Week from Monday 3rd July 2006

Looking back at my Festival Diary for WOMAD 2003, I see that we didn't really give SAMBASUNDA the time of day - there was an overload of "unaccompanied drumming and chanting" going on at the time, so we went for a cup of tea instead! So, having enjoyed a couple of  their tunes that have appeared on magazine coverfreebies, I thought I'd see what they were like when they have the whole party to themselves (plus it was FREE). Naturally, being a hot day, I MADE A YOMP OF IT. Gosport's Walpole Park shudders to the sound of the indigenous TWELVE-BAR BLUES (Fifteen bars, if you include the ones serving up the ale). Portsmouth, meanwhile, is a hive of MULTICULTURAL ACTIVITY. The town centre is full of Russian sailors. As well as the Sundanese lads on the Band Stand, the NEXT FIELD ALONG hosts a jamboree for the local THAI community. I will avoid making any non-PC jokes about Thai Brides, Ladyboys or "The King And I", because there were several of those made from the stage, possibly in both languages. The scents and sounds of the orient filled Castle Field - Look at the size of those shrimps! ... How big would you like your Buddha statue? We do deliveries ... Elephant ornaments, we got 'em! ... Hark at them drummers go! ... I made my excuses and left when, accompanied by an over-amplified synthetic backing tape, THE WORST SINGER ON THE PLANET hit the stage. Imagine Hilda Ogden singing Yoko Ono at a particularly cheesy Karaoke contest. I'm not just talking 'cultural difference' here: I LIKE oriental singing. She simply couldn't carry a tune if she had a very large wheelbarrow (And she looked like a Ladyboy... Ed). Meanwhile, over yon ridge... SAMBASUNDA play their "entrancing rhythms and mesmerising melodies" to a basking and baking Southsea. It's a pleasant enough sound, covering a variety of different styles. I rather liked the slow ballad-y ones best, slightly reminiscent of the Okinawan "Country & Eastern" sound. I hope I may have picked up a few tips if we ever get around to recording our opus "CHUCKLETOWN EAST OF JAVA" in full-blown Jaipongan style.

I made the mistake of doing the ten mile walk to 'SEYZEE' with my hiking vest a-gaping, so now I've got a large pink triangle indelibly etched into my torso.

In between doing some signwriting for THE SPUD WIMMIN, I dug out that 14-day trial version of KOAN PRO and pretended to be BRIAN ENO for a week. You might recall the "MY PC IS RECORDING A SOLO ALBUM" project of five years ago. For those of you who don't know, KOAN was the fractal "Generative" music software that Mr Eno had a hand in developing. You give the programme some instruments to play with, tell it to follow some rules and parameters of your choosing and then let it 'improvise' within your given framework. I generated some fantastic off-kilter drum tracks to play along with (non-repetitive and HUMAN-sounding), some incredibly REAL piano 'improvs' (Now my PC really does sound like KEITH JARRETT!) as well as some typically Eno-esque ambient washes which will, no doubt, be useful as backings for summat. The only downside to the DEMO version is that it won't record its own output - I got around that problem by recording the results in real time into my wave editor programme. It also tends to throw a spanner in the works by stopping mid-session at fairly random intervals. And it sometimes tries to output the tracks to (non-existent) MIDI channels instead of to the PC's inbuilt synth module. Or maybe that was just me not knowing what I was doing. It all adds to the fun. If only the full programme (if it still exists) wasn't so prohibitively expensive.

Week from Monday 10th July 2006

I visited a couple of CAR-BOOTS this weekend, but they were BOTH under-subscribed and not particularly browse-worthy. The Saturday afternoon one possibly coincided with some vital sports fixture or other. In the case of the regular Sunday morning do, the suddenly soggy weather kept away traders. 

There was a bit of a treat (well, for me anyway) to be had on Saturday night, when Radio 3's poet-in-residence IAN MacMILLAN did a half-hour tribute to KURT SCHWITTERS. He visited Ambleside, where Kurt spent his final years, laid a collage at his grave (where he is no longer buried) and got some of the locals to perform a Schwitters "play" on the Windermere steamboat. GREAT RADIO!

I've just added another massive consignment of tracks to my ODD-POD. This now makes a ludicrous total of about FIVE AND A HALF DAYS WORTH of walkin' listenin' pleasure, music to suit ANY mood, squeezed onto a mere 7.5Gb of hard-disk space. It's just like having your own radio station, one which is GUARANTEED to play ONLY music that you like. You can't say THAT about any real-life radio station, digital or otherwise.

Following my KOANdabbling, I've accumulated hours of what we doctors like to call "BACKING TRACKS", half-finished 'works in progress' which just scream out for SHELFY to do his amusing thing over the top of them. I've asked him to provide me with a disk of his unadorned ["WINGED EYEBALL"?] recitations, so that I can CUT THE CLOTH accordingly.

I've just visited the WOMAD webbo, where I find we now have a proper RUNNING ORDER starting to take shape. Sod's Law dictates that two of the TOP ROOTS NAMES on my MUST SEE list will be playing on different stages at PRECISELY the same time; namely the GOTAN PROJECT and the WARSAW VILLAGE BAND.

Week from Monday 17th July 2006

This weekend, we heard the sad news that another Honorary Gridler has left us. The Pink Floyd's founding Crazy Diamond and reclusive Madcap, Roger Keith 'SYD' BARRETT, ended an oft troubled life at the age of sixty. He had suffered 'complications from diabetes'.

On Saturday, I NEARLY had a 'new' SLR camera for the 'holidays'. I spotted a chunky looking MINOLTA at our local BOOTY and 'haggled' the price down to £12. But when I got it home, I found that the rewind crank was broken, so I walked BACK down to yon field, pointed out the device's shortcomings and was given a full refund by the very nice lady who had sold it to me. A pity, since I've become disillusioned with these new-fangled DIGITAL cameras, particularly the piss-poor battery lives of such items - a weekend away with my Nikon digital camera usually entails the support of a rucksack full of Nickel Cadmium AAs. In fact, just the other day when I was about town, I noticed that the newer Nikon models advertise "NEW-IMPROVED BATTERY LIFE" as a major selling point. So I've been thinking that good old-fashioned FILM could once again be THIS YEAR'S THING. My digital camera is fine for 'work' use. I find that instant imaging technology comes in useful when producing illustrations and is a practical way of working, so long as a battery-charger is close at hand. But stray too far from civilisation and you need something with fewer electronics involved!

This morning (Monday), I paid a visit to the dentist for my usual scrape 'n' polish on the NHS. I've been market research-testing a new toothpaste for the last couple of weeks and it seems to do all it promises on the [dummied-up] package. That is to say, it hasn't made my teeth fall out yet.

THE PROMS have kicked off again. As I peruse the programme, I find that, unless one is a fervent MOZART FREAK, there's not a lot to get excited about this season. I am most definitely NOT a Mozart freak, fervent or otherwise. I usually tune in to the Proms because I want to hear the specially commissioned NEW MUSIC, rather than to hear various BBC orchestras murder the 'classics'. So far it's been MOSTLY MOZART and the 'new' works, commissioned to commemorate Wolfgang Amadeus' 250th Birthday, have consisted of SUB-NYMAN-ESQUE NEO-BAROQUE MAJOR KEY RIFFING... but hey! it's early days yet...

My PC has had a well deserved 'springclean', with lots of unused stuff being cast out, the VERY-MUCH-USED stuff being reinstalled, a major defrag and several performance tweaks being undertaken. WHOOOOOSH!

Week from Monday 24th July 2006

Yesterday I went to the CARBOOT SALE at Titchfield for a change. I find there is A MUCH BETTER STANDARD OF CRAP to be found there! For a start, you don't turn your nose up at the prospect of over fifty quids'worth of unused blank 100mb ZIP DISKS, a fiver for the box... or, for that matter, a cassette of the BAUHAUS anthology for 30p! How wonderful to hear all of those tunes (including the timeless "BELA LUGOSI'S DEAD") for the VERY first time without vinyl-generated chip-shop noises.

"GREAT RADIO" this week included archive "In Concert"s by THE GROUNDHOGS and THE EDGAR BROUGHTON BAND, a brand new concert by THE PUNK-FUNK ALL-STARS (a rockin' teenage groove combo consisting of ace FUNKATEERS James Blood Ulmer, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Vernon Reid, Melvin Gibbs and Joseph Bowie, no less!) and a [brief] "Late Junction" sesh by Japanese/Okinawan faves, AN CHANG PROJECT.

The long awaited seedydisk reissue of ROBERT FRIPP's "Exposure" album landed on my doorstep. It comes with a 'bonus' disc which includes all the versions of the songs with the original DARYL HALL vocals. Hall's record company RCA wouldn't let Uncle Bobby release this version of the album at the time (for fear that it would "damage Daryl's commercial potential"), so he called in his old mate PETER HAMMILL to re-record some of the 'vox' instead. Now I HAVE to get Hall's long lost "SACRED SONGS" album to go with it!

Eh Oop! It's time for WOMAD... where "we can be ear'oles, just for one day..."

Notes from the Berkshire Pop(py) Fields... My twentieth year of WOMADing and another Friday daytrip to Rivermead... Shelfy and I arrived at the site at 12.30, having savoured the Toyota-filtered sounds of (amongst others) Oumou Sangare, Gotan Project and Ryukyu Underground along the way. The weather is supposed to stay STONKINGLY HOT (my words, not the Met Office's). We enjoy a quick sandwich and a GRAIN bar or two in the car, then set off to exchange our tickets for the fashionable SILVER wrist bands. Like last year, I purchased a nice glossy programme, but I tucked it away safely at the bottom of my rucky. I won't be needing it today because I've brought my own printout of the running order. 

We take delicious mugs of tea at the Cabaret Café, near the new Tri-Span Tent. It has been requested that I 'sample' the ubiquitous IDIOT WHITE FOLKS DRUMMING CIRCLE (see comments, 2005 diary) onto my ODD-POD, as Shelfy wants to "put some music to it". We visit the RIDICULOUSLY CHEAP BOOK SHOP, but don't buy anything. We visit the WOMAD emporium and I spot a Värttinä DVD which I simply MUST have (At this time I have yet to find out that they are my New Favourite Band).

14.30 ... Open Air Stage - There has a major rethink on the site layout this year, just as we were starting to get set in our ways. For a start, the main stage seems to be lower on the ground, is pointing in a different direction (straight at the Village!?) and has a new 'flying' PA system. It is here that we witness the first turn of the day, YERBA BUENA, a multi-culti, pan-Latino outfit from New York (so why are they named after the old San Francisco then?). They are fabulous: ultra-modern yet strangely old-fashioned, sometimes reminiscent of [very early] Santana. The dirty old guitar sound really makes it, but the many-facetted vocal arrangements sprinkle some fairy dust on the whole caboodle.

Skelton Twinning Moment #1: They do a number which was probably "Release Yourself" or "Believe In Yourself" but which SOUNDED to our ears like "Relieve Yourself".

Speaking of which, we also have NEW-IMPROVED TOILET FACILITIES this year! There is also a ready and welcome supply of drinkable tap-water with which to refill one's plastic bottle. Mind you, if you keep it in a rucksack in this heat it tastes like bathwater by the time you come to drink it!

15.30 ... Village Stage - Do you remember the collective from Bulawayo called Sunduza, who wowed us in the early days of the G**port F****val, with their Umfulozi-esque a cappella choristry and their stomping wellyboot routines? Well, SIYAYA are a similar kind of thing, a complete potted history of southern African folklore in under sixty minutes. They sang, stomped and drummed up a storm. Siyaya do a splendid version of South Africa's OTHER 'greatest hit', not "Wimoweh"/"Mbube", but the one known to us westerners as "The Click Song" (and not "Click Go The Shears Boys" either!).

We tried our hardest to AVOID hearing SALSA CELTICA, a group who 'do exactly what it says on the tin', combining ALL of my least favourite kinds of music into one indigestible package. But a trip to the tap to refill our bottles brought us dangerously close to the Siam Tent where they were performing. We overheard BAGPIPES! We overheard a member of the family WATERSON! Aaaaagggh! Run away!

16.30 ... Open Air Stage - The Dhol Foundation's head-drummie JOHNNY KALSI, who is doing the MC chores on the main stage this afternoon, is, it has to be said, a bit of a whore. There's nobody he won't 'jam' with, if the opportunity arises. DIMI MINT ABBA has arrived from her native Mauritania with most of her band missing because of BUREAUCRATIC BULLSHIT. There has been a major kerfuffle involving the refusal of work visas by our ever-welcoming Home Office. So our Johnny joins her on stage for a couple of numbers, a combination that SHOULDN'T work but certainly does. All kudos to the two remaining members of her band, particularly the keyboard player, who worked like billy-oh to patch over the missing musical parts. It was still a gorgeous, evocative sound, carried by the power of Ms Abba's voice and the complexity of the rhythms.

17.30 ... Siam Tent - "This isn't the Värttinä I remember!" sayeth our Tony and, of course, he's right. VÄRTTINÄ have had more line-up changes than Fairport Convention and Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow combined and there's been yet another this afternoon...

A band the size of Värttinä always carries a few spares... Founder member MARI KAASINEN is on maternity leave, so the lady who is temping on her behalf is their producer, AIJA PUURTINEN - she should know all the songs then! She is the One Non-Blonde in the group.

Another thing that has changed since we last saw a Värttinä some years ago has been the invention of decent radio mikes and in-ear monitoring. Therefore things have 'modernised' drastically on the presentation front. The girls dance sensuously and stalk the stage impersonating all manner of Karelian trolls and demons, with the rest of the band on risers behind them. One thing that HASN'T changed are those seductive harmonies and multi-layered tunes that slip into your brain and stay there for days afterwards in a Brian Wilson fashion. They are my New Favourite Band... 

It's Folk Music Jim But Thankfully Not As We Know It. We're taking bets that they'll be doing the interval show at next year's Eurovision Song Contest in Helsinki.

18.30 ... The Cabaret Cafe - Tea is taken as we avoid catching ANYTHING of Bellowhead, a band who sound SO unappealing on SO MANY levels. We'd picked up a leaflet or two about the newly-renovated Kennet & Avon Canal, so discussion naturally turns to cycling and walking activities. The tea on this occasion was not QUITE as delicious as this morning's, but welcome nevertheless. I'm jotting down some strange Finnish time signatures for future reference. There was one which I think was an 11:8 (4+4+3) and another one based on a pattern of twelve which sounded strangely similar to a Neopolitan tarantella rhythm. One shouldn't be too surprised at these 'parallel universe' events, as Finland is inexplicably big on Tango as well.

19.00 ... Radio 3 Stage - It is apparent that the music of West Africa is "TELESCOPIC" in nature. The songs sound as if they can be as long or as short as the mood of the musicians and  receptivity of the audience dictates. DABY BALDE and his band of Senegalese Belgians demonstrate this in admirable style. Here, they sound as if they could truck along on a groove for hours. However, if this tendency IS dependent on audience reception, then it should be interesting to see how well they do at next week's WICKHAM CHEGFEST. They could probably get through their whole set in about ten minutes. On the other hand, by having a fiddler in the band, they COULD possibly pass the Solent Musical Legitimacy Test.

Skelton Twinning Moment #2: One song by Daby and the gang has a chorus which sounds amusingly like "On The Wall, Physical Giraffes..."

19.30ish ... Siam Tent - Glamorous Grannies THE MAHOTELLA QUEENS celebrate forty-odd years in this business we call 'show', having outlived their entire band over the years. They still sound fantastic and dance like teenagers, while their current band of young shavers carry off those swooping Mbaqanga riddims with aplomb.

Skelton Twinning Moment #3: The Mahotella Queens sing a delightful ditty hereby known by us as "Hold My Pepperami".

20.30 ... Open Air Stage - We have enjoyed the many and varied sounds of Mexico's LOS DE ABAJO live on a previous occasion and their recorded works are constantly a joy. They have come a long way since we last saw them (although I think the bass player is still wearing the same clothes - See Photo Gallery page). For a start, they are no longer with the LUAKA BOP concern, but are now recording for REAL WORLD, with all the cross-border collaborating that normally allows. Tonight, there are special guest appearances from trombonist Dennis Rollins, Count Dubullah from Temple of Sound and, OF COURSE, Johnny Kalsi. A fashion note to the lead singer: The stetson and moustache combo may be thought 'MAS MACHO' in Mexico City, but here it just screams 'Village People'!

21.30 ... Siam Tent - At this point in the proceedings there was to have been a double booking of 'PEOPLE WE REALLY WANTED TO SEE'. 'Road Tape' favourites THE GOTAN PROJECT are scheduled to play in the Siam Tent AT EXACTLY THE SAME TIME as THE WARSAW VILLAGE BAND are due to play on the Village Stage. We are resigned to having to divide our time between the two stages. I opt to watch the first half of Gotan's set before going over to the Village, in time for the Warsaw chaps to reach a petulant frenzy. However, after hearing about ten minutes of Tango Dub Stylings, I opine that, although I LOVE their reccerds, 'they are not really a live band', relying on the accompanying film show for their visual impact. So we set off towards the Village and as we approach, the unmistakable sound of Johnny Kalsi's DHOL FOUNDATION assuages our ears - 'Is there no one he won't play with?' - But no, it is not the sound of the Warsaw Village Band With Dholaks On. The Warsaw Village Band have not turned up. Dhol Foundation have been given the opportunity to 'fill in at the last minute' and get to do their regular set. It's a fine racket, but I wish I hadn't stood so close to the PA! After a few numbers, we go back to the Siam Tent to hear the rest of the Gotan Project's set. I hereby slightly revise my opinion. They ARE an interesting live attraction, but I'd rather sit in a proper concert hall like the QEH to appreciate them properly. They are a posh, multi-media ART MUSIC affair, rather than a sweaty festival knees-up.

22.30 ... Open Air Stage - SALIF KEITA has found a whole new sound since his mid-'eighties heyday (or rather, rediscovered an old one) and is nowadays sounding as fresh as a daisy... Another example of the infectious West African TRANCE style (That's 'trance' in a FEELIN' REELIN' DESERT DERVISH kinda way, rather than the techno discobollocks that usually gets labelled 'trance' these days). Tonight, "Mandjou", Salif's own TELESCOPIC magnum opus - his "Dark Star" if you will - ran to about eleven minutes, but could have gone on much longer... Soul Brother Number One!

23.45 ... Every year at about this time, I feel in the mood for a relaxing late-night RAGA or two and then I take one look at the Siam Tent (STANDING room only, jammed full of yakking punters all looking around for something to do after the main event on the Open Air Stage) and I totally GO OFF the idea. This is NOT the place to LISTEN to Indian classical music. It belongs in a seated concert hall. ANOUSHKA SHANKAR, however, says she LOVES playing at WOMAD. I guess it must be a lot more fun being ON the stage than before it. This is then the time when I sigh and say, "I'll just have to wait till I get home to hear it on the radio instead."

Apparently, we could have gone to the pictures to see "Moulin Rouge", or tried to catch the end of Tiger Moth's set, or that of Vusi Mahlasela (I subsequently heard him on the radio and he wasn't MY cup of Bovril at all - he may WELL have been a big cheese in the struggle against Apartheid but, to me, he sounded like an average busker doing Cat Stevens-type singer-songwriter material). The drive through the night, getting home in the time it takes to hear GONG to perform a live set, proved more appealing.

So what did we miss by not staying for the whole weekend? It would have been nice to have seen this year's TRILOK GURTU collaboration (but the comments above about the 'late-night raga' apply here). THINK OF ONE are a  personal favourite, but their 'breakfast slot' on Saturday suggests that they must have had somewhere better to go later in the day. TOUMANI DIABATE and DJELIMADI TOUNKARA would have supplied a further quota of "West African Psychedelia". THOMAS MAPFUMO and FEMI KUTI we saw in their prime some years ago. Judging by the radio 'highlights', ANGELIQUE KIDJO is way past HER prime. ETRAN FINATAWA promise to be 'This Year's Tinariwen'. IVO PAPASOV and SUSANA BACA might have made Sunday worthwhile. There would doubtless have been other surprises... and I believe it rained later...

Week from Monday 31st July 2006

...THE MORNING AFTER and I suffer one of my ALCOHOL-FREE HANGOVERS, the nausea caused by a combination of SUMMER SINUS-CLOG  and disrupted circadian rhythm. A few hours of extra kip and I was back to normal and ready for breakfast, just before the first of today's WOMAD broadcasts. The stack of tapes is building up nicely.

This weekend brought the last ever episodes of "THE WEST WING", but the start of season four of "24" (first time on 'free' telly) to make up for it. I've started making notes and gathering thoughts for the new WOMAD DIARY PAGE(S). I'm hoping that SHELFY will share some of his thoughts as well. Watch THAT space. My "NEW FAVOURITE BAND" this week is VÄRTTINÄ, since seeing them at the weekend and buying their DVD. Their delightful and harmonically intricate melodies have got lodged in my brain and have stayed there. This is what we Doctors call "BRIAN WILSON SYNDROME".

On Tuesday, we went on a "NEW AGE PENSIONERS' OUTING" way out West... Shelfy had to go to Bradford-Upon-Avon to buy a new bicycle for his collection. We also called in on the MOTORCYCLE PEOPLE in the New Forest, for cups of tea and to ogle at NICE THINGS, including a rather splendid Land Rover ambulance/camper, which has been added to Shelf's ever-growing "COVETED" list. My 'HTMLing' services were called upon, as they want to add some pages and links to their website.

I had a call from a gentleman in Portchester asking if I could sign-write his [expensive] bicycle. I said I'd have to come and see it for myself, so this was the perfect excuse for a little WALKIES. In the end, the 'walkies' was the ONLY thing I got out of it, as it turned out to be a job I'd not feel comfortable tackling (especially for the money he was prepared to pay).