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A re-release appears momentarily amidst the global blizzard of output from our Stakhanovite cultural workers……

I used the above as a social meeja header recently to announce the reissue of Red Square material from the ‘70s.

I like this sort of tone much more than the too often seen ‘really excited to share’, or the really, REALLY horrible ‘This’.

It sidesteps the breathless faux-excitement of ‘brand ambassadorship’, but contains an often-shuffled-off-into-an-unregarded-corner kernel of truth. Namely that there really IS a blizzard of creative output that has been made apparent by the arrival of self-publishing platforms.

However, in almost every way this is (a) good and (b) only to be expected, given what clever little monkeys we are.

Let’s face it, creativity is about the only thing we’ve ever been any good at. There have always been things out there with bigger teeth, faster limbs, greater strength, or a pair of fangs brimful with venom. What we’ve lacked in those departments, we’ve had to make up for by combining together, and asking questions such as ‘what can we do about those big buggers out there with the massive teeth?’ Instantly, creative solutions would be proposed; ‘Saaay, what about dancing round in the manner of one of the massively toothed ones in order to become a massively toothed one in spirit oneself. Would that help…..?’

‘Well, it might just distract the massively toothed one long enough for the rest of us to make a run for it…. So, yeah, why not? Give it a go’.

Once the creative dancer had been satisfactorily consumed, the rest of the ancestors would once again put their heads together, and come up with some new creative ideas…….

Anyway, the result of so much stuff being produced by so many people across the globe means that your particular bit of stuff is likely to appear and be gone in the blink of an eye. One mote amongst billions….

Having a few archival things to upwhaft to Bandcamp at the moment, I just couldn’t resist using the Stakhanovite trope again for another release, this time with a jolly Photoshopped illustration:

On hearing of the release of ‘NeverNeverLand’ by Red Square Electric, the global battalions of cultural workers briefly pause their ceaseless toil in the culture mines to hold a 15 millisecond March Of Comradely Joy’.

By the bye, if you happen not to be a Soviet-era Kremlin watcher, you might be unfamiliar with the term ‘stakhanovite’. Here’s a bit of useful Wiki regarding the celebrated Soviet worker, Aleksei Grigorievich Stakhanov, and the movement that he inspired.

Re-releasing ‘Circuitry’, Red Square’s live album from 1976.

To complement the recent re-release of our 1975 album Paramusic, we’ve also re-released our 1976 second album ‘Circuitry’ in full too.
Like Paramusic, Circuitry was originally a self-released, self-recorded cassette album, sold only at Red Square gigs.
This is the first and only complete re-release of Circuitry in over forty five years*.
The album is a recording of our set from a 1976 arts festival concert in Southend, where we supported Henry Cow and Lol Coxill.
This complete re-release has been newly edited and mastered by me from digital transfers of the original stereo reel to reel master tapes.
The front cover of this release is a facsimile of an original 1976 Circuitry cassette.
The original order of tracks has been preserved, but I’ve edited out all of the between-tunes applause apart from after the very last track, where you can hear a bemused local radio compère, clearly totally at sea with the kind of music he was hearing, say ‘well there we are, ladies and gentlemen; Red Square’. The term became a favourite catch phrase of ours; the common expression, ‘well, there we are’, once spoken being inevitably rejoined with ‘ladies and gentlemen; Red Square’.

By 1976 Red Square was probably at its zenith as a power-improv trio. We had retained our commitment to total improvisation, but the violin, soprano sax, toys, bells & whistles that were present on Paramusic had all been discarded. I was by this time playing (amplified) bass clarinet exclusively. It was still a pretty unusual instrument in 1976. There was a very small roster of well-known players (John Surman, Eric Dolphy), and there was me. I frequently spent some time post gigs explaining to interested parties that, no, the instrument actually wasn’t a really unusual sounding, weird-looking type of sax, but was, in fact, an unusual sounding, weird-looking type of clarinet stuck through a very big speaker via a Reed-mounted Barcus Berry transducer.

The first piece in our set that evening, Circuitry 1, began with a taped playback of Paramusic 1, into which we planned to gradually interweave our live instruments. However, the sound engineer took some moments to get the levels balanced, so please note that there is a distinct increase in volume around the 2:50 mark!
One of my favourite things about these recordings is that every so often you can hear children’s voices in the audience talking (and facing-off!) in the quieter sections. One of the children is Roger’s son, Jake, who grew up to be a much in demand, London-based sax player. He also regularly guested with us in a much later project called Single Field.

Circuitry is available as a digital download or CDr from Bandcamp.

*Five of the six tracks (2, 3, 4, 5 & 6) have been included on either the ‘Thirty Three’ (2008) or ‘Rare & Lost’ (2016) compilation albums. 

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Re-releasing ‘Paramusic’, Red Square’s 1975 first album.

We’ve decided to re-release our very first ‘statement of intent’ – the now impossible to find Paramusic tape – back out into the public square again after an absence of many decades. This is the first and only complete re-release of Paramusic in some forty five years*.
Paramusic was originally a self-released (because no record company at the time would touch us with a barge-pole), self-recorded cassette album, sold only at Red Square gigs between 1975 & ‘76.
This complete re-release has been newly edited and mastered by me from digital transfers of the original stereo reel to reel master tapes.


The original order of tracks has been preserved, as have many of the original album’s audio idiosyncrasies.
For example, towards the end of track 10, you can hear a friend of the band who was keeping an eye on the tape recorder shouting ‘stop, stop!’ as the tape reel began to run out. On track 8 the sound of me unknowingly treading on the microphone stand, and a door opening and closing as family enter and leave the room, add a nice ‘field-recording’ ambience to proceeding.
There are many others – including Roger casting aspersions on the band’s personal grooming regime of the day, and a guest appearance on vocals by Ian’s dog – which I’ve left in for you to discover along the way.


Some of the original tracks had bizarre fade-ins, others ended abruptly. There is amp-hum aplenty, and the occasional scribble of tape hiss. I’ve preserved all such infelicities in this release. They add a nice element of period charm.
The recording technology we had at our disposal in 1975, and our mastery of it, was pretty rudimentary. There was Ian’s Akai 4000 sound-on-sound reel to reel tape recorder, two mismatched microphones, and one microphone stand, so one of the mikes had to be propped up on a fireplace or on a pile of books on a chair. Unsurprisingly, the stereo imaging of some of the recordings is pleasingly non-textbook. I’ve slightly re-balanced some of these, but sought to broadly retain the feel of the originals.


Part of the determinedly DIY Red Square aesthetic at the time was a reaction to the then-current vogue for interminable, lavishly-expensive, over-produced concept albums. Red Square music was totally improvised and in, and of, the moment, (and so took as long to record as the length of each track took to play), and any shortcomings in our recording techniques added a layer of extra audio interest that was as welcome to us as an expensive new keyboard was to Yes.
Whatever happened in the room went to tape. Oddities of the recording process were retained. Capturing interesting music did not (and still doesn’t) depend on the length of the equipment list in a studio or on the cost of the drums, guitars or saxophones.


The tracks on Paramusic mark the transition from Ian and myself working as an experimental multi-tracking duo (1972-74), influenced by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Terry Riley and dada, (tracks 4, 7 & 8), to our development as a more focused free-music power trio following the addition of Roger’s free-jazz drumming (1974 onwards).

Paramusic is available as a digital download, a facsimile cassette or as a CDr from Bandcamp, or as a facsimile cassette from Discogs.

*Four of the eleven tracks [1, 3, 6 & 10) were included on the 2008 album ‘Thirty Three’, a compilation of Red Square recordings released by FMR Records.

Red Square 1976

Red Square - Queen's Hotel 1976
Two pictures of Red Square have recently come to light, courtesy of Graham Burnett, showing us in action in one of the tower rooms of the Queen’s Hotel, Westcliff-on Sea in 1976.
For a while, whilst the future of the Hotel was under review, we played a regular gig there – possibly weekly – until it was closed for good and demolished.
I’ve artfully combined the two together to produce one, spectacular – OK, weirdly-perspectived – action shot.
I was alarmed to note my old Selmer bass clarinet wobbling precariously atop the combo next to me…..and then surprised and intrigued to realise that my first bass guitar was propped up against the speaker cab. I have no recollection of playing it on gigs at this time, but the photograph suggests otherwise……
This is what the Queen’s looked like (before being turned into a car park). We used to play in the first floor tower room;
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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:

 

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  😀  (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…….

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‘.

 

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:

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