Friday, 31 July 2009

Space Magic

There's a heck of a lot of Zappa boots and unofficial releases out there - I know, I've downloaded most of 'em - much to the chagrin of the Zappa Family Trust.
Well, the ol' man shouldn't have been so fucking sublime, should he!

Anyway, here's my tuppeth worth; and it's not one you see very often, so hopefully this isn't a complete waste of time.

I acquired this double slab o' vinyl a way back; swapped it for a vinyl copy of Spirit's Potatoland, an album I wasn't particularly keen on, but now apparently fetches a small fortune.

But who values music merely for its material worth and format?
That would be madness...

As for this little beauty: no company is credited, although Zappa's Barking Pumpkin logo is stamped on the front; sides A and B have red labels, sides C and D are yellow: stamped on all four are merely the words "Space Magic" plus an "A", "B", "C" or "D".
There are good credit notes, musicians, venues, dates, and altogether it's a very professional gatefold package.

Part 1, all live recordings, is decent soundboard quality.
It takes a slight dip on the left channel for a couple of tracks, but easily remedied, and really it's only noticeable with cans.

Lisa Popeil gets to tell her life story ('Lisa's Story of Her Life'), and very enlightening and entertaining it is.
We also get to hear how authoritarian and grammar school masterly Zappa could be when dealing with 'bad people' in his audience.
'Broken Hearts' is suspended while Zappa cringingly forces a fan to clear up the stage with his face after hurling something messy upon it.

Part 2 opens with a big instrumental; for me the highlight of the album: a tasty and well recorded version of 'The Deathless Horsie'.
Slower and meaner than the Shut Up and Play Your Guitar version, with its neat bookending of do de-do, do de-do, do de-do; do de-do, do de-do, do de do-do; a perfect motif that envisages the western: big empty plains and lonesome cowboys.
A solo is pushed inbetween, one of those real gorgeous claustrophobic numbers with the squirty wah-wahed notes really shaping and squeezing the air.
Know what I mean?

Side D of the original vinyl (the second part of Part 2) is not the greatest of pressings, and here the quality is a bit wanting (not helped by a little crackle and pop I'm afraid), but the tracks are curious enough to deem attention.

'Flambay', 'the love song of Drakma, the Queen of Cosmic Greed, to Hunchentoot the Giant Spider', and 'Spider of Destiny' are included with original lyrics (both were initially released as instrumentals), sung, curiously, by the credited 'Unknown Woman' [Thana Harris?]; the female vocal bringing an even more skewed perspective to Zappa's odd musings on materialism.

Other tracks towards the end are all demo versions of songs from Them and Us, including one of the most unlike-Zappa songs Zappa wrote: 'The Planet Of My Dreams', an unusually moral elegy ruminating on the poor state of humanity; or as Ben Watson claims, Zappa reveals "a proud boast of integrity".*

There is also a macabre, stripped down version of 'Frogs With Dirty Little Lips', a song Zappa composed with his then infant son Ahmet.
It's much more down and dirty than the 'finished' product, and I must say, I do prefer it.

So, all in all, well worth checking out.

Would I swap it back for Potatoland?
Would I bollocks.

*The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play by Ben Watson.
The best damn rock-crit book ever written.

Frank Zappa - Demos (1986)

Teenage Prostitute
A Pound For a Brown on the Bus
Lisa's Story of Her life
Broken Hearts Are For Assholes
Easy Meat
Stick It Out
Truck Driver Divorce
The Deathless Horsie
Outside Now Again & Again
Planet of My Dreams
Spider of Destiny
Truck Driver Divorce
Frogs With Dirty Little lips
In France

Vinyl rip @320kbs
Part 1 includes cover and notes

Part 1 here
Part 2 here

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Gone to Seed

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Live at the Royal Albert Hall, was a recording that passed many by originally. Issued as a limited bonus with the Best of album, it was hardly targeted at Cave fans.

Ten years later in 2008, Mute, or Cave or who ever decided to re-release Live at the Royal Albert Hall; basically the original free disc (less 'The Weeping Song'[!]) plus a few extra tracks.
Now deleted, a second hand copy appears to change hands for around thirty-five quid!
Mad innit, the music biz; no wonder it's going down the toilet.

Recorded in May, 1997, the sumptuous Royal Albert Hall makes for a lush recording; and I believe this is easily their best collection.
(Admittedly I'm not the biggest fan of their music - too much forced pathos for me - I find it difficult to take a whole album; except for this one and Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!)

The set list is very similar to one that appears on a bootleg album entitled Black Session, recorded a year later.
The clue's in the title. I guess he was going through a difficult patch at the time.
But back in May 1997, he must have been enjoying a brief moment of joviality as the recording captures Cave in an upbeat mood, and despite featuring several songs from the lugubrious The Boatman's Call this is very much a celebratory gig.

His mood makes for great delivery; the band respond to it; and in my opinion all the tracks (bar two; I'll come on to that...) benefit emormously from the live setting, the general good mood and the superb playing (and recording; knocks spots off Black Session), making for a greater and more pleasurable listen than the original studio recordings.

There are those two tracks though, not that they're bad: just different.
Originally the two Murder Ballads singles were sung as duets; one with his then lover Polly Harvey and the other with fellow antipodean, Kylie Minogue.
Both female collaborators are absent on this recording, so their places are taken by Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld, bringing a different kind of camp to the murder ballads, one not evident, obviously, on the original recordings.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Live at the Royal Albert Hall (1998)

Lime Tree Arbour
Stranger Than Kindness
Red Right Hand
I Let Love In
Brompton Oratory
Henry Lee
The Weeping Song
The Ship Song
Where the Wild Roses Grow

CD rip to mp3s
Re-Seed here

Friday, 24 July 2009

Raw Head and Bloody Bones

Before I alter course and depart the outer limits of planet Hawkwind's populous orbit, I thought I'd raise the memory of another eighties' space project: the accompanying piece to Inner City Unit's The President's Tapes: the 1985 e.p. Blood and Bone.

Made with much gusto and energy, this e.p. confirmed Nik Turner's affiliation to the post-punk sound, especially evident on the covers 'Brand New Cadillac' (a kind of thug-punk-jazz number) and 'Little Black Egg' (an acid-tinged piece of tomfoolery even more bizarre than the Nightingales' original nugget).

'Blood and Bone' and 'Paint Your Windows White' are fairly typical quality I.C.U. fare, but 'Hurricane Fighter Plane' could easily have been lifted from Bob Calvert's Captain Loockheed and the Starfighters - wrong side of course! - and if it wasn't written by Calvert (I am without info), it must have been inspired by him, what with its lust for flight and flying machines.

Calvert was active at this time and soon took a couple of Turner's I.C.U. cohorts back on the road, leaving Nik to return, once more, to the welcoming arms of Dr. Technical, allowing the good ship Hawkwind to get back on track and course and carry on with their [seemingly] never-ending trip.

If you like this, Nik's Punkadelic is available still; very reasonably priced
Support your local astronaut!

Inner City Unit - Blood and Bone (1985)

Blood and Bone
Hurricane Fighter Plane
Brand New Cadillac
Paint Your Windows White
Little Black Egg

Excellent cassette rip @320kbs
Get visceral here

Tuesday, 21 July 2009


Recording in the studio radically changed the Lloyd-Langton Group's sound.
It sprang to life.

What with the occasional keyboards, double tracked vocal and overdubbed guitars, a much richer and fuller sound was created.
And from the opening title track more familiar aural territories are revealed, as the overdubbed guitar allowed Huw to add his trademark trills: those levitating, full but floaty notes.

The best tracks on the album reveal a dark side to Lloyd-Langton's psyche; paranoid, dystopian lyrics accompanied by his spacey blues; heard in 'Got Your Number', 'Diseased Society' and 'Lonely Man'.

Huw pays homage to his roots on 'Painted Evergreen', as it wouldn't be out of place on an old Widowmaker album.

'Für Kirsty' is the one track I do tend to skip, as Huw has one of those nylon moments - I blame Iommi for such indulgences; he's got a lot to answer for...

The album ends on a rather oblique note, with the angular, staccato 'Lunar Tic'.
Its odd beat and looped riffs deliver a more experimental sound; and as an ode to mans' relationship with his closest celestial body it seems perfectly apt.

The album completes full circle, ending where it began:

The moon seeped through the trees
And music drifted on to me
I waited and wanted to believe

The Lloyd-Langton group - Night Air (1985)

Night Air
Before Is Over
Got Your Number
Painted Evergreen
Für Kirsty
Diseased Society
Alien Jiggers
Lonely Man
Candle Burning
Lunar Tic

Excellent cassette rip @320kbs
Get with the lunatics here

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Criminal Record

It was appropriate for Hawkwind guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton to reveal his own side project to the world in the form of a live album.
Not only could he showcase his own tasty blues licks and chops but he could interject with the odd audience pleasing Hawkwind number, guaranteeing interest, and hopefully, potential sales.

In 1983, somewhere between Hawkwind studio albums and tours, Lloyd-Langton's trio were occupying space and filling in time; allowing Huw to break away from the confines of the Hawkwind Mother Ship and play the kind of licks he used to play alongside Ariel Bender (Luther Grosvenor) in the 70's hard rock band Widowmaker.

But you can't be associated with the vanguard band of space rock without something rubbing off, and Huw's writing and playing, although deeply rooted in blues' music, is tinged with sci-fi musings, spacy riffs and E-bowed resonance.

The sound of the album emulates an audience recording, and the only probable reason Flicknife Records chose to release the album in the manner of a bootleg was to retain some kind of authenticity.
Although I'm not sure as to just how authentic this recording actually is.

Despite being recorded in "Brentford, 1983" there is no venue credited.
And if you listen real hard, at the beginning of the first track, someone in the 'audience' shouts out: "Brentford, Outside the Law," stating both supposed venue and the title of the album.

Huw Lloyd-Langton's official web site describes this album as "a bootleg", despite giving a Flicknife catalogue number, and urges the reader: "do not purchase".
Why that should be, I'm not sure (more likely to do with 'business' and royalties rather than the record company bootlegging [or faking a bootleg of] their own artist), but it's certainly not for lack of musical quality or charm.
(He needn't worry about being left out of the royalties loop for this product as it is very, very deleted.)

There are some great Lloyd-Langton tracks here, and despite the lo-fi quality, the chemistry and ability of the band cannot be denied. They were an excellent live act, and I spent many an evening in various venues around London being highly entertained by Huw and his rhythm section cohorts.

I went along to the Marquee club one night to see the Lloyd-Langton Group play, but as soon as the band trod the boards this really loud, large, drunken punky guy along with a couple of punk girls forced their way to the front and began to scream at those on stage - not really in an offensive or aggressive way, but poor mild-mannered Huw was looking deeply uncomfortable - another nasty flashback?
I was having doubts as to whether he was going to play at all.

But then Huw's face changed; an epiphany occurred; a wide, cheeky smile presented itself, as the chunky punk was recognised as an ally, and was soon on stage singing along with the occasional Hawkwind chorus.
Making that the night I saw Charlie Harper sing with the Lloyd-Langton Group.

You hear a lot about the punk/reggae connection but you rarely hear mention of the punk/space rock alliance; I don't think I ever met a punk who didn't love Hawkwind...

So, despite this not being the best of recordings, and a little suspect in its conception, it still manages to capture the band from this period well; and for a three-piece blues' band the live album is without doubt the best way to showcase their music.

Lloyd Langton Group - Outside the Law (1984)

Outside the Law
Five to Four
Talk To You
Rocky Paths
Space Chase
Waiting For Tomorrow
Mark of Cain
Psychedelic Warlords

Excellent vinyl rip @320kbs
Liberate the Lloyd-Langton Group here

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Rash Treatment

The reinvention of the Poison Girls came with the release of this transitional album from 1984.
They tied up the loose ends of their past by dedicating part one of this release to a retrospective collection of previously unreleased tracks, various single releases and a couple of previous album tracks.
Part two, in contrast, introduced their new sound, with a live performance of songs old and new recorded in Manchester in 1983.

The album begins where the band began, in 1977.
And the almost thrash-like 'Revenge' gets an airing for the first time.
Harsh, vitriolic and full to the brim with anger and energy, Richard Famous gobs the lyric right into the establishment's ears.
He really means it, man; and he did.

Richard's other great song from the early days, 'Dirty Work', is also included, but in the main Frances (Vi Subversa) leads the rallying cry.

She can be totally scary ('Reality Attack'), scathing ('Statement'), tender ('Cry No More') and downright bloody-minded, best exemplified in the venomous Dworkin-like, misandry-fuelled 'Offending Article', accusing the male of the species for all the terrible problems of the world and wonders whether a neutering programme may be of benefit.

Radical feminism meets fascism?
But sometimes it's quite easy to find yourself empathising with her point of view.

The new Line up included a prominent keyboard sound and the addition of an extra female voice, creating a radical change in the band's dynamic and tone.
Much of the harshness and spikiness that can be heard on their earlier material has fallen away, and softer textures are created; sounding almost progy in places.
Well it was the mid-eighties.

Their goal was to achieve a greater audience - after all, they had been preaching to the converted for years; it was time to turn some heads:

'It is now for us to take ideas that can release imagination, out of the ghetto which has raised and inspired us, into the wider world.'

For a while Poison Girls did broaden their appeal, gaining some interest from beyond the regular clique of the anarcho-punk set.
They played at Glastonbury, went down a storm, and no doubt had a boost in sales as a consequence.
They may even have got a review in Sounds.

The last time I saw them, it was just Richard and Frances, playing as a duo under another name (I can't remember if they were called Snakes and Ladders or Oranges and Lemons [!] although it could have been Apples and Pears, but it was something like that...) in the depths of Cornwall at The Elephant Fair (1986?).

They were still doing it. Richard played a mean guitar and Vi, still in wicked voice, told us how it was while pounding out the beat with a club hammer she struck against a scaffold pole.

Where they are now I don't know.
I used to know Frances' kids, Gemma and Dan, but we all lost touch years ago.
But hey; if you've Googled the Poisons, ended up here, and you're in touch with anyone from the Poisons' camp, say hello from me.

And in some way or other, I hope it's still going on, I hope they're still doing it: still banging away.

Hey, some of us will always listen.

Poison Girls - 7 Year Scratch (1984)

Part 1:

Revenge (Mono, Not Previously Released, 1977)
Reality Attack (4 Track Recording, NPR, 78)
Alienation (4 Track Recording, NPR, 78)
Piano Lessons (12" Version, 79)
I Wanted the Moon (NPR, 79)
Jump Mama Jump (From Hex, 79)
Statement (Released as Flexi with Chappaquiddick, 80)
Promenade Immortelle (7" Version, 81)
Dirty Work (7" Version, 81)
Cry No More (From Where's the Pleasure, 82)
Offending Article (NPR, 83)

Part 2:

Live Recording: Gilly's, Manchester, October, 83.

Fear of Freedom
Where's the Pleasure
Too Close for Comfort
Real Woman
Are You Happy now?
Too Proud
Tell the Children
White Cream Dream
State Control and Rock n Roll
I've Done It All Before

Decent vinyl rip @320kbs

Poison yourself with Part 1 here
Poison yourself with Part 2 here

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Baroque and Roll

Finns Olli Vertaperko, Ere Livenon and Jonte Knif first performed the music of Frank Zappa publicly in 1995.
As students of early music, they played the Zappa piece, 'Uncle Meat', during an end of term concert; initially intended as a rag-type joke.

So much enthusiasm and interest was shown for their baroque interpretation they soon started interpreting other Zappa pieces; bringing in Jasu Moisio to add some wind to their strings and harpsichords.

By 1997 Ensemble Ambrosius, as they titled themselves, were on the road, touring Scandinavia, performing a mixed set of Zappa material and some self-penned pieces.

In 1999 they had expanded their Zappa portfolio enough to move into the studio. Fourteen months later [!] their Zappa Album was released to a decent reception, and they increased their tour schedule.
They also brought in a few more musicians, increasing their size to an octet, allowing for more complicated and bolder interpretations (their time is never wasted; as soon as a musician has finished their part they may well pick up another instrument, which is why they often sound much bigger than they actually are).

By 2002, the year of this recording, they came to Britain with a grand reputation, performing this concert for the BBC, aired on the Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert slot.

The Queen's Hall in Edinburgh allowed for a sumptuous and spacious recording, and despite a little analogue hiss the dynamics are superb; you can actually hear the bassoon player's intake of breath during the apt opener 'Uncle Meat'.

The main theme of Burnt Weeny Sandwich's 'Igor's Boogie' is played on a melodica, one of the only modern instruments the band use.
The majority of their music is played using baroque period instruments, adding a genteel quality to Zappa's often spiky material.

'Igor's Boogie' segues into 'The Black Page #2', and the band juxtapose Zappa's jazz number with a Bach piece, creating an interesting baroque mash-up.

Since The Ensemble Modern first performed 'G-Spot Tornado' as part of their Yellow Shark show in 1992, it has apparently become a firm favourite for avant garde ensembles.
With its Conlon Nancarrow-like intensity, it has become a musical quantifier, a sure way to measure excellence; and the Ensemble Ambrosius cope with it incredibly well, giving the piece an enormous injection of life, and firmly stamping it with their own identity.

I'd love to see the original staves.
Mind you, as it was originally composed for synclavier it was probably written in binary code or holes punched into cards, or something.

It's tracks like 'G-Spot Tornado' and the wonderful 'Echidna's Arf (Of You)' - in fact more so with 'Echidna's Arf (Of You)' - that really makes one aware that those such as Zappa exist on a very different level to us meagre plebeians.
I mean, just how does someone sit down and compose something like 'Echidna's Arf (Of You)'?

It's just beyond comprehension.


Ensemble Ambrosius - Queen's Hall Edinburgh, 2002.

Uncle Meat
Night School
Igor's Boogie
The Black Page #2
Zoot Allures
Big Swifty
Echidna's Arf (Of You)
G-Spot Tornado

Cassette rip of FM broadcast @320kbs
Genteel musings to be found here