Friday, 5 May 2017

Paul Roland - White Zombie

I've related this story before, but several years ago I was in receipt of package of releases from the Italian Black Widow label, including Re-animator by Paul Roland, who I'd not really known about previously but whose album I enjoyed immensely and wrote about, later to receive an email from Paul himself, telling me that he was a Hawkwind fan who'd read my book on the band. And so since then we've been in contact and I've had the opportunity to get so much more acquainted with his work, delving back to his original recordings, The Werewolf of London included, then getting enchanted by other classics of his canon, the charming joys of 'Walter the Occultist' and 'Wyndham Hill', the Marvel Comics influenced 'Dr Strange' and the character-driven tales of 'The Hanging Judge' or Witchfinder General', potted but enthralling sketches. I'm a huge fan.

He's been highly prolific in recent times, concept albums such as Grimm and soundtrack compositions such as Hexen. Career retrospectives have arrived, including a comprehensive 'early years' double from Cherry Red - In the Opium Den - and new work abounds. They've all variously reflected his complementary interests in the bizarre, the macabre, Victorian gaslight horror, EC comics, Lovecraft, and the likes, building new work to his already extensive back-catalogue.

White Zombie is the latest, rooted as ever in many of those preoccupations, but, as he's done with other recent albums, stretching out and expanding the styles that he works in, because each entry to his canon is distinctive, separate, with its own identity and sense of purpose. He talks about having come out of a talk, way back in 1994, that he'd enjoyed with Malcolm Rebennack, Dr John, 'The Night Tripper', "about his early life in New Orleans and his initiation into the cult of voodoo." He'd already used the theme of Voodoo, Baron Samedi, on an early song of his, 'Jumbee' and its an idea that he's revisited again, and indeed the conversation with Dr John, though it fermented ideas, didn't crystalise into music until much later, when experiments with patterns and chants led to something that at the time he considered "raw, primitive ... sung 'in tongues'."

There was a thought to make these songs into a soundtrack for the 1932 Bela Lugosi White Zombie film, itself considered to be the first full-length zombie movie, though that didn't reach fruition. But, okay, what's lost to one project becomes food for another, and with Paola Tagliaferro adding the High Priestess's vocals on chants and a host of Roland's Italian friends making up his band this time around, a finely-tuned concept album has materialised. Sixteen short and sharp tracks, with Paul's keen ear for a good tune and his honed writer's eye for character and setting

What this record has, again in keeping with Roland's other work, is an atmosphere that permeates throughout the tracks. It's a delicious confection of sticky heat, unsettling darkness and that claustrophobic sense of being trapped within a collective madness from which there is no escape; devotional chants of hysteria and feverish reverence to that darkness, underpinned by evocative drum patterns; it takes you firmly out of your surroundings and places you in its settings. In that way, it has a lot in common with my own entry point into the Roland world, via Re-animator those years back, and though its not a sequel by any means, the two albums feel so complementary to each other. 

Least we get heavy, I do hear Paul getting his inner Marc Bolan on, for the final track, 'Mambo Jo' - no bad thing... Bolan plays swampy mambo has good mojo, for sure, and there's some great Dick Dale guitar twang on 'Wanga Wanga', but, really, White Zombie is pure, undiluted, Paul Roland and is absolutely among the best of his records.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Singles Going Steady?

This was a nice little surprise today - a promo of new single from the North Carolinian turned Somerset resident Cary Grace. Her last album, a live set from the 2016 Kozfest, The Uffclume Variations, I've had here for some time and meant to include in an earlier review, but things have continued to be a bit constrained on the blogging front. I will get to it, Cary, honest! But then with this two-track release, set for 5th May on digital download, it provided the perfect starting point for an entry focusing on singles...

So this is 'Without a Trace', b/w 'Star Fire', and I think it's download only, available from Bandcamp via her website, or from iTunes and other digital retailers. Cary works her magic across multiple genres, with last year's live release being experimental and improvisational, aided and abetted by her band, and with special guest appearances from Steffi Sharpstrings and Graham Clark. This new studio record sees her back in a more traditional song structure. 'Without a Trace' is a lusciously delivered love song with a beautiful ruminative tune, 'Star Fire' an immediately delighting and uptempo piece, think of Renaissance with spacey lyrics. Lovely tracks... play them again and again - just as I have this afternoon. 

So, between the release of The Uffculme Variations and this single, I most recently heard Cary on The Honey Pot's album, Ascending Scales, where she's involved in a terrific vocal dueling with the band's Crystal Jacqueline on a cover of 'The Witch'. Ah, see what I'm doing here, making a link from one to the next... you'd almost think I know what I'm doing... Jacqui has her own new double album due in June on Mega Dodo, Await The Queen, which I'm covering for Record Collector, but it fits in to mention that while not it's a single, as far as I know, there's just been released the first associated video, for 'Akhbar', filmed in Fez, Morocco and full of, as the advert used to, eastern promise. Exotic, sensuous, and beguiling, this is a delicious appetizer for what I'm sure is going to be a wonderful LP.  

Staying with Mega Dodo then - these linking bits are running and running today - let's mention one of their latest signings, Green Seagull, and their single 'Scarlet', b/w 'They Just Don't Know'. This is a quartet formed out of a duo, when Sarah Gonputh (keyboards) and drummer Carlos Redondo hooked up with founders Paul Nelson, of New Electric Ride, and Paul Milne (Hidden Masters, Magnetic Mind) to work up some of the two Pauls' songs. The resulting busy jangles of their 60s-fused psychedelia are bound for a full album later in the year, but these two tracks are a great calling card, frantic and urgent, full of colourful life and absolutely uplifting. Listen, I tore myself away from the Cary Grace to get this one into the CD player for a few spins, so it has to be good.

You can pre-order the Crystal Jacqueline album here, while the Green Seagull single is here. Of course, where Mega Dodo is the boutique label for psych bands and their own songs, their friends, the Fruits de Mer label is the psych label of choice for cover versions. (Yes, yes, I know... these links are getting more tenuous as I go along). I'm covering their new Astralasia album, Oceania, in the latest Record Collector, actually not a cover versions thing and already sold-out on the FdM website, but here's a split 7" release that is still in their shop, which features Sendelica and Superfjord paying tribute to Frank Zappa: 'Peaches En Regalia' (Superfjord) and 'Don't Eat the Yellow Snow' (Sendelica). 

OK, here comes the writings of a musical heretic. I know next to nothing about Zappa and have rarely listened to any of his work. I, then, come to these two tracks almost completely cold, not hearing them as covers but in and of their own right. Superfjord's Jussi Ristikaarto talks about wanting to preserve the 'bubbly and energetic' nature of 'Peaches En Regalia' and notes how the Zappa version has a soundtrack quality that they'd wanted to preserve in their interpretation, which sort of does my reviewer job for me, because their cut has the vibe of a funky and freaky 60s pop culture film, probably set in swinging Soho, all flowery shirts and flares, and people conversing in groovy metaphors... photographers and models, pop stars and groupies and not much plot but lots of running around London town, visiting little clubs that look like they've been set-up in someone's front room. Makes me smile! 

Superfjord are, then, doing the light touch on their side; flip it over and immediately there is a different texture, with Sendelica - and guest vocalist Karen Langley - opening 'Don't Eat the Yellow Snow' with a sinister, forbidding entry into what becomes a heavy riffing, heavy saxophone, dense drumming, number, all grain and fuzz and wailing underneath a declaiming vocal, purposefully stomping one step at a time through the tune and out of the other end. Two sides, two very different takes. 

Monday, 27 March 2017

Sulatron Records: Recent Releases (Part One)

Once again, it's been rather quiet on the blog of late, principally down to working on promoting the new edition of Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins and thinking about the next book project, so there's a collection of releases intended for review that I've not got to here - I'm officially in 'catch-up' mode!

Sulatron Records, from Germany, have kindly sent over their recent albums, and I wrote about Sun Dial's latest record in the pages of Record Collector fairly recently, but I'll cover it again here as part of a summary of the package of music that Sulatron have submitted for review. Firstly though, there's a CD from Sherpa, Tanzlinde, that I've listened to a few times, searching for the right mood to appreciate it, because its exactly the sort of thing that I want to hear... but I want to hear it when the right moment strikes, and I felt that the first couple of instances I played it, it wasn't right for me... or I wasn't right for it. 

Today's a better day to give it a spin! Sherpa are a Neo-Psych band from Abruzzo in Italy, and Tanzlinde is their first album, with the label making nods in the direction of Robert Wyatt, and to Popol Vuh, when describing it in their press. It has a misty, dewy feel to it, hanging in the air of the mountains they come from, calm and contemplative, that aura of something immovable, immeasurable old, mystic. The vocals on songs such as 'Loto' speak in a way that's tribal in a way, in the way that they seem to want to impart something timeless and wise, heartfelt. Perhaps that chimes with the way Sherpa talk about the meaning of the title. "Tanzlinde means the the linden tree, under which people find time to return to themselves, to connect with their innermost feelings. It is a metaphor for strength and growth." And, as you anticipate from their band name before ever starting on the music, they take the strength and sound of Eastern culture to inform their music. It can be a busy percussive sound, such as on 'Big Foot', or, elsewhere, calmer, more introspective, tunes that have a quality of equilibrium about them. So this is a record that might not catch you on first play, that you might not be ready for, or which might be waiting for you to find the right space for it, but stick with it, play it and play it again, and its haunting stillness will come to find you. 

Let's talk about the new Sun Dial album, then, because I reviewed it for Record Collector and gave it three stars under their rating system... and three stars is a solid review which means 'good', but I almost went for four before backing down, and I think there's the sense in the review that I preferred the initial entry in what is projected as a trilogy of records, Mind Control, which Sulatron also released on CD, after Gary Ramon's outfit had self-released the LP version, reviewed here back in 2013. But of course, doing the blog gives greater time to live with any particular album (see Sherpa, above!) and expound on its merits at greater length. While I'll stick with that notion in my mind, because I really liked Mind Control a lot, I've been playing its successor, Made In The Machine, quite often since writing my original review of it. 

Air-raid sirens herald its contemporary Hawkwind-like opener, 'Meltdown'. "Shockwaves filter through the spine ... only fate can save us now." It's shrilling insistence, mixed with returning sirens, mark it out as a powerful statement, energized and purposeful. That sense of urgency continues into 'Contact', bright, vibrant vibes around a repetitive theme which has a touch of the Didier Marouani about it, a thrilling opening pairing. That's often the modus operandi on this record's fairly contained tracks - there's only one truly extended piece with most coming around the four-minute mark - to create a hypnotic pattern around which the musicians play, so its immediately engaging, with a proper flow from track to track. Vocals surface only occasionally from the sequences, giving the journey a narrative nudge, but this record is predominately about its tunes, about sound and patterns. 

Sometimes, such as on 'Spacedust', it's bubbly and frenetic, what I described in RC as being motor-on motorik ideas, a quirky, weird in a good way, playful twist of the kaleidoscope. Then even if it sometimes becomes more muscular underneath, it's still with that sparkling effervescence on top. Perhaps that's what best describes the difference between Mind Control and Made In The Machine, that the younger sibling has a sense of fun rippling across the top of its tunes, bursting to come and play.

That doesn't mean it doesn't have space-rock gravity. Though there's a deftness of touch, and that enjoyable exuberance, about many of the tracks, it still has a deep space atmosphere to it, 'Regenerator' being like a probe exploring through the rings and moons of a planet, a trekking star odyssey, with robust chords and propellant drumming. There's a zippy Eastern odyssey as well, in the sitars and boings of the fourteen minute 'Autopilot', before "sonic waves are raining" in the album closing 'The Gates of Eden', heavy and moody but still possessing that energy which makes this record such a good listen.

So, that's Part One of our Sulatron write-up... Part Two will be with us shortly!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

SHARP! Flicknife Records And Other Adventures - Q&A

Following on from my review of Frenchy Gloder's Flicknife memoirs, here's a Q&A with co-author Greg Healey about this book and their collaboration...

How did this project come together?

About four years ago I received a message on LinkedIn from Frenchy to ask if I'd like to review the latest volume of Hawkwind Friends & Relations. At the time I was a staff writer for the Seattle based Redefine Magazine and, as I had been a Hawkwind fan and a Flicknife fan since my early teens, I suggested that I write a feature piece about the history of the label. I like to give context to feature pieces so, as well as covering the story of the label, I wrote about some of the political and social events that made the times what they were. Frenchy loved the piece and pretty soon after messaged me to ask if I'd be interested in writing a book about the label that would give a flavour of the times as well. As we talked it soon became clear that his life had been a fascinating roller-coaster ride and that, if I was going to write about Flicknife and the era the label came into being, I was going to have to write about the man and his story as well. 

What are the mechanics of writing a book like this with someone… how did the collaboration work?

Once we decided to tell the story of the label through the life of the man we had find a way of conducting interviews that he'd feel comfortable with. We needed to hit upon a method that would allow him to remember things lost in the haze. A lot of the material in the book is deeply personal and at times tragic, and it became clear that the narrative would be best served if it was told from his perspective.  Along the way we tried Skype, face to face meetings and emails. It was an evolving process. The main challenge in all of this was to give everything a coherent voice, Frenchy's voice, and arrange it and tell it all in a way that kept the reader hooked.

I thought Frenchy’s personal story was bravely told, how soon in the project did it become clear that he’d want to tell his life story in this way, as opposed to being a book of music industry recollections?

Initially, Frenchy was very reluctant to include his own stories. His life has been about the bands, the music and the label, and it seemed counter intuitive to him to talk about personal experiences. What helped was when I suggested the idea of making it read like a novel; Frenchy saw the potential of this approach immediately. One of the biggest successes was that we formed a good relationship based on trust: once he saw that his personal life and experiences were going to be handled in a sensitive and not a sensational way he felt more comfortable. The idea that it was important to tell the whole story in the context of the times, so that Flicknife and its releases didn't appear to exist in a vacuum, appealed to him from the beginning. 

A lot of readers will come to the book because of the Hawkwind connection. How difficult was it to strike the balance between the Hawk elements of the story and the rest of Flicknife’s eclectic catalogue?

One of the first things Frenchy said to me was "Let's not make it just about Hawkwind!" He is rightly proud of Flicknife's diverse catalogue and he felt that the label's other bands had often been overlooked. However, there are lots of good stories about Hawkwind in the book and it was good to get across Frenchy's perspective on those years in Hawkind's story too. Most importantly, for Hawkwind and all of Flicknife's acts, we wanted to give each story nuance and colour and bring them to life.

When we talked while you were writing the book, you were heading for a much larger word count but have had to trim down for publication. Do you have a favourite story that couldn’t be included because of the constraints of book size?

My favourite story is the one about the heiress, the kitchen knife and the bag of coke. 

Any plans for making unused material available on-line or in another volume?

There is talk of a second volume. He has countless more stories to tell. 

What are you most proud of in this book?

That it is a good and interesting read that tells the story of an era rapidly passing from memory. A lot of readers have said it's very evocative of the times and paints a vivid picture of the music and counter culture from the end of the 1960s through to the mid 1990s.

What was your first Flicknife record?

Motorhead EP 12" - bought when it came out 1981. 

And your favourite Flicknife record?

Hawkwind Friends & Relations Vol 1 

Monday, 16 January 2017

Sonic Assassins - Print Edition

The print edition of Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins is now live for ordering! Amazon US have it immediately available... Amazon UK are taking orders but awaiting the print files from Createspace, which can take up to five days, so should be fulfilling orders by the weekending 21st January. I had a quick look at some Amazon Europe sites and they are either taking orders for imminent fulfilment, or are ready to go with orders.

Friday, 30 December 2016

SHARP! Flicknife Records And Other Adventures

Like, I suspect, most people who visit this blog, I first 'encountered' Frenchy Gloder as a customer for the records released in the 1980s on his Flicknife label, most specifically his catalogue of Hawkwind, their past and then current members, their friends and relations. What Flicknife did, of course, was to provide an outlet for the band, post their RCA contract, for archive releases and then for the new material that came along with the Earth Ritual Preview EP and The Chronicle Of The Black Sword album, a valuable bolthole when they could no longer rely on the support and finance of a major label. I'd think in that respect, Frenchy and Flicknife kept them going, sustaining them through a fallow period in 1983 and then relaunching them into the public eye as a independent label band with that classic 1985 concept LP. 

As a convert to the Hawkwind cause only a few years previous, I lapped up those releases. Not just the Hawkwind albums and singles, but Inner City Unit's Punkadelic and The Presidents Tapes, Huw Lloyd-Langton's Night Air - though not so much the bootleg quality LLG live album despite it including the brilliant 'Mark of Cain' - Bob Calvert's genius Freq of course. I even preserved with the compilation Friends & Relations sequence, despite, I'm afraid, its adherence to the laws of diminishing returns. (Sorry Frenchy! But the first of them is still terrific!). 

Later, I was privileged to write sleeve-notes for Cherry Red / Atomhenge's new edition of Freq, at the start of their Hawkwind catalogue reissue programme. And later again, I got my first chance to interview the engaging, and still highly enthusiastic for all things Hawkwind-related, Frenchy for a feature on the bands of the free festivals in Record Collector, where he recounted the trials and tribulations of his work with Dave Brock on the Travellers Aid Trust compilation, a seminal and hugely important snapshot of the free festival bands of the 1980s. If they hadn't released that album, memories of those bands would be much reduced, and our understanding of them that much poorer.

That led on to spending an afternoon in Frenchy's company over an Italian lunch in Harrow, listening to his stories of working with Hawkwind, and exploring the tales of the multitude of other musicians he worked with on the label back in the day, ones, such as Nikki Sudden, whose work I didn't follow back then, but who've become important to me more recently. Put those Hawkwind records to one side, and if the only album that Flicknife released was Sudden's wonderful The Bible Belt, he'd have still presided over a label of lasting importance. But he released Nico, Charlie Harper, Glen Matlock, The Barracudas... he did Jeremy Gluck's cult/underground supergroup classic I Knew Buffalo Bill. He put Ozric Tentacles and Dogs D'Amour on his compilation albums. None of it was easy. "You had to fight for every review, every bit of publicity. You had to go there – go to the papers, pull favours, even for a couple of lines, you had to fight for it, there’s no other word for it," he told me, for a label feature for Record Collector. "You had to be saying, ‘it’s a great single because of this, this and this…’ Even in the 80s, there wasn’t that many independent labels, even 4AD or Beggars Banquet or Cherry Red, who could say that they’d had three or four albums in the Top 50. We could."

My RC piece, published back in 2015 along with a retrospective of that stone-cold classic The Chronicle Of The Black Sword, was based on that happy afternoon's reminiscences, though the afternoon's joy in chatting with him about his great catalogue was tinged with sadness by the time I'd got back into London, because it was the day that Huw Lloyd-Langton, that wonderful guitarist, passed away, and I learned the news from a text from a very upset Frenchy, who'd continued to hold Huw in the highest regard. Of course, my piece on the label could, within the constraints of word count, only scratch the surface of his label. Thankfully then, this brilliant memoir, written with Shindig! contributor Greg Healey, does what I couldn't begin to do, which is to relate his whirlwind personal story, from his beginnings, of Romani heritage, in the little republic of San Marino, with vivid recollections of family and food, to his discovery of the lifestyle and ethos that is Hawkwind ("I was a massive Hawkwind fan and if they were playing in Switzerland or Italy or Germany, then I would go," he told me that day in Harrow), and his itinerant wanderings through Europe and onto England where he arrived, primed and positioned for the advent of punk rock. 

His life in the 70s and 80s was just a crazy sequence of scrapes, near-misses, adventures and escapades. In that respect, it's a no-holds-barred autobiography that's honest about the affect on his health and his family that his lifestyle created. You can read it for that side of his story and get vicariously caught-up in the roller-coaster of drugs that fuelled many of these stories; someone fully embracing that side of the rock 'n' roll situation. And a rollicking great read that side of it is. (You'll come out the other side of it thankful that so did this charismatic man).

But then, you can also read it as a part of the written documentation of the backstory to Hawkwind, and for Frenchy's sketching-out of the characters, such as Nikki Sudden and particularly Nico, who lived with Frenchy and his wife Gina for a few months in the early 80s, who had records released on his label. Of course, in respect of Hawkwind, he has lots to say about Dave Brock (I liked the generally affectionate way that Frenchy and Greg describe Dave in their text and recognise the way that they paint him as friendly, approachable but slightly aloof, with his encouraging "Good show" expression), but he also knew Lemmy very well, was friends with the mercurial Calvert, and generally does a good job of describing the characters in and around the band during that Flicknife era. He didn't like the way his words were used in Carol Clerk's The Saga Of Hawkwind, and says so, and indeed his book is a much more 'fan friendly' tome in the way it deals with inter-personal relationships. Though... in regards to the 'Stonehenge' live album - This Is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic - no amount of his insistence that this was all derived from performances at the stones will override the fact that it's largely from Lewisham Odeon on the 1980 Levitation tour! A small niggle!

At the same time, he was part of the London counterculture in the 1980s, mixing with many in that environment, from the likes of Captain Sensible, to the new-psychedelic and goth Batcave and Alice In Wonderland club scene. That all of this is committed to memoir for posterity, vividly described in page-turning prose, is a thing of importance, and between them Gloder and Healey have done a great service not just to those who come to this book as Hawkwind fans wanting to read the story of their time on Flicknife, but to those who are interested in Gloder and his wider achievements in supporting a raft of musicians who were in essence underground, outside of society and the mainstream but producing good work that needed to be heard. In turn, his memories deserve to be read.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Sonic Assassins - Digital Publication Day!

It’s digital publication day for Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins! (Why do I choose 23rd November… just like I did for Festivalized last year? Hmm… let me think… answers in the comments section please). The book is now circa 150,000 words, revised top-to-bottom, updated to 2016’s excellent The Machine Stops album and has new interviews and research. 

Q: OK, so where’s the physical edition?

A: Coming, honest! The thing is, this update has been on the cards and being picked at for a long time, and without a mainstream publisher handling it, there’s never been a deadline to get it finished, and writers will tell you, nothing concentrates our minds like a deadline. So, to give myself a deadline I decided to do the eBook version first, since I could pre-list with Amazon and Smashwords and create myself a deadline to finish by. Next, I’ll turn my attention to the paperback edition.

Q: I’m a reviewer / blogger /podcaster / radio host and would like to chat about the book or receive a promo copy. How do I contact you?

A: I want to hear from you! Email me through my Profile page here, tweet me at Abrahams_Ian, or contact me on my FB:

Q: What’s new?

A: There’s a lot of stuff through the text which is new. Since the book originally appeared in 2004 I’ve had the chance to interview various people who could add their bits and pieces to the story, such as Mick Farren, who I talked to for Festivalized about eighteen months before he died, and who told me, among other things, about writing ‘Lost Johnny’ with Lemmy for Hall of the Mountain Grill, or Dave Robinson (of Stiff Records fame) who worked at the legendary Roundhouse gig in 1972 where ‘Silver Machine’ was culled as a single from. There’s little bits from Crisipian Mills of Kula Shaker, and Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson from interviews for other things where I tacked-on a Hawkwind question at the end. I got to chat to Jerry Richards, absent from the original book, and, as part of updating the story, to Mr Dibs, Niall Hone, and Matthew Wright. And I was able to chat through different elements of the original book with Dave Brock and gain additional insights and reflections from him, as well as talking about the wonderful legacy of his band.

Q: Does the digital version contain pictures?

A: Indeed it does! Many of the illustrations from the original edition – though not all – are contained within the text of the eBook. And there are new photographs both archive and up-to-date. Had a big internal debate as to what to do, whether to go for text only, include a photographic section at the end of the book, or to scatter them through the text and, as with Festivalized last year, I’ve gone for spreading them across the story. Huge thanks to everyone who helped with this… and I couldn’t resist the caption for P!KN!K’s great shot of the band on-stage at Crystal Palace in 1985…

Great 'Peace' Sign!
Your Author, with the writer of 'Shot Down In The Night'!!!
Steve Swindells (L), Ian Abrahams(R)

Q: What’s happened to the ‘Tracks and References’ appendices from the original?

A: Didn’t do the same thing this time around but subsumed most of the information  into the main text. Someone on Amazon wrote that the original didn’t seem to comment much on the lyrics, but that was largely in the appendices, so this time it’s part of the narrative instead. But those appendices were fun and frustrating to do, very much influenced by the TV programme guides of the 80s/90s by my friends Keith Topping, Martin Day, and Paul Cornell, so I’m tweaking them and blogging them and will get around to the albums released since 2004 as part of that.

Q: Typos! They get everywhere…

A: There will be a digital reload, with an erratum listing any corrections made. Thing is, no matter how much you proof and re-proof, they slip through. I mention a gig in Swindon a couple of months after the events of 9/11 and describe the gig as being in November 2011… I meant 2001 of course! 

Q: Favourite Hawkwind album?

A: Just like Matthew Wright in the book, it’s probably Astounding Sounds or Quark Strangeness & Charm. But it could be Live Seventy-Nine (because that’s when I first properly heard the band, travelling with my cousin to gigs at St Austell Cornwall Coliseum) or Electric Tepee, or Hall of the Mountain Grill. Depends on the day!

Q: Are you going to shut-up about Hawkwind now this is done?

A: Nope. Sorry!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins (Extract 1)

Here's the first in a series of extracts from the newly revised and updated version of Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins, which is available as an eBook from 23rd November 2016 and which should be out as a physical print edition in early 2017. This extract is from the chapters following on from the original edition, which ended with the band preparing to release the Take Me To Your Leader album.

I visited the band for interviews for the first edition of this book while work was ongoing for Take Me To Your Leader. The first time I met Dave and Kris, we’d had lunch at a local pub, in lovely warm spring sunshine, conducting the initial interview for the project, largely focused on Dave’s early career. Afterwards, I was thrilled to be invited back to the farm, to see where the band rehearsed and recorded, and to meet Alan Davey and Richard Chadwick. I sat at their kitchen table and Kris talked about a request they’d had for Dave to appear on a radio show with a presenter who’d claimed – and they were sceptical about this – to be a Hawkwind fan of longstanding. Should they take up this one, they wondered? “Well,” I said, “It’s all publicity, isn’t it?” The radio presenter in question was Matthew Wright, now known for his long-running TV series, The Wright Stuff, who has since become a firm friend of the band.

“It was a Saturday morning show on LBC Radio,” Matthew recalls. “The producer was very new to radio and didn’t really know what she was doing, and I’d got a bit frustrated because in radio the producer does a lot of background work for you, so you can just rock up and sound like you know everything off the cuff. They make everything easy; she struggled but she came up with one brilliant idea which was to get Matthew off her back she’d fill the show with people Matthew would like to interview. She’d rather cunningly extracted stories of my life, down the pub after the Saturday sessions, and Hawkwind came up, and Gong, and over the year and a half I did the show Daevid Allen came on, and Dave Brock. Dave Brock was the pinnacle of it all, really. I mean, Hawkwind have had big periods, less big periods, but they are internationally renowned still to this day. To have the main man turn up on your relatively small beer radio show was an honour. The first thing I thought when he came through the door: ‘Fucking hell! It’s Dave Brock.’” 

That claim to be a fan of longstanding was totally true. “At school there was one guy who was the least likeliest bloke to get into spacerock; he was the cross-country champion for the school, he ran for Surrey, he was a nice bloke… and he obviously had very advanced musical tastes because he was listening to Warrior on the Edge of Time at, what, ten, eleven. So, I was hearing it then but didn’t quite get the bug, but then picked up the Masters of the Universe compilation on cassette, with it going round and round, and me getting hooked in, without realising what I was getting hooked into. Then eventually I committed myself, shall we say, to a path of internal experimentation and started to get a grip on what Hawkwind were all about, and they started to get a proper grip on me. On my 21st birthday Hawkwind were playing a venue right in the middle of Exeter and a mate of mine who I knew from university smuggled a note back stage, would they read out a dedication to Matthew Wright, it’s his 21st birthday. And, fucking hell, Dave Brock did it! That was the first time I got close to spaceship Hawkwind [laughs]. But here I am on my radio show and it’s the first time I’ve come face-to-face with him. I was just blown away, met Kris, and they were both charming. Sat down and did the interview and Dave is as revealing as Dave can be, knocking back the trickier questions and trying not to sound too bored with the ones he’s answered a million times before. In between we’re playing Hawkwind tracks and talking about albums; I think we had Hall of the Mountain Grill on and I’m singing along to ‘You’d Better Believe It’ and he says, ‘You know it better than I do!’. Went through a few more lyrics and he was, ‘you really do know it better than I do…’. Literally the next line was, ‘do you fancy doing a gig with us?’.” 

That gig would be at the London Astoria for the band’s Christmas gig of 2004. For most of the year the band had settled into its early 90s trio configuration, since Simon House had once again departed, as had Arthur Brown, who’d continued to make appearances with the group until the summer of 2003. But a new texture to the sound was starting to be added by the recruitment of Jason Stuart on keyboards, who’d previously played with Captain Rizz and was bringing in a totally new dimension with jazz-led piano sounds that turned things around on a sixpence again and offered another new index of possibilities. 

“That was always going to happen,” Alan recalls. “Jason lived in Honiton, where Dave and I did as well, and he was such a nice chap to have around and have a laugh with. As soon as we thought about looking for another keyboard player it all went straight to Jason, really. I knew him a few years before Dave and Kris did, because he used to live in London and I’d go and see a friend there and he was always around. There’s nothing bad to be said about that guy, nothing at all.” 

“Jason was in Captain Rizz’s band, years and years ago,” says Dave, “so our paths crossed quite often. We asked him quite a few times if he’d like to come and have a jam with us but he was always too shy, believe it or not! He was an over-the-top character, but quite shy within himself. But we eventually persuaded him to come and play here, and it was wonderful, such a good keyboard player, and a nice character. He had a good style of playing, which suited him well. I used to see him twitching sometimes, when he’d hit the odd bum note… I’d look over and see his eye twitching, ‘Oh, you heard it!’ Jason played at my mum’s funeral, ‘When the Saints go Marching In’, on the organ, in church, jazzed it up a bit!” 

What Jason Stuart brought to the band invigorated the captain of the ship, as Matthew Wright, who got to know Jason well, describes: “Jason and Dave really clicked. Dave needs people to write with, he’s generated his best work when he writes with someone, Turner stuff, Calvert stuff, he’s always liked to have a writing partner. I think that with Jason he found someone who was extremely gifted musically, a great improviser on keyboards and if you are a musician’s musician, as Dave is, you want someone who is fantastic on the keyboards. So, they were having a wonderful time writing stuff together, and they had a wonderful, warm, relationship. Jason was one of my favourite people that I ever met, he never took life too seriously, always had a smile on his face, and if you can imagine that life on the road can get very emotional and difficult, touring can be tough and when tensions are at their highest and everyone is wired and paranoid you had this bugged-eyed and balding lunatic, Jason, in front of you, who never took anything very seriously and was a good diffuser of tensions within the band and a fantastic laugh.”

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins eBook Release

For all those who've asked about whether my 2004 biography of Hawkwind will ever come back into print, it will be on sale in eBook form as of 23rd November 2016. It's a top to bottom rewrite, with new research and interviews throughout the book. It's updated through to this year's wonderful album, The Machine Stops, with some new images and contains a bonus sample chapter from Festivalized, chronicling the events of the Aktivator 88 free festival. Now totalling over 150,000 words, the plan is to have a print edition available early in 2017. In the meantime, the eBook is live for pre-order and can be purchased from Amazon, Smashwords, and Smashwords-serviced retailers such as iTunes and Barnes & Noble.

Those blog followers who know the original edition might remember the 'Tracks and References' appendices to the print edition; these have now been largely subsumed into the main text, but the original sections, revised and updated (who knew that the 'Flying Doctor' performing his operation with a sardine can was a reference to William Burrough's Naked Lunch?), will be appearing as part of a separate blog dedicated to the book, where there will also be extracts from the new edition.

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Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins Blog (Posts Coming Soon!)

Bloggers, Podcasters, Radio... would love to hear from you!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Festivalized Extract - The Convoy

Here's a second extract from 'Festivalized: Music, Politics, Alternative Culture', this time dealing with the Convoy...

We all sprayed ‘Peace Convoy’ on our vehicles.

Jake Stratton-Kent: I don’t know if anyone really knows where the Convoy came from. It was connected to the earliest festivals at Stonehenge and to Tepee Valley. You also had eco-warriors who refused to drive trucks and used handcarts and horse-drawn carriages.

Nik Turner: People were more enthusiastic about festivals in the 80s. In the 70s it had started to become a movement and towards the end of the 70s you had this whole itinerant crowd developing who were living in run-down vehicles and having trouble getting around and that’s what became termed the Convoy. Now, a lot of people that I knew on the Convoy had previously lived at Talley, so the Convoy absorbed the festival movement which was, to a large degree, perpetuated by people who lived at Talley and were pyramid dwellers.

Rory Cargill: You had this village that floated from festival to festival. This is what the Convoy was. You would have a group of people; Sid Rawle, John Pendragon, Phil the Biker, and a few others. They were like a core and you’d get to a festival and they would organise things. The Tepee Circle goes here, the shit pits go there, the stage is going to go here. The Babylon marquee with all the little traders is going to go there. You build it up and you mark it out and shepherd people in and out of the place. It was quite organised in that sense. The Convoy as such was the equivalent of a travelling circus. The people who were travelling were sometimes the bands, in other words the circus acts. Most of the time it was just the worker crew who were setting it up, organizing it, putting in the groundwork, the spade work at the actual site. Then the punters would arrive. In come the campers and bands and whatever, and it was a pretty stable routine. So the Convoy already existed. When I joined the festivals in ‘76 it was largely made up from expatriates from the Tepee colony near Lampeter which had just closed that spring. The guy who owned the land had decided he was going to sell up, so everyone had to hit the road. That caused a big migration from there, before they ended up where they are now at Cwmdu near Llandeilo; Tepee Valley. That, essentially, became the Convoy and was the only convoy that existed in ‘76/’77, that crowd of people, led by Sid Rawle who, shall we say, had been evicted from Lampeter and were on their way to find a new home. The migration of the Jews led by Moses, going around the country partaking in many drugs and festivals on the way, as you do! That kicked open a door, the idea that you could have this alternate circus of sorts travelling around, setting up festivals.

Keith Bailey: The first time that Here & Now turned up at Stonehenge with a bus, it was amazing. A queue of people right around the festival wanted to come on board and have a look and understand how you did this thing. Lo and behold, by ’77 there’d be a couple of dozen buses appearing at Stonehenge and it really caught on. All those people began interrelating and building up this thing that became ‘The Convoy.’ That was kind of weird. By the time it’d got to the mid-80s, to 1984 and the last Stonehenge you had a few smack dealers and those sorts of people involved with the Convoy and the whole influence wasn’t good, I felt.

Self-policing at Stonehenge – smack dealer’s car burned out
Boris Atha

Glenda Pescado:  It started out as the Peace Convoy and it was, in 1982, that huge Convoy from Stonehenge to Greenham Common. We all sprayed ‘Peace Convoy’ on our vehicles. I mean, it was very definite who the Peace Convoy was at the time. Having said that, some people weren’t happy about having ‘Peace Convoy’ stencilled on their vehicles so they had it sprayed on to bin liners and taped them on the side of their vehicles. That got a lot of press and it changed the scene. People in the cities, disillusioned people, were reading about that stuff and thinking, ‘Hang on, that sounds great.’ The Convoy, and the free festival circuit, started attracting all those people who hadn’t really come into it with the ideology that had started the whole scene in the first place. They were coming at it from somewhere else and that changed things.

Martin: It seemed like the Convoy became an entity. I remember in 1984 being on the London Road in Bath when the Convoy started coming through, and it came and came and came and there were loads of people. There was a sort of excitement about it. There was a guy jumping out and shouting ‘Come on, come with us,’ this raggle-taggle band of buses and trucks and all sorts of different vehicles. One guy was parked up in the middle of Bath in a truck, broken down. But there were a lot of vehicles moving together. Before that, up to the early 80s, there were disparate bands of travellers, but then it conglomerated into a whole. I worked with a guy more recently, who used to be a traveller, and he kept away from the main Convoy because he didn’t want to be a part of it, it wasn’t what he was in it for. For a lot of people it was the start of the big, greedy, 80s. There was a lot of money around for some people but others, many others, were disenfranchised. So it was an opportunity for a lot of people to buy a vehicle, not necessarily taxed and insured, and get out on the road with a group of like-minded people. One time, I heard the Convoy was going to be at Bannerdown, which is just outside Bath on the way to Stonehenge. This was at the time that there were big conflicts at Stonehenge and [the authorities] were going to clamp down on it. It was about ’83 and the traveller thing was building up and they were on the move and might say they were going somewhere but they’d go somewhere else. I went from Fishponds in Bristol to Bannerdown and there was nobody to be seen. Perhaps I had in the back of my mind that it was going to be free and easy and have some mushrooms under the stars and it would all be great. But there was nobody there and I cycled back to Fishponds again!

The Convoy to Glastonbury reaches Street
Mark Wright

Jake Stratton-Kent: From fairly early on, people at festivals had trucks; the Tibetan Ukrainian Mountain Troupe, the cooler, more together types. After a while they’d travel together in convoys; safety in numbers when you were up against the police. Initially a lot of it wasn’t hard, they weren’t bad people; they were the more together, more pleasant types from the scene. But they were totally demonised by the press. There was this guy in The Daily Mail, ‘The Convoy has been totally smashed by the police, well done to the boys in blue.’ This was from up North, and I was living in the South West at the time and there was a lot of sympathy for the festival movement down there, a lot of the people who’d grown up down there, the Warminster punk musicians, were very into Stonehenge and we organised our own Convoy. Just after the Convoy had supposedly been beaten, they had to announce that it had come back and labelled it the ‘Convoy of Doom’ to make us sinister and demonic from the very beginning, like an even nastier Convoy had appeared. Sid Rawle appeared in the woods where we were camped up and congratulated us on starting a new Convoy and getting into the media. Not my favourite character, but it was good to be appreciated.

Glenda Pescado: In 1982 The Sun had the headline ‘Gun Convoy Hippies Attack Police.’ That kind of opened our eyes a bit and we thought, ‘Hang on, we don’t want to be tarred with this brush.’ It started to drive the Tibetans abroad, because it was in 1982 that we first started travelling around Europe. So whilst we did come back in the summer to do a few festivals, it was a big push on us going abroad.

Jeremy Cunningham: I just ended up on the road… it was like the last refuge of scoundrels, really [Laughs]. I didn’t have any money so I was living in a squat, I’d done the squatting thing for a long time and I was just, ‘Jeez, it would be great to get on the road because then I’ll own my own house and can take it anywhere I want to go.’ As soon as I managed to scratch together four hundred quid, I bought my first truck and that was it, really. I got another one after that, about four years later… a Dodge 450 Crew Carrier, which they used to use on the railways, a big Renault chassis with a cab at the front and then a big box on the back with windows… that was really nice to live in. It had a Perkins diesel engine, which is the best engine in the world, never goes wrong. The electrics used to fall apart all the time, but the engine… you’d put a blowtorch in it in the winter to start it, you could take the air filter off and put the blowtorch straight into the engine and it’d go bang, start first time. I loved that lifestyle, I couldn’t do it now but in my late teens, early twenties, it was fucking great!

Daryn Manchip: In the early 80s I hung around with bikers. This form of transport was the cheapest means of getting around, and coming from a rural area of West Devon you needed transport. I knew and formed strong friendships with people and family groups who lived in buses and trucks in the lanes and byways of the West Devon district. At that time, family groups could park up with little disturbance from the police. That said it was usually local people who caused problems for my friends. It wasn’t unusual to hear that friends’ buses and trucks had been vandalised with windows broken by local rednecks. Our group in the summer months held parties at remote spots on the western fringes of Dartmoor such as Blackrock, Belston Common, Spitwich. Many of our traveller friends would attend and it was always fun.

Jake Stratton-Kent: There was a young girl getting into one of the trucks when we first set out. She was a bit nervous about it all but she had been reassured by the fact that Jake and Kinger were in the lead vehicle. I was really flattered by this because Kinger was this huge monster of a guy and I was a tiny little bloke but had a reputation for being militant and standing up for what I believed in. This Convoy was a good thing, a real buzz moving from one festival to another. Stonehenge had started off with quite a lot of goodwill from Joe Public and really did involve quite pleasant people… besides which Philip Russell had presented them quite well. The Miners’ Strike was at its height and they weren’t going to dislike the Convoy just because the Tory media told them to. And there was this nice edge to the Convoy, somewhat romantic, new age gypsies and all that. The lead vehicle, for a lot of the Convoys, was called the Unicorn because it had this sign above the cabin… Unicorn. A guy called Spider used to drive that and he was definitely The Man. But there was this thing about having to be rough and tough to survive in those days, there was a lot of unemployed youth who’d decided they’d rather be unemployed in the countryside than in the cities and they joined the Convoy. Some of the hippie bikers had also graduated to the Convoy; you had motorcycle outriders going ahead seeing if there were police roadblocks, and also letting us know if anyone had broken down and been left behind.

Nik Turner: I don’t think the Convoy was inherently negative. I think it became rather negative because of the drugs, through being exploited by drug-dealers who saw it as a means to make money and who got a lot of the people on the Convoy working for them. Possibly people started to see it as a way of making a living or something to identify with that they didn’t previously have, and it became corrupted by the drugs, a bit of a low-life thing. The essence of it, the positive side of it became [swamped] by the negative, though I’m not saying that all the people who were involved with it were drug-dealers or negative people. A lot were very good people.

Martin: I was on the fringes of the festival scene with my brother and mates going off to Stonehenge. A friend of mine at Sixth Form told me how he went off to Inglestone Common to score and was met by a guy as he arrived simply asking him ‘Hard drugs or soft drugs?’ The festival scene seemed to empty Bristol of the people who I associated with. It was a pain for me as the people I’d buy dope from would disappear off to the festivals. This sometimes led me to head down to the Black and White in Grosvenor Road, St Paul’s to score. Always nerve wracking and invariably you’d get badly ripped off. My brother was washing up in Greek restaurants in Redland and Clifton at the time, trying to save some money. Increasingly, the people we knew were getting into heroin as it became more and more readily available in Bristol in the early 80s. He wanted to buy a vehicle to get on the road and out of Bristol. He planned that we’d both go. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do but just didn’t have the heart to tell him. Eventually, he bought a converted ambulance and joined the convoy. Later, the travellers squatted some land by a big house in Weston, in Bath, and I went up to visit my brother. The place didn’t have a good feel about it. It was January, muddy, cold and the whole place had a bit of a siege mentality about it. The dream seemed to have gone a bit sour. I didn’t see my brother for a while but when I did run into him somebody had been messing about on a site somewhere and had driven his ambulance into a river. That was that, he couldn’t stay on the road and went home to my parents.

Jake Stratton-Kent: The Convoy did get rougher, because it was more urban in origin, but it was totally demonised by the press, and undeservedly to a large extent. Folks like the TUMT were just gentle hippies. Eventually things got too rough for them and a lot of them moved to France or Portugal to maintain that lifestyle in a more congenial climate. Those that were left behind had to get tougher just to survive. Generally the Convoy would turn up and take a site, and bring the festival with them. It became a much more spontaneous thing, festivals happening in places they never happened before just because the Convoy had to have somewhere to park. Get a stage, get musicians; obviously you got drugs as well because drug-dealing was going on. But the Brew Crew, what earlier on would have been called drongos, they spoilt it for a lot of other people; they spoilt the festivals and they spoilt the Convoy. The Convoy came to be seen as synonymous with the Brew Crew types. The Home Office didn’t like the movement and really began to crack down on it at the same time as the Brew Crew arose. So you had these two separate forces. Things are always more complicated than a single issue, but the Brew Crew appeared just when we needed all the good-will that we’d created in the past. It was bad timing, terrible timing. Whilst there were always tough guys on the Convoy and festival scene, they were nice tough guys by and large. When we were parked up on the track leading up to Stonehenge, bunches of yobs used to come and drive their cars at breakneck speed down that track while there were kids wandering about. So we did things like building towers out of stage scaffolding, put a line from one tower to the next… some of these cars coming down would bring down the scaffolding on them. ‘Come down here with our kids wandering about, you’re going to find yourselves in trouble.’ We were being tough guys, but we weren’t being bad guys; they were the bad guys coming to pick on the hippies. But the Brew Crew was nothing like that; whenever there was any trouble, the Brew Crew was nowhere to be seen. They made things unpleasant for everyone else but they weren’t prepared to take the flak. That was left to the ordinary people who couldn’t go on holiday because they didn’t have a job, so they went to Stonehenge instead. That’s who we were, poor young people, and not so young people, wanting to have some kind of life, some kind of fun.

Martin: It seemed to me in the early 80s that the festival scene fused into and became synonymous with the traveller scene that was coming to a critical mass. The festivals had been self-policing to some extent but the anarchic, chaotic nature just tipped over and it just seemed to become totally centred around the drugs. With that comes inertia, self-interest, greed and paranoia. Things which were probably always there - drugs are about money after all - but which became dominant and caused the whole thing to implode.

Police Roadblock
Steve Bubble

Glenda Pescado: A lot of people sat up in 1982, after that initial Convoy, and recognised it was changing. Up until then there was a lot of dope and a lot of acid, but that all changed around that time. A lot of harder drugs came in and people were actively using the festivals to deal. People were coming on site to buy a load of drugs and then take them away again. So the Peace Convoy thing, that was a turning point. It wasn’t all bad after that by any means, there were some fantastic festivals, like the Nenthead Festivals – the Blue Moon, the Green Moon, the Silver Moon – but it had changed, though that’s the nature of the universe, isn’t it? Everything changes, nothing is set in stone.

Janet Henbane: In 1982 I helped organise the Blue Moon festival in Cumbria; we had a friend who had the land and we went for it. We went to the Greenham Common gathering in February, 1982 to do 'PR' for it, took some flyers. There were about seven core ‘organisers’; we ate, drank, slept and crapped organising the Blue Moon for three months. Because I knew such a lot of folk on the festival scene it was like having our own big party; I was able to spread the word and the TUMT came up here, Thandoy, Nik Turner with his family, and also a band who I’d got to know, who were part of the free music indie scene, called the Instant Automatons, and a band from London called Amazulu. When word spread across the north that a festival was happening we were inundated with bands wanting to play, it was crazy and because this was our first festival we foolishly said we'd pay everyone... when it came to paying bands and performers we ran out of money and the people who really deserved some dosh towards fuel, like the TUMT got nowt, or virtually nowt, so that was a big mistake because a lot of small unknown bands will play for just a bit of fuel dosh or for free just to have an audience. I remember big arguments about what would happen to any money that was made, some of us in favour of it going to CND and others wanting it to go to a Guru but we could have saved ourselves all that hassle because it made a loss! The following two years saw the Green Moon and then the Silver Moon, which has gone down in the annals because the patrolling coppers were pelted with tomatoes and eggs. There was quite a heavy police presence because of the Convoy, but apart from the usual complainers, and sad funless people, most locals and incomers alike loved the festivals.

Keith Bailey: In the beginning, the whole free festival feeling was really liberating and quite wonderful on that level. The police didn’t have a government brief on how to deal with the festivals or treat the people involved and the government itself was mostly unprepared for it.  So you did have a strong sense of people working for each other. It was very idealistic and probably rather naïve but that allowed a whole cultural movement to be born. By the beginning of the 80s things had changed. I wouldn’t blame it on Maggie Thatcher entirely, I think it was that whole neo-con movement and the writing was on the wall that things were not necessarily getting better. That started to radicalise people already within the culture of the festivals who began to wake up and think, ‘We can’t help ourselves because they have other things to say about that.’  Once anything starts to get radicalised you get these extremist elements and I think that whatever shape or form that takes is always dangerous. And that’s whether it’s religious or political or even in cultural terms. Then the infiltration of the Convoy by all these heavy drug-dealers … the people who’d started it off in their idealistic, naïve way were powerless to do anything about that. That was because of the ethos of the way the thing was, well, not run… the ethos of the way it was not run, if you see what I mean? So they couldn’t do anything about it and of course a lot of those guys [the infiltrators] saw it as to their advantage that the police were made less than welcome.