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Thursday 30 November 2023

Two Years

Isaac died two years ago today. In normal terms two years would seem like a long time but under these circumstances it doesn't feel like very long at all. Part of me still thinks he might come in through the front door at some point, dropped off by his college bus after a week away. I can recall the last few days at home and then in Wythenshawe hospital so clearly and vividly that it could have happened yesterday and it doesn't take much for me to be back in the room in the hospital with him, those days and hours that led up to him leaving us, at 1.45pm on Tuesday 30th November 2023. Or standing in the car park on the phone to my parents. Or the walk I took behind the trolley with the two porters through the hospital corridors to leave him at the mortuary. Or arriving back at home in the dark without him, the three of us suddenly in a new world we didn't ask for. I don't think about these things that often but I have done this week in those moments where I haven't been distracted by something else, driving to and from work especially. I'll be glad when today is over I think, another anniversary navigated and survived. The anniversary of his death and his birthday exactly a week earlier are paired in away which is really difficult. Last week we took him some goodies for his birthday. Today we'll go to the cemetery and take him some flowers and try to remember him as he was. 

Nick Cave writes about grief a lot. At his Red Hand Files he encourages people to write in to him and he'll reply, unfiltered. A lot of people write to him about their own grief or his and he replies eloquently and with experience and wisdom. A lot of it rings true with me. On Carnage, the album he made with Warren Ellis in 2021, an album I bought while in a record shop in Manchester in the hazy, unimaginable weeks after Isaac died, there's a song called Lavender Fields. Carnage has many great, explosive, funny, horrific and image laden songs, songs about white elephants, Black Lives Matter, Botticelli Venuses with penises and the hand of God. Lavender Fields is none of these things.

Lavender Fields

On Lavender Fields Nick sings of being 'appallingly alone on a singular road', walking through the lavender fields and how the flowers stain his skin. He describes the world as furious and how he is over it (the world). The line, 'Sometimes I hear my name, oh where did you go?', I assume is about his son Arthur, who died in 2015 (and the whole song is I think, although Nick said at Red Hand Files that the song is about change, about 'moving from one state to another'). Warren Ellis' music is simple and stately, rising and falling organ/ synth/ strings, church music. It becomes elegiac and choral, the backing vocals swelling as the synths ascend and then fades out slowly. 

'Sometimes I see a pale bird wheeling/ In the sky/ But that is just a feeling/ A feeling when you die'. 

Nick then shifts up again, emotionally and spiritually, the song transporting him (and us- well me anyway)...

'We don't ask who/ And we don't ask why/ There is a kingdom in the sky'

At Red Hand Files recently he was asked about writing about grief through music. This is a part of his reply...

When I started to write Ghosteen, my intention wasn’t to write a record about the death of my son, but as I scribbled away, Arthur inserted himself into the process. He became the ruling force, perched there at the end of every song to exert his sovereignty. He showed me how to write the record and I simply had no choice in the matter.

Nowadays, when I sit down and begin to write, I feel the dead, all the dead, ferrying the words forward. They are not necessarily the subject of the songs, rather they are the spiritual energy that runs through them. The dead are always with us, holding us in their sway. We, the living, are the exuberant and temporary anima of their departure. As songwriters we scratch away, writing ourselves into existence in order to enliven the spirits of those who have passed on.

I can't articulate or explain exactly what Nick means here but I get it. It reminds me of the poem we had read at the graveside, The Dead by Billy Collins. 

'The dead are always looking down on us, they say,
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through the glass-bottom boats of heaven
as they row themselves slowly through eternity.

They watch the tops of our heads moving below on earth,
and when we lie down in a field or on a couch,
drugged perhaps by the hum of a warm afternoon,
they think we are looking back at them,

which makes them lift their oars and fall silent
and wait, like parents, for us to close our eyes'

A few weeks ago I met Mat Ducasse aka Matty Skylab. Mat makes music, once as part of Skylab and more recently under his own name. I've posted some of his music here before- Love Theme and Bunny's Lullaby are both impossibly beautiful, cosmic ambient pieces, profound and emotive. In September he put out a two track release called Juniper Songs and I'm not going to attempt to describe the two songs on it, I'm just going to point you towards them. You can find them here. We had a chat for a few minutes and we asked each other how we were. 'We abide, we endure', Mat said to me, and those words are as true as anything anyone has said to me recently. Thank you Mat. 

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Stay Down

In all the excitement about the 30th anniversary of Sabresonic the 25th birthday of Stay Down got a bit overlooked. Released in October 1998 Stay Down was Two Lone Swordsmen's follow up to the four sides of vinyl explorations of 1996's The Fifth Mission (Return To The Flightpath Estate) but doesn't sound anything like it. Like all the TLS releases, Stay Down sounds like it exists in a world of its own, it's not a staging post on the journey to another album, it's not part of a progression, it's an album that is in and of itself. It's also the Two Lone Swordsmen album which I think has grown the most since its release, revealing new depths and nuances. 

Stay Down is twelve short tracks, each one a self contained piece of ambient techno. The sound is deep, submerged, subaquatic ambience with drum loops and sub bass, and twinkles, bloops, blurps, stutters, synth stabs, bleeps, strings and samples, Andrew Weatherall and Keith Tenniswood operating like the pair of deep sea divers on the cover, drifting in a world far below/ aprt from the one everyone else was living in in 1998. It's analogue, ambient and noodly but focussed too, one track flowing to the next. The section where We Change The Frequency kicks in is a moment of excitement, a change of pace and tempo, but mainly it flows by, like the slow motion bursts of squid ink and spine bubbles that two of the tracks are named after.

The track titles are themselves a series of cryptic, tantalising Weatherallian clues to be pondered and pursued. Two of them have taken on a poignancy not intended on release, both beautiful, low key ambient moments - Light The Last Flare and album closer As Worldly Pleasures Wave Goodbye... The opening track Hope We Never Surface sets the tone as far as song titles go, a suggestion to stay below, to stay within the grooves of this record, to be present inside it. The Big Clapper, Alpha School and Ivy And Lead all conjure up vivid imagery. Mr Paris's Monsters is a mystery. We Discordians (Must Stick Apart) is named after Discordianism and everything that that entails, the number 23 included (I was told recently that when producing numbered vinyl editions and art prints Andrew always kept number 23 for himself). No Red Stopping was named after Andrew arrived for a DJ gig in a newly liberated nation in the former Yugoslavia and was picked up by a driver to take him to the club, who then sped through every red light at every junction between airport and nightclub. Eventually, knuckles white and tension rising, Andrew asked the driver why he didn't stop for red lights. Snipers, was the reply. 

We Discordians (Must Stick Apart)

There's precious little information on the sleeve other than the track titles and recording details- recorded at Rotter Golf Club, copyright Warp Records, made in England, mastered by 'amidst very unprofessional behaviour' Frank Arkwright- and Andrew's very recognisable handwriting. The only extra is a quote via Primal Scream's Andrew Innes and the source of the record's title, Andrew's advice in what to do in conflict situations- 'sometimes in a fight it's best just to stay down'. 

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Geordie Walker

The news of Geordie Walker's death in Prague following a stroke was announced at the weekend, drawing the curtain on one of the most innovative and distinctive guitarists of the post- punk period (and beyond). Alongside Jaz Coleman Kevin/ Geordie was the only constant member of the group, forming Killing joke with the singer in 1979 after replying to an advert, his guitar playing was enormous, his Gibson hollow bodied guitar tuned down a whole tone lower than standard tuning. His set up and style, melody lines as opposed to solos, crunching metallic rhythm parts, ringing feedback, a seemingly effortless approach that created the sound of several guitars playing at once. 

Some music from the Killing Joke back catalogue in tribute to Geordie Walker.

Turn To Red was from Killing Joke's debut release, a 7" EP from October 1979. They were always into the idea of remixing their music, and the multitude of dub versions and remixes are all worth investigating. This dub of Turn To Red is fast, heavy dub, rimshots, echo, noise and thump.

Turn To Red Dub

Eighties came out in the middle of the 80s, a single and also on the album Night Time. Kurt Cobain famously purloined the guitar riff for Nirvana's Come As You Are. The Serious Dance Mix is as hard as anything from 1984, a stomp with Geordie's guitars up front. In fact, it's a song with everything up front. 

Eighties (Serious Dance Mix)

In 1992 Thrash of The Orb took Requiem and gave it the full 1992 Orb remix treatment, with sound effects, space and echo, bass, coiled guitar parts, stuttering synth parts, rain and wind and whatever else he fancied, the song stretched out for eleven minutes, trance dub, a long strange trip down the river. 

Requiem (A Floating Leaf Always Reaches The Sea Dub Mix)

In 1993 Andrew Weatherall played his first Essential Mix. Those tuning in back in November 1993 or listening later on tape, copies passed around and re- copied time after time, would have heard Killing Joke's Millenium opening the show, not the first time Weatherall confounded expectations and played something unexpected and made it work, Killing Joke sounding perfectly at home among the early 90s techno of Sabres Of Paradise, Plastikman, LFO and Black Dog. 

RIP Geordie Walker. 

Monday 27 November 2023

Monday's Long Song

Back in May 2021 The Orb's Alex Paterson and old friend and colleague Andy Falconer released an album as Sedibus called The Heavens. It was a single disc, eight track album that arrived in amongst a slew of Orb related albums, Orb albums, Or remix albums, OSS albums and more besides but one that really struck a chord with me, there was something about the samples, the ambient dub house and lightness of touch that really worked. Alex and Andy have got a second Sedibus album ready to go, this one titled SETI (Search For Extra- Terrestrial Intelligence), out next February, just five tracks and three of them part of a three piece suite. This track, Purgatory, came out last Thursday, a nine minute space flight with BBC announcers and mission control samples, piano, a gentle chug and that widescreen cosmic ambience that Alex does so well. And has done for over three decades. 

This is Papillons from The Heavens, a track that starts with a voice asking big questions about space exploration, neolithic people, the stars and what people saw and wondered when they looked up, and follows it with ten minutes of ambient music. 


Sunday 26 November 2023

Forty Five Minutes Of The KLF

On Thursday 23rd November 2023 The KLF re- appeared with a website KLF Kare (providing 'branding solutions to independently owned care homes'), a song (a cover/ version/ premix of Harry Nillson's Everybody's Talkin' At Me, with Ricardo Da Force on vocals and a lengthy introductory sample from Top of The Pops. You can hear it here) and in Toxteth, Liverpool a night time event including the laying of bricks for The People's Pyramid, a procession across the Mersey and an afterparty at Future Yard in Birkenhead. 23rd November 2023 was always likely to be a day of KLF action, the number 23 being highly significant in KLF world and Discordianism and 23rd November being significant previously in KLF activities. 

The 23rd November was also Isaac's birthday and the age he was when he died. I've written before about 23 and Isaac, including the fact that I was reading John Higgs' book about the KLF when he died and how when I picked the book up a few weeks later, the first chapter I read was about the importance of 23 to The KLF and in Discordianism. When I woke up on Thursday, which was a really tough day all round, I found The KLF in my various social media feeds, the above 23 graphic jumping out at me. A couple of weeks ago a friend sent me a photograph of the famous KLF ice cream van, which turned up at a KLF event she attended, the number 23 emblazoned on its side. I left a comment on one of her posts, coincidentally (or not) 23 minutes after she posted it. Etc etc etc. 

Today's Sunday mix therefore suggested itself- demanded itself really. 

Forty Five Minutes Of The KLF

  • I Believe In Rock 'n' Roll
  • Jerusalem On The Moors
  • Kylie Said To Jason (Full length Version)
  • Justified And Ancient (Stand By The JAMs)
  • 3 a.m. Eternal (Blue Danube Orbital)
  • It's Grim Up North Part 1
  • Last Train To Trancentral (White Room Version)
  • What Time Is Love? Live At Trancentral (Radio Edit)

I Believe In Rock 'n' Roll is from Bill Drummond's solo album The Man, an album recorded and released by Creation in 1986 when he was 33.3 years old and ready for 'a revolution in my life'. This song is fairly self explanatory and contains lyrical and musical references that would appear in his public life thereafter- pedal steel guitar (Chill Out), Penkiln Burn (his website) and his belief that Elvis is king among them. 

Jerusalem On the Moors was the fourth track on the CD single release of It's Grim Up North, a weatherblasted orchestral take that fades into techno. It's Grim Up North was recorded as The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu and released as a single in 1991, a list of northern towns set to industrial  techno, two men with the world at feet and the freedom to do whatever they wanted to. It's Grim Up North Part 1 is ten minutes long, starting out lyrically in Bolton and ending in Cleethorpes, taking in Barnsley, Nelson, Colne, Burnley, Bradford, Buxton, Crewe, Warrington, Widnes, Wigan, Leeds, Northwich, Nantwich, Knutsford, Hull, Sale, Salford, Southport, Leigh, Kirkby, Kearsley, Keighley, Maghull, Harrogate, Huddersfield, Oldham, Lancs, Grimsby, Glossop, Hebden Bridge, Brighouse, Bootle, Featherstone, Speke, Runcorn, Rotherham, Rochdale, Barrow, Morecambe, Macclesfield, Lytham St Annes, Clitheroe, Pendlebury, Prestwich, Preston, York, Skipton, Scunthorpe, Scarborough-on-Sea, Chester, Chorley, Cheadle, Hulme, Ormskirk, Accrington, Leigh, Ossett, Otley, Ilkley Moor, Sheffield, Manchester, Castleford, Skem, Doncaster, Dewsbury, Halifax, Bingley, Bramhall and the M62 in between. 

The KLF released Kylie Said To Jason in 1989, the only survivor from the pair's road trip film, The White Room, with the titular stars of Neighbours and SAW set to a track that is the full fruits of Drummond and Cauty's Pet Shop Boys obsession. It was designed to sell bucket loads of records and establish The KLF in the charts. It failed to make the top 100. 

Justified And Ancient was released as a single on 25th November 1991 and while typing this I see that this is today's date, thirty two years later, which wasn't planned but doesn't surprise me either. Do you need me to explain the genius of this song, of Tammy Wynette, stadium house, King Boy D, Rockman Rock and an ice cream van, all bound for Mu Mu Land? You do not. Bring the beat back. 

3 a.m. Eternal was The KLF's second monster, a top ten hit. This mix from the 12", the Blue Danube Orbital Mix, is by The Orb, a sound collage/ ambient house version and sounds like part of Chill Out that went missing and resurfaced, the Blue Danube waltz section in the middle the interruption to the chilled out bliss. 

Last Train To Trancentral was a single in 1990, released as per in multiple versions and mixes, Pure Trance, Live From The Lost Continent, Iron Horse and several others. This is The White Room version, from the album with rap from Ricardo da Force and vocals from Black Steel, Maxine Harvey and Wanda Dee. Trancentral is The KLF's spiritual home, a place they were bound for, Mu Mu Land, the lost continent. It was also their recording studio in Stockwell, south London (also Jimmy Cauty's squat)

I had to include What Time Is Love?, in many ways the definitive KLF song, a genuine acid house classic, one that straddles borders and slips into The Live At Trancentral Version came out in 1990, an extraordinary moment of brilliance as the sincere, surreal and chaotic world of Drummond and Cauty collided with mainstream culture and the stadium house trilogy went overground. The radio Edit here brings this mix in at just shy of forty five minutes and so would fit on one side of a c90 cassette. As the beats hammer away, the siren blares and the rave riff repeats, let me ask you a question... 

Saturday 25 November 2023

Saturday Live

Sons Of Slough, the duo of Duncan Gray and Ian Weatherall, were reborn in 2021 with an album called Bring Me Sunshine, seven new tracks of squelchy chuggy nu- disco/ acid house with a couple of remixes thrown in for good measure. Duncan and Ian had re- united previously that year to record a heartfelt cover of New Order's In A Lonely Place as IWDG, releasing it as a 12" for Record Shop Day with remixes by David Holmes, Hardway Bros and Keith Tenniswood. Following that burst of activity (and a remix of Primal Scream earlier this year) they played three gigs in 2023, one in their home town, one at The Golden Lion in August and one in late September at Convenanza in Carcasonne. If we apply New Order's standards of what constituted a global tour in the mid- 80s*, then that's a Sons Of Slough world tour achieved in 2023. 

An EP came out yesterday, three tracks recorded live completely as played at Convenanza, in the courtyard of the castle, straight from the sound desk with no overdubs. I saw them play at The Golden Lion, a night to remember with a full on performance from the duo and by all accounts Convenanza was even better. 

The first track is One Up From Five, thumping tom toms, an upfront bassline, a keening guitar line and some lovely melodica. A sleek, dark groove with a big dubby undertow. It's followed by Boston Crab, a six minute thumper, a more urgent track with an always rising, distorted bassline and some Detroit inflections, synth toplines dancing about, as the rhythm pushes on and on. 

The EP finishes with Without A Plan, a low rumble of bass and skittering percussion, whooshes and rushes, lights glancing off mirror balls and 21st century acid chug bouncing off the stone walls of a Medieval castle in south west France. There are some synth/ vocoder breakdowns that set pulses racing and ominous keyboard parts. When the vocoder resumes at four and a half minutes, there's a hint of Without A Plan turning into Man To Man Meets Man Parish's Male Stripper, a cheeky nod to the early 80s perhaps, chug and throb and heavily distorted robotic voice coming together perfectly. 

The latter two tracks were both filmed in this clip from the live gig in Slough in July.

Sons Of Slough (Live EP 2023) is available at Bandcamp and other digital retailers. They've got t- shirts too.

* The story, possibly apocryphal, is that Tony Wilson demanded a New Order world tour to bring some cash into the Factory coffers. Bernard was unwilling to tour but eventually relented telling the Factory boss, 'ok Tony ok, we'll do a world tour. The first gig's in Macclesfield, you choose the other three'.

Friday 24 November 2023

You're On Your Own Now

1995's Top Of The Pops repeats continue to reward, frustrate and amuse in equal parts. This recent clip was definitely in the reward section. April, 1995, Bjork singing Army Of Me, a piledriving and huge sounding song with Ms Gudmundsdottir issuing stern words to a boyfriend. In the clip she looks extraordinary, standing on the very lip of the stage, the audience visibly shrinking back slightly in her presence, dressed in an enormous black, floor length puffball skirt and a Ren And Stimpy t- shirt. 

Army Of Me was a single from her second solo album, 1995's Post. Co- written by Graham Massey, it is led by a weather system of a bassline, one that could have been borrowed from the heaviest metal song and then slowed down and made louder. Bjork issues instructions - 'stand up/ You've got to manage/ You're alright/ There's nothing wrong/ Self sufficiency please'. Futuristic modern dance/ rock and streets ahead of the rest of the pack. In classic random Top of The Pops style, they go straight from Bjork to Deuce, a shockingly identikit two boy two girl Europop foursome who finished third in the race to represent the UK at Eurovision. Watching the episode segue from Bjork's otherworldly and electrifying performance to Deuce is one of those moments where you just have to shake your head and applaud the brain scrambling quirks of mid 90s pop television. 

Army Of Me

Two weeks later she was back with Skunk Anansie for a different version of the song, an episode presented by a very cool looking Whigfield, with a version that is furiously mid- 90s industrial rock, Skin and Bjork giving it all and singing live. 

The Skunk Anansie version came out on CD2 back when record companies released multiple versions across multiple releases. This was one where both CDs were packed full of goodies.  

Army Of Me (feat. Skunk Anansie)

The CD single also included Graham Massey's Masseymix which distorts everything further, slows the pitch down and chops it up, a total deconstruction job. 

Army Of Me (Masseymix)

In honour of Bjork's t- shirt in the first Army Of Me performance, here's some classic Ren and Stimpy, Space Madness, with Ren losing his mind. Again.