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HistoryMusic

Podcast 11. Dick Taylor – S.F. Sorrow & beyond

SF Sorrow cover

The cover of S.F. Sorrow 1968. Taken from the 2009 Madfish reissue.

On the 4th of March 2018, on a very cold and snowy English Saturday morning, I was delighted to speak to Dick Taylor, guitarist and founding member of the Pretty Things. I wanted to specifically ask him questions about the period of 1967/68 and the band’s psychedelic masterpiece album – S.F. Sorrow. I was keen to know more about the circumstances around it, and its making. You listen to it now and while embedded in the musical culture of the time it was clearly decades ahead of its time.

S.F. Sorrow unfortunately, at the time it was released – did not receive the full attention and credit it deserved, due to various record label machinations. It has been progressively rediscovered over the last 20 years or so as new generations discover it, and marvel over its inventiveness, spirit, and innate sense of adventure/experimentalism. It is a record that helped define the period and broke new ground in its musical forms and structures, utilising the best studio in the world at the time, Abbey Road, and made while the Pink Floyd and the Beatles were also making classic albums – A Saucerful Of Secrets and The White Album at the same time at Abbey Road.

For some background of my interest in the Pretty Things work – I first read about their name as a youngster in New Zealand circa 1980/81 via David Bowie’s 1973 album Pinups, which features some stonking covers of the Prettie’s tunes ‘Rosalyn’ and ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’. Bowie’s liner notes on the back cover explaining his song choices for that album expressed his obvious love and enthusiasm of the London R’n’B music scene he shared with the Pretty Things circa 1964. However it wasn’t until the mid 80’s as a teenager I actually heard the Pretty Things for the first time via a cassette of their 1960’s BBC sessions. This tape came from a well informed 60’s music aficionado based in Hamilton in the Waikato. The same guy who turned me onto the Charles Lloyd Quartet, The Creation, and the Misunderstood. Cheers Jim!

I played the cassette wondering what to expect and was verily blown away by the attitude/vibe, melodies, rhythms, and sheer power in their songs. It was timeless music with that instant transcendent mojo – that indefinable loveliness that all great music has – that can that lift one out of one’s immediate experience and consciousness – and take you someplace else instantly. And in the conservative and generally dull, intellectually hostile, conformist, and spirit-less suburban existence of Auckland in the 1980’s that kind of musical revelation was a heaven-send.

However in those days as a teenager investigating lots of new things I was moving into my own odyssey to discover the NZ music of the time a la Fetus Productions, the Doublehappys, the Bats et al. Alongside figuring out how to coax feedback out of my guitar and making my first excursions into recording my own work. It wasn’t until many years later that I finally got a copy of SF Sorrow and discovered a record that instantly astonished and moved me – much like the first time I heard Ege Bamyasi by Can, Funhouse by the Stooges, or White Light White Heat by the Velvet Underground. S.F. Sorrow was part of the real deal.

Pretties 67.68

The Pretty Things circa 1967/68. From top L-R Dick Taylor, John Povey, Phil May, Wally Allen, Skip Alan (photographer unknown)

The Pretties were the leaders of the bunch in their time yet for reasons that have been covered in detail by several other writers the Pretties never became as commercially successful as other important bands of their era like the Kinks, Small Faces, Who, and the Stones. Nevertheless their influence is massive and the explosion of punk rock with its many off-shoots would have been very different had the Pretty Things never existed.

The sessions for S.F. Sorrow started in late 1967 and the album was released in December 1968. And what a year that was – revolution was in the air and a palpable atmosphere of dissent was about, especially amongst many young people around the world. The Viet Nam war was raging and the Nice were banned from the Albert Hall for burning an American flag. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and a string of incidents of state repression reverberated around the world from Ireland, France, Mexico, the USA and elsewhere.

My conversation with Dick included: current recording activity of the Pretty Things; Life and renting in London in late 1967; Playing with David Bowie, borrowing his band’s van and sawing legs off a piano; In Paris with Jimi Hendrix 4th March ’67; Leaning a guitar on the wall and beautiful drones emerging; The lost great Pretties song ‘Reincarnation’; Arab and North African music; The guitars used, drum production, and the art of sub mixes during the recording of S.F. Sorrow at Abbey Road; Staying in tune on stage in the 60’s without tuning pedals; The wider effects of WWII, and an anti-war theme; The effect of LSD on 1960’s culture amongst all else that was going on; DT’s memories of producing Hawkwind’s debut album; The fragmentation of the modern music scene – and an observation of the current socio-economic milieu.

The tracks in the podcast are firstly the original uncut ‘Defecting Grey’ from the CD reissue of S.F. Sorrow, and secondly ‘Private Sorrow’ from the same 2009 reissue.

I’d like to say a big thanks to Dick for his time, and also to Lally McBride for providing extra research material for the interview.

 

 

HistoryMusic

The Fall, and their influence on New Zealand music

by Michael Canning

A few days ago the Australian writer Robert Brokenmouth asked me to put something together on the influence of the Fall on New Zealand music for a piece he is writing so I did, and the results are below this essay.

Ordinarily I’m an early riser – and on the morning of the 24th of January I was outside walking. Around 6:50am the skies opened and started to rain. Just before 7:00am its tempo changed drastically and all of a sudden there was an absolute cloudburst. For about 10 minutes there was monsoon-like conditions with the rain lashing down, a wind from nowhere had blown up, and it was darn cold. My coat was drenched and my trousers were soaked. I’d not been in rain like that for a long while.

I found later that day that Mark E. Smith had died. I knew he had been unwell in recent time and had been a little shocked to see him in a wheelchair at a gig in 2017 but like most people didn’t know how sick he was from cancer. It was a strange experience hearing that he was dead. With Bowie’s departure in early 2016 I felt saddened, and also in May 2017 by the tragic suicide of Chris Cornell. Yet, with Smith I kind of felt blank at first. Its an odd thing when artists die that you’ve known about most of your life, and dug their work to differing degrees. That is the end. No more new work from them. They’ve said/painted/created their bit and now they’re gone.

Yet about maybe two or three days later I started feeling Fall songs come into my head. Songs I hadn’t listened to for a long time. Sometimes lines or words from them, then at other times complete songs. And then I began to realise what an impact the Fall’s work had had on me, and on other people I’ve known over the decades. The Fall’s work surely was at times, a force of nature.

I only saw them once to be fair – and at the time from memory didn’t think much of them. It was at the Leeds Irish Centre in early December 1997. Smith was only 40 then but he looked tired, and somewhat haggard. I didn’t enjoy his stage presence nor the band’s performance, and couldn’t really connect with the material they played on that night and so went home feeling quite underwhelmed.

I can remember hearing ‘Totally Wired’ on late night radio in 1981 as a pre-teen in far-off New Zealand and wondering from what planet that music had come from. It was rough, taut, scratchy and brilliant. That was my Fall baptism. I found their third studio album Grotesque (After The Gramme) for $7.00 in a bargain bin at the Farmers Department store in Hobson Street in central Auckland sometime in 1983. I took it home back to the suburbs wondering what it was all about with the strange cover art and what ‘Gramme’ meant.

I have a memory it wasn’t a favourite record for my family to endure. “Pay yer rates! Pay yer water rates! Pay yer rates so high!” yelled Smith. At that time the UK had public water utilities. Now they are privatized and I guess a heck of a lot more expensive than what they were when the Fall conceived of and wrote that song. I didn’t understand the album on first listen or really get into any of it until the last track ‘The North Will Rise Again’ played. And then this slightly bent groove slipped into my ears – with its attendant decoration and striking imagery – and then again the genius that the Fall possessed at times grabbed my full attention. Then about two years later I heard Ege Bamyasi by Can and certain connections began to form in my understanding of music about the magic within repetition and the usage of space, and tonal colour.

Smith’s passing is a sad event. The Fall created some work that helped define modern music from the late 1970’s onwards. Someone on a youtube thread under a Fall tune in recent time wrote how the Fall represented the most pretentious component of late 70’s and 80’s post-punk music. I thought about that and wondered – “ok mate, I get you don’t like the Fall but how do their supposed pretensions measure up against the fakery and pretensions exuded by the likes of Kiss, Led Zeppelin, and later on by chart darlings a la Kajagoogoo, Duran Duran, or Dexys Midnight Runners?”.

 RIP Mark E. Smith.

 

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INFLUENCE ON NEW ZEALAND MUSIC

To be fair I can only talk about what I know. I haven’t been embedded in NZ’s music scene for two decades so I don’t know what younger kiwi musicians takes on them would be. As an aside – just after Mark E. Smith’s death – an 18 year old English guitarist recently told me he thought the Fall were like a precursor to Britpop. Maybe his contemporaries in NZ have similar thoughts. I couldn’t say.

I believe The Fall were pretty essential listening to many people in NZ from the late 70’s to maybe the mid/late 80’s. Their influence got there via import copies of their earliest records, the music press of the time – particularly imported English papers, radio play on the University radio stations, and word of mouth.

They were highly regarded in some quarters of the post-punk scenes across NZ in the very early 80’s. I would say early 80’s band’s like Shoes This High and This Sporting Life were keen on them amidst many others across the country. There was a band called Eat This Grenade in Wellington – their name possibly taken from the lyrics to ‘Fiery Jack’.

I remember seeing several Auckland bands in the mid to the late 80’s and you could certainly discern a Fall influence here and there. In 1987 I was playing in a band called the Negative Creeps and there was definitely a Fall influence going on in there. The more minimal the music the better as we were still learning how to play our instruments. From memory our singer, the late Giovanni Intra, enjoyed the kind of word play, thematics, and delivery that Mark E Smith did.

The Fall’s music was always cool to play along with as a teenage learner on guitar  – especially if you had rejected the notion of being able to play the expected covers of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Smoke On The Water’ et al. It really was like that in New Zealand in 1984/85. The Fall was absolutely outsider music. Curiously enough though the Fall got a top 30 ‘hit’ in 1981 in New Zealand with ‘Totally Wired’ reaching #25. Maybe back then that was 600 copies sold or similar? The same thing also happened with Joy Division and the Dead Kennedys. NZ only had a population of 3 million back then. The Fall could have been more influential than Joy Division or Killing Joke were at that time. And the latter two bands combined influence was there in a big way for a long time.

The Hex Enduction Hour album was probably the height of their profile in New Zealand, which came out before their July/August 1982 tour of Oz and NZ. In a phone interview Mark E. Smith did in Australia for Rip It Up in August ’82 before reaching New Zealand he remarked about the Australian music scene, “every band I’ve seen here, all you can f****n’ hear is the bloody bass guitar.”

Fall - NZ 1982

None of my friends or I could go see them on that tour. We were only 13/14 but there was a buzz about the upcoming Fall show. Their Auckland concert of 21st August was recorded by Chris Knox on his TEAC 4-track reel-to-reel machine. The subsequent Fall In A Hole album helped make Flying Nun as an international label but almost bankrupted them after a reputed misunderstanding of release approval from Smith. Did their profile get any bigger in NZ after that tour? Its difficult to say. Possibly not, their audience size was probably a bit limited but they held a special place in many people’s hearts as innovators.

For me – I first heard them play on the late night Barry Jenkins radio show as a pre-teen circa 1980/81. Jenkins show was a popular late night programme for many young people of that era – it was bastion of alternative and experimental music – away from the hideous blandness of kiwi radio at that time. I found something curious and compelling in what the Fall were doing – alongside the strange yet beautiful new sounds of bands like the Young Marble Giants and the Lemon Kittens. It was a world away from what you heard on daytime pop radio or the dreadful talkback shows in the weekends.

I recall a Fall video of ‘Container Drivers’ was once aired on Radio With Pictures around maybe 1983. RWP was a TVNZ programme on Sunday nights that featured music videos, and I understand, actually the conceptual blueprint for MTV. Barry Jenkins was a guest on it and they played that clip of the Fall and it was great, this spikey raw energized clang. And he said “this is from a group who couldn’t care less about visual presentation, one or two lights in a room and that’s it.” He heartily approved, as I think did many others who saw that clip.

Maybe the Fall became a bit more part of the furniture as other new artists emerged in the years post Hex Enduction Hour. Fall records came out regularly over the 80’s and by the early 90’s they sounded quite slick production-wise. Personally I lost a bit of interest after Shift-Work, and Code Selfish, which I found a bit generic and dull but the things they were doing in more recent years perked my ears up i.e. that film of their Glastonbury 2015 show.

I would say the Fall probably ranked up there alongside Pere Ubu and Captain Beefheart for several artists on the kiwi scene in the 80’s and 90’s. Solid Gold Hell come to mind as a mid 90’s band who probably dug the rhythmic heart of the Fall. The Fall’s influence, to my understanding was particularly in regard to firstly their attitude – out with the stultifying old/in with the new and present, the minimal DIY production of their earlier releases – which was an aesthetic strength, Smith’s opaque lyrics and delivery style, their rhythms, the scratchy inimitable guitar sounds and repetitive bass, the titles of the songs themselves, and the cover art.

Its difficult to sum up their influence as a whole in NZ, and of course this is subjective, but for a period some decades ago – to their audience who liked what they did – the Fall were Kings of the Castle, making something magical and inspired, a concoction with abstract and not so abstract critical jabs, and something probably almost guaranteed to quickly wind up those with ears not open to challenge or dissonance. And in a colonial society still widely encased with Victorian social values of conformity and obedience that was a very valuable and useful thing to be in touch with.

Climate Change AdaptationEcological ethicsEcologyEnergyHistory

Podcast 10. Guy McPherson – Aristotle, Belize, and Acceptance

Guy McPherson 28.12.17.JPG

Guy McPherson – New York City 28.12.17

Sentient Seas has reached number ten of its podcast series and this episode is an interview with the American scientist and cultural critic Guy McPherson.

McPherson is an Emeritus Professor of  natural resources and ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona but left the Academy eight years ago to pursue other things after coming to grips on a personal and epistemological basis with what he believes the data on climate change represents. His thesis of near term extinction for the human species because of runaway climate change, is as one would imagine, hardly a topic that is embraced by many people, let alone mainstream media fixated on its normal gentile output of political soap opera, and the ever important coverage of vacuous panem et circenses. 

After becoming part of a permaculture inspired community in New Mexico in 2009 McPherson left it around 18 months ago to spend time in Belize between his lecturing commitments that take him around the world. His message is a very difficult one to face yet for me, as both a concerned citizen and practicing Ecologist, it makes sense as I have witnessed the rapid decline in only a few decades of habitat, and so many groups of animals and plants in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The sheer speed of ecological degradation that is going on is sickening to behold, as is the mostly incomprehensibly backward responses and policies trotted out by most governments in the world in regards to terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. Their innately anthropocentric responses are the problem, and not even on the map of what is required.

Personally, I would prefer it that none of the shameful desecration and assault on the natural world is happening because of the actions of Homo sapiens but it is, and we need to take stock of what is going on, and behave in more compassionate and sensible forms. A reassessment of what an economy is actually for, and how it relates to our relationship with the natural world is long overdue.

This interview assumes that the reader is familiar with the dynamics of rapid climate change, and McPherson’s work in the first place. If you don’t then I would recommend looking at his analysis here, which features a plethora of linked data… https://guymcpherson.com/climate-chaos/climate-change-summary-and-update/

Our discussion covered many things and included: Pursuing Aristotle’s idea of friendship; E.O. Wilson’s book ‘Consilience’; The epistemological baggage of reductionism and its black and white material world; Dominant narratives that run over everything and the ‘fingers in the ears’ culture; Civilisation as a heat engine; Why did the circular economy not happen 40 years ago?; The UN being upbeat on the challenge of climate change; Living and working in Belize; And McPherson’s ideas about the pursuit of excellence while understanding the depth of the hydro-ecological issues that face us.

There are two musical breaks in this podcast and they are firstly the Mesmer Disciples  with ‘Real Loud,’ and secondly Pea Green Boat with ‘Glitch.’ If you like what you hear go and support the artists by checking them out at their respective links… https://www.facebook.com/MesmerDisciples and http://www.sonic360.com/peagreenboat/

Thanks to GM for providing the picture. The upper embedded image of the beach was taken by the editor on a beach on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. If you like what Sentient Seas is doing and would like to support it in then please donate via the PayPal button  on this page. It would be much appreciated.

Ecological ethicsEcologyHistoryMusicPhilosophy

Podcast 9. Jordan Reyne – From the edge of the Tasman Sea to the plains of Poland

JR - WaterfallWelcome to podcast 9. This interview is with the New Zealand artist, writer, and musician Jordan Reyne who from 1997 to 2017 has produced a prolific body of musical  work with numerous solo releases and others in collaborations with other artists.

Her work is a unique blend of guitar, vocals, electronica, and percussion with textured and harmonised parts set against sparse or dense backdrops and propelled with mysterious and beautiful loops which invoke both the 21st century and the ancient past. It is innately powerful music with, among other thematics, an engaging metaphysical critique of human experience i.e. the impact of anthropocentrism and the alienation and ecological degradation induced by our ever degrading socio-economic system.

Our conversation covers – her early life, her experiences growing up within the wild landscapes of the distant and isolated West Coast of New Zealand, the influence of her music teachers, her journey as an artist through her education and eventual translocation to Europe, the themes of her work and geo-political and socio-ecological realities, to her recent move in walking away from music for the time being into a new creative venture in script writing for the gaming industry.

http://www.jordanreyne.com                               https://jordanreyne.bandcamp.com

JR - Bermuda (ii)

HistoryPhilosophyThe History of Religion

Karen Armstrong – The Clash of Civilizations

It has been a while since Sentient Seas has published anything. The main reason being that I have been very busy with other publishing projects so I hope you enjoy this piece – the first since 1.1.17. It is an address by the scholar and author Karen Armstrong given to a packed Leeds Town Hall for the 2007 Schumacher North Lectures. I recorded this for a film and very much enjoyed her delivery.

Karen ArmstrongArmstrong is internationally recognised as an authority on the history of religion, particularly Islam, and has written extensively on the problems of inter-religious understanding and fundamentalism. Her work points towards the possibility of a new inclusive, post-modern spirituality that could help to heal the tragic divisions and misunderstandings that are apparent today.

As it happens of late, on occasion, I have sadly been witness to incidences of anti-Muslim prejudice. This disturbs me profoundly as those uttering such, aside from such conduct being extremely disrespectful, generally have not the slightest understanding,  on any level – of what they are seeking to denigrate with such utterances. I feel also that there is an axiom of prejudice that has been exascerbated by certain media outlets over nearly the last two decades or so that has sought to deliberately demonise Islam and its believers.

As it happens almost all Muslim folk that I have met over my life have been sincere, hard-working, warm, and generous people – and it pains me to hear of an entire faith group being bullied and scorned to suit various nefarious and misguided agendas. So pulling this out of the archives has been a reaction to that.

This piece is published on the 11th of September 2017, the 16th anniversary of the horrendous attack on New York City in 2001. An event, which in some ways helped define an atmosphere for the early part of the 21st Century, and proceeded the hideous wars and conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in more recent time.

EsotericismPhilosophyPsychology

Podcast 8. Phil T. Mistlberger – From three 20th Century Magi to the Wisdom of the Elder.

 

Numbpt-mistlbergerer 8 of the Sentient Seas podcast series is an interview conducted with Phil T. Mistlberger who is a Vancouver based author, transpersonal therapist, and seminar and workshop facilitator.  His four books focus on eastern and western esotericism. Phil has an academic background in Health Studies and English literature but got restless with academia in his early 20’s and went travelling for months through India, Nepal, and the Tibetan plateau, staying variously in Buddhist monasteries and Indian ashrams. He returned to Canada in the mid 80’s and graduated from a transpersonal therapist’s training program in 1988. Since then he has worked as a transformational therapist and workshop facilitator. He has had a number of transpersonal influences, studying and practicing in many traditions, including the Gurdjieff Work, the Western esoteric tradition, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, A Course in Miracles, a decade as a disciple of the Indian mystic Osho, many forms of depth psychology and therapy, and most major Eastern pathways, including Tantra, Zen, Tibetan and Theravadin Buddhism, and Advaita.

Our conversation in podcast eight includes: the making of Phil’s ‘Dangerous Magi’ book published in 2010;  “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” Matthew 22:21; The Fourth Way – petals in the water and roots in the mud; low self esteem, sources, and its consequences if unexamined; sharpening boundaries; self confidence and the power of belief; levels of karma; not taking things personally; the role of the western esoteric tradition in time to come; the British historian Ronald Hutton; the fear of an inner view versus the effect of transformed individuals; the human ego is ancient because it is about the impulse of survival; the weakness of the spiritual impulse versus the ego; ‘My Dinner With Andre’ and “points of light”; conscious relating and authenticity; elderhood – when does it happen?; and active curiosity.

If you’d like to investigate more of Phil’s work his website can be found at: http://www.ptmistlberger.com. The Samurai Brotherhood can be found here: http://samuraibrotherhood.com.

The music break of this episode is a Mass Spectrometer song called ‘Luminar’. It was partially inspired by a 2001 laboratory experiment in the USA where physicists may have accelerated  particles to 300 times the speed of light in a caesium gas chamber. It appeared that because of the unimaginable speed of the particles during the experiment that experienced time was actually going backwards – with the particles moving at an estimated  8,980,139 km/second (or 5,580,000 miles/sec). If you dig the tune and want to buy it – and help support their work – go to https://massspectrometer.bandcamp.com and find it within their 2014 EP ‘Guild Hall’.

Cosmology

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