Week From Monday 4th July 2005

So smitten was I with a recently viewed "VIDEO OF SUSPECT ORIGIN" by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR (the one with the live concert in Belgium in 1975 and the gothic candle-lit rendition of "A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers" ...Mmm, spooky!) that when I espied a "legitimate" version of it nestling on the shelves of my local record emporium - well, I had to have it, didn't I? I also found some bargains: [both discs of] the BLACK UHURU Island Anthology, sold off cheap because it was missing its packaging; likewise an un-annotated disc by GILBERTO GIL & MILTON NASCIMENTO, which turned out to be mostly dreadful. This does not bode well for next week's Gilberto Gig - There is a 50/50 gamble that the concert could be either fantastic or awful, Gil's back-catalogue being THAT patchy and uncertain. I also added to my MAHLER-TAPE collection with some charity shop 50p purchases. And bought some new walking boots.

So that "LIVE 8" malarkey came and went. Life's too short to have to sit through an uncertain and ever-telescoping lineup that featured the likes of Elton bleedin' John, Mariah "Easy On The Eye, Hard On The Ears" Carey and - Gawd Help Us! - Queen, WHATEVER the cause! I left the tape running so that I could, for old times' sake, whizz through it to see PINK FLOYD ("reunited" but, tellingly, little eye contact made between them). I also recorded the radio "highlights" from the "AFRICA CALLING" do at Cornwall's Eden Project. Mostly though, my time was better spent with my volume of HUNTER S THOMPSON, listening to BLACK UHURU and watching the TOUR DE FRANCE.

Happy Fourth of July to all our Neo-American readers.

The other day, Shelfy turned up with a borrowed camcorder, suddenly enthusiastic about a 'PROJECT' that we first discussed fiteen years ago: an abstract 'travel video' to accompany a piece of 'SYSTEMS MUSIC' that I recorded around then, HIGHLY influenced by TERRY RILEY's "A Rainbow In Curved Air". So now the new-fangled digital technology has caught up with us... I have digitised the thirty minutes of music and we shot a whole buncha footage through the open passenger window of a Nissan, as we drove to Portsmouth and back, via various industrial estates. Now I have to find ways of glueing the whole thing together in an entertaining [or at least ARTY] manner.

Week from Monday 11th July 2005

Despite the ongoing 'KINGDOM OF FEAR' situation following last Thursday's bombings, with what are euphemistically called 'SECURITY ALERTS' going down everywhere (You know what they used to say back in more stoical times - "If it's the security alert with your name and number on it..."), I'm off OOP DZAT LOONDIN!

One of these 'security alerts' is underway when I arrive at Victoria, causing them to block the way OUT of the bus station(!) Buckingham Palace Road is full of Good Old British Bobbies auditioning for the next "NYPD" spinoff.

"Well Officer, I'm here because I have been promised a ticket to see popular singing star GILBERTO GIL and because I've come to ATTACK YOUR RECORD EMPORIA, armed only with my debit card and a very specific LIST OF DEMANDS" ...is what I DIDN'T say...

So a nice day was spent yomping around the steaming West End, guzzling down bottled water and crossing three of the very strangest items off my list. Several items on my 'LIST OF DEMANDS' were spotted but NOT purchased, as they turned out to be of an EXPENSIVE IMPORT-ONLY nature... Maybe next Record Fair? I did however glean the following: All of the "GO" albums by STOMU YAMASHTA and pals, gathered together as one handy two-disc package; Both of the long-sought-after "SOLID GOLD CADILLAC" albums, by MIKE WESTBROOK and chums, as a two-fer; The WEIRDEST RECORD EVER MADE, the un-earthly collision between seventies prog, Gallic cheesy-listening and Musique Concrête that is [the SERGE GAINSBOURG-sponsored] "L'Enfant Assasin Des Mouches" by JEAN-CLAUDE VANNIER. Imagine "Atom Heart Mother" crossed with Ennio Morricone and you'd only be halfway there. Once again I must blame "THE FREAK ZONE" for drawing my attention to this oddity. I shall request that the following message is printed on all future copies of this disc:

HM GOVERNMENT WARNING:
THIS ALBUM IS HIGHLY UNSUITABLE FOR LISTENING TO ON HEADPHONES IN A BUSY VICTORIA COACH STATION. IT FEATURES DISTURBING STEREOPHONY AND SUDDEN, JUMP-OUT-OF-YOUR-SKIN SOUND EFFECTS THAT MAY CAUSE YOU TO SPILL YOUR DRINK. IT WOULD PROBABLY BE WISE NOT TO OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY AFTERWARDS, COME TO THINK OF IT...

'Dinner' is taken in the park (Sun through the trees, Sainsbury Local's posh sarnies, a bottle of pop and a Stomu Yamashta set - Paradiso!). I then make my way to the impressive faux-renaissance edifice that is the home of the English National Opera (or ENO to its friends), to collect my freebie(s) from the press booth.

I'd estimate that eighty percent of the audience at the COLISEUM are Brazilian or at least Portuguese-speaking. There are, I learn, 20,000 Brazilians living in Britain and a fair number of them are here tonight. Someone tries to sell me a subscription to the Brazilian/UK community's own colourful [and bilingual] glossy monthly, "JUNGLE DRUMS".

The GILBERTO GIL "ELECTROACUSTICO" set was very entertaining as it turned out (I'd had reservations - see above!). Okay, so Gil himself is a bit of a windbag and he WILL STILL insist on doing his CLUB SINGER bit and padding out the set with those excruciating semi-English covers of Bob Marley and John Lennon biggies (my excuse for a lavatory break - they might go down a storm in Brazil, but to 'western', or rather 'northern' ears, they're just NAFF). However, the band on this occasion are incredible, especially the two young tykes on various percussion doobries, so there was lots going on to distract one's attention. There was also a virtuoso display of BAHIAN BANJO and some interesting electronic effects coming out of (I think) the accordion. I made my excuses and left (to leg it back to Victoria), just as they launched into the - ahem! - BIG FINISH that was "No Woman No Cry"... A 'Three-Star' gig then, with occasional 'Four-Star' moments.

Yet another 'SECURITY ALERT' is occuring back in Buckingham Palace Road, as I arrive to catch the night bus. Half a dozen, er...'UNITS' are strewn at all angles to the 'SIDEWALK', their sirens and lights at maximum, and a number of 'PERPS' are being requested to 'ASSOOM DA POSITION, DIRTBAG!' against what I think is the back wall of the railway station goods depot... I eventually crawled home in the early hours of the morning, so I took a day off to catch up on sleep and to soak my feet...

On Friday, I have to disrupt my busy(! Ho hum!) schedule to go to the DENTIST. They had called at the last minute to move me to a slot in the middle of the afternoon - usually I like my appointments to be first thing in the morning!

Week from Monday 18th July 2005

Whoops! Another busy week, so I've let the diary 'lapse' again (It's now Thursday)! I've now got a full running order for my DAY TRIP to WOMAD next Friday and - wouldn't you just believe it!? - TWO of the turns that I particularly want to see will be playing on different stages at the same time, i.e. reggae supremos CULTURE and Japan's OKI DUB AINU BAND. So if I'm "TAKEN BY THE AINUs", I'll possibly miss Culture (or visa versa). While I'm in the mood for complaining about WOMAD, I learned this week that SONGLINES, the World Music Periodical, will NOT be manning a merchandising/subscription service/'meet the people' stand at this year's Festival because "they can't afford it" - It would seem that the "BREADHEAD-ING FESTIVAL" ethos (manifested by BBC domination, increased ticket prices, ADDITIONAL camping charges etc) now includes upping the fees for traders' pitches... Hmm, maybe if I win a FREE weekend pass or two from Radio 3 this weekend, I'll change my tune...

I've also been working on a solution to the question "What can I do to kill time AFTER the Festival?" by searching the library for information on the THAMES PATH - a little WALKIES is on the cards, m'thinks...

If it's not one thing... As I was copying the maps for the above HIKEPROJECT, my USB "FLACHBETTSCANNER" started going funny. And ye anciente TWAIN scanner, when I tried it, doesn't seem to want to work at all with the 'newer' technology. Tonight, I shall take some of the cables home, where I have test meters and tools a-plenty. Or buy a new one.

A handful of bargain items found this week: one of the charity shops was doing a two-for-one deal on 99p vinyls and I found a JOHN SURMAN (ECM) goody and a "MARDI GRAS IN NEW ORLEANS" compilation, which is obviously marketed as a tourist souvenir, but contains great tracks by PROFESSOR LONGHAIR and BO DOLLIS & THE WILD MAGNOLIAS, with DR JOHN and various members of THE METERS to be spied amongst the small print. I've now added ALL of this album to my MP3 jukebox. Keeping things in a CARNIVAL mood, I also found a CAETANO VELOSO deeveedee for a mere 99p in MVC (because it had no packaging) and it turned out to be fantastic, a sort of Brazilian version of "Stop Making Sense"... Discuss: DAVID BYRNE and CAETANO VELOSO - Which one has influenced the other?

There was a double dose of the wonderful music of DJANGO 'Young Repro' BATES on Radio 3 this week. The current line-up of his HUMAN CHAIN band, whose "YOU LIVE AND LEARN (APPARENTLY)" seedy was second only to "SMiLE" in my PICK-O-THE-YEAR LIST, were on "JAZZ ON 3", while on this Friday's "MIXING IT", the Djangster can be heard with the Norwegian ELECTRO-POSTROCK-JAZZ-FUSION COMBO, JAGA JAZZIST... which should be TOP...

Week from Monday 25th July 2005

'Tis the season of FUNNY EARS, with its itching of orifices, bunged-up-ness and, if one stands up too quickly, spinning of rooms. These, then, are the the symptoms of FUNNY EARS. That's FUNNY EARS... Ask your pharmacist about FUNNY EARS... Remember: FUNNY EARS...

This year, for the first time in living memory, I actually got to see the final stages of the TOUR DE FRANCE - in previous years, the Time Trial and the grand finale in Paris have fallen on the same weekend as the WOMAD Festival. The weather in Paris made a mockery of the whole 'points' competition and, of course, LANCE ANDROID won (without winning) for a seventh time before retiring. Now bugger off and let someone else have a go!

Friday brings my DAY TRIP TO WOMAD, which you can read about here.

Okay, I swore I would never again set foot in the Rivermead complex for the huge overbloated media-blancmange that WOMAD has become (I refer you to comments made elsewhere) ... but here I am again, "JUST FOR ONE DAY", like those "Heroes" of yore... My fellow FRIDAY DAYTRIPPERS (of which there are many, as the weekend tickets have sold out some time ago) can be recognised by their wristbands of the most lurid green. I purchased my programme as usual, but this year it will be taken home in pristine, un-thumbed and un-soiled condition, as I have a paper printout of the running order for ready reference. Overfamiliar as I am by now with the layout of THE GLOBAL VILLAGE, I can head STERRRRAIGHT to...

14.30 ... River Stage ...without passing 'Go'. SHEEMA MUKHERJEE is a classical sitar player of high renown who has dabbled in east/west fusion of several sorts with the likes of Transglobal Underground and Courtney Pine - Note then the tell-tale usage of the phrase, "The next TRACK we are going to play...". However, the mating of classical sitar ragas and a plodding western rhythm section doth not necessarily make for groundbreaking east-west fusion. It's OKAY chillout music, while I sit on the grass and plan the rest of my day, but a bit TOO Ananda Shankar for my tastes (file under Batchelor Pad/Exotica/Muzak).

A trip to the WOMAD SHOP is taken, where I find that dub version of "Dark Side Of The Moon" (at a price cheaper than in town) I'd first heard played here a year ago, which I have been trying to identify and track down ever since. I also peruse the book shop, where I am NEARLY tempted to buy a Sun Ra biography... maybe later?

15.30... Siam Tent - Staying with the Indian sub-continent for a while, KALA CHETHENA KATHAKALI DANCE COMPANY perform an elaborate and colourful form of dance theatre which tells stories from Indian mythology. Like Javanese puppets and classical ballet however, you can ignore the story altogether and enjoy the performance as a strange abstract piece of kinetic ART FOR ART'S SAKE!

16.30... Main Stage - Into the Arena and the first thing I noticed is THE TOTAL ABSENCE OF INTRUSIVE TELEVISION EQUIPMENT!!! Hooray! So they DO read those audience survey forms! I absolutely adored LES YEUX NOIRS, a band of gypsies from France who, with their awesome, scudding electric fiddles and cello, played the same mixture of mad pan-Balkan dance tunes and smoochy ballads as our old faves, the 3Mustaphas3. Now I know what Steve Hillage meant when he asked "Who wants to be an Electric Gypsy?".

17.30... Village Stage - Some Senegalese chappies called MOUDOU DIOUF ET O FOGUM run the gamut of West African [acoustic] styles, from crazed talking drum conversations to Griot balladry. This is surely the roots of modern Mbalax... Meanwhile in the Siam Tent... Where there's brass there's... a lot of blokes blowing shiny metal things! THE YOUNGBLOOD BRASS BAND sound like Ozomatli jamming with the Rebirth Brass Band, with some REAL jazz thrown in for good measure - the tenor player sounded a lot like Sonny Rollins, for goodness sake! It was the best 'afternoon jazz slot' I've heard at WOMAD since the Jazz Warriors in 1986 - and the acceptable face of hiphop...

"Oh, get some perspective!"... Slogan seen on a tee-shirt:"PETER GABRIEL SAVED MY LIFE!"

18.30... River Stage - Having no real interest in steel band music, I thought I'd go and check out the 'acclaimed' EDDIE MARTIN TRIO for some electric Blues á la PUB-ROCK. Alright, he's a good singer and a good guitarist, but only within a VERY limited genre. It was nothing I hadn't heard from a thousand bands in Portsmouth and Gosport drinking establishments. As someone said recently (I can't remember who or why), "I could barely contain my indifference.". I went to the Main Stage to hear the tail end of the RENEGADES STEEL ORCHESTRA set, which was okay of its kind.

19.30... Siam Tent - I'd heard that BAJOFONDO TANGOCLUB are worth seeing and, yes, they ARE this year's Gotan Project! The same kind of blend of Tango and Electronica as the Gotans with, if anything, a MORE electronic sound and yet, somehow, MORE 'authenticity' as well... Good visuals too, with one of the laptop operatives doing a sort of real-time cut-up video show to the music.

"Why oh why...?" Do 'yugly white folks' REALLY pay nearly £100 for a weekend ticket and then spend their ENTIRE time at the Festival sitting around, chemically-challenged, in so-called 'drumming circles', going "flabba dabba flabba dabba" in a thoroughly unconvincing and arrhythmic manner?

20.30... River Stage - A shocking bit of programming means that two of the acts I PARTICULARLY wanted to see today are on different stages simultaneously. In the event, however, I got the gist of what the OKI DUB AINU BAND do (Japanese plunky string things, played through various FX processors, with dubby bass and percussion accompaniment) after a couple of numbers, so I dash (if 'dashing' is possible at a crowded WOMAD) to the Main Stage to hear the rest of CULTURE's set, arriving just in time for the anthemic "Two Sevens Clash". They were of course magnificent, and I expect I will hear much of this again on Uncle Andy's prog when I get home! REAL REGGAE LIVES!

21.30... Village Stage - Now that's what I CALL a lot of percussion! Remember the Korean percussion and dance ensemble Samul Nori? Well, DULSORI are the 'Junior Showtime' version of that esteemed combo, a bunch of hyperactive teenagers with far too much talent, who gee up the audience with strange sing-along routines and paint vast, cartoon-like murals ("Have You Guessed What It Is Yet?") to musical accompaniment, but, most of all, beat the hell out of enormous chunks of metal, wood and/or skin to thrilling effect.

22.30... Main Stage - And so to the act that I (and, I suspect, quite a few other day ticket holders) have come to see, ROBERT PLANT & THE STRANGE SENSATION. The band is on top form and a freshly bearded Percy still sounds half his age. Just for the record (and for Blockhead), here is that setlist in full!

The intro tape was "Shine It All (Over)", the rave-tastic remix version of "Shine It All Around", which has been a playlist favourite on the PA all day. The set opened with a bendir-drenched version of "NO QUARTER", followed by a fine version of "SHINE IT ALL AROUND" itself. An only-just-recognisable-at-first version of "BLACK DOG" was up next, with a definite reggae feel to the rhythm (not quite Dread Zeppelin, but getting there!). The set continues alternating between reworked Zep-tunes and numbers from the new album, as next up is "FREEDOM FRIES", itself a close relative of "Black Dog" (Good guitar wig-out!). Out come the acoustic guitars for a beautiful (and fairly faithful) "THAT'S THE WAY", with some nice mellotron strings throughout. "ANOTHER TRIBE" also keeps fairly faithful to the recorded version, then there is a percussive "FOUR STICKS" (Clive Deamer only used two though!) A longish "TIN PAN VALLEY" featured some spacey Moog effects and some REALLY psychedelic guitar duels. Some of Justin's patented Malian desert blues licks crept into an incredible version of "GALLOWS' POLE" and then the set ended with a version of "WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS" which, vocally at least, revisits its roots as a negro worksong.

The crowd bays for more: We get "THE ENCHANTER", from the new album, and a "Festival Au Desert" rendition of "WHOLE LOTTA LOVE" which then mutates into the full-blown heavy bludgeon-riffola version with an extended freak-out section, featuring nearly-out-of-control feedback from the man Skin. Thank you, WOMAD and goodnight!

Crikey!

Midnight or thereabouts... Siam Tent - So I find myself horizontally chillin', towards the back of a fast emptying Siam Tent, as the late night sounds of Ethiopia's MAHMOUD AHMED wash over me. And very good stuff it is too, with some real fat (No! NOT 'Phat'!!) brass arrangements and the kind of other-worldly vocal inflections I remember from old Aster Aweke albums. In fact, I'm sure I recognised some of the songs from a BBC series on African music, many moons ago, the name of which escapes me right now.

And that brings to a close my WOMAD visit for this year, bringing the grand total to n-n-n-nineteen so far. For so many years, I've had an ongoing 'love/hate' relationship with this Festival. Last year, I said 'never again', but I expect I'll be back for a twentieth... I can't help it, it's the music...

Men - Why spend money on pricey alcoholic beverages when you can achieve that "Morning After" hangover effect from a combination of sleep deprivation and a sinus-related inner ear infection? You'll have a realistic nauseating headache you'll be proud of, at a fraction of the cost...