Bobby Wellins…

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I’m not much given to OMGs and RIPs, generally preferring the ‘Batman slapping Robin response’ beloved of social media cynics everywhere. But I’d like, briefly, to mark the death this week of the Scottish tenor saxophonist, Bobby Wellins.

I can’t remember when I first heard ‘Starless and Bible Black’, part of Stan Tracey’s ‘Under Milk Wood’ suite, but I’ve never tired of listening to it for Bobby Wellins’ brilliant, understated solo; achingly well constructed, limpid, fiercely economical and with an outro of slowly repeated major thirds that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

Had Kirsty ever had the good sense to invite me to share my pensées and playlist with the nation from her celebrated desert island, ‘Starless and Bible Black’ would have been at the top of the list; it’s right up there with Archie Shepp’s ‘In A Sentimental Mood’ and the Ben Webster / Gerry Mulligan version of ‘Chelsea Bridge’.

Textbook solos all.

Every time I pick up a hooter, one or another of those three songs plays out somewhere in my mind; which may perhaps come as a surprise to anyone who has survived an encounter with Red Square…..

Anyway, in tribute, from 1965:

 

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Tracking hooters and hitters…..

 

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I’ve spend some of this week salted away in the Vendhaus (above), recording parts for two very different projects.

The first was a challenge from the grand maven of everything ’60s, Rosie Cunningham (in her Purson persona), to come up with some ‘Christmas party sax’ (with a dash of Wizzard) for a new Purson song, ‘Chocolate Money’.  I tracked tenor and baritone sax horn section lines and a bit of flapping about on the flootie during the bridge. Roll over, Roy Wood, and pass me that face paint.

The second project is for Chicago’s uber sludge-psychedelicist Steve Krakow (AKA Plastic Crimewave).  Steve asked both Bobbie and me to contribute to a song for a forthcoming album. Steve’s direction was to ‘do whatever’….so that’s what I’m doing. Tracks include Comus-darkened darabuka and ancient-skinned, rusty-jingled tambourine, vibes, tenor recorder, baritone sax and bass clarinet and possibly a further dash of flootie once Bobbie has recorded her vocal parts. I’m a right little Mike Oldfield on the quiet. Or perhaps that should be Roy Castle  :-D  (look him up in Guinness’s book of famously fatuous and unnecessary ‘records’).

The Vendhaus vibraphone is a wooden framed 1920’s Premier set. Many moons ago – and long before I acquired it – the resonators would have been driven by a clockwork motor, now, alas, gone. So I suppose that it’s more of a straight metallophone now, lacking the characteristic woo-wooing of a properly tooled-up set of vibes.

Here to finish are a couple more shots of some of the denizens of the Vendhaus.

The Comus recording tambourine, as featured on ‘Out Of The Coma’. God only knows where I got it from. We are actually talking here about a tambourine with a deeply sinister sound…..very Hoxton shamen, I’m sure.

The non woo-wooing Premier vibes (and a pleasing pair of Beyer M201s).

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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…….

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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:

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…..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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