Encounters with the big hooter…..

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The first saxophone I bought was a baritone. I was fifteen, it was forty quid. The local music shop kindly put it aside whilst I saved up the money from a weekend job to pay for it. What a hooter! I loved it; it was going to make me sound just like John Surman.

In truth, the baritone was a disastrous de-lacquered confection of failing solder, fist-sized dents, disintegrating pads and indeterminate key action. My parents were so horrified by this monstrosity of decomposing plumbing that I was made take it back and get a refund.

If, in the intervening years, I’ve got over my early obsession with John Surman, I’ve never quite lost the desire to have a go at the biiig sax. So when Bob, a very good friend, offered to lend me his Jupiter recently, I was waiting with the milk bottles on his doorstep the next morning.

The Jupiter is a fine, fine instrument. I like the massive heft of the baritone; its substantiality. I like it’s gruff, dry, papery timbre. I like it’s late-nightness and it’s capacity to deliver the emotional punch of a sly balladeer.

Bob has equipped his baritone with a nice Otto Link 7* mouthpiece, but I found his blue Vandoren 2 reeds a bit too soft for the kind of sound and flexibility of intonation that I wanted. I needed to try out some harder reeds, but I didn’t want to risk thirty to forty quid for a box of reeds on a mere ‘hunch’. So I went lateral. I dug out my boxes of bass clarinet and tenor sax reeds (blue Vandoren 3s and Rico Jazz Select 3Hs respectively, see above) and tried these in turn, recording snippets to see what I thought of the sound.

Trying reeds that are too small for the instrument presents its own range of interesting challenges (particularly at the bottom end), but the result of the try-outs was that I decided to go with La Voz 3Hs. This choice is in part a teeny-tiny homage to my early playing days, when I used La Voz reeds most of the time, and though I’ve not played La Voz now for over thirty years, I thought there was a pleasing ‘rightness’ in choosing them for a return to my first saxophonic inspiration.

Here’s a quick snippet of me trying out the Rico tenor reed on the bari. You’ll notice a distinct lack of low notes (I did try!) due to the inflexibility of the shorter reed. If you take a fancy to it you are very welcome to download it by going to the Soundcloud page and clicking on the download link…….

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A bevy of reviews sashay into view…..

Guerssen’s release of Red Square’s ‘Rare & Lost ’70s Recordings’ has elicited a crop of pleasing and melodiously worded reviews, including from ‘Jazzwise’ and ‘Wire’, august organs of the cognescenti both. Our thanks to Dan Spicer and Stewart Smith.

There have also been a couple of nice on-line pieces from Joseph Neff at ‘Graded On A Curve‘ and Derek Anderson at ‘Derek’s Music Blog‘.

 

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Red Square album launch day: the queuing begins…..

Yup…….

RED SQUARE

posehaemost-2 A queue forms outside a record store earlier today

For those of you who tend towards physicality as opposed to aethereality as your chosen medium of music buying, and who also have a penchant for the archeology of ground-breaking 1970s experimental avant-metal / free improv / shredding mash-ups – or who wish to develop a penchant for the same – Guerssen Records are today releasing ‘Red Square: Rare & lost 70s Recordings‘ upon an expectant world in both 12″ vinyl and CD formats.
The album contains tracks from a 1976 concert recording and from the last known Red Square rehearsal session in 1978.
You can buy copies in all good record stores (if you can find one, that is), or direct from Guerssen themselves: vinyl or compact disc.
If, on the other hand, you’d like to add to the 50 TBs of mp3s already on your iPod, or…

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Red Square; bouncing back again….

It’s very nice to have a project from so long ago see the light of day again, especially as Red Square was – how shall I put it…? –  not widely appreciated at the time.

Through the good offices of uber-networker and ultra-psychedelicist, Steve Krakow (AKA Plastic Crimewave), Guerssen Records are releasing a selection of our 1970’s recordings under the title ‘Rare and Lost 70s Recordings’. It will be available in all known formats….well apart from 8 track, phonograph cylinder, DAT, mini-disc, cassette and shellac, of course…on April 13th, but you can get the digital download on Bandcamp and iTunes as of today.

You can pre-order vinyl or CD copies direct from Guerssen. The vinyl and CD covers will look something like this:

MENT003-RED-SQUARE-LP2

…..and there’s a very natty promo video to whet the appetite on YouTube:

 

 

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A playlist…….

Having recently found, to my surprise, that, between them, the tunes on my Soundcloud page have now had over 5000 plays, I had a look to see which of the tracks had been played the most.

I’ve now compiled a playlist of these (see below). There’s an interestingly heterogeneous mix of styles in the list from avant electro-acoustic, through free-jazz, to weird folk, EDM and anarcho-syndicalist situationism.

Nice to see Red Square, Miramar, the Colins of Paradise & Deathless all making the list…..!

I’ve played on all of the tunes, written or co-written a number of them and mixed and produced (or co-produced) all of them.

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The kindness of strangers…….

Over the course of the last year or so, Colin May, a writer for Oxford’s Nightshift magazine, has come to various gigs that I’ve been involved in around Oxford. He wrote a very nice review of  the live debut of some of the pieces from ‘Deathless‘, and, last time I saw him, I gave him a complementary copy of the album as a ‘thank you’ for the live review.

Colin has taken the trouble to review the album for this month’s edition of Nightshift, and this is what he wrote:

“It’s doubtful whether any local band release will be as mired in blood as this one. Its inspiration is the Minotaur myth as re-imagined by Steven Sherrill in his novel The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, which has the Minotaur escaping the Labyrinth and living in a down-at heal trailer park having suppressed his appetite for a diet of Athenian virgins.

So we’ve got the original legend, Sherrill’s re-telling and Seagroatt and Staples’ take on that re-telling. The pair are renowned improvising musicians, so there’s free improv which is then manipulated and mixed until there are more layers than William and Kate’s wedding cake. You’ve also got a CD that can pose questions about compassion, redemption and forgiveness. Or you can forget about all this and just enjoy the music.

What Seagroatt and Staples have created is 
an album of instrumental and manipulated
sound without any obvious tunes or hooks.
 It’s bookended by a couple of short vocal
 pieces, beautifully sung by Bobbie Watson, which describe and comment on Asterion the Minotaur’s situation. On most of the ten tracks
 in between Seagroatt’s magnificently lugubrious and pure soprano sax, bass clarinet and flute dominate. There’s almost none of the high-speed parping associated with free jazz, not even on the track ‘The Minotaur Sits Exhausted, Knuckles Skinless, Toes Sticky With Blood, Head In Hands’, a title which seems heaven sent for a bit of parping. Instead Seagroatt, like the late great fellow multi-reeds player Eric Dolphy, dazzles with plaintive lines which he never lets become the musical equivalent of limp soggy lettuce.

Seagroatt’s reeds and Staples’ sparse but 
richly atmospheric guitar are integrated with an ominously echoing, rumbling drone soundscape which, like Ariadne’s thread in the Labyrinth, runs through the CD. On a casual listen tracks might seem to be samey, though this would be to ignore the nuances and how the atmosphere builds track by track. To get the max out of this album you probably need to get the headphones on and close your eyes.

This clearly been a labour of love, and Jon Seagroatt has created something that in its way is magnificent in conception and execution, and perhaps unique in the local music landscape”.

How nice is that….? Well very nice indeed. Thanks once again to Colin May.

Deathless‘ is available for £10 plus p&p from us via Paypal here, or for £8 you can download the digital version from Bandcamp. You can also listen to a clutch of tracks right here on Soundcloud.

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Skronkin’ with Werewheels

Last year, myself, Roger Wootton and Bobbie Watson from Comus, along with our sometime violin player, Dylan Bates, appeared at a gig for a Lush cosmetics launch event in London as Cominus (Bobbie’s wordplay: Comus minus some members – geddit..?). Also on the bill that evening were Chicago’s Werewheels. Consisting of Steve Krakow (AKA Plastic Crimewave) guitar & vocals, and Dawn Aquarius (analogue synth & vocals), Werewheels punk-splattered ‘why use two chords when one chord will do’ attitude to psychedelia results in mesmerising sonic worlds. Steve refers to this act as ‘skronkin’, and that seems apt. They asked me to join them on bass clarinet for the last number of the set, ‘Nuclear Winter’, and this was the resultant aural maelstrom. It was a bit like a Red Square gig, but with a regular beat. Note, if you will, the fifteen oil-wheel light show firing off around us……. SKRONKIN’! ‘Nuclear Winter’, including skronkin’ bass clarinet,  has since been committed to tape for release on an upcoming Werewheels album.

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