=  JANUARY 2008  =

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Pink Fairies book



Phil McMullen

Taming Power

Simon Lewis (Editor)

Misunderstood book

Nigel Cross



Formerly Fat Harry


Polytoxicomane Philharmonie



  The Great Invisibles
  Neutral Milk Hotel
  Ivor the Engine
  Steven R Smith
  Ulaan Khol
  Seven That Spells
  LSD March
  Mental Mood Music comp
  Fairport Convention & Matthews Southern Comfort
  Harold McNair



(Book - ISBN 978-1-900486-61-3 www.headpress.com )


The devil is in the detail, or so they say, and given the subject (and subtitle) ‘Cosmic Boogie with the Deviants and the Pink Fairies’, one would’ve thought there’d be hell to pay in telling this story. Long-time  Terrascope (and indirectly Terrastock) heroes and veterans the Pink Fairies were, along with the Edgar Broughton Band and Hawkwind, in the premier league of UK underground festival bands in the early 1970s - and incidentally stand alone from that group as arguably one of my own personal top five bands of all time. Their predecessors [Mick Farren and the Social] Deviants were amphetamine-fuelled anarchist punks a full decade before the term was even coined. Not only for strictly alphabetical reasons do I have my Deviants and Damned records filed side by side in the collection here.


The story of how the Deviants metamorphosed into the Fairies (the two bands always were to my mind very different entities, albeit sharing a common language and history: a little like Great Britain and America really...) is diligently, superbly and fascinatingly told by Mr. Deakin. In a nutshell, by the end of the 1960s the Deviants, fronted by Marxist activist Mick Farren, had disintegrated after releasing their third album and undertaking a US tour, and Duncan Sanderson (bass), Russ Hunter (drums) and Paul Rudolph (guitar) lost Mick and hooked up instead with former Pretty Things drummer Twink. The very first  Pink Fairies gig was at the Roundhouse, in the Spring of 1970. Polydor released their debut single ‘The Snake’ in January 1971, followed by their debut album ‘Never Never Land’, in turn followed by two more LPs and innumerable live appearances.


As the blurb with this book rightly states, this is a “remarkable story of London’s communal bands of the 60s and 70s [told] from the perspective of two of its most crucial exponents”. The book, rightly in my mind, also goes much further than that though, encompassing not only stories of the Fairies gate-crashing festivals and playing for free, but also myriad musicians and characters who made up the whole underground movement of the time: the spin-off groups and connected bands related to the various members themselves (Pretty Things, the Move, Juniors Eyes, Mighty Baby, Motörhead etc) the jam-band aggregates such as Pinkwind, which first started when Hawkwind discovered the Fairies playing their own alternative festival (as a protest against high ticket prices) on the back of a flat-bed truck at the Bath Festival and joined in, “Muscular PinkWind” who played at  the Trentishoe festival in Devon during the Summer of 1973 featuring three-parts Hawkwind, three-parts Pink Fairies and a soupçon of Magic Muscle (I’ve always found the idea of bands performing together on an ad-hoc basis fascinating, something which was a primary driver behind the establishment of sign-up stages at the Terrastock festivals) – related solo acts such as Larry Wallis, Twink and Mick Farren, and many of the bands who were either label-mates, Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill neighbours, or simply shared the same bills, such as Steamhammer, Nektar, Skin Alley, Cochise and Help Yourself – for further information you are referred to Nigel Cross’s masterful essay on Ladbroke Grove and as a soundtrack to the book, you could do worse than listen to ‘Cries from the Midnight Circus’ (which we reviewed back in August)


As if further recommendation were needed, the book also makes for essential reading for students of pop culture, as the band’s “final, final” death throws (news of Pink Fairies reunion gigs in the weekly music broadsheets – ‘Sounds’ in particular - seemed like a monthly rather than an irregular, unexpected event at one time) were played out across that strange, and yet essentially fascinating period around 1976 to ’78 when even anarchic underground bands weren’t punk enough to get gigs. All in all, a fabulous book and one which I for one will be dipping into for both reference and inspiration for a long, long time to come. (Phil McMullen)




( CD on Jnana Durtro )


This will come as no surprise to those who know me, but I am easily amused by the seemingly irrelevant and the irrational. Take for instance the fact that when the ninth track ‘I Am’ ends on this, Pantaleimon’s long awaited new album (the first, ‘Trees Hold Time’, was released as long ago as 1999), a full two minutes of silence elapses before ‘Storm and Thunder’ begins, during which the digital clock runs backwards. How cool is that?!


Well, OK so it’s no big deal. I mention it though because to my mind ‘Storm and Thunder’  is one of the strongest tracks on here, if “strong” can be used to describe something as fragile as a frosted bloom, and risks being overlooked by anyone not fully paying attention and skipping on to the next album before this one’s run it’s course, which would be a crying shame. I use this term advisedly, as there’s a sadness which pervades Pantaleimon’s songs once you scratch the surface: the songs are superficially about sun, nature, earth, stars weather and love, but the stars are lost in a deep black sky, the birds have all flown, the sun is drowning, the moon fades, hearts are empty and ships are adrift in a storm. Andria Degens’ voice is hushed and contemplative and this, coupled with that fact that the instrumentation is sparse throughout – her own instrument of choice is the Appalachian dulcimer, and elsewhere she is accompanied by harp, cello and guitar – combines to lend the music an ethereal air. And yet, the songs are not without hope, without a certain amount of joy in life itself.

Hush Arbors' Keith Wood's beautifully fingerpicked guitar propel pieces like 'The Sun Came Out' and 'At Dawn' towards the more familiar currents of the present avant-folk scene, but the best material here comes in the darker moments which Degens, such as the album’s stand-out number 'Born Into You', which weaves Baby Dee's harp and John Contreras' cello in, out, through and beyond droning tambura and haunting chants. It’s interesting to note that the same label, Durtro Jnana, is releasing our old friend Sharron Kraus’s new album ‘The Fox’s Wedding’ later this year. Whilst Sharon’s music is firmly rooted in English (and to some extent Appalachian) folk traditions, with ballads populated by a carnival of charismatic characters, all of whom invariably fall foul of terrible deeds of incest, obsession, insects and perversion, Pantaleimon’s music is decidedly more contemplative, introverted almost. The two complement each other wonderfully well – it’s going to be a special treat watching both perform at Terrastock 7 next June. (Phil McMullen)




(10” EP on Early Morning Records )


I’ve always had respect for musicians who believe in their art enough to see a project through to some kind of physical existence. Playing and improvising at home and making home recordings isn’t that uncommon, of course. “Releasing” them on home-duplicated CDRs (the modern equivalent of cassettes) or even in MP3 format is all well and good. With all due respect however, virtually anyone can do that, particularly in this digitally enabled age. Believing in the music enough to breathe life into the songs by actually pressing them up into some long-lasting and not easily reproduced format though, such as vinyl or even professionally manufactured CD, is another matter altogether, and is to my mind worthy of considerable admiration and respect – in some ways irrespective of whether or not I actually like the music captured therein (although to be fair, that’s always been the over-riding principle behind the Terrascope: we have to be actively enthused by something before we’ll write about it)


Askild Haugland, of Oslo in Norway, has been recording pieces as Taming Power ever since 1987 – ever since the Terrascope itself was born, as it happen – and self-releasing them on his own Early Morning records imprint. His aim has been not necessarily to perform music, but to create music, using tape recorder feedback as well as radio airwaves and various musical (and non musical) instruments. Along the way he’s released almost twenty vinyl records – I can clearly remember some of them being lauded (and stocked) by Corpus Hermeticum a few years back, for example, and we’re certainly covered them in the Terrascope before now.


Early recordings were keyboard based, some featuring acoustic guitar, harmonica and percussion. Latterly electric guitars and piano was introduced. Some recordings featured tape manipulation almost exclusively: the 10” record ‘Selected Works 2000’ for instance contains nothing but two connected reel-to-reel tape recorders feeding back as they recorded one another, while some records were hybrids: a personal favourite of mine is EMR 10” 011, entitled ‘For Electric Guitar, Cassette Recorders and Tape Recorders’. All of them (that I’ve seen at least) feature stark black covers with often disturbingly bleak scenic photographs mounted on the front, and very, very detailed numerical charts of the recordings on the rear.


The latest in this series, and possibly the last, is ‘Twelve Pieces’ which has been released in 10” format in a limited edition of 525 copies. The music sets out on Side A with quite a light touch to it compared to some of Taming Power’s previous work: tinkly electric guitar instrumentals, some with melodies which hint at half-remembered folk songs of yore; playful keyboards which imperceptibly descend into darker places - and as Side B progresses we’re faced with haunting drones and sinister bleeps with an extremely dark edge to them, like stumbling across the burned out remnant of a space station on a hitherto Elysian planet. Half of the tracks are short pieces based on electric guitar, zither or keyboards, while the remainder employ casiotone, singing bowls, harmonicas and tape recorders.


I mention it may be the last however since sadly, the pressing plant used (GZ Digital Media) no longer accept smaller orders – previous Early Morning Records pressings have been available in the region of 125 copies; the 525 copies of ‘Twelve Pieces’ is described by Askild as “huge”, both difficult to afford and night on impossible to distribute. Anyone reading this who might potentially be interested in helping take a few copies of his hands is encouraged to drop Askild Haugland a line at earlymrecords@yahoo.no – and if you’re aware of any record pressing plants (click the link for a list) which are still able to take micro-orders, that would be really useful as well. Thanks. (Phil McMullen)





(Book - ISBN 978-0-9778166-1-3 http://www.themisunderstood.com )


The Misunderstood were one of the most innovative and enigmatic bands of the Sixties and one of the psychedelic era’s best loved groups. Originally hailing from America, where they formed in 1964, but first establishing a name for themselves in England two years later under the tutelage of John Peel, their story is extensively documented elsewhere on Terrascope Online courtesy of an extensive interview with guitarist Glenn Campbell undertaken on our behalf by Richie Unterberger. An edited-down version later appeared as part of a chapter on the Misunderstood for Richie's book about “cult rock” artists, published by Miller Freeman Books. Rick Brown was the band's singer until early 1967 when he was drafted into the US Army, and together with 'Ugly Things' magazine editor Mike Stax, they've produced this book which details, at length, Rick's journey to enlightenment and beyond (how much "beyond" can be gauged from the fact that he initially leaves the Misunderstood and returns to the USA in Chapter 63, which takes place early in 1966, and there are 147 chapters in all...)


The prose style throughout the book is best described as 'conversational', or as Rick Brown himself maintains, "it's in 1st person wise-guy narrative - a really funny version of The Misunderstood story". Much of these conversations are obviously assumed, given that Rick himself wasn't actually there at the time. If it reads like a screenplay that's because it ostensibily is a screenplay: Rick again, "Now we have a screenplay and want to make a feature film using real Misunderstood music. Luckily we recorded, in Dec 1966,  the classic line up with Tony Hill. The book is based on the screenplay. It really gets to the heart of the Misunderstood, from the inside view.... "


Nowhere does it mention why, on moving to Bangkok, Richard Shaw Brown (to give him his full name) doesn't call himself Rick Shaw. I call that a wasted golden opportunity. There's no disputing that it's an extremely entertaining read though, and also filled with fascinating facts and facets of everyday life in the early-mid 60s. Published in enviably thick card covers, if this is vanity publishing, then call me vain but I'd be happy to see more of the same hit the shelves - and I can't wait to see the promised film...  (Phil McMullen)




(DVD from Temporary Residence Ltd

 http://www.temporaryresidence.com/ )


Mono’s music lends itself ideally to providing the backdrop to a movie, so what better than a road movie featuring the band itself? ‘The Sky Remains The Same’ is much more than a road movie though: filmed, directed and edited by Teppei Kishida, it documents the recording sessions for ‘You Are There’ and many of the band’s numerous tours and gigs worldwide since then. Spread across almost two hours, there’s some truly beautiful filmic moments – stage lights flashing off the neck of a guitar, technicolour street scenes whirring dreamily past, scenes unfurling slowly from the window of a train, hundreds of colourful folded paper cranes set against vintage shots of Nagasaki, a gorgeous-looking venue in Brussels where stars provide the backdrop, the band filmed silently through glass doing a mis-placed gig in a shopping centre in Stockholm (a painfully honest, dejected interview with tour manager Matski and the errant promoter is briefly captured afterwards as well). Plus of course plenty of live concert footage, much of it filmed from behind the musicians, so you get a clear picture of not only what on earth “Taka” Goto is doing with all those pedals, but also the camera also very effectively pans and zooms across the faces of the audiences worldwide, united in their concentration as they become lost in the mesmerising sounds.


There’s live excerpts from favourites such as ‘The Sky Remains The Same As Ever’ from the 2004 ‘Walking Cloud’ album and ‘Halo’ from ‘One Step More’ – a dozen live songs in all. There’s a gorgeous, full length version of ‘Yearning’, arguably the stand-out track of their 2005 album ‘You Are There’ – although unsurprisingly the camera fails to capture the full intensity of the sound as the band hit their repeated crescendos. Fascinating snippets of Taka guiding an orchestra (presumably during the score of the ‘Palmless Prayer’ album), and some priceless film of Steve Albini working with them in the studio (Steve’s recorded every MONO album since 2003).


The film slips from colour to black and white from time to time, although whether that’s a technical constraint to save bandwidth (or whatever the correct term is when applied to digital filming) or a deliberate ploy to add atmosphere is debatable I suppose. Either way, it’s extremely effective.


Fragments of interviews set the scene from city to city; given that interviews frequently take place in tiny back-stage dressing rooms and toilets which pretty much look the same the world over (Japan inevitably being the exception, where a brief shot of one backstage area reveals a dressing room the size and tidiness of an average school hall), the unseen questioner’s accent is often the only clue to the location: German, Swedish, Japanese, North American, Scottish and English. I jumped somewhat at hearing my own voice coming out from the speakers at one point, asking whether the band’s life on the road had provided inspiration for any of their songs along the way (a naïve question in retrospect, as it now transpires the inspiration led to the making of a film rather than to songs). Their answer is telling though: inspiration comes from our family, says Taka. By “family” they are referring of course to the band’s ever widening circle of friends worldwide: people they stay with, play with, travel with and meet up with along the way. The fans. And in many ways, this DVD is a tribute to them. Wonderful. (Phil McMullen)




(CD from Hux Records http://www.huxrecords.com/ )


Although Formerly Fat Harry only recorded the one eponymous album (on Harvest Records) back in 1971 and disappeared from view almost immediately thereafter, the band have long been held in high esteem by anyone interested in the early British countrified prog-rock bands of the era such as Mighty Baby, Heads Hands & Feet, Quiver, Daddy Longlegs and Eggs over Easy. Indeed, as with the latter two outfits (and of course the Misunderstood, mentioned above), Formerly Fat Harry were an ex-pat U.S. band based in London: bass player Bruce Barthol had arrived in 1969 after being fired by Country Joe and the Fish and was studiously avoiding being drafted into the Vietnam War (interestingly he notes, “You could easily get to Sweden if they drafted you in the UK – and Sweden had no extradition treaty with the US...”), guitarist Gary Peterson escaped to Paris with his wife(!) having feigned homosexuality to avoid the draft, there met and became friendly with Ralph McTell – who today maintains “Gary was miles beyond me... he played like nobody I’d ever heard. He had a profound influence on me” - and decided to stay in London after paying Ralph a visit there. Gary hankered after forming a band, and as soon as his old mate Bruce turned up in London the seeds of Formerly Fat Harry were sown. They invited another old friend, former folkie Phil Greenberg over from Berkeley, and together with a procession of British drummers, mostly of a jazz persuasion as befit the complex arrangements the band were working up – including John Marshall (ex- Nucleus) and Laurie Allan (ex- Mike Westbrook) they set about rehearsing, gigging and finding their musical feet. Many of the recordings on this compilation are studio demos from the early days of the band, if an outfit who only really lasted from December 1969 to Spring 1971 could be said to have an “early” period. ‘Time Slips By’ is probably the most overtly haunting, psychedelic thing the band ever recorded, an absolute gem – the guitar solo by Gary in particular is a blinder. ‘As The Rain Falls’ is just gorgeous, with warm harmonies, delicate guitar strokes and sparkling drum patter.


  Consisting as they did of a quartet of “musicians’ musicians”, the band were also kept busy working on recording sessions for others: backing tracks for Ralph McTell’s third album, backing Wizz Jones on ‘Easy Rider’ and latterly also recording with Roy Harper at Abbey Road and with the Edgar Broughton Band  – like Harper and Broughton, Formerly Fat Harry were signed to Peter Jenner’s Blackhill Enterprises. Shortly thereafter they played a Release benefit set up by Blackhill which featured the Michael Chapman band, Edgar Broughton, David Bowie and Roger Ruskin Spear. Indeed, it’s in the live environment that Formerly Fat Harry really come into their own, as the six live recordings on this compilation majestically testify: they’d worked up a fabulous repertoire of original recordings, a heady mixture of blues, folk, country-rock and psychedelia which capture the true flavour of the band – ‘Zurich Blues’, ‘Goodbye for Good’ and the epic ‘Mariachi Riff’ are all wonderful, the latter the first time a version of their much-loved live favourite has been available.


  Colin Hill (oft-times Terrascope scribe) remembers seeing them play ‘Mariachi Riff’ on the back of a flat-bed truck for free at the Bath Festival, much as the Pink Fairies had done. Fat Harry also played at Phun City, the festival curated on Worthing Common by former Deviant and political activist Mick Farren (again, see above).  David Suff (of Fledg’ling Records) recalls seeing them perform at the Hyde Park Festival with the Pink Floyd.


  Best of all however, Michael Chapman recounts a gig at the Brighton Conference Centre in 1970. “It was a Blackhill extravaganza with the Pink Fairies, Formerly Fat Harry, the Michael Chapman Band and the Edgar Broughton Band, and every skinhead south of the Thames turned up. We did alright, Formerly Fat Harry lasted about 10 minutes, then Twink came on dressed in a pink tutu which incensed them so the Fairies only lasted about 4 minutes. As soon as Edgar appeared the place erupted into a riot and the police cancelled the gig...”


  The self-titled Harvest Records LP was, it transpired, a case of too little, too late. There simply wasn’t enough variety in the music on there: as Nigel Cross notes, a stirring version of ‘Mariachi Riff’ might well have leavened what was essentially a rather introspective, laid-back body of work that lacked the breadth and spark of the band’s live performances. Fairport Convention and Formerly Fat Harry were far ahead of the game in the UK at that time, Fairport’s blurring of the boundaries between folk and rock finely matched by Fat Harry’s blurring of the boundaries between jazz and rock. All credit to Hux then for being intrepid enough to release an album which is finally a true reflection of the band’s musical vision: “a shot of pure late 60s Californian sunshine in our own backyard”. Great stuff.  (Phil McMullen)




(CD from www.nasoni-records.com)


    Mixing the jazzy space rock of Gong, a liberal sprinkling of heavier guitar trickery and a wash of Kraut-rock magic, this album is a deeply satisfying experience for anyone who loves spacey psychedelia.


   Opening with the stoned groove of “Opinion”, the band quickly find their feet, a beautiful sax motif keeping the song flowing, whilst the rhythm section are tight and inventive, ensuring the song pulses with life. Next up, “Mini-Rock”, is a nine minute epic with some great guitar playing and soulful female vocals from H.M.Fishli, the whole song reminding me of The Smell of Incense, the songs complex arrangements blending beautifully with the swirling electronics.


    Reminiscent of “Ghost Dance” by Hawkwind, “Late Train to Casket County” opens with the sounds of didgeridoo, primal drumming and chanting, before evolving into a slow piece of drifting psychedelia. Awash with heavy guitar and surreal lyric that give the song an acidic sheen, the song finally breaks down into a squall of feedback and rolling drums, ending a near perfect slice of space-rock. At 14 minutes “Sotto Voce” is the centrepiece of the album, a mid-paced song that gently massages your brain into a higher state before the band crank up the volume with some stunning guitar work and squealing sax, lovely. Halfway through, the riff fades out leaving a cloud of electronic sounds and treated drums, before the band pick up a lazy cosmic groove and settle down for an extended jam that is over far too soon. Finally the rockier side of the band has a chance to shine as “Mirrorman” thunders out of the speakers, ending the album in grandiose style, its insistent riff really hitting the spot.


    Also included with the album is a booklet detailing the adventures of Ned the fly, whose wants to visit the stars and, with the help of an alien cook, a balloon and a drunken Irishman, almost succeeds. This makes me think that there may be a concept hidden in this album, although the titles and lyrics don’t seem to relate to the story. Whatever, this is well worth hearing. (Simon Lewis)




(12” EP contact: info@subterraneanelephants.com )


Recorded in their allegedly self-built studio in San Francisco (I am envisioning bricklayers here...), Lumerians debut comes in a 500 copy, limited edition 12” EP format, with a card insert housed in a clear plastic sleeve - not unlike original copies of the Magic Band’s ‘Clear Spot’, although there the similarities end. Lumerians owe more, far more, to early 90s bands such as Polyphemus (likewise from San Francisco) and Chemical (from London), and not just because they were male/female duos releasing their records in 500 copy limited-edition vinyl runs. The latter housed in a clear plastic sleeve with card insert. Their sound is hypnotic, meandering, charged and yet contemplative; distorted washes of synth, supernal organ and vibraphone brushed across a cinematic sky of deep blue. Lumerians dispense with guitars, percolating their songs with occasional bursts of percussive thunder and vocals. It’s haunting, visceral stuff which really comes to a head, as it were, on the opening ‘Orgon Grinder’ – although all credit to the band too for the Urdog-like power-drive of  ‘Corkscrew Trepanation’, which incidentally also has to be one of THE titles of the year so far. Not too sure how you can find a copy - the Subterranean Elephants record company blurb claims it's on sale via our old friends at Aquarius Records, but I couldn't find any trace of a copy on their online catalogue. So it goes. (Phil McMullen)




(CD / DVD from www.brokensparrow.com)


    This album is the first solo album by Michael Deragon, formerly a member of The Water Section and Prajna. Here he mixes delicate fingerpicking and haunting piano with the sounds of toys, static and field recordings to create a surreal landscape that creeps out of the speakers like fog, engulfing the listener. After the softly atmospheric opener 'Just Before Waking', the album reveals its first gem with the intense pleasure of 'Laughter, Grace', filled with aching guitar, drone and a vocal delivery filled with longing. On track three 'at Once', the guitar is replaced by slow motion piano, the chattering background sounds blending perfectly. In fact, one of the albums strengths is the way the gentle melodies are complemented by the backing rather than drowned out by them. You sense that a great deal of care has gone into the mixing of the album, the sounds chosen with a complete attention to detail.


     On 'Stars Made Of Bones' a whispered vocal line creates strange images in your mind, the song filled with a rising drone and charged with sexual tension. By contrast, 'Suggestion' has a more traditional song structure dominated by guitar and vocals, the strangeness kept well in the background, providing the listener with a brief moment of warmth and rest. This is swiftly broken however with the creepy sound collage of 'Sheepshine', two minutes of sonic brilliance. Finally, the album ends with another song based piece, the lovely 'They Will Think You Are A Coward', which reminds me of early seventies Floyd in its delivery and structure and is a fine way to end a highly rewarding album.


    Also included is an experimental/surreal film by Michael Winters, which was used as a backdrop when the music was performed live at local art galleries. Filled with haunting images the film perfectly suits the music and is a welcome addition to this excellent package. Limited to 300 and housed in a hand made sleeve, I recommend you search one out before they disappear forever. (Simon Lewis)




(CD on Fire Records http://www.firerecords.com )


At one time slated to include several live bonus tracks, this reissue package of Neutral Milk Hotel’s now classic 1995 debut album put together by Fire Records in fact features just two additional numbers: ‘Everything Is...’ and ‘Snow Song Part 1’, two songs originally released as a single by Cher Doll records in Seattle. The 45 was at the time an important release in it’s own little way: Jeff Mangum’s first legitimate record release after five years of making home recordings,  ‘Everything Is...’ dating from 1993, and ‘Snow Song Pt 1’ recounting a winter spent unemployed and living in a second story bedroom garret. Initial copies of the single were released in a limited edition colour Xerox sleeve made by Jeff himself, and to be fair failed to make a huge impact outside of his immediate circle of friends and family.  Another song which dates from Jeff's time spent living in Seattle was 'Up And Over We Go' on the 7" EP 'The Amazing Phantom Third Channel' (also on Cher Doll Records, but not included in this reissue).


Needless to say, we here at the Terrascope became unduly excited by the release. (I know this smacks of blowing our own trumpet, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned down the years, it’s that history doesn’t always record those who noted it at the time, but rather those who shouted the loudest about it afterwards.)


In a 1995 interview with Ptolemaic Terrascope magazine, Jeff recounted: "It was January in Denver, freezing cold and snowing all over. I moved into a friend's house and was living in a closet and it was cold, not only because of the weather but because it was a haunted house. The closet I was living in was haunted. The person that lived in the house kept having dreams of people having cocktail parties in my closet, there would always be these really beautiful women in really tacky fur coats drinking champagne and telling my friend that we should get the fuck out of their party because we were really pissing them off. So I lived in my closet and listened to a lot of John Coltrane and waited about a month to start recording. Robert [Schneider, from The Apples In Stereo. Apart from producing 'On Avery Island', Schneider is also credited with organs, fuzz bass, xylophones and horn arrangements on the album] and I would get stuck on something when we were recording and walk around and grab our heads and get really frustrated, go outside and have a cigarette and go to the store, and then we'd suddenly hit on something and we'd jump up and down and hug each other. The whole album just blurs in a beautiful way to me, like a dream, because I guess my whole life the past three years has been geared towards the end which is the album itself. It's sort of the culmination of the whole experience."


(photo: Jeff Mangum and Robert Schneider, photographed by Hilarie Sidney in 1995

 © Ptolemaic Terrascope )

It’s a fascinating album which repays repeated listens. Throughout 'On Avery Island' solemnly gentle melodies such as 'You've Passed' are followed breathlessly by altogether more sinister numbers such as 'Someone is Waiting', a song which is progressively deconstructed until at the end it becomes an atonal cacophony of beautifully distorted sound. Somehow, it fits. One moment you're being carried along by the rounded folk tones of a church pump organ, then immediately you're slapped in the face by a trombone; just as the lyrics start to make sense and you feel you've achieved a brief understanding or connection, Jeff comes up with something like 'Song Against Sex', as surreal an anti-drugs rant as they come. Following a brief discourse concerning a figure of Christ kissing fishes as they fly away from his fingers, going on to describe pretty men and burning girls hanging on meat hooks at a market stall, Jeff hits you with what appears to the core of the song: "...all these drugs that I don't have the guts to take to soothe my mind / so I'm always sober, always aching, always heading towards mass suicide / don't take those pills your boyfriend gave you, you're too wonderful to die from anything that we could call loving / I'll sleep out in the gutter, you can sleep here on the floor / and when I wake up in the morning with a match that's mean and some gasoline / you won't see me any more" and if you think that's heavy, try the ultimate melancholy of arguably the most disturbing Neutral Milk Hotel ever recorded, a number which perfectly illustrates the maxim that the sleep of reason breeds monsters. 'Three Peaches' runs roughly (yet sublimely) thus:So wake up / run your lips across your fingers / till you find some scent of yourself that you can hold up high / to remind yourself that you didn't die / on the day that was so crappy. You're alive, and you're in the bathroom carving holiday designs into yourself / hoping no-one would find you / but they found you and they took you and you somehow survived / so wake up, and if the holidays don't hollow out your eyes then press yourself against whatever you find / to be beautiful / I'm so happy you didn't die...” (and somehow Mangum makes the word "surviiiiiived" drag out for thirty terrible seconds, and even the phrase "I'm so happy" sound like a mourner beset by the death of a twin).


There are some songs that sound identical but which somehow remain distinct and independent, like an artist working on the same portrait first in pastels and then in oils. 'A Baby for Pree' and 'Where You'll Find Me Now' are twins aside from being lyrically distinct and separated at birth by a distorted, Casio keyboard and tape loop instrumental stanza, the first of which was the last song written for the album (when the friend named in the title became pregnant) and the second being a lament to unrequited lust: the scent of you sweating smells good to me / as long as we stay in our clothes / and out in the dark the world is still rolling / kids in their cars, cigarette smoking..., closing with an altogether allegorical ice-cream van jingle that echoes lost childhood and innocence. A short trombone interlude from Rick Benjamin then leads to another surreal parable of love, an elegiac couplet entitled 'Garden Head'/'Leave Me Alone' which reads thus: ...like a walk in the park / like a hole in your head / like the feeling you get when you realise that you're dead this time / we ride roller coasters into the ocean / we feel no emotion / as we spiral down to the world... it gets hard to explain, the garden head knows my name. Leave me alone / for you know that this isn't the first time / in fact this is twice in a row / that the angels have stepped in a landslide and filled up our garden with snow

(consider that this is followed immediately by the deceptively gentle strummed guitar / pump organ refrain of the nightmarish 'Three Peaches' and you start to get some idea of the sheer force of poetry that underlies this album).


Jeff: "'Garden Head' was written right before the sun came up one morning in Athens. I was sort of hallucinating because I hadn't slept in a long time and I was dying to go to sleep but I kept telling myself that I needed to finish this song first. Finally I finished it and collapsed asleep with exhaustion. I woke up next day, sang it again and there it was."


If great art is born of suffering then Neutral Milk Hotel is high art indeed; and if it ain't, then it still makes for wonderful pop music. An incredible album, and a timely reissue: if by chance you haven’t yet heard this album, then believe me you really need to rectify that very quickly indeed. Life simply wouldn’t be the same without it. (Phil McMullen)




(CD  from www.trunkrecords.com)


    As a youngster growing up in the late sixties/early seventies growing my world was filled with the delightful animations of Smallfilms Productions, whose output included “Noggin The Nog” and “The Clangers”, as well as the two programmes featured on this disc. As soon as I played this my mind was awash with images of bilberry wine drinking plants, witches, dragons, fish and chips, hats from London and welsh choirs, so powerful is the music at invoking the images from the animations. 


   Mainly played on the Bassoon and piano, although with a host of accompanying instruments, the music is whimsical, reflective, joyous or sometimes just plain silly, which sums up the programmes as well. One thing that stands out is how well the music is arranged, the music flowing wonderfully with a simplicity that astounds in its brilliance. This is no surprise as Vernon Elliot was a founder member of The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, played with The Royal Opera House, taught music and played jazz in his spare time.


   Also included are various sound effects from the programme, something that ups the nostalgia levels, although anyone who has ever loved Ivor (everyone that’s seen it really), will be able to make the noise of the travelling engine and be able to tell you the name of the dragon as well. All in all a wonderful disc to escape into for people of a certain age, or those in search of remnants of a simpler time. (Simon Lewis)




(CD  from www.digitalisindustries.com)


(CD from www.softabuse.com)


(CD from www.ultrahardgel.com)


    Known for his many and varied projects with Jewelled Antler as well as his work with the sublime Hala Strana, Steven R Smith has consistently produced engaging and thoughtful music that barely puts a foot wrong. So much so, in fact, that his name is a guarantee of quality for discerning listeners the world over.


    On this release the quality remains, whispering and jagged guitars are threaded with acoustic shapes and gossamer tones, producing heart-felt melodies that are the perfect foil for the gently drifting vocals. Yes indeed, Smith has added another feather to his cap revealing his perfectly suited voice for the first time, leaving the listener wondering why it has taken so long.


    One listen to album opener “Across the Flats” is all that is needed to realise that this is another wonderful collection, the voice catching you surprise, before revealing its full depth on the wyrd mantra of “The Pity of All Things”. Having said that, of course, one of my favourite tracks is the instrumental “The Tree King”, demonstrating that the man has lost none of his power, an elegant and haunting drone that is perfectly realised. Elsewhere “O, Blessed Night your sunrise has burnt down” contains some beautiful guitar work, whilst “in Light” draws comparison with In Gowan Ring in its blissful delivery.


    After the gentle sounds of “Owl”, thing become far noisier and confusing with the fractured sounds of Ulaan Khol, the first part of a proposed trilogy penned by none other than Steven R Smith, whose workrate is only matched by his quality control, this being another album that hits the spot completely.  Comprising of guitar/drums/organ, the nine untitled tracks sound like an undiscovered Japanese freakout band overrun with feedback dissonance and sheer energy.  Featuring primitive and distorted lead guitar bled over a sea of noise, the storm tempered with excursions into the sky, the whole album is best heard alone with the volume high enough to drown out the world. A thing of rare beauty, Fans of Mono or LSD March should go get one and dive right in.


    One of the finest experimental groups of recent time was Thuja, a ensemble that featured both Steven R Smith and Loren Chasse, and it is Chasse himself who is responsible for the impossibly blissful “The Sun and Earth Together”, an album so fragile and meditative that it almost defies gravity. Played on Guitars, Cymbalon, sheng (a Chinese multi-piped reed instrument) and stones, the album contains for tracks, each a ripple in the fragment of time, quiet drones with a deep sense of purpose. Of the four, the 26-minute title track is the jewel in the collection, a drone so achingly beautiful that it will slow your heartbeat and bring tears of joy to your eyes, although every piece is filled with grace and a delicate touch. (Simon Lewis)







(from Beta-Lactam Ring records www.blrrecords.com)


    For the last couple of years Beta-Lactam have been gently frying my brain with a plethora of excellent releases that are individual, generally noisy and almost always essential. This trend continues with this latest selection, between them offering a veritable cornucopia of psychedelic delights.


    Hailing from Croatia Seven That Spells include in their ranks one Kawabata Makoto (for this release at least) who is confined to electric sitar, Tamburo and Hurdy Gurdy, such is the extraordinary power of guitarist Niko Potocnjak. Opening with a swirl of synth, an eastern guitar riff picks up the groove, the music sounding like U.S. Kaleidoscope, slowly however, the intensity builds, Ashra Tempel joining the party as the sounds get wilder and weirder, the guitar running across the piece like a golden thread to heaven. Suddenly you realise that 15 minutes has passed and you are deep into track two, a twenty minute epic sounding like Quicksilver jamming with every modern Japanese Psych band you can think of, a holy wall of noise that could stop wars and raise the Dead.


    Just as you think the band are peaking, track three goes into freakout meltdown mode, the band holding onto an echo of the melody whilst throwing out everything non-essential to the trip, off into hyperspace and grinning wildly. Slightly slower and more drone laden, track four gives Mono a run for their money, a floating cloud of noise and derangement that cloaks everything in a veil of stars. Finally track five allows the band to dissolve, fusing their molecules into an endlessly drifting sphere of light, that shimmers across 14 minutes, leaving a single lotus petal waving in the breeze.


    Named after a Guru Guru track and fuelled on feedback, LSD March are another group of Japanese Cosmonauts seeking enlightenment through the destruction of the senses. Disc one of this double set consists of “Aubade”, a forty-minute noise-fest, guitars and electronics melding into a monolithic structure of epic grandeur, the dense layers making this a harsh lesson to learn, but well worth the effort. Disc two consists of 8 shorter abstract pieces, filled with percussion and other traditional instruments, creating a complete change of mood from disc one. Much more contemplative, the first four track at least, are filled with an abstract peacefulness, even the scraping strings of “Elephant” seem calm and relaxing, to me at least. This mood is dispelled on “Love”, with a crazed analogue synth taking centre stage, almost drowning out the hypnotic music underneath, although this turns out to be a disturbance in the fabric of space as the band return to the more serene strangeness for “1978”. The final two tracks have a different kind of charm again, sounding like a schizoid hoedown played by a group of lost forest dwellers, maybe. Whatever this is another quality album filled with myriad textures that will sound different every time you play it, as it does for me.


    On their latest album, Soriah mix electronics, throat singing and strange effects to create a deep space meditation that has the feel of early Tangerine Dream within its slow burning sound. Featuring just two tracks, the album creaks and rumbles, the sound of a ghost ship lost within the fogs of time, the occasional burst of light or glimpse of shoreline adding tenseness to the drama. Indeed so strong is its power that headphone listening becomes a very uneasy experience, although also a most enjoyable one. On “Esqueleto de Chapulin”, the music slowly becomes lighter in texture, an eastern drone creating a feeling of calm as the music fades into the void.


    Finally, I highly recommend the label sampler “Mental Mood Music” (just about sums it up), which includes tracks by LSD March, Seven That Spells, as well as other bands reviewed in the Terrascope over the last year or so. Worth the price of admission on its own, “As On A Dung Hill” by Andrew Liles, is a grimy nursery rhyme that has a wonderful sense of diseased joy lurking under its scaly skin. Well worth checking out, as is the whole label, I look forward to the next warped instalment.  (Simon Lewis).




(DVD from Voiceprint)

Though it had a very limited release in UK cinemas in 1972, this fascinating little documentary has been ‘lost’ for the past 35 years. Fortunately it’s now been rediscovered and restored by its director Tony Palmer and finally given a commercial release on video.

There’s very little film available of the early line-ups of Fairport Convention particularly the one featuring Ritchie Thompson, Simon Nicol, and the three Daves - Mattacks, Swarbrick and Pegg – to my mind the last great version of the band. Without re-opening the fierce debate that raged in these very pages some years back, to me Fairport crumbled irrevocably with Thompson’s departure in early 1971, though they were never the same after the personnel changes that rocked the band in December 1969. They could have got over Sandy Denny’s departure but without the steadying influence and firm guiding hand of Ashley ‘Tyger’ Hutchings, they lost direction pretty quickly thereafter. Thompson’s magnificent guitar playing and unique song writing skills were the foundation on which this all-male line up rested. True Pegg may have been a technically better bassist than his illustrious predecessor but his arrival tipped the balance of power in the band. He formed a quorum with Swarb who whilst undoubtedly one of the most gifted fiddlers ever to come out of Britain was essentially a talented side man, not much of a lead singer or songwriter (outside of his writing partnership with Thompson) . By mid-71 what I refer to as the diddlee dee element in the band had taken over completely and Fairport became largely known for its lightning fast jigs and reels.

However, I digress – there remains much to commend about this edition of Fairport – and Palmer captures the essence of what an exciting live group they had become – there’s a good balance of the rousing dance tunes like ‘Jenny’s Chickens’ and the mandolin duet ‘Flat Back Caper’ – exacting stuff to play as the pained look of concentration on Thompson’s face suggests here – and rocked-up traditional songs like ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ – Thompson’s coruscating guitar break makes me still break out in goose bumps even now. And whilst the band could often be brash, their sensitivity comes through on the Thompson/Swarbrick ballad, ‘Now Be Thankful’ which subsequently came out as a 7” in autumn 1970. Shot at the Maidstone Fiesta on 5th June 1970 (a couple of weeks before their appearance at the Bath Festival and the release of the Full House LP) this is the band at their peak complete with the laddish banter that would become a trademark.

The doc also includes two numbers from the same event by Mathews Southern Comfort led by former Fairport singer Iain Matthews and what a revelation they are – whilst his former compatriots were far down the traditional road by this time, Matthews was playing a more countrified version of the West Coast-style music Fairport had been playing in 68 before he was ousted. They breathe new life into both Arlo Guthrie’s ‘My Front Pages’ and Ian & Sylvia’s ‘Southern Comfort’ here. Though I saw them play at Lancaster University a few weeks before this, I had forgotten just how excellent they were – shades of both the Burritos and Byrds but with a wonderful twist of Englishness – who said Britain never produced any good country rock bands?

Indeed the film leaves you like the audience, begging for more. It barely runs for much over 30 minutes and is fleshed out with a15-minute interview (done in 2007) with the director. Presumably Palmer shot the whole gig and there was definitely a piece in the Melody Maker at the time which mentioned that he’d also shot a sequence of the soccer-mad musicians playing a match against each other – it would have been interesting to see the outtakes, and my mouth waters at the prospect of ‘Sloth’ or ‘Open the Door, Richard’, both in the set at this point.

Getting the wrong details of the line-up of Matthews Southern Comfort on the back cover is unforgivable – Gerry Conway was drumming in Fotheringay at this juncture – it was Ray Duffy behind the traps alongside Iain, guitarists Carl Barnwell and Mark Griffiths, pedal steel legend Gordon Huntley and bass player Andy Leigh. BUT for anybody who ever loved early Fairport this is simply indispensable – it’s an absolute treasure. (Nigel Cross)




(CD from Hux Records)


Gotta admit that when Brian O’Reilly at Hux told me he was reissuing a Harold McNair LP from 1970, it drew a bit of a blank – whilst not familiar with his ‘jazz’ career which saw him work with such greats as Joe Harriott, Charlie Mingus and Jon Hendricks, I’d always enjoyed McNair’s flute playing with the likes of John Martyn and Donovan (check out his still underrated 1968 In Concert LP).


Released soon after the more conventional big band jazz sound of the humorously titled Flute and Nut, The Fence saw him heading in a rockier direction. Not surprising as at this point McNair was one of the founders of Ginger Baker’s Airforce. Indeed the LP was produced by Ric Grech who also played bass guitar on the record and contributed one of the five instrumentals which comprised the LP – ‘True Love Adventure’. As well as Airforce duties Grech had also just been drafted into the revamped Traffic and his fellow band mate Stevie Winwood is rumoured (though never confirmed) to have played organ on some of the sessions. It certainly sounds like him. Indeed the best tracks on the record such as the title cut exude a freewheeling groove that recalls the spirit of that long gone band – perfect vehicles for Harold’s soaring, inventive flute and sax playing.


Other musicians featured on the LP included pianist Keith Tippett, guitarist Colin Green, and Pentangle rhythm section Danny Thompson and Terry Cox. The only false step is the final cut, a version of the Beatles’ ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ and whilst the playing is exemplary this is far too ‘lounge core’ for my ears. Sadly McNair died the following March robbing British jazz and rock of one its most innovative players so this reissue serves a timely reminder of what a talented player he was.  (Nigel Cross)