A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Monday, March 25, 2002

Spring is upon us once again, fellow musos..though it doesn't feel like it in New England...the past few days have been blustery and quite cold for this time of year..nevertheless, Happy Spring Equinox, Gang!! I've been busy buying and selling on E-Bay..as usual..I've actually sold 7 discs so far...out of posting 13..so my ratio is half n' half...not bad, right outta the gate. Some things that didn't sell are inexplicable to me--"Caravan & The New Symphonia", granted it's the real old re-issue, from '92--so I suspect that everyone who wants it has got the mini-LP release *or* the 2001 Decca re-master..ah well, I may re-list it in a couple of months. T.Rex "Electric Warrior"..c'mon folks, this one's an absolute classic!! But there again..just re-issued in mini-LP format and a 2002 re-master with "works-in-progress" bonus tracks--I guess that was bad timing on my part--trying to sell the old re-issue from '91.
I've also got a bunch of discs in the post from auctions I won, like two of David Bedford's records...Star's End, from 1974..and The Odyssey, from 1976. Bedford was a scenester kicking around England in the late-60s when he met up with Kevin Ayers, who had just left The Soft Machine and was looking to form a new group to record his solo compositions. Bedford was a good keyboardist so he got the gig filling out the piano seat and rattling the ivories. Also recruited were legendary hipster saxophonist, Lol Coxhill and a young kid fresh from a folk-rock act with his sister..a virtually unknown (at this point) Mike Oldfield. Ayers named the band "The Whole World" and they played numerous live dates and had time to cut two albums and various BBC Sessions. Oldfield left the fold to record his stunning debut opus, Tubular Bells, and Ayers split the band up a short time after. Bedford helped Oldfield out on his first couple of records..then was paid in kind when Oldfield showed up to play guitar on "Star's End". It's a bit like that haunting Ligeti music in the "psychedelic star gate" scene in 2001--except it's not a choir, it's woodwinds and brass making the strange, otherworldly noise. Oldfield chimes in with his fluid, trippy chops toward the end of "Part 1" (yes, it's one of those progressive albums where each composition takes up a whole "side"--back in the L.P. days, of course). "Part 2" continues the "space journey"--like a Tangerine Dream album from the same era (Rubycon, Stratosfear)..you don't quite end up where you started. I have to do some further listening, because I've only played it a couple of times so far..but it's safe to say this album is probably for hard-core proggers only, 'cause I don't think anyone else would have the patience to sit through the whole thing. It has a big dynamic range, too, not as much as say, Talk Talk's "Spirit Of Eden"..but close. I brought it to my "contingent" gig and played it on the store stereo. There were parts you could barely hear..then suddenly Oldfield's "space guitar" would roar in and I would have to keep adjusting the volume level.
Bedford followed "Star's.." up with an orchestral version of "Tubular Bells", which also featured Oldfield on guitar. That was released in 1975, shortly after Oldfield had released his third full-length, Ommadawn. Bedford then returned (somewhat) to his keyboard-playing roots for "The Odyssey"..which (yep, you guessed it) is a symphonic prog approach to the Classical Greek epic poem by Homer, recalling Ulysses' (or Odysseus, as he was known in ancient days) journey home to this wife, Penelope, after the Trojan War..and the difficulties he faced along the way. The Coen Brothers made an American Depression-era adaptation of the story in their film, O Brother, Where Art Thou. I've only listened to the first few tracks so far--but it does remind me a bit a Rick Wakeman's "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth" or "Six Wives Of Henry VIII"--keyboard-dominated and grand-sweeping trills...that's good or bad, depending on your taste. After that, Bedford released another space-themed album in 1978, Star Clusters, Nebulae & White Horses, which I'm in the running for on E-Bay (fingers crossed...) I believe it's an album of music he composed for a couple of BBC programs..the first, obviously about the galaxy..and the second..no, I don't think it's about heroin trafficking..it has to do with the famous "hill-carving" in England. "The White Horse Of Uffington" can only be seen from the air, much like the carvings found in the Andes Mountains. The Uffington Horse is also pictured on the cover of XTC's English Settlement album. After that..I lose the plot of Bedford's activities..as far as I know, he still made records in the 80s and 90s--I just don't know any of the titles..I think he did some arranging for other artists too. Both "Star's End" and "The Odyssey" are out-of-print. They do show up on E-Bay once in a while, but be prepared to dig in for them..it gets a bit nasty among the progheads for these two. Awlright, I'm outty..I'll post agin' soon, ya long-hairs!! Peace Ay-owt!!

Sunday, March 17, 2002

Well now, lads and lasses, 'tis St. Paddy's Day in all it's gray and breezy glory (at least where I am)--I had a night of imbibing in the spirits and avoiding the Banshee's call and woke up this morning a bit worse for the wear..but it's almost evening now and I've recovered. I'll pick up where I left off....
I now have a copy (in the form of a Japanese mini-LP disc) of Tom Newman's Fearie Symphony, originally released by Decca Records in 1977. It's interesting that this album was even considered for release that year--what with punk on the rise and the ould progressive guard trying desparately to hold on, but often shooting themselves in the feet by foisting double and triple-record sets onto the record-buying public (ELP's Works--Vol. 1, Genesis' double-live Seconds Out). Tom Newman was a founding member of the British psychedelic outfit July, who released quite a classic album of the genre in 1968, only to be met with looming indifference. The band split in 1969 and Jon Field, the drummer in July and Tony Duhig, the lead guitarist, formed Jade Warrior, an Eastern-influenced prog rock band. Newman somehow hooked up with Richard Branson, a hippie-capitalist with big dreams of running a record label (and soon formed Virgin Records). Branson purchased an old mansion and converted it into Manor Studios, where Newman became his "in-house" producer/engineer. They weren't having much luck until a kid named Mike Oldfield played his demo tape of instrumental music he had been experimenting with (after he borrowed Kevin Ayers' 4-track tape recorder) for Branson. Intrigued, Branson set Oldfield up in Manor Studios with Newman, and they re-created Oldfield's demo tapes in the 24-track format..mixed it down..and it became Tubular Bells, one of progressive rock's crowning achievements. A snippet was used in the Exorcist soundtrack and nearly overnight, Oldfield was a prog superstar. Newman produced Oldfield's follow-up, Hergest Ridge, in 1974..but that didn't fare as well, with some critics dubbing it "Tubular Bells 2" or "Son Of Tubular Bells"..on a personal level, I prefer "Hergest.." to "Tubular Bells"...I think the melodies are more developed and the "guitar thunderstorm" sequence has no equal on "Tubular.." Tom tried his hand at making a solo album in 1975, called Fine Old Tom..a collection of pop-prog tracks. He didn't offer much in 1976, either production-wise or album-wise, but he returned in '77 with "Faerie Symphony" and it's not too far off to call it "Gaelic progressive" or even a prototype of Irish New Age, at least on some tracks..not that you can hold Newman responsible for Enya, but I do wonder if she owned a copy of this on vinyl. It's virtually all instrumental and Tom plays most of the instruments, aside from a mini-July reunion with Jon Field playing flutes and whistles on a lot of the tracks. It's an excellent record and sort-of a "concept" album about the Faerie folk..almost a 'journey' through their land, if you will. There are also some great Oldfield-like guitar flourishes on a couple of pieces, though Mike isn't credited, I'm sure it's him guesting--either that or Tom (a guitar-player himself) picked up a lot producing Oldfield's first two albums. I played this at the party I attended last night and it fit the mood perfectly. The cover is a cool, colorful painting/drawing by legendary Irish artist, Jim Fitzpatrick, of a faerie girl in the moonlight--the inside art is the exact same drawing, only it's a morning scene and no faerie girl. I think the original intention was that you could fold the album cover to have whichever one you wanted as the outer image--pretty clever, Jim.
The other obscure gem I got recently is Marjory Razorblade, by Kevin Coyne. Coyne is considered an English artist, but I believe he was born in Eire and moved to England in his teens. He worked as a social counselor in a psychiatric hospital and the various personalities he met inspired him to write songs about them and the nature of "insanity", which he was fascinated by. He fronted a band (which I can't recall the name of at the moment--it's in the Tapestry Of Delights)...but decided on a solo venture and the band split. He gathered a few musician friends around, and cut "Marjory.." in 1973. The production is sparse, though not necessarily lo-fi...with Coyne on acoustic and electric guitars and vocals...a bass player and some sporadic Hammond organ by another friend. The record starts with the title track, sung a capella in an eerie pinched nasal voice by Coyne, it's very weird the first time you hear it, but gets better with repeated listenings. Coyne's voice is like a slightly higher-pitched, more nasal Van Morrison...or try to imagine Morrison with a flu and you're close to Coyne's singing. The next tune, Marlene, sounds like a Morrison out-take, with jaunty guitars and a great beat...but this was '73 and Coyne's stuff is the stripped-down essence of Morrison in his Them days, not the Van Morrison in 1973, releasing mystical hoo-hah like Hard Nose The Highway and Veedon Fleece, which bordered on self-parody. Coyne's lyrics are far more social commentating also--like his biting Eastbourne Ladies or Old Soldier..or they are inquiring on the nature of relationships, like Talking To No-One. This was a 2-record set when released, so the CD-reissue includes the entire work, along with Coyne's October '73 single, Lovesick Fool b/w his cover of the 60s R&B standard, Sea Of Love. Virgin re-issued most of Coyne's 70s catalog in the early 90s, and I believe most of them are out-of-print now--but he did release a "comeback" album in 1999, called Sugar Candy Taxi. "Marjory Razorblade" is a difficult album to appreciate at first, but like all true classics, will hit you later on with it's particular/peculiar charm..this man is a genuine cult artist but a brilliant one at that...

Saturday, March 16, 2002

It's that time again, kids...yep, it's March 17th tomorrow...time for people of Irish descent (mainly in the U.S.A.) to celebrate their heritage by wearing green clothing and heading to a drinking establishment and raising a toast to fair Eire, jewel of the British Isles. Ah, St. Patrick's Day...when I was a practicing Roman Catholic it used to mean a lot more--you know, "he drove the snakes from Ireland's shores", the snakes representing the evil temptations of the horned one, Lucifer. That's if you see it the R.C. way..if you see it the ancient Celtic way..it's actually the knowledge of the Druids, who were driven out as the Christian faith spread throughout Ireland. In fact, I could be wrong, but I think St. Paddy's Day is another one of those "cover-up-the-pagan-holidays-with-a-Christian-one" deals. It's supposed to be St. Patrick's brithday, I believe, but who really knows when the guy was born--though I suppose the Romans may have kept decent birth records along with the census and all that. He was a slave who escaped to Ireland and converted to Christianity, returned to Rome and then went back to Ireland to preach the gospel of Jesus to the "heathen" Celts. I may have some of the details wrong--but that's the basic gist. I think that whole "using the shamrock to teach about The Holy Trinity" stems (no pun intended) from him as well.
I tend to think the Christian faith has brought more problems to Eire than good--especially in light of "the troubles" in the north and the endless divorce/abortion debates that take place because of the directives of the Catholic Church. Divorce is now legal in Ireland, but the process takes almost twice the time to complete as it does here..and abortion was finally legalized about four years ago--women who wanted one before that had to travel to England for the operation, and then were demonized when they returned. Still, despite all of the seemingly "backwards" ways (a lot due to the religious fervor) of it's people...the Irish are a fascinating and humourous race and I'm happy (I agree with George Carlin about the saying "I'm PROUD to be (blank)"--it seems strange and a bit jingoistic) to have some Irish descent...
Anyway, while most people will break out their U2, Clancy Brothers, Chieftains and Riverdance LPs and CDs...I figured I would spotlight a few Irish gems I recently dusted off. The first is by the obscure Irish progressive-folk group Mellow Candle, who released just one record, called Swaddling Songs, in 1972. I read about them in Vernon Joynson's "A Tapestry Of Delights" and checked E-Bay for the CD--and found an auction almost immediately. I won that, then I found out there's a mini-LP disc available, so I had "the luck of the Irish" and won the mini-LP a short time later. It's a well-made record and a shame that the group split before recording a follow-up. The group were: Clodagh Simonds, vocals/piano David Williams, guitar/backing vocals Alison Williams, lead vocals Frank Boylan, bass/backing vocals and William A. Murray, drums/perc. Their music is actually closer to progressive rock with a lot of electric guitar passages and Murray's up-front drumming. Clodagh Simonds' and Alison Williams' voices are very harmonious together and provide a nice counterpoint to the boys' prog-rock rhythm section. At times they remind me of early Renaissance (the English progressive band), with singer Annie Haslam's voice being double-tracked instead of singing solo or harmonizing with herself...this is especially true of the opening track on "Swaddling..", Heaven Heath. This is a great find for you musos who are looking for stuff similar to your Sandy Denny-era Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span, though it's closer to Fairport or Renaissance than Steeleye. You can tell it's an early 70s album just from the goofy/hippie descriptions of the band members in the inside cover, such as: Frank Boylan, Aries, bass/vocals if pressed. Well-known in St. Stephen's Green where he is repeatedly being mistaken for a statue. Notorious for his opinions on the Devil's position in present day rock. Is at present in the throes of inventing a pair of spectacles whose lenses incorporate maps of the sun.--they all have "bios" like that. The album was released on Deram Records originally and the cover art was by David Anstey, who designed Caravan's Waterloo Lily the same year. Clodagh Simonds would go on to work with Mike Oldfield on quite a few of his 70s records, including "Hergest Ridge" and "Ommdawn"..and the rest of the group? Perhps they were drawn into the Kingdom Of The Faeries...well, lads and lasses..I've got to be going now--but I'll finish my St. Paddy's Day reviews tomorror...I've got some drinkin' o' the ale tae do...Slan!!