MUSiC: Minimalist kit set up…

New kit set up My super-minimalist home set up.

Been getting pretty fed up of not having a kit at home I can just hop on to when the mood takes me. So I’ve come up with this very minimalist deployment, which I’ve squeezed into a corner of the lounge.

Gretsch Catalina Club jazz kick (18″), with riser, and snare, Zildjian A 13″ hats, K Custom dry ride, and an unknown crash/ride w rivets. Just enough gear to get a groove on!

New kit set up A slightly wider view.

Trying to make it feel a little vibey. Also nice to have a guitar or three nearby. So far just got the Epi’ T270 up. Might also hang an acoustic nearby. Plus I’m currently renovating a ukulele I got off Freecycle. Reckon I can squeeze that in as well. Just below the Epi’, perhaps?

Seven Days: Day 6 – J. R. R. Tolkien.

Tolkien Tree
Tolkien in the woods.

Having digressed massively from my initial inspiration – Margaret’s posts on books she’s loved – this post brings me back, in a round-about way, to literature.

Before it does, however… I’ve recently been enjoying listening to the old 1968 BBC Radio 4 adaptation of The Hobbit, with Paul Daneman as Bilbo, and the delightfully named Heron Carvic as Gandalf. I love Michael Hordern as Gandalf, in the later BBC R4 LOTR, preferring him and the series as a whole to Peter Jackson’s cinematic blockbuster vision (curmudgeonly Tolkien snob that I am I’m a bit miffed by the mainstream populisation the Jackson films have brought into being). Heron Carvic and Paul Daneman are, for me, much closer in vibe to my initial childhood imaginings. And the music in this earlier Tolkienian adaptation – some of Stephen Oliver’s stuff in the aforementioned BBC R4 LOTR is sublime – just totally hits the sweet spot for me.*

Tolkien's Hobbit
Tolkien’s beautiful dust jacket illustration for The Hobbit.

But back to the literature: one of the qualities so attractive to me in Tolkien, masterfully summed up on the back cover blurb of my original childhood edition of LOTR, is the marriage of ‘the epic and the homely’. And these qualities remain, despite the passage of much time, both generally historically, and for me personally since first readings, at the heart of what enchants me in Tolkien’s writings. And then there are, scattered liberally throughout his work, many little epithets replete with a homely wisdom, as when Gandalf admonishes Frodo thus: ‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us’. Or ‘Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. … do not be too eager to deal out death and judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends’.

Tolkien's LOTR
This was the edition of LOTR I first read, as a child.

On the debit side, there are also times when certain characters make pronouncements I find less attractive or understandable. Another example, from Gandalf again, is when he says to Saruman ‘He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom’. Whilst the first two of the above wizardy quotes do indeed seem wise, the third sounds like religious conservatism when it attacks science. That old unweaving the rainbow chestnut, methinks.  Still, as the winter nights draw in, it’s the perfect time to hunker down beside the fire, and bathe in that ancient storytelling magic at which Professor Tolkien so excelled.

A detail of Barbara Remington’s artwork, as used for the American mass-market paperbacks.
A scuffed but complete view of Remington’s Tolkienian visions.

The Hobbit is a great autumn/winter treat of a read. As is the LOTR. But the latter, being such an enormous epic, involves an investment of time – and having read it multiple times in my youth – I can’t manage right now. So I’m considering re-reading my ‘First Edition’ stykr reissue, of The Hobbit.

Tolkien’s heirs have worked on completing some of their father’s larger unfinished projects, and there are some, such as The Children of Hurin, which are really rather wonderful. I originally read a good number of these in their incomplete form in a book called Unfinished Tales. Christopher Tolkien in particular has done an amazing job of finishing some such works. So I quite fancy reading another of these, which I first encountered as Of Tour, and His Coming to Gondolin, subsequently completed and published now as The Fall of Gondolin. Another similar work has appeared telling the tale of Beren and Luthien. Rather sweetly, Tolkien and his wife have these names engraved on their headstone!

David Munrow
David Munrow, looking like a beatnik.

* It’s really rather quite odd stuff, composed by David Cain, and played by Andrew Munrow and the Early Music Consort. This music really does sound otherworldly. And that’s wherein the magic of it lies. Donald Swan’s Tolkien sanctioned ditties, by contrast, sound to me like horribly dated Victorian or Edwardian parlour music baubles.

Seven Days: Day 5 – Electric Guitar

Epiphone ET-270
Epiphone ET-270

Electric guitars have been a part of my life since my mid-teens. Obviously they’ve really been a part of my entire life, inasmuch as their sounds form a backdrop to most of our lives, etc. But I’m being more specific here, and talking about my own playing of the instrument. As a kid acoustic guitars – both steel and nylon strung – were very much part of the childhood environment. So early efforts to learn guitar, and occasional tinkering with instruments that were lying around were part of the fabric of young life. A penchant for mellower jazzy sounds lead to a love affair with the nylon strung ‘classical’ style guitar that persists to this day. But the electric was nearly always there as well, floating around.

Squier Strat & Orange Crush
Squier Strat & Orange Crush

Bizarrely, despite this long relationship, it’s only very recently that, thanks in part to Jack Stratton of Vulfpeck fame, my longstanding relation to the electric guitar finally clarified itself somewhat. In one of his excellent Holy Trinity videos Stratton describes his approach to or view of electric guitar, as in effect a pitched/harmonic tambourine. This immediately chimed massively with my own history with the instrument, wherein it’s always been primarily rhythmic and chordal. Whereas for some guitarists, including some I love deeply, Grant Green springing to mind, it’s all about melody lines and soloing, for me it’s always been primarily about rhythm parts and chords.

That’s finally beginning to change: over many years I’ve occasionally dabbled in constructing licks, and even brief solos, in my private recordings. But just recently I’ve actually started practising scales. Something I’ve sedulously avoided until now! I’ve also started to take a deeper interest in the instrument itself, such that I’ve just enjoyed setting up a recently acquired Squier Strat (pictured above), adjusting the truss-rod, bridge settings, etc.

Having long wanted to build my own guitars, I’ve slowly been gathering the necessary gear to do so. But the idea had always been to make acoustics. Seeing folk online, and others, inc. people like my step-father Malcolm, building electrics has me fantasising about that as well now! So far all my electric guitars (excepting basses) have been Strats, or Strat-derived. I have deep and growing hankerings for a Tele’, a Les Paul type, and some form of hollow-bodied jazz axe. I had long-term loan of a beautiful Heritage jazz style guitar from our pal Patrick. One like that, of the deeper bodied Gibson or Epihone variety as played by, say George Benson, as opposed to the thinner 335 style, is high on my wish list.

Hofner 191

A recent obsession with learning parts to Fela Kuti tracks, amongst other stuff – bass, guitar and drums, and more – has even got me fantasising about making a twin necked axe (like the Hofner 191 pictured above), for use with a loop pedal,  so I can record live grooves and then drum along to them; a rhythm section that never bores of modal grooving… That really appeals to me! And to conclude this post… I love how YouTube contributes to both the exploration of the history of these fabulous instruments, and also provides abundant resources for learning how to play them.

Seven Days: Day 4 – Pier Paolo Pasolini

Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pier Paolo Pasolini

This post is partly a response to the fact that, with the UK election today, politics is very much in the air right now. Pier Paolo Pasolini was a very controversial, politically active and outspoken man.

This is an odd entry, in a way, as it represents an as yet mostly unexplored fascination. Whereas the former three posts of this series represent stuff I’ve looked into quite a bit, my interest in Pasolini is much less clear or understood (by me!). His name has floated around in my life for years. The first or most memorable encounter I can bring to mind is Tom Baker’s enthusiastic recollections, in his candid and often hilarious autobiography Who On Earth is Tom Baker?, of playing a part in Pasolini’s Canterbury Tales. As a result of this anecdote, and the effusive reverence Baker evinced for, I watched said Canterbury Tales. This would be about 15-20 years ago. My abiding memories of that viewing are two very earthy bodily function related scenes, one involving The Damned being shat out of a huge Devil’s arse, and the other seeing some guy peeing on folk from a balcony! And lots of sex (although no erotica).

Many years later, my occasional peripheral interest in extreme cinema lead me to a viewing of Pasolini’s controversial Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom. At the time I was trying to find out if there were any films out there that I would find genuinely shocking or disturbing (actually there are legion, but they shock and disturb me for their utter vacuity, but that’s an altogether different topic). Having been brought up in a very sheltered Christian home, I guess this is or was all part of trying to find one’s own identity and boundaries. Intriguingly I recently learned that Abel Ferrara, whose Driller Killer ‘video nasty’ was part of the same search for shocking cinema, has made a film starring Willem Defoe. Simply titled Pasolini, it’s about the Italian poet, leftist and film-director’s brutal and mysterious demise. I also find it intriguing that Pasolini looked rather like the older wrinkled and ravaged Chet Baker, who, in a bizarre coincidence, spent much time as a virtual exile in Italy, and also met an untimely end in somewhat mysterious circumstances.

Seven Days: Day 3 – Tower of Power, Serious Side

Tower of Power, In The Slot (1975)
Tower of Power, In The Slot (1975)
Tower of Power, In The Slot
In The Slot, back cover.

After two posts on very longstanding inspirations, here’s a (slightly) more recent one. Having been introduced to Tower of Power, and On The Serious Side in particular, by Rod Norman – thanks Rod! – about 10-15 years ago, I had always wanted to do this piece with Capricorn, the jazz/funk/soul band I ran for some years. Alas, that never came to pass. One key reason for this was that I never even attempted to learn the drum part. It just seemed so impenetrably and densely funky, in an occult kind of way. Recent dabblings in the rhythms of Fela Kuti’s Tony Allen brought me back, however. And this time around, thanks to YouTube I’ve been able to understand what David Garibaldi was doing… finally! I’m currently teaching myself the drum parts.

This excellent video has helped me loads…

And it ain’t easy! Another number with similarly challenging drum parts, also one I’ve always wanted to play in a group, is Actual Proof, by Herbal Hancock, drums by Mike Clark. So I’m also working on that. I love how these rhythms depart from from the typical eighth-note matrix of most modern popular music, and combine intricate sixteenth note groupings. Highly syncopated, and yet – when executed properly – both laid back and incredibly groovy, they embody a type of drumming I love, admire and aspire to. They also provide a rhythmic foundation for the rest of the group to soar upon, with melodic and harmonic ideas as compelling as the fabulous beats. So props to cats like Dave Garibaldi,  Mike Clark, and more recently – never mind going stratospheric, simply shooting right out into space! – Chris Dave, whose group, incidentally, do a fab cover of Actual Proof.


Seven Days: Day 2 – Joni Mitchell, For The Roses, 1972

Joni Ocean
Inner Joni

Having recently watched and enjoyed an all-star tribute (something I usually avoid ’cause I usually don’t enjoy such things) to Joni Mitchell, filmed on the occasion of her 75th birthday, I went back to For The Roses, one of my favourite Joni albums (Off the cuff, I’d say my favourite trio of hers are her debut, Song To A Seagull, For The Roses, and then either Hejira or The Hissing of Summer Lawns*). On this recent revisitation, a chief and central motivation was the desire to learn how to play Barangrill, one of her Beat flavoured wanderlust masterpieces. For The Roses captures Joni at a fantastic moment, withdrawing from the limelight somewhat into the Canadian wilderness, at the same time her music becoming more open and expansive, hinting at things to come. It’s kind of on the cusp between her earlier somewhat more folksy singer/songwriter girl with guitar/piano stuff and the future more band based material, with its more overt jazz and rock aspects. Getting more specific, Barandgrill is a great example of Joni’s sublimely idiosyncratic guitar style, with her penchant for unusual open tunings, and a playing style – rather like Tom Waits – both remarkably simple and economic, and yet highly personal and difficult to really capture. I was really annoyed when I read a music journalist glibly write it off in a feature on Joni’s career. I note with great pleasure that Mark Murphy (Mark Murphy II) and more recently Robert Glasper share my love of this beautiful song.

*  It’s impossible and pointless trying to pick her best; she has such a magnificent body of work!  That said, it can be fun trying. What about Ladies Of The Canyon? I’m thinking now in particular The Circle Game. Surely one of the most sublime songs ever written? Talking of magnificent bodies, that picture of her naked by the sea/ocean, on the inner sleeve… wow! Yoni Mitchell, I love you forever!

Seven Days: Day 1 – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass
Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass

Inspired by Margaret Charlston’s recent week of posting book covers, I’m going to do a week of posting stuff that’s currently important or of interest to me. But whereas Margaret just posted the covers, I’m going to say a little about whatever it is I choose to post each day.

I can’t recall with any great certainty when I first heard of Walt Whitman. I suspect it might’ve been via a documentary on Jack Kerouac (Whatever Happened to Kerouac?). I was in my teens, that’s all I can recall with any degree of certainty. Consequently, during my studies for A-levels I bought a cheap American mass-media paperback version of Leaves of Grass at Heffers, in Cambridge. Truth be told, to this day I’ve read only portions of that book. There were two quotes I’d heard from Whitman that really spoke to me: the first and most potent was ‘Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes’, from Song of Myself. This still resonates with me today, not as ‘pure poetry’ per se, but as pure truth. This idea is, in my view, a fundamental part of being human that’s at odds with the modern tendency to specialise. The other quote, this time as poetic as it is true, I first encountered as an album title via Weather Report; I Sing The Body Electric. I actually discovered this bit of Whitman before the ‘multitudes’ thing, and at the time I didn’t know it had been taken from Walt’s works. Rather like William Burrough’s ‘Soft Machine’, I like the way this phrase captures something seemingly eternal and organic in combination with other seemingly more modern ‘techy’ notions, making a whole of them. Thanks to Margaret’s posts I recalled how important Walt Whitman had been to me way back when. I’m resolved to revisit that old paperback and more fully immerse myself in his writings.

FiLM REViEW: The Trouble With Harry, 1955


Wow! What a brilliant film!!

Apparently it was one of Hitchcock’s own personal favourites. It’s certainly one of my favourites by him, and we have almost all of his films. Beautifully shot (sorry, can’t resist the pun) in Vermont, with a superb cast, and a really bizarre and unusual approach – black comedy is the obvious phrase, but doesn’t really do the film justice – to Hitchcock’s favourite central theme, untimely death.

Although it’s completely different to The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, that’s the film I think of as I watch this. Not for any overt similarities, but because it’s a rather singular and beautiful work of cinematic art. Blimp is often funny, but overall it’s profound and moving. This seems at first a purely ridiculous soufflé, almost the opposite of Blimp. But, like so much of Woody Allen’s oeuvre, there’s an enormous depth and warmth hiding in the many layers that are there, if you can not so much see as feel them.

There are so many great things in this apparently light or trivial or even ‘silly’ yarn about what to do with Harry’s corpse (is that the trouble with Harry?), such as the fact that two of the leads – Capt Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwen) and Ivy Gravely (Mildred Natwick) – are not your ordinary leading couple material. And even the more apparently normal male and female leads are delightfully subverted, in the persons of artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) and Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine), the latter Harry’s wife.

And then there’s Vermont in the Fall, filmed in mid-fifties Technicolour. A magnificently magical setting that evokes a pure Arcadia on the one hand, and a buttoned-down small-town Puritanism on the other. Exactly the right place for this diabolically funny meditation on humanity, morals, sex, art and death.

In a word, brilliant. Essential viewing for the true lover of great cinema.

Misc: the Dark Side, from Metal to Movies… & More…

Reign in Blood
A thrash metal classic…

Listening to Slayer’s Reign In Blood and Seasons In The Abyss albums recently (these are the only albums I have by the group that I really like [1]), I boarded a familiar train of thought: I like this music, occasionally. But how do people only listen to this stuff? Or, from the creative rather than consumptive angle, how could anyone be content to only do fast, loud, intense, aggressive, dark, and so on?

Back in my teens, as a sheltered child, emerging from the cosseted protection of a Christian upbringing of sorts, my first encounters with horror and violence in the world of entertainment media kind of traumatised me. I saw a run of films that were pretty dark and violent, as far I could make out at the time, like Taxi Driver, Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart, and suchlike.

Insect Warfare
Insect Warfare, taking the extremity further… [2]
Some of the film’s were just weird and creepy, like David Lynch’s Eraserhead, others were mob-themed, like Goodfellas and Scarface, but all had aspects that seemed to me to be pure expressions of nihilism and malevolence. Strangely, my previous exposure to such content via music, from Black Sabbath to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest to Motörhead, on to Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer, etc, had no mitigating effect.

Now, many years later, having jettisoned the faith of our fathers, and listening to less ‘evil’ rock/metal than I once did, I occasionally find myself drawn almost hypnotically back towards the ‘dark side’.

Charles Manson
Manson, the Hippy Dream gone horribly wrong.

It’s happened very occasionally before, as when I read a book on Charles Manson, in my early twenties. But usually it’s just a momentary impulse that passes as quickly as it arose. Another little blip a few years back lead me to buy a bunch of those Day of the Dead and Evil Dead movies.

These movies were kind of okay. But they weren’t very scary at all. Indeed, they were more preposterous than frightening. And supernatural horror? Forget it. The premise is so pathetic that everything that follows is so much hokum. To me, at any rate.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Another classic of its kind…

Was I getting like a drug addict, searching for progressively harder highs? Perhaps. I moved on to such films as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. My first attempt to watch it failed, as I did indeed find it rather scary. But a second and complete viewing made me realise it wasn’t at all as gory as it’s often cracked up to be. So, better, but still mostly very silly.

Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer

It wasn’t until I saw Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer, that, at last, I felt I’d hit pay dirt. This was finally a movie about disturbing ideas and behaviour that was both believable and, in places, genuinely disturbing. Once again, a second viewing made me realise that it’s largely less extreme than the fuss made at the time it came out suggested.

That said, there are several scenes, such as the home invasion massacre, and the dissolution of the murderous protagonists partnership, which remain pretty hard to watch.

Pulp Fiction, Vega shoots Marvin
A classic Tarantino moment nears…

One thing that’s very striking is how far the whole culture has gradually shifted. So far that when Tarantino has Vincent Vega accidentally blow Marvin’s head off, as the hitmen drive away from their ‘job’ in Pulp Fiction, it gets a hearty if horrified laugh (even from my Mrs, only yesterday, no less!).

More recently still, I bought Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer, which is in the same violently ruptured artery as Henry, in many ways. And during the same period I started to seek out and watch both YouTube docs and full length features on serial killers, preferably real world ones.

I’m still in the grip of this most recent interest. So whereas before I’d get interested and then move on. At present the interest is what I’d call an abiding one. And it’s even drawn me back to investigating all that dark/black metal type stuff…

Venom, Welcome to Hell
Venom’s artwork promised something darker… [3]


[1] I also have their debut, Show No Mercy. The trouble with that one is the awful thin, tinny production. If it were redone, it’d probably be ok. I’d like to get South of Heaven, as I did hear it back in the day, and quite liked it. But it wasn’t as enjoyable as the blast of fetid air that was Reign In Blood.

[2] Not a group, or even a genre (grindcore?) I’ve listened to. Just here as a visual example of the crossover ‘twixt extreme violence/gore and extreme metal.

[3] … than the music actually delivered. The music was more in keeping with this image:

Venom, café
The true spirit of much black metal is camper than panto’!

MUSiC: R.I.P. Ginger Baker

Ginger Baker, Blind Faith, 1969.

Ginger Baker’s lithely syncopated grooving on Cream’s cover of Born Under A Bad Sign was the catalyst that sparked a soulful musical reaction in me that has ultimately shaped my whole life.

I loved the spatially funky unison guitar and bass riff as well, and that has remained another albeit rather more minor fascination. But Baker’s rumbling, clattering drumming, loose to the point of bagginess, cyclic yet subtly morphing all the time, that really was like a psychic spear through my musical heart.

Rather strangely, perhaps, in that small musical moment, Peter Edward ‘Ginger’ Baker, a white guy in an all white band, playing a song by Bluesman Albert King, distils into a form of new funk-rock, with a distinct whiff of jazz legacy, the whole chain of Afro-American music that fascinated him all his life, from the ritual drums of Burundi via jazz and the blues to modern rock.

Ginger Baker
The young jazz/beat Baker.

Even more oddly, Baker does this channelling act more potently on this cover than Albert King – with the legendary Al Jackson, Jr. on drums – do on the original! And more bizarrely still, when the reunited Cream performed this number at the Albert Hall, in 2005, Baker didn’t revisit his earlier voodoo gumbo. I’m sooo glad I wasn’t at that show*. That might’ve shattered my iconic respect for the drummer who is, for better or worse, the keystone influence on my career as a rhythmatist.

Ginger Baker
Ginger Baker

I’m not a Twitter reader, but reading various online obits on Baker eventually lead me, inevitably, to his Twitter feed, where, amongst tributes from the Jack Bruce estate, Macca and Jagger et al, was this ‘official’ statement:

‘We are very sad to say that Ginger has passed away peacefully in hospital this morning. Thank you to everyone for your kind words over the past weeks.’ 

‘This morning’ being Sept’ 6th, 2019. Despite his wild and often very intemperate life, the old dog made it to 80!

The tradition in official obituaries is to go over the deceased’s whole life (as in this BBC one). But as this is my personal tribute to the man, I’m going to stick to the stuff that really affected me.

For me Baker was, when I look back, an unusual ‘flash in the pan’ inspiration. I didn’t find much else in his career, outside of Cream, that I ever really dug. Indeed, even within Cream, it’s only a few choice moments that do it for me, both in respect of Baker individually, and the band as a whole.

Eric Clapton went on to a much more consistently top flight career, both in terms of the quality of the music itself and the success that can go with it. Baker by contrast floundered around in semi-obscurity, his collaborations usually looking better on paper than they sounded.

He wasn’t someone easy to love, as is painfully clear in the film Beware of Mr Baker. And his visage in later life is a clear outward manifestation of inner pains and strife. A sad and cautionary image when set against the cocky smiling Baker  of the early Cream era.

Ginger Baker
The latter-day Baker.

His love of jazz and his bitter mix of snobbery and contempt regarding rock drumming as a whole, and other famous drummers of (more or less) his own generation, like Bonham, showed a crabby, cantankerous meanness of spirit that hardly make for a saintly halo.

But far all that, thanks to his channelling of the spirit of ‘the groove’, and his position as a key formative influence on me, I’ll always love him. Perhaps now the ornery curmudgeon is physically gone from this vale of tears we can celebrate the best of his legacy?

I don’t believe in a literal afterlife. It’d be lovely to think Baker was up there, at the great jam-session in the sky, slugging it out with his jazz idols. But certainly folk like him get a stab at an afterlife down here. His recorded legacy can and should be remembered and treasured.

* This reminds me of how disappointed I was when I made my pilgrimage to Edinburgh to see Tom Waits, in 2008; arriving massively late on stage, he performed a – by his own standards – bog-standard short set comprising almost entirely his current repertoire. He played just one of his ‘early years’ songs (I can no longer remember if it was Tom Traubert’s Blues or Invitation to the Blues). It was the earlier Waits that had captured my heart. I was gutted. It was such a disappointment. And such an expensive disappointment.