Week from Monday 1st June 2009

Flaming June! Phew! what a scorcher all of a sudden! This weekend I finished boxing up all the stuff for the ANNUAL BIKE-RIDE PRINT & COLLATE-O-THON, and bulk-e-mailed the recipients with the information that it'll be arriving on their doorsteps this coming Wednesday. Shelfy and I will taking to the road in the latest of a long line of OLD BANGERS that he has acquired through farmyard bartering.

This is officially my busiest week of the year (and I won't qualify that with a "so far" either!). A WHOLE MESS O' PRINT-FLURRYING to be done. And then in the middle of the busiest week bla bla bla - THE DELIVER-O-THON! 

This year's model OLD BANGER, a Vauxhall Corsa, behaved itself admirably, all things considered - our very own tribute to the demise of General Motors. It APPEARS to run rather hot, but I don't how much of that is for real, and how much is down to the gauges and dials on the dashboard giving false information. I realise that diesel engines are a LITTLE more forgiving than petrol ones, but if it really WAS consistently above boiling point, then you'd know more about it! A couple of the gears seem to be missing altogether, good exercise for Shelfy's left arm. As a small diesel car, it handles more like a large truck. But that is what Shelfy looks for in a 'DEFINITIVE FAMILY MOTOR CAR'. I recall the pain in his eyes when he once test drove a 'new' Land Rover, only to be disappointed to find that it was as smooth to handle as the average Lexus. No Fun At All.

The vehicle's sound system was not great. It sounded better if you just used the rear speakers on their own. The left-hand front speaker had a shot cone and made any bass-end frequencies sound like a bucketful of rattlesnakes. The cassette slot rejected my MP3 adaptor, so we listened to the same tape of THE ORB several times over. Then I tried it with Shelfy's MP3 adaptor and, for some reason, that one DID work. So we were then able to crank up the podcast of last week's AFRICA BEAT show from Sheffield Live, as well as a selection of other items from THIS MUSIC WE CALL WORLD.

At one dropping-off point, I left the hatchback open, and we drove several miles before anyone pointed it out! I'm surprised that Shelfy didn't notice the improved view through his mirror! As usual, we got lost at some point (we NEVER get lost in the SAME place two years running). This time we lost Andover altogether, because Shelfy refused to believe it was in a westerly direction. "It doesn't BELONG there, it's SUPPOSED to be the other way..." 


Interesting too, to note that, despite the fact that we were Wild In The Country, my HAY FEVER didn't kick in until we got back to Fareham! There might be something in this theory about eating LOCAL HONEY to ward off the effects of hay fever, because the 'Hampshire' honey that I've been eating turns out to be from NORTH Hampshire!

Saturday 6th June 2009 - GRYPHON Reunion Concert, Queen Elizabeth Hall
Good grief, is THAT how much it costs to go to Dzat Loondin on the train these days? I won't be doing that again in a hurry! Previous accounts of trips to London would have described my traipsing around the various record emporia during the afternoon prior to the gig, to obtain all those must-have items I have been unable to buy locally. Nowadays, the Piccadilly branch of HMV has no better a selection than the ones in Portsmouth or Southampton. So it's official. Record Shops Are No More.
I did spend an hour or two 'window shopping' the book emporia of Charing Cross Road. None of the American 'Southern Gothic' authors recommended by Bunny could be found though, even in the so-called biggest book shop in Britain. 
I saved my cash for the surprisingly cheap (in this day and age) concert programme (£3) and t-shirt (£12) on arrival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (complete with prestigious South Bank Centre carrier bag).
The gig then... Like the first album, the Gryphon concert opened with "Kemp's Jig", and it was immediately apparent that, if anything, the chaps are sounding BETTER than they ever did in the seventies. In those days, the PA systems were crap-to-middling and sound engineers were out of their depth trying to balance a bassoon, a recorder or a brace of crumhorns against a bass guitar, a bank of keyboards and other 'electric' instruments. Just listen to their live recordings for the evidence. I saw Gryphon several times during the seventies, in every kind of venue from a folk club to a cathedral to rock auditoria. If memory serves, they never sounded THIS good. I also recall they would stick to the instrumental stuff, possibly for similar reasons. Vocals were never considered their strongpoint:- 'slightly marred by jokey rustic accents', said the NME of the day. Not so tonight. During this 'First Album' set they played the songs "Sir Gavin Grimbold", "The Astrologer" and "The Unquiet Grave" as well as a version of "Pastime With Good Company" with the (Henry VIII?) words put back in! There was also the gorgeous "Touch & Go" (kudos to Graeme Taylor) and the 'live' world premiere of "Juniper Suite" (as the original recording required a LOT of multitracking, the original quartet could never have pulled it off live). The first set ended with "Estampie" which has been expanded into a suite incorporating OTHER 13th Century dance tunes, as well as Brian Gulland's still amusing bassoon solo.
Twenty minute interval...
The second set opened with the medley of Susatto(?) renaissance dance tunes forever known simply as "Opening Number". Always a treat. Then, without any need for an introduction, the unmistakable opening chords of "Midnight Mushrumps" which, again, never sounded as good. Magnificent! TEMPESTuous! They received a well deserved standing ovation for what seemed like ages.
Oh no! a Gryphon tune that I don't have! Curses! "Ashes" was an outtake from the "Raindance" album and one of the 'previously unreleased' songs that were on "The Collection Vol. 2", a CD compilation long deleted and changing hands online for $50 or more. Curses again!
Graeme Taylor's "Dubbel Dutch" and, naturally, "Ethelion" completed the "Midnight Mushrumps" segment of the show. 
Perhaps due to public demand (if their MySpace is anything to go by!), they encored with some selections from "Red Queen To Gryphon Three", arranged by Brian and Graeme into a 'suite of all the good bits'. It was suggested that everyone who had ever bought that album were probably in the room! Certainly, a number of people had travelled from afar to be here, including the inevitable Italian contingent. 
Then, just for fun and for charity (Water Aid), the chaps vamped on "Le Cambrioleur Est Dans Le Mouchoir" for as long as it took for the hirsute Mr Brian Gulland to have his beard shaved off. Some might recall the occasion when, on some 1980s telethon or other, he had his entire head shaved as well. See concert programme for photographic evidence.
The concert had started with the original quartet of Richard Harvey, Brian Gulland, David Oberlé and Graeme Taylor playing "Kemp's Jig". It was only fitting that the evening should finish with it as well, this time with the full six-piece, with the addition of bass player Jon Davie (who had been in the final lineup of Gryphon before ending up in Home Service with Graeme Taylor) and multi-multi-instrumentalist Graham Preskett (his 'day job' is in film and TV music), whose fiddle playing added a new dimension to the Gryphon sound.
A fantastic evening then, historic even. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. All the earlier shenanigans with the South Bank ticket office, not to mention the frankly extortionate rail fare, were totally worth it. I trust that Gryphon's select group of MySpace friends and the vociferous (and, let's face it, mainly Italian) prog community will persuade them to do some more. Perhaps play "Red Queen To Gryphon Three" in its entirety for the first time, eh? Just a thought...

Week from Monday 8th June 2009

Maybe it's whatever form of FUNNY FOREIGN FLU is fashionable this week, maybe it's just a post-London reaction, maybe it was that cheese baguette I ate on Waterloo Station at midnight or maybe it's a coincidental convergence of several things at once (hay fever + reaction to meds + exhaustion)... BUT I FEEL LIKE CRAP! I slept through most of Sunday (except I didn't sleep as such, I was stuck in one of those irrational brainfever loops) and this morning I've got the runs. My trip to Gozzy was as brief as possible, lest I stray too far from a lavatory. I feel knackered, but it's not as if I've missed out on any sleep... Soldier on! Drink a litre of Lucozade...

By Wednesday, I had recovered sufficiently to START ALL OVER AGAIN and I did my 'working holiday' trip to the ISLE OF WIGHT. I was going to leave it till later in the week, until someone reminded me that the Pop Festival is coming up this weekend and ferry travel would be difficult without priority booking. I took the LECKY railway to Brading and then walked back along the various designated paths, dropping my parcel off in St Helens along the way. The weather held off, although, naturally, there was mud underfoot at certain points. Ripping fun!

Now all that remains, BIKE-RIDE PRINT & COLLATE-O-THONwise, is to ADD UP THE BILL. Hoorah!

This wasn't NEARLY so much fun though... yesterday (Thursday) I had to go out for yet another wee walkies to deliver a letter. I got caught in a HAIL STORM, for f***sakes, miles from anywhere, clad only in my customary t-shirt and baggy shorts. To the skin was I soaked. So if you don't hear from me again, I've probably succumbed to pneumonia!

Flaming June! Did I mention my theory that "GOD HATES HIPPIES"? That's my ONLY explanation for the fact that the weather in England ALWAYS takes a turn for the yukkier, in the fortnight leading up to THE SUMMER SOLSTICE. This is historically the worst time of year to risk a pop festival. But still they do.

Week from Monday 15th June 2009

A nice little (little?) Red Cross parcel arrived from STATESIDE BUNNY, containing a copy of the elusive "A SHORT HISTORY OF A SMALL PLACE" by North Carolina's own T.R.Pearson, as well as a box of her beloved MOON PIES, intended mainly for the attention of The Entire Top Shelf... oh, and a packet of Bunny's favourite brand of CAWFEE, which made me realise that I don't actually OWN such a thing as a coffee pot, being English and all. 

But I don't think Shelfy believes me when I tell him that 'WE HAVE MOON PIES', otherwise I'd have expected him to have shown a little more enthusiasm! They are REAL Moon Pies, you know, not just the CONCEPTUAL ones on your MySpace!

I have a theory, one perhaps shared by THE HUMAN NAIL, that somewhere deep in the bowels of Yorkshire Television, the wardrobe department keeps a trunk filled with all the frocks that even Carol Vorderman wouldn't wear. How else can you explain some of the grotesque items of apparel modelled by COUNTDOWN's resident brainbox and fashion victim RACHEL RILEY? A comely enough wench, to be sure - but what on earth DOES she thinks she's come as?

A year or two back, I thought I'd found the BARGAIN OF THE CENTURY when I bought a nice box of 14 CDs, containing Sir Simon Rattle's complete MAHLER Symphonies, for under thirty quid. Imagine my delight, dear reader, etc etc etc... The complete(?) CBS recordings of IGOR STRAVINSKY, 22 CDs in all, for twenty of your earth pounds? Shurely shome mishtake!?

Week from Monday 24th June 2009

...uh oh, it's Wednesday already and I haven't done anything worth diarising yet! Actually, work has continued on the ART RATZ/MALE LA LA'S 'tribute' to the Doors' "Strange Days" album. In my case, it's an IDEAL subject for a 'tribute', because, unlike the ROCKY MUCUS project, I can honestly say I've never listened to the original version in my life. So there is even less likelihood of our songs bearing ANY resemblance to the originals! I also arrived at one of those useful little SIDE-VENTURE pieces that pop up from time to time. We needed a little bit of 'ambience' to link two other pieces of music, so I recorded about three minutes of mid-seventies electronica, with the aim of just using a little bit of it to fade in and out... but I rather think that it stands up on its own in toto, especially since Binky suggested running one of the tracks in reverse. Now I need a name for it - the WORKING TITLE for it was "Space Monkeys", but obviously that's just plain DAFT! ...hmmm, we haven't had a HAIKU for a while, kids...

Old art-rock has-beens,
We take songs and subvert them.
All the same to me!

The mucus is flowing in abundance, what with the hay fever and that. And the hot summer nights make the acquisition of sleep a problem. After lying there tossing and turning for one hour... two hours... three... there comes a point where you think that 'this is a waste of time' and decide to get up and do something useful instead! Like catching up with the radio you might have missed (the SPINAL TAP 'documentary' on Radio 2; the interview with BILL BRUFORD on Radio 3) via the wee nettypoos. Or knocking up a quick poster artwork or two. Or searching for CD sleeve art for recent downloads. Those Mediterranean johnnies have the right idea, with their afternoon siesta doodahs...

Ah! but now... what should finally land on my doorstep but the two shiny volumes by the CRIMSON JAZZ TRIO - or CJ3 to its friends - the late lamented Ian Wallace and his chums reinterpreting the KING CRIMSON SONGBOOK in a jazz trio stylee. See how many you recognise, pop kids!

"Space Monkeys" has now assumed the slightly more sensible and appropriate name of "INUKTITUT", probably because the Nail said it reminded him of The Residents' "ESKIMO". It must be the wind, you know?! Meanwhile, a couple more tracks have been added to the "Strange Days" 'FINISHED WAVs' folder, featuring our customary SLUMGULLION of styles.

Never heard before?
Not familiar to us?
Do it anyway!

Another hot and sticky night - and we're in for a thunderstorm, if the infestation of little black insects is anything to go by. But GLASTONBURY weekend is coming up, so THAT would explain Mother Nature's sudden urge to make things all wet and uncomfortable.

Week from Monday 29th June 2009

For many years now, the GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL has dominated by post-Britpop bands of earnest young haircuts to whom I wouldn't give the time of day. I just haven't bothered to tune in. It's not for me. But suddenly, this year, it was as if MY GENERATION has come around again! NEIL YOUNG made the latest stop on his Worldwide Festival Tour and was fabulous; SPINAL TAP were groin-achingly funny; if you are a fan of BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN then you probably enjoyed the performance of a lifetime (personally, I can take him or leave him - he's okay in small doses, but I can see why Snilt's nipper once demanded to be taken home after only thirty minutes of BOSSiness); CROSBY STILLS & NASH were exactly the right kind of thing at the right time. Rambling West Coast Folk Rock just sounds RIGHT on a hot summer afternoon on an open air stage.

During my Sunday morning WALKIES, I found me leaning on a fence somewhere between here and Titchfield watching a meadowful of RABBITS at play. Dozens and dozens of the little buggers, from big white-eared 'alpha' bunny down to the tiniest little babies, fresh out of the warren.

I also took in a CAR BOOT SALE along the way, but nothing to find there but the joy of the search...

Our BUNNY needs to learn to speak like a Yorkshirewoman for a current project, no mean feat for an American, I'll wager! 'Websearching' on her behalf for examples of various English 'dialects' (including some of the more ghastly ones), I stumbled over HARRY ENFIELD's hilarious series of MR CHOLMONDLEY-WARNER "Informal But Informative Talks" on YouTube. I had to explain to our American chum that no English person EVER REALLY spoke like that, except in Ealing films and on the early BBC.

We have 'finished' the ART RATZ version of "Strange Da[ys/ze]"... but of course, I WOULDN'T LET IT LIE! Already, I have started adding bits here and there and changing things! I have posted on the PPspace a new version of "Horse Latitudes", complete with BUNNY recitation and an additional keyboard interlude that wasn't there before!