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:
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).
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.
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.
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.
…..a 12″ LP….haven’t heard it in years………
I bought it on Discogs…….
…from someone in Spain……
I used it on mixtapes and DJ’ed it at parties in the 70s…….
This stuff is the bomb, hepcats……….
I had a grimy cassette copy, and from the notes I made on the cassette cover, I’ve managed to track down a copy of THE ORIGINAL VINYL that I borrowed from Southend Library all those years ago.
Don those berets, whip out those shades and let’s WIG OUT!
Gabrielli, Giovanelli & Grillo; Venetian Polychoral Music from the 1600s……..
(all finger-poppin’ hepcats above courtesy of the great Jules Feiffer)
A very good friend, Colin Harrison, recently took the time and trouble to comp together the following ‘promo’ video for the Psychedelic Raiders. The footage of the band is real enough – captured by Colin one evening at a rather atmosphere-less gig in an Oxfordshire pub – but the artistry is in his cinematic narration of the audience……….
What follows is a promo for the Psychedelics’ new album ‘Cosmic Wheels’, featuring a song that’s not even on the album. As Colin himself noted in the Youtube publishing notes – Warning: this video contains hyperbole, distortions and downright fibs…
Success guaranteed then!
The song, by the way, is a Staples’ original called ‘I Don’t Believe’…….
This is slightly old news. Maybe just a few strands of mould on the loaf kind of slightly old. But you can always pick that off, and it’ll be fine. This is from July 2014, to be exact. So there we are; almost only yesterday, or at least no earlier than the day before yesterday.
We were asked by Steve Krakow, Lush cosmetics packaging art uber-meister and Chicagoan psychedelic skronk loafer extraordinaire, to contribute the bookend tracks from ‘Deathless‘ to a limited-edition double vinyl LP he was compiling to celebrate the launch of a new range of Lush perfumes called ‘Death, Decay & Renewal’.
I melded the two pieces into a seamlessly-segued continuous track by means of Subtle Artifices of Digital Specification and the resultant quite short track (with a quite long title) duly appeared on the album below.
Bobbie and I also played at the launch event as part of a cut-down version of Comus, which Bobbie rather nicely dubbed ‘Cominus’. This consisted of Roger Wootton, Bobbie, Dylan Bates (Comus’ stand-in violin player when Colin Pearson is unavailable) and me. I also got to do a bit of scronking on bass clarinet with Steve Krakow and Dawn Aquarius as part of their Werewheels manifestation.
I really must find out what skronking actually is one of these days. Steve……?
There’s other news as well, of course: I’ve really got to get a grip and post some of it……..