and it's interesting that on occasion the same track is presented in instrumental and spoken-over or intoned form, which, perhaps because of the reclusive nature of the music, builds on the suite's sense of being a continuous thread.

I'd have to say that the predominate feeling that runs through is one of something that's relentless in being digitally emotionless... that sort of clinical coldness of expression. 'Dark and cold...' breathes... whispers... Bridget Wishart, making a guest appearance on 'Frozen City Ghosts' and in fact that statement seems to be the reflection of much of what infuses and informs these compositions.

It's a record, then, that isn't going to provide immediate gratification or instant access to its intricacies. When I first heard it I found it demanding, almost standoffish in a way, as though it had its secrets that it wanted to maintain internally, rather than give outwards to the listener, but that's not really it, of course. It's more that it wants you to inhabit its soundscapes, it wants you to come inwards and feel the construction, be part of its chimes and rhythms and, perhaps, to be an explorer of its icily crystalline caverns. It's that it would ask you to question what it's about, to challenge it and consider its nature … in that way the opening analogy, that it's the Tate Modern's evolving collections of contemporary questioning, open to myriad of readings and meanings, in comparison to our regular fare's rockets and hardware, seems to be to be a rather apt summation of this quite intriguing work.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Parallel Universe – Nigel Reeve Interview

Nigel Reeve of EMI has been involved with their custodianship of the Liberty / United Artists Hawkwind catalogue for over fifteen years and has been a driving force behind EMI's various Hawkwind releases including their remasters project, the 1999 Party and the recent Hawkwind at the BBC double-disc. As part of a short sequence of chats with the people behind current Hawkwind releases I caught up with Nigel just as EMI prepare to release Parallel Universe, a three-disc compilation of existing and previously unheard recordings from the 1970 -1974 Hawkwind era which is going to thrill Hawkfans with its selection of alternate mixes, alternative versions, a cut of the rare 'Take What You Can', and a previously unknown track entitled Hog Farm.

I started on this set about five years ago, thinking about what I might be able to do because I'd gone so far with Hawkwind that it seemed there was very little else I could do. Then, a couple of years ago, I came back to it, had a look again at the tapes and thought, "Hang on a minute, there's some stuff here that doesn't seem to add up." But it took another year before I went into the studio and played them, checked to see what we were dealing with here, and that's where some of these things came from. Some of them were absolute revelations to me… I did a little bit of research on-line to see what the fans knew, and of course I know the catalogue pretty damn well myself, but there were things there that nobody knew about and I couldn't understand how this stuff had never made it out. It just seems to be that whatever happened, these tapes stayed in our vaults over the years and kind of got forgotten about until I started delving a little bit deeper and, bingo, these tracks came to light. That gave me the impetuous to finish the set and cover that period in one hit.

What was the thinking regarding releasing these recordings alongside established catalogue tracks?

I wanted to put it into context because the original set was going to be some kind of 'complete period', all of the stuff from 1970 – 1974. But there was nothing particularly new for the fans until I got these recordings, some alternate versions and various other bits and pieces, and I thought the best way to do it was to give the fans those tracks but also, because Hawkwind pick up new fans all the time, have one set that gives them a snapshot of that period both released and unreleased with the key tracks from that era. I thought that was the way to go, it just struck me as the way to capture both the current fans and the possible new fans that are going to come to the band.

In terms of assigning these tracks to recording dates and line-ups, how robust is the archival data that might exist alongside these unearthed recordings?

There is a chronology that I've written for the set and there is also the label copy so any dates that I've been able to get from the multi-tracks are noted and there is a list of line-ups for that period as well, so in fact all of the pieces of the jigsaw are there and most of the dates are absolute fact but there's a couple where, say, they are definitely recorded during [the sessions for] Doremi... and so during the early part of a particular month but for which I can't give a specific date.
What sort of condition were the tapes in? We hear stories of tapes being 'baked' to retrieve their contents...
They were great, no problem at all. The stock was always good stock; it was only a little later that tapes used would have caused problems. When we pulled the tapes up, none of them needed baking, they were all fine.

When you hear these alternative versions, like 'You Know You're Only Dreaming' which gives a completely different take on what the band were doing in those days, or 'Wind of Change' which is so different from the released version... it's really exciting stuff isn't it?

Very much so. You can hear how the band was developing. 'You Know You're Only Dreaming' is very much along the lines of 'Mirror of Illusion' or 'Hurry On Sundown'; there were bits and pieces that were coming in from the live show, but the live show of the time was pretty much just the rest of the first album, got up and jammed. So you can hear there are ideas coming along there, but perhaps the band weren't quite ready to go down that route and it took until a little bit later, until In Search of Space, when they finally did. It's interesting that 'Kiss of the Velvet Whip' appears around the time of In Search of Space, a more formed version than the earlier one and you can hear that it's something they wanted to do but it took them that time to get it right. 'Wind of Change' is listed on the multi-track as being 'Rock Around the Clock' so I'm playing the tapes wondering, "What's this? Is it really 'Rock Around the Clock?' No, it's this alternate version of 'Wind of Change'. It's clearly early in the sessions, elements of that early version were taken [for the final cut], but it stands on its own, it's very powerful and that justifies putting it out.
That's pre-Simon House joining I guess?

I believe it was.
People speculate about tapes that may or may not exist, things like the Edmonton Sundown gig that was in part used for Hall of the Mountain Grill. What can you say about other items that might reside in the archives?

We do have other things but unfortunately things like the Hall of the Mountain Grill tracks are noted as being 'live' but that's just the basic track with overdubs done later. On the Space Ritual tour, Sunderland was recorded before they made it to Brixton but there's a fault on the recording and whatever you do in the mixing you're just not going to be able to retrieve it. So that's the problem, there are live multi-tracks and I've been through them all but it's very difficult to piece them all together and there's just not good enough recordings and / or performances, certainly nothing better than what is already available. I posted on your blog the other day because someone asked why don't EMI do something with Warrior on the Edge of Time and suggested the tapes were missing so I'd just clarify the point that it's not ours anymore, much as I'd love it to be, and that the tapes aren't missing because we have them. It was on a separate contract at the time, under licence to us and then reverted to the band.
In those terms, when you did the Hawkwind at the BBC set last year, that could have been more expansive but only if you went for lower-grade recordings?

That's right. I did research for stuff but it was pretty shocking and no matter what work you put in you can only go so far with these things. We spent a lot of time with the engineer cleaning up the live tracks, making them the best we could, but we couldn't get anything out of the session stuff that would have justified giving it back to the fans again, they've already got it... okay it might not be great but I didn't feel we could improve upon it.
What was the thinking behind releasing the dual versions of the In Concert show, the mono and the stereo?

It came out by accident really; the Windsong package was the mono version and needed a clean-up and so I asked the BBC for another copy of the tape and actually what they sent me was the stereo, which they hadn't logged, so I had the two versions and by their very nature of being mono and stereo there was quite a lot of difference. While the mono from Windsong was going to sound better than it had before, the stereo had only circulated before as a bootleg and so I could do a better job with it and give the fans the choice, the best of both worlds.
EMI have done a fantastic job on their portion of the catalogue; where the rest of the catalogue, before the Cherry Red 'buy-out', has had a bit of a chequered history, EMI have been exemplary in the way they've maintained the availability of a band that, with no disrespect intended, are now a bit of a 'niche'. Where do they sit in terms of importance to EMI?

Really, I drive that interest at EMI. I first started working on the catalogue in 1996 with Tim Chacksfield when we did the digipac remasters. Every now and then I've looked at it to see how things are going and seen good opportunities to do something. The interest, apart from the personal interest, is that the band have a steady audience that buy, I mean we're not talking huge amounts, but what we are talking about is a solid figure that tells us that if we put out a Hawkwind package we're going to be fine.

I've just got to say "thank you" for doing such a great job on this anthology, it's a joy to listen to and it really illuminates this part of the band's career. It's a great job that's been done.

From my point of view it was a joy to have done it and finished it, particularly from having a completely different idea of this set five years ago. It's been this thing on the back burner, the BBC set came and went in the mean time and then these tapes gave me the impetus to finish it and I'm really pleased. I'm not sure there's anything more I can do now, unless something really exciting turns up, but it's a really nice way to sign-off.