Category: Music

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.

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)

Music

Tiny Ruins – The Harley, Sheffield 17.5.16

Tiny Ruins_0006 Sheffield 17.5.16

Tiny Ruins – The Harley, Sheffield 17.5.16. L = Hollie Fullbrook, R = Hamish Kilgour. Picture by M.C.

by Michael Canning

Tiny Ruins played in Sheffield yesterday as part of their current European tour and they were a joy to behold with such an implicit sense of space and lightness of touch. It was a wondrous concert to have witnessed. Tiny Ruins just have the knack of creating work with fundamentally clear and resonant tonal colour. The first time I heard ‘Wandering Aengus’ from the ‘Hurtling Through’ EP it brought about a powerful surge of emotion that hit me in my throat and jaw. It was instantaneous and a potent reminder to what a powerful medium music can be. The German music theorist Hamel once wrote that tonal colour is achieved through a relative proportion of ‘upper sounds’ of a harmonic series which corresponds with corresponding parts of the body and our inner aspect.

Fullbrook utilised various tunings on her guitars and played them immaculately, her arpeggios literally glistening. Her beguiling and beautiful voice weaved effortlessly around the chord changes and the intrinsic space that an acoustic guitar provides. When Hamish Kilgour  took the stage for the second part of the set to play the songs from the Hurtling EP he played very minimally and softly on a drum kit, mostly leading on the kick drum. It was a very different form of playing to when I first saw him play with Bailter Space in 1988 yet just as graceful and filled with warmth.

The whole show seemed to pass by very quickly. Tiny Ruins had woven transcending musical spells. The last song was ‘Reasonable Man’, a request from an audience member. Fullbrook unplugged her guitar, moved away from the microphone, asked the audience to come closer, and played the piece acoustically. Her voice and guitar carried across in the space perfectly. She finished and left the stage to loud applause. It was an unexpected ending to an entrancing show of gentle and innately complete music.

http://www.tinyruins.com

HistoryMusic

Podcast 4. David Wolfenden. From the Pistols to beyond the Iron Curtain (part 2)

by Michael Canning

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Red Lorry Yellow Lorry at the Brudenell Social Club, Leeds 29.8.15. Wolfie on the left, Chris Reed in the centre and Ding on the right. (Pic. MC)

Episode 4 of the Sentient Seas podcast series is part 2 of an interview conducted with the Leeds based musician David Wolfenden aka ‘Wolfie’. Our conversation in this episode covers writing in the Lorries, the difference between playing in England and elsewhere, getting to New Zealand with the Mission, bumping into Alan Vega at the Danceteria in NYC 1985, Yugoslavia pre the collapse of the Iron Curtain, life in the cold war, the English press, favourite Lorries tune, the reality of life and artistic themes, psych-rock delights, the craft of the song and the economics of the playing within Tamla Motown.

 

HistoryMusic

Podcast 3. David Wolfenden – From the Pistols to beyond the Iron Curtain (part 1)

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Wolfie performing with Red Lorry Yellow Lorry at the Brudenell Social Club, Leeds 29.8.15 (Pic: MC)

by Michael Canning

Episode 3 of the Sentient Seas podcast series is part 1 of an interview conducted with the Leeds based musician David Wolfenden aka ‘Wolfie’. Wolfie began playing publically in 1978 with the Expelaires, then joined Red Lorry Yellow Lorry in 1983, and later played guitar for the Mission. Our conversation covers his background and first encounters with music, seeing the Sex Pistols at Leeds Polytechnic in late 1976 on the Anarchy tour, the Leeds music scene of the late 70’s, the path of the Expelaires, music as a language, top 5 artists, the MC5, and joining Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. Part 2 of this interview is in episode 4.

 

HistoryMusic

The Stone Gibbet – Halifax, Joy Division & the Good Mood Club

by Michael Canning

Halifax_view_from_Beacon_Hill, Mr Barndoor

Halifax, West Yorkshire, England. Photograph: Mr Barndoor (used under a Creative Commons Licence)

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

In October 2013 I watched a fascinating documentary made in 2007 about the West Yorkshire town of Halifax. It was entitled ‘The Town From Hell: Halifax in the 16th and 17th Centuries’. For those of you who haven’t heard about this place – Halifax is a small town of about 80,000 people, about 13 miles west of Leeds, and is the main centre of the metropolitan borough of Calderdale, through which the upper part of the River Calder flows. It was for centuries known as a centre of wool processing and eventually became a Protestant and Puritan stronghold. The name is very old and the first written mention of the town notes it as ‘Halyfax’ in the late 11th Century.

The town sits on the edge of the Pennine ranges, which are a very old rock formation dating back to the Carboniferous period of 310 million years ago. I’ve only been there about 5 or 6 times in the last 20 years but I always felt Halifax had a bit of a curious vibe and atmosphere to it that is difficult to describe. Its a small isolated place surrounded by huge hills and steep slopes and has a slightly insular feel to it, similar to Greymouth in New Zealand. It still has many charming Victorian buildings, and older periods, but has something else to it. I distinctly remember walking down the road in 2010 after visiting a friend there and getting a feeling of a deja vu, in that it felt and looked like Sheffield did in 1993. Halifax felt like a place where things possibly move more slowly, and that is not in itself a bad thing.

To be fair the whole area of Calderdale is fascinating because of its dramatic landscape, which features a mixture of high windswept moors, ancient barns and walls, valleys, streams, rivers, steep crags and cliffs, and hidden slivers of ancient oak and beech forest. Halifax is the biggest urban area in Calderdale and has as neighbours the small magic places of Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall, which both have much folklore associated with them, and the rough justice meted out to criminals pre 19th Century.

However Halifax had a reputation way outside of Yorkshire in centuries past as being a law unto itself, which probably stemmed from its general inaccessibility and seclusion in the Pennines. Before rail and proper roads were built by the 1870’s the only way into the town was by the ancient walkways used by travellers, and merchants and their packhorses. Because of the rocky and high slopes these would often become washed out after downpours and require considerable work to make them passable again with a bunch of set stones.

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A replica of the gibbet in Halifax at its original site (2008). Picture: Paul Glazzard, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12556074

In the 17th Century Halifax was still governed by what was called the ‘Gibbet Law’. A law which meted out very harsh punishments. It meant that if you stole anything up to the value of 13d (pence) and were found guilty you would be taken on market day to the gibbet and beheaded on it! A prayer by John Taylor (1580–1654) wrote the Beggar’s Litany, in which its text included “From Hull, from Halifax, from Hell, ‘tis thus, From all these three, Good Lord deliver us.”

The gibbet was nowhere as styley and clinical looking as the French guillotine from 1789 – it was a wooden frame with this huge wooden block above the gibbet blade, which was essentially a heavy iron axe. Its usage eventually stopped but there were apparently a few campaigners who wanted to bring it back into use at the end of the 18th Century!

Halifax is not generally known for its musical history aside from Astronomer William Herschel (who discovered Uranus) being a church organist there in the 18th Century, and Tom Bailey, the singer with the Thompson Twins. However there is a tenacious little nightclub called Clarences in the town centre, which sometime circa 1972/73 changed its name to the Roxy briefly. Upon this rebranding they invited none other than Roxy Music to come up from London and play, which they did.

In 1978 the same venue was known as the ‘Good Mood’. Sometime in May or June of that year a young up and coming band called Joy Division drove the 21 miles east from Manchester over the Pennines to play a show at the Good Mood. Joy Division drummer Steve Morris recalled the following: “there were probably around twenty or so in the ‘audience’, I think they were a bit hostile at first but came round in the end. They would pop in for a bit then go out again; one minute there’d be five or six then they’d nip off and another bunch would come and have a look.”

On June 22nd 1979 the band played the same venue again. There have been conflicting reports on this concert over the years with Joy Division bassist Peter Hook recalling in 2007 that they played to one person that night. Every band’s horror. However Steven Morris and a punter who was there that night dispute this with their 2014 accounts of the gig apparently being better attended than the first, albeit only attended by men! For the full story see this excellent article at http://www.joydiv.org/yorkshire.htm

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Joy Division playing in London a few months after the 1979 Halifax show. (Photographer unknown)

It is a curious if somewhat tenuous piece of irony with Joy Division playing their doomy atmospheric music at a club called the Good Mood so close to the very site where the town’s gruesome history of capital punishment actually happened.