tons of sobs

Free were a truly great band, were they not? In the field of contemporary rock music (sound of large plug of partially-chewed tobacco being expectorated into highly resonant spitoon) we have become so used to digital sound and production with its exaggerated top end frequencies and the tendency of producers to strive for the totally polished and unreal sound that we have forgotten that the best music is often made from several people in a room playing off one another, circling each other like predatory cats planning the kill… and when it comes together… yes!
Free were the masters of space – not space the final frontier, but space the… well, space the space between us all. Absolute epitome of the oft quoted dictum, it’s not what ya play, it’s what ya don’t play, they knew when to lean back and simply let the atoms and molecules hum along. When in the yUK I bought the soundtrack to ‘Life on Mars’, which contains a more than fair smattering of classic 70’s tracks. Of course they are remastered, which means that every cymbal ping slices the eardrum like a Mach 3 Turbo Extra Plus Superglide or-whatever-the-hell-it-is slashes through the morning stubble (legs or face, whatever fits the bill, ladies or gents), but the sheer quality of the source material transcends the modern Frankenstein studio mangling. Sitting in amongst the many gems (Lindisfarne – ‘Meet Me On The Corner’ – more genuine warmth than your grannie’s hotplate when she was making griddle (or, as we used to say in Caithness, girdle) scones) is ‘Little Bit of Love’ by Free. Critics say that Free were past their best by then, but Pshaw! What do critics know? Get a hold of it (preferably on vinyl) and listen… listen to the sound of mastery of space – every note counts, every note in its right place… and Andy Fraser… he’s up there with the Jack Bruce’s, Paul McCartney’s and Raymond Henderson’s of this world – what a bass player! Most of the track HE DOES NOT EVEN PLAY! I’m even inclined to forgive Paul Rogers for hanging out with Queen and Paul Kossof for dying young. Simon Kirke’s drumming has that lazy 60’s just behind the beat feel down pat (and this was the 70’s, natch!), someone (probably Rabbit) remembers to occasionally hit a piano in the same key and the whole earmelting liquid gold that oozes from the speakers just wants to make me rush out into the street wearing an ‘I’m with Stupid’ T-shirt and a pair of frayed 28-inch bottom loon pants. Yeah!

(but what would the monks say…)

I’m going through a re-evaluation of who and where I am musically (don’t worry world, this is only taking place inside my own head) – I was astonished the other night when Otis (7 months and crawling/standing now – look out civilisation, your end is nigh!) and I were watching the Cream reunion DVD – what an exciting life we expats lead! – he sat absolutely transfixed by 7 minutes or so of Ginger Baker’s drum solo… something I confess I find slightly hard to do even now… but sometimes, as the Byrds say, it’s really worth Goin’ Back…
regular readers can probably expect to find more of this ‘pointless nostalgia’ in the weeks and months to come, but for now, well, you’ll have to excuse me for a few minutes (or one side of an LP) for I feel a psychedelic twelve-bar improvisation coming on…

Things to set the scene:

Cheesecloth Shirt
denim loons
army/navy greatcoat
patchouli oil
pewter pendant
t-shirt with scoop neck and bell sleeves, with mushroom print
afghan jacket

all the above could be purchased at Lorna Humphries wee hippy shop, next to George Downie’s, High street, Thurso… but only in the 70’s…

soundtrack… Bodie and Leo and Paranoya (those who know will know…)

more next time, maybe…

Can you see the real me?

Sitting on the pavement outside The Rising Sun pub on Saturday – hold on, please allow me to rephrase that. Sitting in a chair, beside a table on the pavement outside The Rising Sun pub (Best British Style Breakfast in Town – Death by Cholestrol has never been SO MUCH FUN!) on Saturday, my ears beheld (do ears behold? If not, perhaps they should. Or maybe it should be ‘beheared’…) or beheared a familiar sound. It was the zooping bass of the late great John Entwistle, the quickfire thunder of his pre-departed and sorely missed colleague Keith Moon on the drums, those ever-so-distinctive Pete Townsend windmill guitar slashes and the comforting bellow of Roger the thespian trout farmer Daltrey adding the final layer to the opening track of Quadrophenia, ‘The Real Me’. Instantly I was transported back to my 1970’s bedroom (which terrified my wife, as one minute I was there, the next… gone!) and became once more the spotty adolescent caught between pondering on how eternally wise the great rock musicians were and how the meaning of life was truly etched in these grooves and just how fast could I swing my arm around onto my Arbiter Telecaster copy a la Townsend without lacerating my skinny wrist and drenching my Apollo 11 bedspread in my precious lifeblood. Music is like that. You think you have the devil licked and then it creeps up on you and completely knocks you for six emotionally and physically. I know just what John Miles meant when he said ‘music is my first love, and it will be my last. Music of the future, and music of the past’. Hit the nail right on the head (albeit in a bit of a Chris de Burgh/James Blunt way) there Johnny boy.

…and it does creep up in the strangest of places.

Late last year I accompanied a group of people from our HQ in the UK to a remote minefield in Pailin province, former stronghold of the Khmer Rouge. During the course of our visit, a couple of landmines were found by the clearance team. Type 69 bounding fragmentation mines, to be precise. (that makes them sound like some kind of toy… ‘bounding fragmentation’ – I never cease to be amazed at man’s capacity to kill and maim his fellow man in ever more horrific ways couched in the language of reason…yes, this mine does ‘bound’ into the air when you trip it, then proceeds to shred the innards of you and those around you in far from friendly fashion). Demolition charges were set, civilians evacuated and an eerie pre-blast silence had descended over the area. Then, just before the triple whistles that signalled demolition, a very loud and familiar sound drifted across this remote Cambodian field.

‘You skip, the light fandango, turn cartwheels ‘cross the floor…’

‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’.

In the middle of nowhere.

Strangely powerful and very, very moving.

"the return of the thin white duke…

…blowing darts in lovers eyes”
Lovely thought, eh? Whatever David Bowie was on when he wrote that (cocaine? Almost certainly… probably with a bit of cough syrup thrown in for good measure) it certainly pushed his muse to the industrial tinged edge. ‘Station to Station’ ought to have been the soundtrack to Bladerunner. Vangelis’s twittery ramblings are ok, but Bowie’s machine tooled neu-motorik funky cabaret pop-rock still seems to come from some electric blue future even now. It even has Ron Wood’s finest hour in the shape of ‘Stay’… I’m off to listen to it some more. But first…

I’ve been away but have returned – still white, but decidedly not thin and absolutely not a duke. That’s really all I have to say on the matter right now, but there has been a lot of water (figuratively and actually) under the bridge since last I wrote in cyberspace, maybe some will dribble through into these virtual pages, maybe not. I hope you have all been well in the meantime. Life, as those (Small) Faces (gorblimey, Ronnie Wood again guv – twice in one blog?) so succintly put it, is like a bowl of All Bran.
Now where did I put the sugar…???