gig reviews

this article first appeared in issue 15

The Met, Bury 15 May 1996

For once, a chance to see Bloomdido outside of Gong. Pierre Bensusan is a French acoustic a guitarist of  some considerable ability. Lots of unconventional tunings, hard to play chords and tricky picking. Hunched over his instrument, he looked like Oregon's Ralph Towner and the music in parts was similar to Oregon's with it's mixture of styles but without bass or percussion of course. Didier in the was around to provide the tunes, playing sax, flutes, ocarina and doudouk in his own accomplished and entertaining manner. The tunes at times were beautiful and uplifting, at times a bit tedious and romantic. With a short interval they played for nearly three hours which was no mean feat, but unless you  are keen on this sort of music it was too long - a rare criticism to make at a concert. The only familiar piece to me was Didier's B " rap, which ended with the word the word " bury "! The  rapport between the  two was most amusing and it was an honour indeed to spend such a long time in the presence of Didier's amazing hat!

Steve Ashworth
photo by Simon Kerry

Market Tavern, Kidderminster 15 November 1995
Axiom Arts Centre Cheltenham 24 November 1995

Flyers from Facelift and GAS arrived at my Worcester home during October - two founder members of the Soft Machine would be playing nearby and within a couple of  weeks of each other. The chance to see Kevin Ayers again - after a gap of twenty plus years - was particularly  anticipated following the  reviews in Facelift of recent performances.

Kidderminster is my old home town and in the Seventies was the starting point for several journeys to Birmingham Town Hall to see Soft Machine, Caravan, Henry Cow, Can, Captain Beef heart etc. So I knew the venue - a pub close to the Severn Valley Railway - and arrived promptly some ten minutes before the scheduled start. I went through the pub to the room at the back where the gig would take place, only to be greeted by a hastily handwritten sign saying the start was delayed for an hour.  "Band's broken down at Oxford", I was told. This did not sound encouraging and reminded me of an occasion at College which still gives me nightmares, when Faust cancelled an hour or so before they were due to appear. These things can scar you for life. Knowing the town I decided to pass the time in another nearby pub and return for the re-scheduled start. With little hope I returned just as the sign was being removed and it became clear that this Faceift reader was not after all going to see Kevin Ayers again.

The disappointment of this hung over for a while and began to dampen my enthusiasm for the Daevid Allen concert. I think part of this was because the only time I saw him was leading Gong on a tremendous double bill with Hatfield and the North at Paignton. There was a nagging concern that as I had not followed the solo career and was not familiar with the material, it would be another disappointment. Even on the night of the concert I was still in two minds, but eventually drove down to Cheltenham and arrived at the Axiom and from all the bustle of activity realised that at least there would be a performance that night. In fact the Axiom was ideal - providing a separate building at the rear with reasonable sound system, stage, bar, couple of hundred in the audience and a GAS stall with the latest Radio Gnome style badges.

At 9.35, I saw Daevid Allen emerging from behind the bar area and starting to make his way through the crowd [o the stage. With Graham Clark following closely, he immediately struck up a rapport with the audience whether they were fans or not - and off we went. Starting with heavy electric guitar riffing (which formed a backdrop to Daevid's fantastical poetry), we passed through a wide range of styles - acoustic duos with Graham Clark on violin, folky numbers, a blues ("I'm 103 years old and I've just written my first blues"), the famed gliss guitar, the odd mantra and even some political/social comment. And between numbers a beguiling interplay with the audience as everyone was won over with his charm, charisma and naughty humour We even had a sing-along session. This was all so different to the later Soft Machine - I saw them three times live and never heard one word spoken, although I did almost walk through Mike Ratledge and Hugh Hopper once at Wolverhampton when I had arrived early to get a ticket and they were going for a sound-check.

So although I could only stay for the first set, I left pleased that I had seen Daevid Alien again (he's seventeen years older than me and still has enormous energy - perhaps there's hope for me still). The abiding memory will be the overall performance and one number in particular - "White Dove", which was a real highlight. For those of you more casual readers of Facelift who have the opportunity to see Daevid Allen live, make the effort and enjoy yourself.

Noel Baker

PETER BLEGVAD Twelve Bar Club, Denmark Street London
July 1996

"Is it numinousness, numinescence or numinosity? If's like luminous. Do you say numinosity? I do." This somewhat mysterious yet strangely compelling quote, accompanying John Greaves' marvellous "Squarer for Maud" (or was it "Claret and Etiquette for J"?) was my introduction to the name Peter Blegvad. I subsequently heard more of his output both as part of the marvellously frivolous Slapp Happy and somewhat more sombre Henry Cow, but confess I am more jamiliar with his 'Leviathan' scribblings in a UK weekend newspaper than of his not inconsiderable solo musical output.

Therefore, also as a live music performer, this was my introduction to the man. As it transpired, the Twelve Bar club provided the most intimate and sympathetic of environments for this initiation. Believe it or not, this club is a tiny ex-blacksmith's forge, with table for eating and space for less than 50 cramped punters, somehow hidden down an even more diminuitive backstreet in the heart of the capital - surely an analogy for the artistic avenues inhabited by this American art rocker, steadfastly outside of the mainstream of pop or rock music. If I could descend to such cheap journalistic euphemisms, that is!

Peter Blegvad was received by a small yet mostly devout gathering of intellectuals, and pseudointellectuals no doubt. In such company, it's easy to feel an outsider - the followers fluently mouthing along with their guru's clever prose. Yet throughout the evening Peter played carefully to both the converted and the uninitiates alike.

Perhaps at times a trifle too self-conscious and over contrived, his compositions nevertheless frequently embody a darker humour which has never been better expressed in music. I'm left with many enduring memories of this evening - for me however, none more vivid than "Meantime" - now can someone point me at the source of that ditty?

Nick Loebner

IVOR CUTLER Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
29 October 1995

A rare appearance by this legendary, unusual and engaging performer could not he missed. Readers will be aware of Mr Cutler's appearances with numerous Canterbury sceners over the years, not least his Virgin LPs and his distinctive work on Robert Wyatt's 'Rock Bottom'. The good Mr Cutler is still reciting his highly individual poems and stories - such as extracts from 'Gruts' and A Stuggy Pren', which have featured in some of his radio shows over the years.

Also, we were treated to some of his songs, although he had to accompany himself on piano rather than the usually favoured harmonium. Attending this concert was a pleasure throughout. His imagination, perception and observations are as sharp as ever, and damn funny too. Leaving the concert, I and many others had smiles on our faces, and a happy glow in our hearts. If this is the feel good factor we are told is missing from our lives by the experts, then Ivor Cutler should be Prime Minister. If you get the chance, don't miss him.

Steve Ashworth

HERE and NOW London Astoria 2
14th April 1995

Positively psychotropic! I left the gig in orbit around another planet. Planet Gong, of course.

Here & Now has never been a more appropriate name. Their enthusiastic music has a strong contemporary feel with its restrained use of dubbed trance rhythms and not so restrained use of ambient effects. And yet at the same time, it remains true to its origins in the interface between New Wave. and Space Rock - "Floating Anarchy" and all that punk-jazz.

I'd last seen Here & Now at the Gong 25 bash at the Forum. Good as that performance had been, it didn't quite have the overwhelming and almost dangerous power that was achieved this time. The set was taken almost exclusively from their recent CD  'UFOASIS', generallv acclaimed as a major return to form.

Unfortunately, most of the  perhaps 300 strong audience arrived too late to be warmed up by the support band. It was their loss. Electric Groove Temple were impressive. Their instrumental music is an eclectic and compulsive mixture of rock, jazz, rave, world and ambient - somewhere in between Ozric tentacles and System 7.

When it was Here & Now's turn, Mr Missile and the Mynah Birds (see Aldous Huxley's 'Island') opened their set with an aural assault of three or four blistering numbers. A crescendo was reached when the wickedly frantic, heavy rocking rhythm of 'Love Thing' was synchronised with a stroboscopic light show which I'm sure transgressed the legal duration. Not surprisingly, several members of the spellbound crowd began to jerk and bounce about with flailing limbs in a quasi-epileptic manner. Both music and strobe ended suddenly, plunging us into dark silence. The contrast was like being immersed in a sensory deprivation tank. A dim red light came on, barely illuminating Mr. Bailey the Bass. "Hello!" he drawled with a wicked grin, as if they'd just arrived. And indeed, we'd all just arrived.

The  subtle soulful strains of Steffy Sharpstrings' glissando guitar led us exquisitely into a more mellow phase; the poignant lament for what's been lost in becoming a TV culture, 'Tellysong' and the eastern flavours of the CD's instrumental title track with its Hillagesque solo.

Some synthesised trance dubbing cranked the energy back up into the hypnotic and exotic 'Nude Temple Dream' and then the adrenalin pumped once more as the band launched into the rest of the set. Highlights of the latter section for me were the molten anger and frustration of 'Rattle the Cage' and the final number, 'Secrets'. That song's been knocking around for a few years in various guises and has at last made it into the studio on 'UFOASIS'. The succulent bubbling bass line is irresistible and Andy Roid's euphoric vocals are a perfect contrast to the heavy eruptions of the chorus. Live or recorded, 'Secrets' uplifting tempo is an effective way to end.

And when they did end, Here and Now seemed genuinely surprised and delighted by their own impact. It was as if they hadn't expected to do an encore. But the cries for more went on and on until eventually, they returned to the stage grinning with elation and played a manic anthem from those heady days of '77.

It was one of those gigs, at times verging on a religious experience, that leaves you standing there at the end, unable to grasp that its over. Then you venture forth on  to the street to find a world temporarily transformed into a better place. As Steffy said, "Love is where it's at!"

Nigel Willits

The Vortex, Stoke Newington London April 1995

I was not familiar with the Vortex jazz bar before that night. It is situated, I discovered, at the top of a flight of stairs, and as I started my ascent I knew I was in for something special. The combination of Mark Hewins on guitar/effects and Hugh Hopper on bass I'd already heard improvising on Mark's Musart tape 'Provocative Thoughts', and the prospect of adding percussionist Shyamal Maitra sounded intriguing to say the least. But there, on the steps up to the venue where it was all taking place, didn't it all sound rather quiet? I was something like an hour late arriving (not through choice, I might add) and this was a jazz bar, right? Either there should be quite a lot of chattering bodies and clinking glasses or there should be quite a lot of musical notes (likely as not both).

Nearing the top of the stairs, perhaps there was something approaching a series of musical notes just audible after all. And hold on, wasn't that a little bit of fuzz bass? I began to feel at home. As I entered, I felt compelled to whisper for my ticket in hushed tones, then wait at the back 'until a suitable break in the programme'. Such was the air of concentration both of the performers onstage and of the audience, nothing should be allowed to break it.

This initial impression kind of says it all. To watch the interaction of the musicians was a joy. In particular, Hopper and Hewins seemed to complement each other perfectly, each giving full attention to the other - never did you feel one was trying to hog the other's space. This was improvisation as it should be -, totally drawing the audience into whatever was going on - never leaving us in a state of confusion. Somehow it remained very personal and human music despite the preponderance of effects in evidence - the sounds emanating from guitar and bass were certainly far from conventional.

Come the second set Mark Hewins twiddled a few knobs and along came a pre-programmed rhythm track. Initially this seemed bit disconcerting with Shyamal Maitra in the band. For most of the time laying down rhythms was not his role, however - he was there as an improviser along with the other two, and there appeared to be no conflict in practice. Probably this was the piece that had something approaching an old fashioned searing guitar solo on it. I wouldn't bet on it though - I was there as a punter, not a reviewer, and am writing from memory some six months after the event. Certainly not everything was quiet that night - tension was built up and released on a good few occasions. Towards the end of the second set, Elton Dean joined in - then it got wild. I gather there's a Mashu CD on its way - I'm sure it can't match the atmosphere of the live gig, but still, I can't wait.

Tom Beaulieu