Robert Wyatt reimagined by the North Sea Radio Orchestra

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There is the younger Robert Wyatt and there is the older Robert Wyatt. 

The younger Wyatt introduces himself amply in the Soft Machine tune ‘Why Am I So Short?’:

“I’ve got a drum kit and some sticks

So when I’m drunk or in a fit

I find it easy to express myself

I hit the drums so hard I break all my heads

And then I end the day in one of my beds”

The older Wyatt is a unique personality. Soft and generous yet unflinchingly always on the side of the underdog. Constantly joking, and making excuses for his shortcomings, yet always serious and purposeful. His honesty and uncompromising stance has carried Wyatt across fashions and musical styles and kept him relevant across generations and genres.

But in between there is a dark inferno. If the young Wyatt was very much a free spirit, spirits were also flowing freely. At a birthday party for Gilli Smyth and Lady June on June 1st 1973, Wyatt, drunk beyond control, fell out from a window some floors up and was paralysed from the waist down. He has been in a wheelchair ever since and will never feel the ease of expressing himself behind a drum kit again.

And between the young and the old man lies also the album that he wrote while in hospital. Full of agony and unreleased tension, ‘Rock Bottom’ is a cornerstone in any serious modern music collection. An irrefutable masterpiece that sounds like nothing else before or since.

The North Sea Radio Orchestra performed the album in its entirety at the Conservatorio Nicolini in Piacenza for the ”Musiche Nuove a Piacenza” festival on November 30, 2018. And, with Wyatt’s blessings, that concert is now being released on Dark Companion Records as an album called ‘Folly Bololey: Songs from Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom’.

The album opens with ‘Sea Song’ just like on the 1974 original. The first impression I have – particularly after watching the promo video showing what looks like an encore of that specific song filmed at the event – is that this must be a studio take and not a live take.

On the video Annie Barbazza and John Greaves share vocals, but on the record, Barbazza is the only vocalist. Secondly, there is no audible clapping or any other hint that an audience is present on this or in fact any of the tracks on the record, giving the distinct impression of a live in studio setting rather than, as is really the case, a concert in front of a full – and, judging from the YouTube clip, very actively engaged – audience.

But this is the blessing – or the curse, if you are so inclined – of modern editing software. You can change almost anything also after the fact, and here the audience has been edited out. While it does make the sound clearer, it also creates a somewhat artificial atmosphere, and in some cases exposes also moments of hesitation in a way that would not have happened in a studio.

Notably missing in action from this incarnation of the North Sea Radio Orchestra is bandleader Craig Fortnam’s wife Sharron. Although I have no idea as to the actual reason, it is easy to imagine that she found replacing Robert Wyatt’s vocals with her own a too daunting task.

Instead, vocals are handled by Annie Barbazza, who has previously released a homage to the music of Greg Lake as well as a playlist album of covers from various artists primarily from the 60s and 70s. She does a great job here, but given that Wyatt’s original vocals are so extremely special, I can honestly say that you won’t come to this album to be blown away by the singing.

Another temporary band member for this concert is John Greaves, who with his background in Henry Cow is of course a welcome addition in this context. Apart from bass guitar he is also chipping in with vocals, as well as the spoken word parts that were originally handled by Ivor Cutler. But even though Cutler might not be a Robert Wyatt, it is difficult to come up with anyone who could handle those parts as brilliantly as he does (well, maybe Stanley Unwin, but then that’s it). In fact, Cutler was given a three-album record deal with Virgin just based on his performance on ‘Rock Bottom’. So again, replacing him with John Greaves is great but not exceptional.

Instead, the vocals rather act as a guide to let you find your bearings in an otherwise totally new soundscape for these songs. And that is the real beauty: This very different recording lets you discover aspects of Wyatt’s music than you do not even consider when his strong personal presence there.

More specifically you can look at the compositions themselves and judge them for what they are, namely adventurous art rock songs of high calibre. Also, whereas the original album is performed with a hypnotic, almost alien pulse and naked intimacy, here the melodic twists and turns are revealed in the brighter light afforded by an orchestra that combines rock music instruments with a string section as well as clarinets, vibes, recorders and keyboards.

It is quite an experience to hear the album from this perspective. And I cannot think of anyone better to guide me through the music of Robert Wyatt in this way than the North Sea Radio Orchestra, who in their own music display a similarly English sadness and yearning melancholia.

Even though the audience as already mentioned has been edited out from the album, it becomes more obvious that this after all is a concert performance, when we at the end of the album are treated to four bonus tracks from across Wyatt’s career. Calling it a hit parade may be exaggerating things a bit since Wyatt isn’t much of a hit maker. But we do get the usual suspects. And while the songs are great and the performances of high quality, it feels a bit strange to me to hear these songs presented with the same toolbox. The initial shock of hearing ‘Rock Bottom’ in such different light gets a bit painted over with a samey feeling. And covering Wyatt covering ‘Shipbuidling’ doesn’t feel like the most essential thing, even though I do think Wyatt’s version is better than Elvis Costello’s. However, these are bonus tracks, so these quibbles are just minor.

And it is difficult not get a warm smile on your face when you hear John Greaves sing the altered lyrics on final track, ‘O Caroline’, originally performed with the Matching Mole:

“Annie’s on Farfisa

I will play the base

North Sea Radio Orchestra will add a touch of grace

I just can’t help thinking that if you were here with us

You’d sing this song most sweetly, with a minimum of fuss

We love you still Caroline”

In short, a heartfelt and worthy celebration of the inimitable Robert Wyatt, by an equally worthy North Sea Radio Orchestra. We love you all.

Jouis on a cosmic Mind Bahn

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Unfortunately, I often find it hard to write about albums I really like. Partly I worry that I will not be able to do them justice, and partly I tend to like albums that go beyond my limited musical understanding.

Both issues apply to ‘Mind Bahn’, the sophomore album by Jouis. Hence, I am quite late to the party with this review. Nevertheless, ‘Mind Bahn’ is not only quite an ambitious album, I also think it is one of the year’s best.

The band describe themselves as follows: “Drawing on the Canterbury Scene groups of the late 60s / early 70s such as Caravan and Soft Machine, Jouis’ sound melds these influences with their own mellifluous West Coast harmonies”. While that is absolutely spot on, it misses the very tangible sense of musical discovery and exploration they convey. This is not copycat music; these guys are the real cats.

With five years having passed since debut album ‘Dojo’, the tracks on the follow-up seem carefully considered and thoughtfully worked-through. But the perfectionism has not diminished the strong spiritual vibe flowing through the songs. The lyrics are quite abstract and the music is multilayered.

In some ways, Jouis reminds me of Syd Arthur, another neo-Canterbury band. While their influences are obvious, both bands go to some length to stitch them into something that sounds different. Both bands are also in no hurry, and favour control over the recording process over volume of output. In this, they show a kind of honesty that is quite appealing.

‘Mind Bahn’ starts out with a tape that is quickly wound backwards and leads to the tempered pace of ‘Collapse Rewind’. Although the tempo isn’t very fast, there is immediately a groove that turns out to be a hallmark feature of the entire album. 

The opening lyrics also set the cosmic stage. “Time / travelling inside / the eye of your mind / Space between worlds / collapses and rewinds”

Instrumentation is traditional with guitar, drums and keyboards, and a sound embellished with vocal harmonies that could have been made anytime from the late 60s onwards. You could potentially think of the sound as retro, but in this case, timeless is definitely the word I would choose.

Second track ‘Sinking statues’ ups the CSN&Y feeling somewhat while maintaining the spaced out atmosphere. On the digital version of the album, this track reappears as a funked up remix bonus track that just wants you to get up and dance on the floor, no matter that it is well past midnight and that you are alone. One of the better remixes I have heard – and I generally don’t like remixes!

My favourite on the album may just be the album’s longest track, ’Turtle’. It starts with a soft Rhodes piano riff but then develops into a more organ driven piece before suddenly shifting down tempo about two thirds in with plaintive voices and instruments that just float in a still pool of water. They way it slows me down is rather amazing and my mind shifts gears as I leave the stress and pressure of modern life for just a little while.

And that slowing down of pulse and perception is exactly what is needed in order for me to appreciate the final track on side A, an introvert piano piece called ‘Cat’ that is part Erik Satie and part something otherworldly only hinted at by the strange sounds lurking just beneath the surface of the mix.

The pace is gently picked up again with ‘Cloud Plough’ that starts off side B, which then leads to a heavier piece, the instrumental rocker ‘Medievil’, probably the most progressive piece on the album if you are into that sort of thing.

Before long, we reach the conclusion of the album with the track that has the most difficult title, ‘Effloresce’. Had to look that one up, and it basically means “to bloom” which is exactly what the track does as it again works wonders with pace and timbre, from a rather tempered beginning that then unhurriedly opens up as a flower before finally shrivelling and dying away. It becomes a microcosm of the album as a whole, in that it packs a lot of drama in a limited space while never being rushed to go anywhere.

I think I have heard the album maybe twenty times since I bought it now, and I can say for certain that this is one of those albums I will continue listening to for years to come.

Kavus Torabi: The Gong ‘Rejoice! I’m Dead!’ interview

Today the utterly brilliant new Gong album ‘The Universe Collapses’ is released. To celebrate the new release, we here republish an interview with Kavus Torabi about the 2016 album that saw him take over the lead after Daevid Allen.

The article was written by Michael Björn and originally published in Shindig! #60 on 05/10/2016.

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Robert Wyatt’s voice scurries between worlds

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I have not previously heard any music by Japanese producer The Future Eve before, neither under this name or under the Tomo Akikawabaya moniker that he previously used. And, in all honesty, the only reason I am listening now is that his new album KiTsuNe / Brian The Fox is made together with Robert Wyatt.

The backstory to this release is that The Future Eve contacted Wyatt as far back as 1998 and asked if he had something they could collaborate on. On the Bandcamp page, Robert Wyatt  is quoted to have said: “I did have. Brian the Fox was an un-placed un-worked basic idea I had.” 

He had recorded vocals and some keyboards directly onto tape at home in altogether four takes that he sent to The Future Eve, who then built an electronic sound world around that.

The results are fascinating, and play out like an extremely drawn out and heavily modulated version of the ‘Brian the Fox’ track that eventually ended up on Wyatt’s 2003 album Cuckooland. 

Unfortunately, Wyatt’s vocal contributions also appear stretched out here. Over the course of a full album’s worth of music, we only get to hear his voice a handful of times. Over the rest, we wander through an alien landscape of electronic sound that while feeling surprisingly organic definitely sounds completely otherworldly. And when Wyatt is singing I can’t help but feel that the sounds are too alien for his voice; they seem to play from another dimension rather than with him.

But now I believe that is quite intentional. And, Wyatt’s parts are magical indeed.

Robert first appears about halfway into the eight minute long opening track, appropriately titled 01.01, and already here we are faced with this conundrum of the out there (as in space, or maybe mental space) soundscapes that make you think about flying steel dragons or something. But interestingly, Robert’s appearances become all the more welcome due to their brevity. On this first track, there are just a few lines and then it is gone. No overstaying of welcomes here.

On 02.01, the steel dragons come to the fore; there a this tunnelling, whining sound that is quite interesting and I can for the life of me not get rid of this image of gravity defying dragons in the air above me. The promotional material refers to the music as “Laboratory calculations crossed with temple reflections” and that seems like a fair description to me.

Unfortunately, 02.02 is only available on the vinyl issue of the album. I am seriously tempted to buy the vinyl issue just to find out if Robert is singing on this track; and I was in fact looking for it when I recently was in Japan. But I couldn’t find a copy.

On 02.03, there seems to be a woman wordlessly singing, but since there is no mention of this in the liners, I could be wrong. But that just goes to show how organic and indeed mentally charged some of the electronics on this album really are. This track is allegedly a prototype of ‘Tom Hay’s Fox’ on Robert Wyatt’s 2003 album Cuckooland – and that makes a lot of sense, since that track really is full of the bendy, otherworldly notes that also appear on that Cuckooland’s take on ‘Brian the Fox’. In fact, those two tracks are very much a Rosetta stone for this album, both when it comes to foxes and to the bendy, synthesised sounds.

In any case, we are redeemed on 03.01 which opens with Wyatt wordlessly singing, accompanied by some plucked string instruments. Unfortunately, it closes just as quickly, after less than a minute.

Wyatt is then back on 04.02. This time we get his voice alone, and again that is of course great. However, 39 seconds only lasts for so long. 

On 04.04 he is back again, now duetting with himself on top of subdued yet plaintive synthesiser sounds. I feel like I am lost in the woods somewhere, and can make out words like “upstream” and “downwind”. Maybe there is a real fox story in this after all… But after just over a minute, the track ends and we are back in monolithic extra-dimensional synth territory on 04.05.

04.06 and Robert’s wordless voice is taking on a hymnal quality. His voices are overdubbed and full of echo. I can imagine walking in the shadows of tall trees in a very old and forbidding part of a forest. At 3 minutes and 35 seconds, it is the longest sustained performance we get of Robert, but there isn’t really any musical development to the piece. 

On final track 04.08, Robert starts off with singing on top of his own backing vocals. I can again make out a few words, such as “upstream”. Unfortunately, his performance fades out already after 40 seconds and the remainder of the track is more of a sustained outro wall of sound, again with little musical development. 

Given that Wyatt’s performances here date back to the previous century and even his commentary seems to be from 2013, one can wonder what has taken so long for this to be released.

It seems that first The Future Eve dubbed sounds over the initial four takes sent by Robert, and then those results were handed on to fellow musician Takaaki Han-ya. That process took two years, and was supposed to be the end point. If I understand correctly, those tapes are presented as tracks 01.01 – 03.01.

However, at that point in time The Future Eve’s mother died and that changed his perspective towards a more Buddhist reincarnation approach, which after a very long period of work resulted in the “Ring” version presented on tracks 04.01 – 04.08. According to The Future Eve: “For this work I wanted to try to capture the mind behind the tape more than the music itself.” And it is not impossible to imagine that such an undertaking could take some time.

But despite the incredibly long gestation period, at the end of the day what we get here is, all in all, only maybe seven minutes of Wyatt singing. Although one might initially think that is a bit on the short side and feel that The Future Eve is promoting the association to Robert Wyatt somewhat too strongly here, the idea of trying to give Wyatt’s mind a musical representation is rather intriguing.

Is the inside of a mind really as otherworldly as it is framed here? At least if you factor in reincarnation, it certainly would be; it would be the mind and not the body that travels (upstream as it were) between worlds – from one life to another, and on again. Come to think of it, dragons were used on medieval maps to demarcate the edges of the world, so maybe the deep, wailing, tunnels of sound here really could be thought of as dragons – and the fox as the mind that scurries between those worlds. That would be brain the fox then, I suppose, rather than Brian. (And fox is kitsune in Japanese by the way.)

So, despite the brevity of Wyatt’s performances here, would I say the album is worth the effort? Undoubtedly, yes!

Peter Hammill: The unpublished Do Not Disturb interview

In celebration of the 50th anniversary release of the debut Van der Graaf Generator album “The Aerosol Grey Machine”, we here post an unpublished interview with Peter Hammill made in August 2016 about what at this point remains the group’s last studio album, “Do Not Disturb”.

The article was written by Michael Björn and originally slated for publication in Japanese music magazine Strange Days in the autumn of 2016. However, the magazine was thrown into a cash flow crisis as a result of the sudden bankruptcy of its main distributor and publication had to be halted. After a long struggle to try to get back into circulation, the magazine eventually folded.

R.I.P. Strange Days, you are dearly missed.

Copyright © Michael Björn 2016

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After having been active for over a decade, the current incarnation of Van der Graaf Generator is the longest in the band’s career. But all good things must end. “Do Not Disturb” is a concept album about the life, and ultimately the death, of the band itself. Even though Van der Graaf Generator have always challenged themselves and evolved their music rather than fall back on past victories, this new album stands out as a true late-career artistic high that will deeply touch fans.

We meet up with a very thin and fragile looking yet friendly and quite relaxed Peter Hammill in his home town Bradford-on-Avon on a sunny and warm early autumn day to discuss the album and its severe implications. So severe, in fact, that the article draws to an end when this interviewer becomes so emotionally affected that continuing the interview becomes difficult. Lost for words – yet, as a fan, unable to let go.

 

The current incarnation of Van der Graaf Generator is now officially the longest one…

Peter: We only go for a month or two months a year. But, having said that, the period from “At least we can do…” to “Pawn hearts” was only two years. So, it is right. And certainly, making three studio albums is as much as any previous period. We are kind of astonished by that ourselves, actually.

 

“Do not disturb” sounds very organic; it really sounds like a band playing. Could you talk a little about the writing and recording of it.

Peter: We try to be very civilised these days. We meet, have a meal and discuss what happened in the last round. And then go: “OK, so what might we do in this coming year?” This time, we decided that we would be making another album.

But along with that, there is the checking of the medicines, there is the fact that we are all of a certain age and all of us are losing friends year by year. So we had a kind of acknowledgement of mortality, and of capacity, and very specifically said that maybe this will be the last record that we make. That put a particular spin on what the material was going to be.

Another thing is that – and I don’t think I have done this before – I asked Hugh and Guy if there was anything that they thought I ought to be writing about. They had a couple of ideas that went in.

Then there was a period of about three months or so when I was working almost continuously on this.

 

The demos you sent to the others were in the exact order as they appear on the record.

Peter: That is right, yeah. I started sending them two or three tunes. but then, once we were into the second month, I started sending them complete CDs, which from the outset were these songs, in this order. More and more worked on; lyrics more and more final. A new part here or there. But they went out in this order, as on the album.

Very early we also decided to rehearse the entire thing before we recorded. We haven’t done that for years and years; with “Grounding in Numbers” and “Trisector” we’d arrange, rehearse and record all at the same moment. This time we actually met and worked it out together. It was very intensive, but also quite interesting for us, because it was a bit like playing live without you having to get it absolutely right. In turn that produced a bit of a challenge when we came to record it: A lot of it is actually really quite complicated stuff – and a lot of it just comes once.

We had a week in between to worry about it, and to assemble all our bits of paper. Hugh said actually that for this record, he had more written down notes than for any previous Van der Graaf record from the earliest days on.

 

Then you went into the studio.

Peter: An interesting thing is that the songs were basically short, but with many different parts. When we finished the backing tracks, everything was still in little bits, very much in the ways of a 70s recording. In the 70s you would have the individual multi-tracks and they would never come together until the final mix; these days you can of course do it quicker. So when the backing tracks had been recorded, the first thing was actually to put the entire songs together. That was sort of like an old school thing redone.

 

To me, this is a concept album about the group Van der Graaf Generator. Each song tells a specific chapter in that story.

Peter: Naturally, having had this decision that it might be the last one that we make – yes – it had to be that kind of record. We have had this communal life experience, and although we are certainly trying to play with a degree of youthful enthusiasm, it is an older man’s record, effectively saying: “Once it was like this, and we are here to give testimony.”

 

The first song, “Aloft”, to me it is the story of artistic awakening.

Peter: I had this idea that our career is like being taken up in a hot air balloon. You go up, you can’t go back; you are going to go wherever this thing takes you. With the slight difference that your voice is the hot air that goes into the balloon that is carrying you.

 

The next song is “Alfa Berlina”. This is in 1971, and you are in Italy.

Peter: Yeah, the great Mauricio Salvadore who was our first promoter in Italy personally drove us around in an Alfa Berlina.

 

The song starts with Italian-sounding noises.

Peter: Highly specific noises. You know, particular cities in Italy… yeah! We had no idea of what was about to hit us. We thought: “Oh, we are going to Italy for ten days, at the very least this will be like having something of a holiday.” We went and did a sound check in Milan, went out and had a coffee, came back and there were the riot trucks and the tear gas going off, and thousands of people outside who couldn’t get in and so on… From then on it just went very crazy. And also of course the Italian lifestyle was very crazy and… just driving around madly in the Alfa Berlina!

 

If “Alfa Berlina” was the high of touring, then next song, “Room 1210”, is the low of touring. If you have seen one hotel room on the road you have seen them all.

Peter: Yes – and no. Of course a hotel room can be very boring. But it is also kind of a place of safety. All the rest of the time, you are in public view. But you equally know that you have to, at a certain point open that door. Quite specifically, it is about Tokyo. Because after the last time the band went there, Guy said: “In a certain way, I still want to be back there in room twelve hundred and whatever it was because I didn’t have any complications. Now I am back and I have to deal with all the stuff in my life; tax, family and what have you.” The fact that it is boring is the great thing about it as well!

 

That song also contains the album title in the lyrics.

Peter: Although lot of people don’t think that we have a laugh, those who follow know that we are quite a humorous group. There is, on the one hand: “Leave me alone, do not disturb”. But we are also saying that Van der Graaf generator are not a troubling group in any way, and there is no reason to feel disturbed by us, ha ha! So there is that flip flop.

The song is also inspired by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, who was the writer in “Bunsho” on the previous album. He has a fantastic story called “Spinning Gears,” set in the 1920s, about an author cracking up in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

 

“Forever falling” is about the band developing conflicts.

Peter: Yeah, and not quite connecting, and what have you. And not only – I think it is also about split personality, and you not making a connection with yourself.

 

Then we get into an instrumental with a Japanese title, “Shikata ga nai”. Is this is about the break up of the band after the Quiet Zone era?

Peter: I won’t say yes or no because even though I spent much more time in Japan than the others, the title comes from Hugh, whose son is learning Japanese.

I think this is not entirely a concept album – it is not as rigid as that. This track is a pause for breath; all the four songs before have been about what has happened in the past. What goes on from this point is in the present.

 

And maybe starting from “Present” in that sense. So the first half is about the old incarnations of the band, and from here on it is about the new incarnations?

Peter: Yeah!

 

“Oh no (I must have said yes)” seems to take place between the recording of “Present” and the show at the Royal Festival Hall on the 6th of May 2005.

Peter: Yeah, kind of, as a peak example – because it is the principle that however strange or uncomfortable or regretful the circumstances, if I end up anywhere, I must have said yes. Again, you can go back to various Italian events, all sorts of events. There is always the option to say yes or no; so it is my responsibility and I have to go through with it, because I must have said yes. Guy suggested it as a title and said: “You should do something on ‘Oh no I must have said yes.’” Because I so often have stated this.

But yeah, you are right, particularly that waiting at the side of the stage at the Royal Festival Hall. It had been a sequence of yeses all the way back into discussing in 2003, rehearsing in 2004 and recording “Present”. So yes, now we had to go through with it.

 

The song has kind of these rushes of energy in it.

Peter: This is one of the extremely difficult musical bits, the way it rushes. Such very funny time signatures, almost not quite time signatures. The middle section I also think is one of the most interesting bits in our entire story, because it is totally different and I wrote it as a really hard riff. We started rehearsing and Guy was saying “We’ve got all that hard stuff going on at the front, why don’t we just go jazz trio on it?” And then this great idea, again, that Guy had: “You’ve got all those pedals sitting down there – wouldn’t it be great if every so often you just hit a couple of pedals and go ape for a couple of bars?” So we did it and that section is entirely as played!

 

In “Brought to book” you have already left the current phase, and think about the totality of what Van der Graaf has accomplished. 

Peter: Signing off and taking the responsibility for it. Brought to book as a phrase normally means you are held responsible for your sins, or at least for your actions. So you are right that there is this loose concept about the album, because it has gone from “Aloft” with the force of my will and imagination and the fact that I am hot airing away, I’ll lift this thing up in the air and the balloon will go where it goes – and where it lands, that’s where you have to sign off: This is what we did.

 

What is your judgement then. What was good and what was bad?

Peter: The fact that we haven’t done the same thing – I mean that has always been the case with Van der Graaf, but particularly so in these ten years. It is against the odds that we should have learned so much more; but as with everything, the what’s good and what’s bad are just two sides of the same coin. It was terrible to reach the end of 2005, actually having managed to pull off this whole thing of having a go again; making “Present”, doing the first appearance at the Festival Hall and carrying on doing other tours. Having done it, we felt, from pure motives, and having had fantastic reactions – just to come to the end of 2005 and realise – well, actually that might be it. Because Jackson was not there anymore. Having exceeded all our expectations and then just go out like that.

So that was a bad moment. But the point of that bad moment is that it did push us into being a trio. So out of that terrible feeling at the end of 2005 came all of this fantastic stuff. And the three of us have been, at times, quite personally stretched by doing it. But if was easy, then it wouldn’t be worth doing.

 

But if you have to explain to Saint Peter on Judgement Day?

Peter: The good side is that we never got sucked into the music business. But that is also the bad side, because in doing that it means effectively that the audience has been restricted.

As a result of being in this position, nobody’s jobs in record companies were ever dependent on us. Over the years, I have had friends who have been responsible for whole record companies – and have seen the pressure that they are under. Some of them deal with it fantastically well, but others… what they have to give up is the ability to say no or yes. Once you have become big to a certain extent, you don’t ever get asked that question anymore, it is just assumed that way way back you signed it all in advance. So we were never in that position and that is great. I have continued to have a lot of fun, while being, I hope, comparatively serious. So, all in all, I am pretty happy with things.

 

Then comes “Almost the words”, which is about almost but not quite succeeding to communicate.

Peter: Almost… I am known as a words chap, but I am imprecise about words. In fact, I’d like to be ambivalent, I don’t believe that I am that original a thinker, but sometimes I see glimmer of language that works. Like a spinning gear. At times I am frustrated by the fact that it is almost within grasp but not quite. On the other hand, that’s a reason to continue rather than a reason to give up.

 

You could turn that frustration towards yourself as well. What is this crazy thing called Van der Graaf Generator? Do you really understand it yourself?

Peter: The answer certainly is no, because I, Hugh and Guy, we all have our angles on what happened – even on what’s happened in the last ten years, let alone what happened all those years ago.

 

Then we have “Go”.

Peter: Which is the most unusual song to finish a band record with.

 

I cried when I heard it the first time.

Peter: When I came up with this, I thought: “Is this a Van der Graaf tune?” because it doesn’t want to be developed very much more. But – particularly in the general concept of what we are talking about – I had to present it to the others at least. I left it to the last one of the demos that I sent to them – and it always stuck in that final position, forever. Hugh went: “Ah, yeah! Fantastic! I have always wanted to do something very very quiet.” Guy said: ” Very unusual… but – perfect, I think, for this band. And for this record.”

 

One of the sins you commit to on “Brought to book” is self-obsession. Now, this is the…

Peter: …this is the reverse. Yeah. I am not saying that this is the last record we will ever make. I am not saying that. But even if we make another one, mentally this is the last one.

 

With this song, it is not just only the words, it also the music – it doesn’t stop, it just lets go… there is this feeling of…

Peter: Yeah. It’s air.

 

And you are left in that space of air.

Peter: And silence. I can’t give enough credit to Hugh and Guy – who always, in the world of Van der Graaf, are the bedrock of the entire thing. Back in the day, everyone would go for the double horns, lots going on, operatic singing and what have you… Of course Guy could have done much more on this… but he just puts in tiny little touches, and Hugh…. I did my original two or three keyboard parts demo, which he took and just arranged for organ. Didn’t add anything else, no more flourishes. It is a hymn – as so many Van der Graaf things have been – a requiem.

 

I thought that maybe this is a song I would like to be played at my funeral.

Peter: Well, maybe me too.

 

… sorry I am finding it a bit hard to speak…

Peter: …

Peter Hammill Michael Björn

Where do you go from here with Van der Graaf?

Peter: Well, literally, where we go next from here is that we will have a meal together.

 

You could call it “the last supper!”

Peter: Quite so, ha ha! Even if we do nothing else, we will have our lunch. Obviously, the question that hovers over us is playing these things live. We will consider that. I dare say that it might well happen. But I can’t say yes and I can’t say no.

I think that whatever, we are going to remain friends in the greatest of ways. And it is such an unbelievable surprise that we have managed to come through all of this stuff – and a lot of the stuff we have been through with each other going back over the years, from back then in ’68-’69… yeah!

Definitely a lunch! The rest – I don’t know.

 

Jouis: The Dojo interview

It has been a long wait and they are now reduced in numbers to a 3-piece, but the second Jouis album, Mind Bahnis finally here and it is great. In order to celebrate its release, we here republish and interview made in December 2015 with Louis Pavlo about the first Jouis album.

The article was written by Michael Björn and originally published in Japanese music magazine Strange Days #196, pages 80-83, March 2016. (Yes, it was a long struggle to get it published, but it got there in the end!) 

Copyright © Michael Björn 2016

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With debut album Dojo, Brighton 5-piece Jouis delivered one of the most outstanding progressive rock albums of 2014. Recorded directly to tape in the bands own dojo – an abandoned office block converted to studio – the sound is uniquely organic and relaxed despite an abundance of complex time signatures and spaced out lyrics. The music combines poppy jazz tones from Canterbury with harmonised Crosby, Stills & Nash vocals into a remarkably groovy whole. This is one of those rare prog rock albums that makes you want to dance the night away. Jouis is French for enjoyment and their music is certainly something to enjoy.

In order to find out more about Jouis, we got in touch with Louis Pavlo who is vocalist and keyboardist with the band.

Louis Pavlo (keys, vocals), Jack Dunwoody (lead guitar), Joe Woodham (bass, vocals), Joe Potter (rhythm guitar, vocals), Adam Johnson (drums)

Your new album Dojois fantastic, one of the best of 2014!

Louis: Thank you so much, thats amazing.

 

How did the album come about?

Louis: We always wanted to record an album, but we were never able to find the space for the right money. It is so expensive in England to record. But we chanced upon an abandoned office block in June of 2013. It is great, because weve got so much space and we were able to basically set up our own studio there.

 

Are you renting or squatting? A squat studio, ha ha!

Louis: It is as close as you can get to squatting I suppose. We live there on the grounds that we would stop other people from coming in that arent allowed to be there; its called a guardian scheme. And we pay a small licence fee.

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You recorded the album live to tape in the studio.

Louis: We had a room that we wanted to be the main live room. Our friend and producer Rhys Andrews helped us sound proof it all and helped us get all the good gear and stuff in, which was very handy. We basically have this MCI 70s 24 track tape machine, really nice.

We then essentially spent about a week and a half tracking, and then we spent about another week doing vocals, therearelots of harmonies on there. Then we took the tape to Miloco’s The Engine Room in London and mixed it with Phil Brown for three days, which was amazing.

 

How much was Phil Brown involved in the making of the album?

Louis: We got in touch with Phil through Rhys actually. Phil came around and really liked the vibe; he kept popping back once every three or four weeks and seeing how we were doing on setting it up, giving us little bits of advice, lots of little techniques that he has used over the years. He came round and helped us calibrate the tape machine and things like that. Made sure we were using the right stuff in the right place.

 

Theres a lot of vibe on this album.

Louis: Thank you! Yes, thats something we always try to get down into the recording, because we are all about playing live really and getting into the vibe, getting into the pocketas we sometimes say.

 

Many bands now focus on making analogue and live sounding music, bands like Magic Bus, Syd Arthur, Schnauser

Louis: Absolutely, yeah. Weve played with Syd Arthur many times over the years actually, and theyve helped us out a lot in Canterbury. Theres a great scene there and they are sort of our portal into the progressive world, I suppose.

 

There is also a Canterbury connection in your sound.

Louis: The bands we play with there have this sort of mastery of music. So, although we didnt necessarily listen to much of the old Canterbury scene, we sort of played with other bands locally in Canterbury and absorbed their vibes.

 

One difference is how you sing – harmonies a bit like Crosby, Stills & Nash. Why?

Louis: By the time we were finishing off the album we were all just completely writing it together. We are all songwriters in our own rights, really. And I think that in itself meant that we didnt really feel that we had a need for a lead singer.

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Lets talk about the songs. The album starts with All That Is And Is Oneand it sets the groove that is then maintained throughout.

Louis: It took us a long time to get it to that groovy sort of place, because of the time signaturesit throws me anyway! Ha ha!

Conceptually, side A is about the sun and side B is all about the moon.

 

The song title is a hippie sort of title and if you look through the titles they are all sort of wide-eyed.

Louis: We have a lot of friends that are definitely hippies, and hippies come to our gigs and absolutely love it. But also, we maintain a professional view on things. Lyrically, we are all about philosophy and questioning things – and science is a big influence in it. So although we may seem like hippies, we are not really of the old hippie sort.

 

Lp– with its quite funny pun using the infinity mark for the two os – is a bit scientific I suppose.

Louis:Lpis one of the oldest songs of the record. It feels almost frantic – but then there is the loop aspect of it. I really like playing and singing that song.

 

Hyperceptionseems to be about always being on the road, going somewhere without getting there.

Louis: It definitely started from that. It was one of those days when we were not really happy with consumerism, capitalism and stuff like that. We had one too many joints in the car, and came up with some lyrics like mass production hypes perception– so we are having a massive go at the current state of things.

 

New Mooncombines space travel and mind travel somehow.

Louis: Yeah, absolutely! It is probably my favourite song on the album. Its got a really nice vibe to it. We started visualising all the satellites and all the rubbish going around the earth, and saw this metal moon, the new moon that is made of all that rubbish.

 

Then there isMisty Maker Stomp, which also has a great video.

Louis: The song is originally about the Maker Festival in Cornwall. We played there a few years ago and band member Joe Woodham wrote the lyrics for that song just sort of in the morning on Sunday looking down from the hill. Its a really special place with great vibes.

The guys who did the video, Lucky Bozu (George Johnson and Tommy Norm), made their own interpretation. So the video is about the Misty Maker Mountain, sneezing out a really evil mist that is killing all the village people, and the two main characters go on a journey to fix the mountain.

 

On the albums final track you take on a big perspective. A really big perspective.

Louis: Yeah, ha ha! We put on our Universe Gogglesand travel through space and time and look back on the journey weve just taken. And then look forward to the next.

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Thats not pretentious at all, is it?

Louis: Absolutely, massively! Very dangerous, ha ha! I suppose we get very much into it, we do love it. That song was an amalgamation of different riffs that we had. It became 10 minutes long, and we thought: Wicked, lets write some ridiculous lyrics!!I really like the song, it was one of the last ones we wrote, and it is great fun live.

 

What happens next?

Louis: We want to start playing new songs live for the next tour really. We want to move quickly. Because weve got the studio, we feel like we cant wait around forever because of the nature of the guardian scheme; so we need to take advantage of that and get as much music done as we can. At the moment we are doing it all ourselves, unsigned, and we want to maintain that level of control. To do that, we need to keep the momentum up.

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10 best albums Q1 2019

The last year of the decade has started incredibly nicely: The first quarter of 2019 is full of brilliant releases and I have listed my top ten album picks here in alphabetical order. I am not ranking them as they are all great, but if i had to pick a desert island disc, it would be ‘Every Night Something Happens’ by the Lost Crowns.

Cobalt Chapel – Variants

The Comet Is Coming – Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery

Deep Cut – Different Planet

Drift Code – Rustin Man

https://rustinman.bandcamp.com/album/drift-code

Duke 72 – Mid Shires Herald

The Hare and Hoofe – The Hare and Hoofe

Lost Crowns – Every Night Something Happens

North Sea Radio Orchestra – Gap Species

The 3rd Eye Flute Band – Music from An Eastern Western

https://paulleftywright.bandcamp.com/album/the-3rd-eye-flute-band-music-from-an-eastern-western 

You tell me – You Tell Me


Lost in the post

If you really want your record to be lost and forgotten, you might want to try to release it just before Christmas, so that the jangle gets drowned out by the noise from all the jingle bells. On top of that, postal services are overloaded causing big delays in delivery. Stop sending all those season’s greeting cards! 

‘Open Sky’ was officially released on December 14th but I didn’t get my copy until January. It is packed to the gills with XTCesque pop perfection. Whatever you do, don’t miss it! 

Mothboxer – Open Sky


Singles and EPs Q1 2019

I usually try to avoid buying singles and EPs, but there are always a few that I have to get anyway.

District Repair Depot – Argy-BARGY EP

Ralegh Long – January 28th, 2019

Twink – Brand New Morning b / w Dreams Turn Into Rainbows