Search This Blog

Thursday 30 November 2023

Weeping Willows

Greetings from an airport lounge. I have a couple of hours to fill before my flight so I decided to tidy up this post which was originally intended for next week. Having done that I recklessly decided I may as well post it now. Normal service will resume on Monday.

Some 1970s Japanese folk-rock for you. Both tracks can be found on the excellent compilation "Even A Tree Can Shed Tears", which came out on Light In The Attic records a few years ago. The album doesn't seem to be available in any format at the moment, but if you shout loud enough I'm sure they will do something about it.

Kazuhiko Kato was a singer, guitarist and record producer who founded underground folk group The Folk Crusaders, who had a big Japanese hit in 1967 with “Kaettekita Yopparai (I Only Live Twice)”, and then later co-founded Sadistic Mika Band with his wife Mika. He took his own life in 2009.

According to Forced Exposure, Masato Minami was "one of Japan's first beatnik hippie scum singers" (their words not mine) whose 1971 album "The Tropics" is "hyper-rare and demented all the way". He died in 2021 after losing consciousness on stage in Yokohama.

So now you know.

"Arthur Hakase No Jinriki Hikouki" - Kazuhiko Kato

"Yoru Wo Kugurinukeru Made" - Masato Minami

Friday 24 November 2023

Eno's Everything

Regular readers may recall that a few months ago I suffered a twin technology tragedy when my desktop blew up and the external hard drive that I keep music and photos on got corrupted. 

There was nothing we could do to revive the desktop but thanks to my clever friend Vijay we managed to retrieve everything from the hard drive and I am now slowly rebuilding playlists etc. One of the upsides of the whole process has been rediscovering all sorts of artists and albums that I had completely forgotten about.

This week I have been on the Es (alphabetically not pharmaceutically) and have been utterly baffled by much of what I've found. Ep's Trailer Park? Rachel Eckroth? Egg Hell? Who are these people and where did they come from?

However, by far the biggest surprise was discovering that I have 18 Brian Eno albums when I was under the impression that I had none at all. You would think I would remember when there are that many, but no. They cover the period 1973 to 1997 and include collaborations with the likes of David Byrne, Robert Fripp and Harold Budd as well as solo records. 

I feel honour bound to share some of this Brainy Brian bounty with the rest of you. So here is a small selection from my extensive collection.

"Needles In The Camel's Eye" - Brian Eno

"Third Uncle" - Brian Eno

"King's Lead Hat" - Brian Eno

"Regiment" - Brian Eno & David Byrne

"Healthy Colours III" - Robert Fripp & Brian Eno

This is my last post of the month as I'm off on a dull work trip on Sunday and not back until the end of the week. I am going to pad things out in the hope of keeping you distracted until I return. 

So to go with your Eno here are Geno, Dino, a shooting in Reno and some characters from the Beano. All of them best enjoyed with a nice glass of vino.   

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Of Knitters And Critters

Back in 1985 when the world was young the Los Angeles punk band X teamed up with The Blasters' Dave Alvin (as he was then, this was long before he became Americana Elder Statesman Dave Alvin) to make a one-off country album. 

The resulting album, "Poor Little Critter On The Road", was released under the name The Knitters and zoomed all the way up to No. 204 in the Billboard album charts. 

Fourteen years later the folks at Bloodshot Records decided to drag assorted members of their roster into the studio to put together a track by track remake which they wittily called "Poor Little Knitter On The Road". It would be exaggerating to call it a 'must have' record, but there are some fine moments.

Inevitably my first selection features the golden-voiced Future Mrs Goggins, Kelly Hogan, who on this occasion teamed up with her old band Rock*A*Teens. Also in today's line-up is Kelly's good buddy Nora O'Connor alongside Ground Speed. I have never come across Ground Speed before so cannot tell you whether they were a 'proper' Bloodshot band or if this was a one-off. Noted Bloodshot authority Charity Chic may know.

"Someone Like You" - Kelly Hogan (with Rock*A*Teens)

"Poor Old Heartsick Me" - Ground Speed (with Nora O'Connor)

Roll on another six years to 2005 and The Knitters themselves decided that it was time to get back in the saddle and trot the horse around the yard for a short while, as they have done intermittently ever since. The album they put out then ("The Modern Sounds Of The Knitters") was their last release, but those of you in LA might occasionally spot them live - as these lucky people did in 2011.

Monday 20 November 2023

Tapper Time

We start the week with some words of advice from the far-famed reggae DJ and producer, Tapper Zukie.

Today's first track comes from his 1976 album "MPLA" - for which he used the spelling Tappa - and the second from 1978's "Tapper Roots".

"Don't Deal With Babylon" - Tappa Zukie

"Don't Shoot The Youth" - Tapper Zukie

While I was typing the forensically detailed text above I remembered that Tapper had featured here before. On checking, I discovered it was exactly two years ago yesterday. Clearly mid-November is when an old man's mind turns to Zukie.

Last time I included a video of Caravan, on account of Mr Zukie sharing his real name with their keyboard player (David Sinclair). I am going to stick with tradition today.

Friday 17 November 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 20 - Ethiopia

Welcome to the 20th stop on our 55 stop musical tour of Africa. We will be resting here until December, as I have a week long work trip starting the Sunday after next and won't have time to prepare the next run of African posts properly before I go. Don't call it as a delay though. Rather think of it as an opportunity to linger and luxuriate in the magnificent musical legacy of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is one of my favourite places. I was lucky enough to spend two weeks there in 2012 - plus a 24 hour stopover between flights in Addis Ababa in 2018 - and would I love to go back and explore the parts of the country I haven't yet seen. I won't bore you with my holiday snaps, with one exception, but in the unlikely event you are interested you can find them over on Flickr.  

The golden age of Ethiopian popular music was the late 1950s to the early 1970s, when the local brass bands discovered American rock, soul and jazz and mangled them up with the pentatonic scales of traditional Ethiopian music, producing the most magnificently wonky sound. It is like listening to badly warped old Stax 45s. It was this era that Buda Musique captured on their excellent Éthiopiques series of albums from 1998 onwards.

It all came tumbling down after the Derg regime deposed Haile Selassie in 1974 and unleashed the Red Terror on the country. If you are ever in Addis Ababa I would highly recommend a visit to the Red Terror Martyr's Memorial Museum, it is a very moving experience. The damage the Derg did to Ethiopia before they were finally removed in 1991 is incalculable.

On a happier note (no pun intended) its time for the music. Obviously we start with some of the biggest stars of the golden age: Alemayehu Eshete (aka the Abyssinian Elvis and the Ethiopian James Brown), and two men who came up through the ranks of the Imperial Bodyguard Band, Tlahoun Gèssèssè (known as The Voice) and Mahmoud Ahmed, who in my view may be the finest of them all. All feature heavily in the Éthiopiques series.

I was luckily enough to see Messrs Eshete and Ahmed perform as part of an amazing night of Ethiopian music at the Barbican in London way back in 2008. Everything about the show was special, but witnessing the then 67 year old Mahmoud Ahmed bouncing up and down on the spot while at the same time crooning beautifully is something I will never forget.

Missing from the line-up that night was Tlahoun Gèssèssè, who by then was already ill with the diabetes that would take him the following year. On my short visit to Addis Ababa in 2018 I took the opportunity to pay my respects by visiting his understated grave in the grounds of the Holy Trinity Cathedral. You can pay your own tribute by going to Bandcamp and picking up a copy of a great compilation of his 1970s singles.

Also on the bill at the Barbican back in 2008 was Mulatu Astatqé, the arranger and vibes and keyboards player who is credited with creating Ethio-jazz (which fortunately is much funkier than most 'real' jazz, as you can hear in this tribute to a young lady called Netsanet). 

Mulatu is still going strong at the age of 80, in fact he was back at the Barbican just last week. The pick of his older recordings are available on an excellent compilation on Strut Records, and he has also made a few records more recently with The Heliocentrics and others.

Next up is Netsanet Melesse. I don't think she is the subject of Mulatu's tune - as far as I can tell she only started performing in the 1990s - but both have played with the Wallias Band at various points so who knows. Mind you, everyone else we've mentioned worked with the Wallias Band as well; they were the Booker T & The M.G.s of the Addis scene back in the day. This track comes from Netsanet's 1993 album "Spirit of Sheba".

Aster Aweke arrived on the scene around the same time as Ms Melesse and went on become one of Ethiopia's biggest stars. Her first albums were released while she was living the US, and did very well with the Ethiopian diaspora and in Ethiopia itself. Things really took off after she returned home in 1997, with her albums "Hakere" (1999) and "Fikir" (2006) being particularly popular. Today's track comes from "Hakere".

When I was in Ethiopia in 2012 I managed to catch Teddy Afro in concert in the grounds of the Ghion Hotel in Addis. Teddy had recently released "Tikur Sew", his first album for seven years. One of the reasons for the gap was the three years he spent in jail from 2006 to 2009 having been found guilty of drink driving and a hit and run incident. Some fans believed he was set up, noting that the charges followed suspiciously shortly after the Government banned some of his previous records for being seditious. 

Today's Teddy of choice is "Minilik", which is the opening track on "Tikir Sew". There are a couple of decent reggae tracks on the album, but given the close association between reggae and Ethiopia I didn't think it appropriate to fill the MAR slot with dilettante dabbling. 

You need a specialist for that. Specifically you need Jah Lude (or Jah Lude the Reggae Dude as I call him). Here he is with a track from his 2012 album "Yachin Neger". 

"Eskègizéw Bèrtchi" - Alemayehu Eshete

"Tchuheten Betsemu" - Tlahoun Gèssèssè

"Tezeta" - Mahmoud Ahmed

"Netsanet" - Mulatu Astatqé

"Yelew Wekesa" - Netsanet Melesse

"Badisie Ketema" - Aster Aweke

"Minilik" - Teddy Afro

"Yergeb Amora" - Jah Lude

The first two of today's videos have particular memories for me. The first is one I recorded myself while in Lalibela, which is home to many underground churches that were hewn from rock in the 12th and 13th centuries. By chance my visit happened to coincide with the holy day of St. Mercerios, and this is just a short extract from the service in the Bet Mercerios church.

The second was played relentlessly by the likely lads who I had hired to drive me and my bags from Gonder to Bahir Dar later during the same visit. By the end of the four hour drive I was as keen on it as they were.

No stories behind the other videos. I just like them. All come courtesy of the treasure trove that it the Ethiopian Oldies YouTube channel.

Wednesday 15 November 2023

Germans Experimenting

I recently acquired for the princely sum of 50p a compilation released last year by the Hamburg based Bureau B label. It rejoices under the very snappy title "Eins und Zwei und Drei und Vier, Vol. 2 - Deutsche Experimentelle Pop-Musik 1978 - 1987", As it is the second volume it should perhaps have been called "Fünf Und Sechs Und Sieben Und Acht" instead.

I was familiar with a few of the names featured on the compilation, such as Cluster and Thomas Dinger, but the majority were previously unknown to me. Walter, on the other hand, probably knows most of them personally.  

Here's a couple of tunes from the compilation. If you like them you can find the album and many more German goodies both old and new on the Bureau B Bandcamp page.

"Leihst Du Mir Dein Ohr" - Günter Schickert

"Do The VoPo" - Frieder Butzmann & Thomas Kapielski

Also big in Germany in 1979 - Bernhard Brink. Paul Nicholas generously lent him his hair for this performance.

Monday 13 November 2023

When Shelagh Sings

Some sweet-voiced folk-rock from the early 1970s to start the week.

Shelagh McDonald is a Scottish singer-songwriter who released a couple of very nice albums before then 'doing a Vashti Bunyan' and disappearing completely for thirty years. 

By her own account, Shelagh had a bad LSD trip and moved back up to Scotland, met her late partner and spent many years living in tents and homeless shelters before eventually reconnecting with her old life and resuming recording and gigging in 2013.  

Along with many others I first discovered Shelagh's music through the 2005 compilation "Let No Man Steal Your Rhyme", which I believe is still available. After her reemergence she made an album called "Parnassus Revisited", which I have never heard as it was only sold at the handful of gigs she played in 2014 and 2017. If anyone knows how to get hold of a copy please drop me a line.

Since then things seem to have gone quite again. Shelagh has a website but there has been a grand total of one new post in the last nine years. Hopefully she is well wherever she is and whatever she is up to.

Here's a track from each of her first two albums, "Album" (1970) and "Stargazer" (1971).

"Mirage" -  Shelagh McDonald 

"Dowie Dens Of Yarrow" - Shelagh McDonald 

And here's a clip from 2014.

Thursday 9 November 2023

My Life In The Bush Of Chickens

It's time for another one of my irregular series of searingly insight-free gig reviews. A summary for those of you who can't be bothered to read the whole thing: I saw some bands. I liked them.

Last Friday we were in New Cross to see the mighty Bush Tetras. They have been performing on and off since 1980 when they released the classic "Too Many Creeps" EP. They are currently touring to support their first album in ten years, "They Live In My Head", which came out a few months ago. 

The new album is pretty good but sounds positively weedy compared to their live show. They are a great live act and I would strongly encourage you to go and see them if you get the chance.

They have recruited a top quality rhythm section for the current tour (and possibly beyond) - Steve Shelley (ex Sonic Youth) on drums and a surprisingly funky Cait O'Riordan (ex Pogues) on bass. As good as they were the stars of the show were the two mainstays of the band, singer Cynthia Sley and especially Pat Place on guitar. She's phenomenal.

On Monday we headed up to the Moth Club in Hackney for a change of scene and sound, where we sampled the funky samba-scented stylings of Ana Frango Elétrico (Ana the Electric Chicken as Portuguese-speaking readers will know). 

She was also promoting a new album, "Me Chama De Gato Que Eu Sou Sua", which came out three weeks ago. According to one of the more pretentious reviews I read it is "an interior offering, full of diaristic observations and raw, personal truths, unfurling the layers to Ana’s ever-evolving identity". Not just that, but it also "invokes the core conventions of Brazilian boogie music, filtering it through a prism of a retro-futurist, wide-ranging pop".

I don't know about all that, but she makes a fine sound and delighted the enthusiastic sell-out crowd at what she said was her first London gig. We didn't have the best of views so can't really comment on her stagecraft, but I enjoyed the music a great deal and will go again if she comes back this way.

Here is an oldie but goodie from each of them, followed by some newies but goodies in the videos (and as a bonus Bush Tetras and a special guest performing 'the hit' last Friday)..

"Das Ah Riot" - Bush Tetras

"Tem Certeza?" - Ana Frango Elétrico 

Tuesday 7 November 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 19 - Esawtini

I'm running a bit behind on the blog this week - I had people staying over who seemed to think I needed to spend time with them instead of writing posts - so instead of the usual preparatory fluff we're heading straight to Africa. Eswatini to be precise.

It is a country I have visited a few times, although not for ages. For a few years in the mid 1970s my family lived in the north of the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa about 100 miles from the border with Swaziland (as it was then called), and we had a couple of enjoyable family holidays there. I also visited in the 1990s when my sister was working as a doctor in a small rural hospital 30 miles from the border, way up in the Lubombo mountains.

If you have tuned in expecting the usual perfectly curated blend of sounds then you are in for a bit of a disappointment. This episode is a real mish-mash. And it starts with a bit of cheating.

Zacks Nkosi  is widely considered to be one of the founding fathers of Southern African jazz for his work with the Jazz Maniacs, the African Swingsters and others in the 1940s and 1950s. While he was an ethnic Swazi he was actually born in KwaZula-Natal in 1918, not very far from where we used to live. It is estimated that roughly half the Swazi people are born and live in South Africa.

I decided to include Bra Zacks today because frankly we were a bit short of contenders for Eswatini, and because there is so much competition for places in the South African post that - as great as he was - he wasn't likely to make the shortlist. If you like what you hear below, you can find a reasonably priced compilation of his solo work on Bandcamp.

From smooth jazz we move to more traditional Swazi sounds featuring the makhoyan and umtshingosi, which as you know are the Swazi bow and bark flute respectively.  They are showcased on the 2014 album "Akuna'nkomo" by Gogo Mphila & Phayinaphu Mncini (also available on Bandcamp as are all today's featured albums). I hope this will satisfy George's recent demands for more flute.

I don't know what the opposite of 'seamless' is - seamful? - but whatever the word is it can be used to describe this next transition. From Gogo & Phayinaphu we go to Dusty & Stones, three times winners of Eswatini's prestigious Best Country Music Artists of the Year award and now the subjects of a much acclaimed documentary which came out last year.

Off the back of the documentary Dusty & Stones made their debut at the Grand Ol' Opry a month ago - which must be a dream come true for any country musician - and have reissued their 2009 album "Mooihoek Country Fever", from which today's selection comes.

For a long time those three were all I had. The only other music from Eswatini I could find was lots of house and amapiano which did nothing for me. I could have included some but I am incapable of judging what is good and what is bad when it comes to that sort of thing.

Fortunately I was saved by the Lubombo Community Radio station when it was in the process of saving itself. Back in 2013 the station enlisted the help of nine local acts and released an album to raise some funds to enable them to buy much needed equipment. 

I could have chosen to include pretty much any of the acts on the album as the overall standard is very good, but I opted for the Happy Sisters because we have not included any female artists yet and Plateau Roots for the Mandatory African Reggae. Enjoy!

"Zavolo" - Zacks Nkosi

"Ungadza Nimdzalakangaka" - Gogo Mphila & Phayinaphu Mncini 

"Mooihoek For Me Will Never Be The Same" - Dusty & Stones

"Zandile" - Happy Sisters

"Jah Rastafari" - Plateau Roots

Dusty & Stones are doing well, but they are not the shiniest Swazi star on the scene right now. That honour going to Uncle Waffles. She (no typo) is a DJ and record producer whose single "Tanzania" topped the South African charts last year and has since toured globally, in the process becoming the first amapiano artist to play Coachella.

We kick off the video section with her smash hit. It isn't my cup of tea really, but it is good to know she is out there smashing the avuncularchy one waffle at a time.

Friday 3 November 2023

Sarajevo's Midnight Runners

Today we are taking another dip into the bag of goodies I brought back from my trip to Zagreb in September. This time we are featuring a band so beloved in their native Bosnia that the national music award is named after them. You'll have guessed it already. It's Indexi, of course.

Indexi were founded way back in 1962 and only disbanded in 2001 when singer Davorin Popović passed away. His longstanding comrade-in-arms, the great guitarist Bodo Kovačević, joined him on the other side three years later. 

I picked up a double CD compilation called "The Ultimate Collection". The first CD covers the period 1967 to 1973, the second 1974 to the end of their career. The first is excellent, and includes such gems as "Negdje Na Kraju u Zatišju", believed to be the first rock recording of over ten minutes duration from the former Yugoslavia.

The second CD is not so good in my view. Like many bands of that era their music got progressively less interesting as the 60s turned into the 70s and then into the 80s. Having said that, their 1978 album "Modra Rijeka" is apparently considered a symphonic prog masterpiece, but there is only one track from that album on the compilation so I can't vouch for the accuracy of that claim.

Here are a couple of cracking tunes from when they were in their pomp in the late 1960s. 

"Šabn-Dabn-Šabn-Du-Bajo" - Indexi

"Jutro Će Promijeniti Sve" - Indexi

Indexi's "Pružam Ruke" was entered into the competition to represent Yugoslavia in the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest but it lost out to Lado Leskovar's "Vse rože sveta" - an absolute travesty in my opinion. 

A couple of members of the band made it there eventually. Davorin Popović represented Bosnia in 1995 and finished 19th out of 23. But he was beaten there by Kornelije Kovač, whose keyboard playing adorns "Jutro Će Promijeniti Sve". 

After leaving Indexi Kornelije formed his own band called Korni Grupa who were chosen to represent Yugoslavia in Brighton in 1974. They may have been feeling hopeful as they stepped off the stage; those hopes lasted only until the next act (some Swedes). Korni Grupa came in 12th - another travesty, it should have been much higher.

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 18 - Eritrea

Ernie's mobile DJ unit continues to trundle its leisurely way through Africa. This week we have parked up outside the Fiat Tagliero building in Asmara to give you a blast of the sounds of swinging Eritrea.

I am very conscious that I have probably failed to do justice to Eritrea's musical legacy. That is not an implied criticism of the featured artists, all of whom are splendid, just a reflection of the fact that Eritrea only gained its independence in 1993, having been annexed to its neighbour Ethiopia against its will in 1950. 

In addition, the Eritreans had to suffer under the monstrous Derg regime - more about them when we get to Ethiopia itself in a couple of weeks - who banned music and pretty much everything else. So from 1974 to 1991 there was little or no recorded music (not in Eritrea itself anyway), and before that  Eritrean artists may have been classified as Ethiopian so there may be some I have not been able to identify.

Enough caveats, on with the show. We kick things off with Abraham Afewerki, who joined the Eritrean People's Liberation Front in 1979 when just 13 years old as part of a cultural troupe that performed in areas controlled by the EPLF. He later emigrated to the US, where he released his first album in 1991. Sadly he died in a drowning accident back home in Eritrea in 2006 at the tender age of 40. Today's selection is from his 2000 album "Hadera". 

Another musician who was involved in the liberation struggle before having to emigrate - in her case to the Netherlands - was Tsehaytu Beraki. Born in 1939, she accompanied herself on the krar (a five-stringed harp-like instrument found in Ethiopia and Eritrea) and began performing in the 1950s.  She passed away in 2018 at the age of 78. 

From the mid 1960s onwards her lyrics became more political, which was frowned on but tolerated until the Derg came along and everything changed. I have not been able to find any of Tsehaytu's recordings from the 1960s or 1970s, so today's track comes from an album called "Selam" that she released in 2004 and which is available on Bandcamp.

Back in 2008 French producer Bruno Blum had the bright idea of bringing together members of the current generation of Eritrean musicians to make a record. The resulting album "Eritrea's Got Soul" was released under the name of Asmara Allstars in 2012, and is well worth the €8 they are asking for it on Bandcamp. Today's pick features Yosef Tsehaye on lead vocals.

I have been able to find out a grand total of nothing at all about our fourth artist, Efrem Arefaine, other than that he has been performing for over ten years and is still active, having released some new videos earlier this year. This track comes from his 2012 album "Nishaney".

For the final audio clip we have some Mandatory African Reggae which comes with the endorsement of none other than Adrian Sherwood. One of my favourite albums of last year was "Dub No Frontiers" on which the man that they call Mr Sherwood collaborated with female singers from around the world. One of them was Saba Tewelde (a.k.a. Injera Soul), born in Eritrea but a long-time resident of Germany. And very good she is too.  

"Nii" - Abraham Afewerki

"Atzmtom Keskisom" - Tsehaytu Beraki

"Haki" - Asmara Allstars

"Wintana" - Efrem Arefaine

"Semarulay Daqey" - Saba Tewelde