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Tuesday 31 May 2011

Rock Music (Literally)

To the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night for an excellent double-header: Mike Heron, who regular readers may know is one of my all-time heroes, and Trembling Bells, one of my favourite bands of the last few years. And very good it was too.

Mike was his usual endearing but slightly shambolic self. The moment where he was retuning oblivious to what else was going on, then suddenly looked up and went "Oh, I think they might have started" pretty much summed it up.

That happened at the beginning - or, rather, shortly after the beginning - of "Spirit Beautiful", one of two songs on which he was backed by the Bells as well as his band (the other being "Feast of Stephen"). They were both excellent, and among the highlights of the evening.

But the biggest hippie freak-out moment came when Trembling Bells did "Otley Rock Oracle", from their most recent album "The Constant Pageant". The studio version is pretty freaky, as you can hear below, but this was something else. The band went at it full tilt backed by a horn section, an accordion player, a mate of Arthur Brown's on theramin and three female morris dancers brandishing papier mache heads on sticks. It was an audiovisual delight worthy of the Incredible String Band themselves. The lady morris dancers appear as a blur in this photo that Mr F took that I can't work out how to transfer from Flickr (the old boy took some good photos so you might want to look at the rest of them as well).

"Otley Rock Oracle" - Trembling Bells

The Otley Rock mentioned in the title is The Chevin, which looms above Otley in Yorkshire. If you head north-west through the Yorkshire Dales for roughly fifty miles you come to Swarth Fell.

"Swarthfell Rocks" - The Watersons

Let's round things off with some more rock-related tunes.

"Rock In The Sea" - Shocking Blue

"Rocky Top" - The Osborne Brothers

"Spinning On That Rock" - Ramsey Midwood

"The Rocks Remain" - Horslips

And if you head due South from Rocky Top, this is where you end up.

Sunday 29 May 2011

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen

I have just come back from a few days in Copenhagen, part work, part pleasure. On Friday night I popped into Wray, a very nice little venue in the Christianshavn district, named after that one-time Copenhagen resident, Link Wray. There were three acts on the bill: So Like Dorian (from Denmark), Comaneci (from Italy) and Mattia Coletti (either Denmark or Italy - it is very hard to tell with a name like that).

It wasn't the best attended gig I have ever been to. I counted twelve people in total. If you take out the bands and the barman that comes down to six. And if you then take out the friends of So Like Dorian it comes down to two, and the other feller sat at the bar with his back to the show most of the evening, so I am not sure he counts. Anyway, on behalf of at least 50% of the non-aligned members of the audience I can say that, while not all the music was to my personal taste, it was a very pleasant way of passing the evening.

For me the pick of the bunch were Comaneci, who are Francesca Amati on vocals and acoustic guitar and Glauco Salvo on electric guitar. When I spoke to them afterwards - in the circumstances it would have been more awkward not to - Francesca was utterly charming. Glauco is possessed of a prodigious beard that put me in mind of a young Ronnie Drew (from the Dubliners). The photo below doesn't really do it justice.

Rather that inadequately attempt to describe their music, here are a couple of selections from their most recent album, "You A Lie", which was released in 2009 on the Madcap Collective label and is available on Amazon and eMusic. They are working on a new one and, judging by the track they played on Friday which featured some very atmospheric guitar work from Glauco, it will be worth looking out for.

"Green" - Comaneci

"Sleep Baby Sleep" - Comaneci

And in the absence of any YouTube clips of Comaneci, here is the young Ronnie Drew. Actually I think Glauco's beard may be more advanced than Ronnie's was at a similar stage in his career, which holds out hope that it may grown into something truly remarkable in the future.

And, by way of a small tribute to the sadly departed Gil Scott-Heron, here he is with one of his many great songs.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Zulu Boys

Zuluboy is one of those hip-hop rapping people. He is also, as the name suggests, a Zulu. He has released a number of albums in South Africa, including "Igoba" in 2009. That is the one I grabbed a copy of while in the decidedly non-urban Plettenberg Bay a couple of months back.

A lot of the tracks are fairly straight hip-hop, of which I have never really been much of a fan (in the words of the late Granny Goggins when I used to subject her to Top Of The Pops thirty or more years ago, "It's all just bang bang bang"). But on some tracks he samples more indigenous sounds, like these two which are reworkings of songs by Bayete and Sankomota - two of the most popular bands in Southern Africa in the 1980s and early 1990s - respectively. Those ones I like a lot more.

"Mbombela - A Touch Of Bayete" - Zuluboy

"Now Or Never - Reloaded" - Zuluboy

 From the same part of the world, and with a very similar name - just add "cow" - here is a bonus track from Themba Msomi, the self-styled Zulu Cowboy. It is very mellow stuff. Think Don Williams singing in Zulu, as unlikely as that sounds.

"Abafana" - Themba Msomi

I could have gone from the Zulu Cowboy to Jim Reeves singing in Afrikaans, but I am saving that up for a rainy day. Instead let's go from Zuluboy to the only slightly less authentically African Tarzan Boy.

Monday 23 May 2011

Gothenburg Grooviness

It is one of those classic dilemmas for all music fans. You can't decide whether you want to listen to some Swedish prog rock or early Soviet poetry set to music. Well, the dilemma is solved. Just get yourself a copy of "För Full Hals", the 1973 album by Nynningen and now available (at least in Sweden) on CD, courtesy of MNW Music.

Nynningen were what Swedish Wikipedia describes as a "svenskt socialistiskt proggband" (that's "Swedish Socialist prog band" in English, but you had probably worked that out). Formed in Gothenburg in 1970, they made a series of albums in the 1970s.

"För Full Hals", which appears to mean "At the top of one's lungs", was their second album and consists of the poetry of one Vladimir Mayakovsky translated into Swedish and set to music. The man who wrote the tunes, Tomas Forssell, went on to greater success with an outfit called Häjkån Bäjkån, which made albums for children - no doubt full of subliminal Socialist messages - one of which won a Grammy.

Not speaking the language the lyrical content of the album is rather lost on me - I can make out the odd reference to the proletariat and revolutionary committees but that is about it - but I like the groovy organ and flute on these two.

"Vilddjurens Sång" - Nynningen

"Balladernas Konst" - Nynningen

Moving on, it may have come to your attention that a well known musician is celebrating his 70th birthday tomorrow. Never one to see a bandwagon go by without jumping on it, I would like to pay my own small tribute to a man who in many ways defined the sound of the 1960s. So many happy returns to Tony Valentino, guitarist with The Standells. Here they are in action.

Saturday 21 May 2011


I am not a great one for jazz. I am not a great one for the bagpipes either. Put them together, on the other hand, and it is an entirely different mater. Ladies and gentlemen, we present the extraordinary Rufus Harley.

"Sufur" - Rufus Harley (from "Scotch & Soul", 1967)

"Gods And Goddesses" - Rufus Harley (from "Re-Creation of the Gods", 1972)

Rufus wasn't Scottish in the conventional sense, being a half-Cherokee half-African American born in North Carolina, but then they are not all Rob Roy, you know. He sadly died five years ago, and his obituary makes for quite a read.

The cultural exchange worked both ways of course. Check out the guitar stylings on this, and the top jazz beard on the man on the right.

But the best example of cross-cultural collaboration is something I discovered earlier today and can't stop listening to. It is a completely inspired mash-up (as I believe the young people say) of 50 Cent's "In The Club" and Jimmy Shand's classic "Bluebell Polka". Approach with caution - you won't be able to get it out of your head.

"50 Bluebells" - Faither Of E-Jitz

And here is the video.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Different Disco

I am sure those of you who love the golden era of disco - and who doesn't - will instantly recognise all of the classic disco hits being covered in today's post. Being intoxicated by these groovy sounds I am even willing to offer some sort of prize for the first person to identify correctly the four originals. If you are in the UK I will send you a dodgy CD I no longer want; if you are elsewhere let me know where elsewhere is and I will try to come up with an appropriately themed post dedicated especially to you. Now if that doesn't tempt you, I'm not surprised.

The first two selections are from Thailand, and can be found on "Zud Rang Maa", an excellent compilation of Thai funk and disco from the 1970s and 1980s that came out last year. The other two are from India, and I nicked them from the marvellous Ponytone website, which has enormous amounts of that sort of thing.

"Rus Pu Tin" - Panadda Chayapark

"Chown Tur Ten Rum" - Pranee Thanasri

"Chupke Kaun Aya" - Usha Uthup

"Aaj Sanam Mujhe" - Usha Uthup

As a special bonus, from Ponytone but also fromThailand, here are Preechapone Bunnag and Pranee Nakarawong with their beautiful rendition of "Emotion". Not strictly disco, I know, but it was written by the Bee Gees. In my opinion, this version knocks Samantha Sang's effort into a cocked hat.

"Emotion" - Preechapone Bunnag and Pranee Nakarawong

I don't know about you, but wouldn't it be great to hear Preechaponne & Pranee take on some of the great duets of that era, like "Guilty" and "Reunited". Or, best of all, this one.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Doubly Blessed

Very occasionally you go along to a gig to see one act and get blown away by someone else on the bill who you have never heard of previously. That happened to me last night. And we were doubly blessed because the person I had gone to see blew me away as well.

We (the old lag Mister F and I) were at the Cafe Oto in Dalston. I had gone specifically to see Sarabeth Tucek, having heard and really liked a couple of tracks from her current album "Get Well Soon". She pretty much played the album - as the guitarist acknowledged five or six songs in when he intoned "Side 2" - and was every bit as good as I had hoped. It is an excellent set of songs, many of them inspired by the death of her father (including today's selection). And she has a good, strong voice which at times had hints of Natalie Merchant, but which at other times reminded me slightly of all sorts of people from Tift Merritt to old Neil Young. I suppose the lack of easy comparisons makes it distinctive.

"The Doctor" - Sarabeth Tucek

Sarabeth was second on the bill and when she finished I was thinking "mission accomplished" and that it didn't really matter whether or not the headliners were any good. So I was first surprised and then delighted by This Is The Kit. "The Kit", as they are possibly known to their die-hard fans, are primarily a vehicle for the music of singer, songwriter - and possessor of a very practical pouch for taking the weight of her banjo while playing - Kate Stables.

They are essentially a bunch of young old hippies playing what you could loosely call English folk-rock (some have said Appalachian folk, but then Appalachian folk is only English folk with a banjo). The last time I was at the Cafe Oto it was to see Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band, and This Is The Kit have something of the same sensibility. As with Sarabeth Tucek, we got a set of good songs well sung. I would hesitate to compare anyone to the incomparable Sandy Denny, but Kate has something of the same sort of tone to her voice.

Here is a selection from their most recent album, "Wriggle Out The Restless", chosen primarily because it contains the phrase "dubbin up your boots". As a bonus I have added a song released by Kate's side project Whalebone Polly, which also got an airing last night.

"Waterproof" - This Is The Kit

"Turnip Turned" - Whalebone Polly

Finally, let us not forget the opening act Liz Janes. She got rather overshadowed by what followed but I thought she was pretty good as well - certainly much better than you have a right to expect of an act bottom of the bill in a cafe in Dalston on a Monday night. I thought I had never heard of her, so imagine my surprise when this morning I found one of her songs on my iPod. It comes from "Achoo!", a 2006 compilation album on Asthmatic Kitty records, and here it is.

"Guitar Guitar" - Liz Janes

Here are a couple of photos I took at the gig last night, the first of Sarabeth Tucek and the second of Kate from This Is The Kit. In the unlikely event you are interested there are a few more over on Flickr.

To finish off, here is a video for a track from Sarabeth's self-titled first album.


Sunday 15 May 2011

How Do They Doueh That?

So my prediction that Azerbaijan would win Eurovision turned out to be accurate. The rest of the voting, however, was just as baffling as ever. How on earth could Italy finish second, and how could anybody except the Cypriots and Stereo Mike's mum vote for the Greeks?

On Friday night Mister F and I were at the Barbican for a concert that, in its way, was every bit as weird and wonderful as Eurovision. We were there to see Group Doueh, the "desert rock" combo from Western Sahara. The group is led by ace guitarist and tinidit player Salmou Bamaar, known as Doueh to his friends, and includes his wife Halima Jakani on lead vocals, son El Waar Bamaar on keyboards and three female backing vocalists/ percussionists.

They were generally very good. They had a tendency to start off each song rather ragged before gradually converging and latching on to a groove. When it worked it was great. However there were a couple of numbers where they never quite converged and it all sounded a bit messy. Their third number - no idea what it was called - was basically an unholy row from start to finish.

Visually the three backing singers were the highlight. There was a big one, a sultry one and a mad one with big specs. They took it in turns to wander around the stage and, to paraphrase British case law on vicarious liability, go on a frolic of their own (by which I mean, in the words of that even more learned authority K.C., they did a little dance and got down tonight). During the course of the evening the mad one with big specs got increasingly carried away with enthusiasm. She stole the show and stole my heart.

Despite its occasional shortcomings, I enjoyed the show enough to enjoy their latest album, "Zayna Jumma" (out now on Sublime Frequencies, folks!). It is a pretty fair reflection of the show, minus the frolicking dancers. It doesn't always work for me, but when it does it is pretty groovy. See for yourselves.

"Zayna Jumma" - Group Doueh

"Ishadlak Ya Khey" - Group Doueh

A quick mention of the support act, the Turkish psychedelic rock trio Hayvanlar Alemi. They were a bit lost on the big stage - having no stage show to speak of - and their music got a bit lost in the big concert hall. It is the sort of stuff that I imagine would sound great in a small sweaty club, but on this occasion they did not do a lot for me I'm afraid. With the notable exception of their freaked out version of this cheesy old standard.


Saturday 14 May 2011

Ladies' Night

I suppose strictly speaking this post should be titled "Ladies' Morning" but (i) I had originally intended to post it on Thursday evening but Blogger was down, and (ii) "Ladies' Morning" sounds rather silly. So "Ladies' Night" it is.

And the reason for that is we are bringing to your attention three new albums by female singers that are all worthy of your attention. The ladies in question are Madeline, ellen cherry and Lay Low. The albums are all country or folk tinged in varying degrees. And the last two come courtesy of the estimable ReviewShine.

The blurb that came with Madeline's album "Black Velvet" referred to her as an "Athens, GA sweetheart" and compared her to Karen Carpenter, Neko Case, Jefferson Airplane and The Carter Family. Having now listened to it a couple of times I can entirely understand why the check-shirted, bad-bearded hipster boys of Athens would be completely smitten with her - I'm half way there myself - and I can certainly see the Neko Case comparison, but the rest of it I don't get.

"Black Velvet" is a really good country/pop album, and it is out on 6 June on a label unpretentiously called This Will Be Our Summer. The track approved for blogging and download, "Hurry Up Pronto", is from the poppier end of the scale but overall it is a nice mix and I really like her voice. My personal favourite track has to be "Johnny Cash". How can anybody resist a song that starts "If Johnny Cash is up in Heaven then he's bored to death"?

"Hurry Up Pronto" - Madeline

elllen cherry (she appears to prefer the lower case) is a singer-songwriter based in Baltimore. I am not sure her new album, "(New) Years" - which came out last month on her own Wrong Size Shoes label - is a concept album as such, but it does have a sort of theme. Each song is inspired by a particular year or event, many of which are either linked to specific moments in the history of womenkind or ellen's own life. It is folk with a sprinkling of jazz and very well done. Not being a great one for the jazz I prefer the "straight" folkie numbers, like this one, the opening track on the album.   

"1864 A Civil War Bride" - ellen cherry

We return to capitals with Lay Low, the capital in question being Reykjavik. Lay Low is the pseudonym of one Lorisa Sigrunardottir, and her new album "Farewell Good Night's Sleep" is for the most part a straight up old style country album.  Think Patsy Cline and you are very much along the right lines. Mixed in between the Nashville Sound ballads are a few tracks that sound slightly more contemporary - well, 1970s at least - and today's selection is one of those. But, like the Madeline album, nothing jars because all of the songs are at different points in a natural spectrum. And, like Madeline, her voice is thoroughly charming. You can find the album on iTunes, Amazon and elsewhere.

"Last Time Around" - Lay Low

The combination of an Icelandic female singer and tonight being Eurovision night gives me the perfect excuse, as if one was needed, to wheel out my old favourite, Silvia Night. For the full story of Iceland's misguided attempt to introduce satire to the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest go to my post from May 2009. Here is our Silv in action, in audio and video.

"Congratulations" - Silvia Night

For what it is worth, based on the ones I have seen so far, my tip for tonight's contest is Azerbaijan. That should be the kiss of death for them. I thought it was a shame that they will not be joined in the final by Anastasia Vinnikova with her stirring tribute to her homeland, which lost out in Thursday's semi-final. Maybe if she had deployed the folk dancers featured in the video she would have had better luck.

Wednesday 11 May 2011


I think I have mentioned before that over the last twelve months or so eMusic has acquired a real treaure trove of recordings by West and North African female vocalists. The likes of Mariem Hassan, Nahawa Doumbia and Adja Soumano have all been featured here as a result.

My latest new discovery is the exotically-named Soumboulou Siby. All I have been able to find out about her is that she is apparently from Senegal, and that she is responsible for this bewitching album:

"Ido Tixu N'Daga" is also now available for download from Amazon as well as eMusic, and very possibly elsewhere as well. Here are a couple of my favourite tracks:

"N'Djeneba" - Soumboulou Siby

"Fedde" - Soumboulou Siby

I have also been able to track down this rather hypnotic video clip of Soumboulou from 2008:

All you fans of "world music" (to use that dreadful phrase) will no doubt be eagerly looking forward to the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday. To finish off today, here is another woman of African descent who featured in the semi-final last night. Her name is Stella Mwangi and she was representing Norway. The song is nothing special but I was slightly surprised it didn't at least make it through to the final, considering some of the rubbish that did. But that is the joy of Eurovision.

Monday 9 May 2011

Two Daves

Thanks to the cavalcade of wonders that is ReviewShine, I have got my hands on two fine new releases by a couple of stalwarts of the American roots music scene, David Bromberg and David Olney.

David Bromberg is the far famed guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who started off as sideman to the stars, moving on to release a series of excellent albums of his own in the 1970s and 1980s before giving it all up to make violins. 2007's Grammy-nominated "Try Me One More Time" album was his first album of new material for seventeen years. Fortunately he hasn't left it as long until the next one, and "Use Me" comes out on Appleseed Records on 12 July in the States (and presumably elsewhere too through the magic of the Internet).

The idea behind the album was to ring up a load of his mates and get them to contribute some songs and performances. I used to do that in my youth and the results were - to quote Recommended Records when they rejected our efforts - "a bedroom tape and should be kept in your bedroom".

It is a bit different when you are David Bromberg and your mates are people like Levon Helm, Dr John and Los Lobos. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable tour of the blues and other roots styles, which sounds like it was even more fun to play on than it is to listen to, and is well worth your time and money. Personal favourites include "Diggin' In The Deep Blue Sea" featuring Keb Mo, "Lookout Mountain Girl" with Vince Gill, and this one, which I am sure you will agree is very John Hiatt.

"Ride Out A Ways" - David Bromberg (with John Hiatt)

Along with Tom Russell and James McMurtry, David Olney is one of the greatest American story tellers working today. I had the great pleasure of seeing him play The Borderline in London about ten years ago when for some inexplicable reason there was no more than a dozen of us in the place (and that included the barstaff). Despite that he put on a great show and was gracious enough to let me buy him a beer afterwards.

There has always been a cinematic element to his music and with his new five track mini-album he goes the whole hog. The title - "David Olney Presents Film Noir" - gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect. As the great man himself puts it in the blurb I got sent  with it, “this record is kind of ‘50s/’60s detective music. There’s a certain darkness without being bleak.” Although I'm not entirely sure about the "not being bleak" bit of that. It is a tough call as which of the five tracks best evokes the hard-bitten world-weariness of Lew Archer and the like, but I have plumped for "Sunset On Sunset Boulevard".

"David Olney Presents Film Noir" comes out on 24 May on Dead Beet Records. You should get it. And to encourage you to dip into his extensive back catalogue as well, I have taken the liberty of adding an old favourite as well, in the form of "King of Soul" from 1989's "Deeper Well" album.

"Sunset On Sunset Boulevard" - David Olney

"King Of Soul" - David Olney

To finish things off, here is Dave O.

And here is Dave B with his Big Band.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Dancing At Different Speeds

Cover versions of Bobby Freeman's "Do You Wanna Dance?", now available at 33, 45 and 78 rpm.

"Do You Want To Dance?" - Johnny Rivers

"Do Ya Wanna Dance?" - David Lindley & El Rayo-X

"Do You Wanna Dance?" - The Ramones

And there are plenty of others as well. Not all of them good.

Friday 6 May 2011

The Kids Were Alright

To get you in the mood for the weekend, here is some highly groovy early 90s Afropop from South Africa. It is the Dalom Kids with a couple of tracks from their 1992 album "Sixolele".

For information on the Dalom Kids we return once again to our old friend Max Mojapelo's seminal tome, "Beyond Memory: Recording the History, Moments and Memories of South African Music". This is what Max has to say:

"In 1987 Petronella Rampou and Jacqueline Rotwana joined Dan Tshanda's Splash as backing vocalists. In 1989 Dan [whose nickname was Dalom] added Martha Nzima to the two girls to form a trio. Their debut album Mbalembele went double platinum, and Mathambo (1990) also did well. At that point the pressures of showbiz forced Martha to leave the group. Her replacement came in the person of Magdeline Zungu... In the middle of pre-election violence in 1992 they released a message of forgiveness in the form of their album Sixolele".

I wonder if they were also in part seeking forgiveness from Martha Nzima, who seems to be the Florence Ballard of South African pop. According to Max the revised line-up continued releasing albums every year up until 1997, and less frequently thereafter.

"Corrupt Land" - The Dalom Kids

"Vholangwana" - The Dalom Kids

Here are the girls in action. I don't know when this was shot, but they look a fair bit older than on the cover of "Sixolele", so I would guess it is some time this century.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Seventies Suomi Sounds

I am just back from a couple of days in Stockholm - hello Stockholm! - where I managed to fit in a visit to the local branch of the excellent Bengans record store. While there I picked up a few albums by assorted Swedish hairy types from the early 1970s. They have all been added to the ever-growing pile of things I really must get round to listening to and sharing with you one day.

To tide you over for now, let's nip over to Finland for some rock music of similar vintage. This is something I came across in RadioShopen in the old town. The Finnish owner stocks an extensive collection of Finnish albums, most of them at Finnish prices unfortunately. But in the bargain bin I found "Nykyaikaa", the 1972 album by Kirka.

Kirka (real name Kirill Babitzin) was evidently a bit of a legendary figure on the Finnish music scene, starting in the 1960s with The Islanders before beginning a long and successful solo career. He died at the age of 56 in 2007.

I bought the album because I was intrigued by Kirka's choice of cover versions, which include Finnish language versions of "Tupelo Honey" and "Maggie May" amongst others. They aren't that great on the whole. The original material, on the other hand, is really rather good. Most of it was written or co-written by one Frank Robson, a British singer with the Finnish band Blues Section (with whom Kirka had cut a couple of singles back when he was still Kirill), and about half of it is in English. Here are two prime cuts.

"Whirlwind Nightmare" - Kirka

"The Old Woman" - Kirka

As a special bonus hree is one of the better cover versions. I am sure the old farts among you will immediately recognise that distinctive guitar riff, brought to you on this occasion by Hasse Walli (also of Blues Section).

"Kanelipuun Alla" - Kirka

In 1984 Kirka had the dubious honour of representing Finland in the Eurovision Song Contest. Having had a listen I think I'll stick to his early albums.