Saturday, 30 January 2010

Ear bender

We love it when famous people with no real aptitude for music make records. When the famous person is the inter- nationally known mentalist Uri Geller, we’re approaching some sort of paranormal Nirvana.

Recorded in 1974 on the back of hundreds of bent spoons, stopped clocks and dangling cable cars, Geller’s LP is a remarkable audio document of a very unusual brain. Over syrupy New Age backing tracks and an inept choir, ex-paratrooper and male model Geller initiates us into the secrets of the cosmos, gently taking our hand and leading us to the very edge of the universe, an observation point where all is clear and nothing makes any sense.

Uri’s high and oddly accented voice is compelling, mesmerising, and incredibly creepy. At times the recording is so intimate that you’re unsure whether he’s trying to expand your mind or get into your underpants: either way the end result is a feeling of being gently, but still intrusively, probed. His lyrics are unspeakable; sadly, he speaks them.

Two ear bending examples from the self titled LP. The first, ‘Beyond Imagination’, is as profound as it gets, which is why - Uri - talks - so - slooowly. The second, ‘I Cannot Answer You’, is a heartfelt motivational number dedicated to 'your children's children and so on' where Uri raps over a mock baroque backing and a call and response choral group to migraine inducing effect.

Please don't ever play this back to back with a record called ‘Why Do People Have To Fight?’ by Fantasy Island celebrity midget Herve Villechaize - the only time I tried it I tore a hole in the space / time continuum and put myself into a diabetic coma.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Oh, go on then...

There are very few films I dislike more than Quentin Tarantino's sloppy 'Death Proof' and Robert Rodriguez's shoddy 'Planet Terror': two self-indulgent and over-confident directors at the very depths of their powers.

For me, the only decent bits of the whole 'Grindhouse' debacle were the scene setting spoof trailers shown in cinemas to accompany the double bill, the greatest of which came from 'Shaun Of The Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz' director Edgar Wright. Featuring a great cast of British actors in a spot on parody of the sort of films I watch all the time, I give you 'Don't'!


Thursday, 14 January 2010

I'm dreaming, not sleeping

The Farmer's Boys were pretty important to me in 1982. Not content with putting out three great singles they were also good enough to come from Norwich, which, when you come from Colchester and want to be in a band, is a massive boost (in geographical terms, London is just as close, but, at the age of 14, a thousand miles away in terms of aspiration).

The band (Baz, Frog, Mark & Stan) had no drummer, and Baz used to croon whilst prodding a little Casio keyboard that he rested on an ironing board. They were never very cool, but they did everything themselves, operating their record company out of a side street in Norwich and hitting the top ten in the independent charts when you had to be truly independent and sell a fair amount of records to get there.

I wasn’t the only one taking note as, soon after the release of their third (and best) single ‘More Than A Dream’, the group signed to EMI, which is where their troubles began.

Out of the indie milieu, the Boys were now expected to compete in the big league, taking on Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran in the Top 40. ‘More Than A Dream’ was reissued soon after but didn't quite make it onto 'Top Of The Pops'– more (very good) singles followed in a variety of formats, but even double pack 7”’s and pig shaped picture discs (I kid you not) failed to secure the required number of sales.

Finally, the group seemed to shrug their shoulders and give in to the pressure, recording a novelty cover of the old Cliff Richard hit ‘In The Country’ and making a wacky video. Appearances on ‘Crackerjack’, ‘TV-AM’ and ‘About Anglia’ followed, but the record stalled at number 44 and they were effectively finished. Shame.

Here are both sides of the aforementioned 'More Than A Dream' single, as issued in December 1982. The a-side still sounds good and fills me with a youthful optimism (much needed now); the b-side 'The Country Line' manages to be funny and poignant at the same time.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Sad vibes

Monty Stark has died.

Monty was the leader, vocalist, pianist, vibraphonist, composer, arranger and visionary of fuzzy psychedelic jazz combo Stark Reality, a favourite group of mine best known for their 1970 album 'The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop'.

Sort of like 'Sesame Street' music played by Scientologists, the record is quite confusing, occasionally atonal, extremely rewarding and sonically unique. In tribute to Monty, here is 'Thirty Days Hath September' from that great LP.

The Stark Reality's music has been sampled many times by modern producers but, due to a publishing rights issue, Monty received neither recognition or renumeration for his work. Keenly aware that I am posting a free track here, I have made a small donation to Cancer Research on Monty's behalf and would urge you to think about doing the same.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Dr. What for?

I like films; I like Dr. Who; I like Peter Cushing. But Dr. Who films starring Peter Cushing? Nah, you’re alright, ta.

There’s nothing terribly offensive about the two sixties big screen Dr. Who adaptations:
‘Dr. Who & The Daleks’ (1965) and ‘Dalek Invasion of Earth 2150 AD’ (1966), they’re just difficult to love or, indeed, even be moderately fond of.

Produced by horror experts Amicus, the films are ostensibly well made, but they lack the special ingredients that made the TV show such a success. One of the main charms of the original is that, despite its far-flung time and space settings, it seems very intimate: the production is black and white and small screen, restrained and economic, and although the stories cannot be called realistic, they seem believable, logical, they make contextual sense. The films, although based on stories from the TV show, miss the target by turning small, thought provoking productions into a loud, garish, full colour, wide screen films for young children, and dumb down the characters and back story to the extent that Dr. Who is no longer a Time Lord but is, instead, a Doctor whose surname is Who. & Peter Cushing, love him, just isn’t right in the role. Whereas William Hartnell could be irascible and ruthless, Cushing’s doctor is like a doddery, lovable grandad, which is all very nice, but pretty useless when it comes to saving the Universe.

Oddly, one of the better elements of the films is the music, despite it not being provided by the geniuses at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. That may sound heretical, but I’m not suggesting the music is better or even comparable to what the Workshop did or would have come up with, it just fits these particular productions better.

The first film features music from conductor and arranger Malcolm Lockyer and has a fairly generic sound that owes a lot to John Barry, particularly his twangy John Barry Seven days and the incidental music he composed for Sean Connery's Bond. 'Fanfare & Title Theme' gives you the general idea, and features Joe 90 type electronic effects from the estimable Barry Gray. 'The Eccentric Dr. Who' is a reworked version of the title theme released as cash in single to cash in on the cash in film and is a cracker that mixes mainstream jazz, pop and film music in a way that can perhaps be described as 'groovy squared': modern, snappy, commercial pop music played by middle aged men that can sight read AND swing.

The snappily titled 'Dalek Invasion of Earth 2150 AD’ has music from jazz pianist turned composer Bill McGuffie. It’s less subtle and slightly more Keystone Cops than Lockyer's score, and is best sampled through the driving title theme with its electronic swoops and frenzied bongos.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Sixty second nightmare

Everything about this advert creeps me out. I saw it a week ago and I can't - get - it - out - of - my - head.

Who'd have thought 'trousers that move with you' could be so sinister? Or is it the Rosemary's Baby music that someone thought an appropriate musical accompaniment?

Watch the way the male model smoothes his flowing moustache: he means us harm, real harm - and if he ever gets out of that terrifying Giorgio de Chirico world he's been exiled to, we're all in the shit - unless we can get him to stand near a naked flame...


Friday, 1 January 2010

If you find Earth boring

It would be quite easy to write a million words about Sun Ra, but I won’t inflict that on you just yet.

Sun Ra is simply one of the most extraordinary musicians and artists of the twentieth century, and his thousands of individual recordings show a unique and uniquely focused individual at work, obsessively working and reworking themes and developing his own esoteric philosophy over the course of his sixty years as a musician. Often dismissed as a crackpot because of his insistence that he came from Saturn, not Alabama, Sun Ra left this planet in 1993, but bequeathed the Earth an incredible legacy of around 200 albums that tell the history of jazz from Dixieland to the avant garde, sometimes on the same record.

Sun Ra’s first LP was released in 1956, although he had been performing since the mid 1930’s. On these early recordings, Ra combined be-bop and modal music with exotica to create a hybrid he called cosmic jazz, and gave his compositions and albums evocative names that conjure up a sort of Flash Gordon modernity, a vision of the space age filtered through sci fi films and the emergence of flying saucers as the paranoid sensation of the Cold War. His work of this period is usually fairly restrained (although never conventional), but there are hints of the experimentation to come in a number of his compositions, for example 'Interplanetary Music' from the 1960 LP 'We Travel The Spaceways' which blends quirky ethnic percussion and chanting to great and slightly sinister effect.

By the mid 1960’s, Sun Ra and his Arkestra (an ever-changing group of up to 30 multi-instrumentalists) were moving towards Free Jazz, and Ra was becoming keener to stress the links between his music and his philosophy (or ‘equation’ as he would have it): an occasionally bewildering mix of religion, ufo-ology, black power, Freemasonry, Gnosticism and gnomic wordplay. Sun Ra’s recordings during this phase are often out there at the farthest reaches of music, but are always saved from being formless and cacophonous by the Arkestra’s innate musical qualities, and by the guiding intelligence of their enigmatic leader. As a fairly mild example, here is 'Voice Of Space' from the 1967 LP 'Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy' which features some interesting noises and tape effects.

From the 1970’s onwards, Ra achieved a sort of contradictory equilibrium as a popular outsider artist, playing all over the world and recording for a variety of labels as well as his own Saturn imprint. Similarly, he was musically able to have his space cake and eat it too, switching between playing fairly straight jazz standards and experimenting with new instruments and technologies (to sometimes ear splitting effect) as he pleased. Somewhere inbetween is 'Where Pathways Meet' taken from the 1978 album 'Lanquidity', the nearest Sun Ra ever got to disco. The result is not perhaps representative of most of his work, but it is undeniably him!

Ra and his group kept on ploughing their unique furrow until Ra became too ill to carry on and went to live with his sister, dying soon after at the age of 79. The Arkestra, however, continues to this day and, I hope, will travel the spaceways for many years to come. Happy New Year!