A Life Well-Lived: John Stafford

This is not a music related blog, I will return to music-related blogs presently, but sometimes plans change…and life – whether we will or no – drives those changes.

 

Please be sure to view the Stafford Family Snapshot Gallery, containing vintage photographs of many of the locales and events described in the text section of this blog -the Gallery appears at the very end of this document – after the purely text version of this blog which follows here.

Two nights ago, I learned the very sad news via my sister in law, that my older brother, John Wesley Stafford – born December 5, 1955 – flew from this earth this past Wednesday night – I’m happy though to report that he passed away peacefully in his sleep – which is, if we are honest – very probably is how we would all like to go.

 

This event, was the culmination of a very, very long struggle that John engaged in and endured for over thirty years – with a very severe and debilitating case of Parkinson’s Disease. This is surely one of the cruellest of diseases (in a similar way to Alzheimer’s possibly) in that, it makes communication very difficult indeed, and that negative aspect of Parkinson’s only seems to get worse as the disease progresses.

But thankfully – John’s struggle is now ended, and only quiet remains.

I wanted to take a moment to share some of my personal and favourite memories of my “big brother” John – as kids, for a long time – it was just the two of us kids until some years later my younger brother Robert arrived. We spent the better part of our childhood together, and I have so, so many happy memories of those bygone days – I will just share a very few of the memories (if I try to do more, this blog would run to 40,000 words or more) that for me, truly evoke “who John was” in this life, to the best of my ability.

I’ve created an historical background that leads up to about 1967, when my parents took their three sons – the eldest, John, myself, and Robert – to East Africa where they had had the opportunity to take up a US-Aid funded contract to “teach teachers how to teach”.  Robert was one year old in 1967 when we left, so remembers very little of our four years in Uganda, but John and I were young boys when we moved to Uganda – and those four years are not only my fondest personal memories – but they also coincide with my best times with my big brother, with whom I shared an entire four years sojourn and East African adventure.

Since the four years from 1967 – 1971 were so important to both John and myself, growing up in a very different place to our birthplace of San Diego, California – I have concentrated my memories of John to mostly – our four years experiencing the absolutely staggering beauty of East Africa and have tried to capture some sense of the wonder of East Africa in the late 1960s and the stunning vistas, views, wildlife, and scenery that amazed, astonished and engaged us both – captivating our young imaginations – and the memories of that time remain strongest for me despite long passage of time since then.

 

In order to keep this already-too-long blog as concise as possible given that massive vista of our magical experiences in East Africa, I then severely condensed the additional remarkable places we were also so very fortunate to get to visit “in-between” our trips to Africa – the four years was interspersed with a three month “break” back in San Diego, and the air travel back and forth allowed the family to make at least, brief visits to some of the most important parts of Europe – above and beyond the extraordinary experience of living in Uganda as a young person, and being able to tour extensively and to deeply explore not only Uganda itself, but also, the East African neighbouring countries of Kenya, and Tanzania / Zanzibar.

 

For the sake of brevity – I actually end the story in 1971, which is when – not documented below – we returned to California for good – and life just moved on in a more ordinary fashion from 1972 onwards – time taken up with school – and university for John – while I moved into the arts via music playing guitar and piano in bands from an early age.

 

The story begins then, with some historical background to bring us up to the time when the family moved to Uganda for the most amazing four years of our entire lives.

 

 

EARLY TIMES / HISTORY

 

Since many of you will never have met John, I will preface my memories of him and of our childhood together, with some historical background – which is really actually essential to understanding the memories I will offer up after this historical introduction to John Stafford.

The first born child (first of three boys in the family) of E. Wesley Stafford and Shirley Jeanette Williams Stafford, John arrived in early December of the year 1955, born in San Diego, California (as all three of us kids were).

Wes and Shirley were delighted with John, who very early on showed real aptitude at anything involving unexpected and surprising amounts of intelligence – and it’s safe to say that of the three Stafford boys – while my younger brother and I have our modest talents (and I am absolutely certain Robert would agree with me on this point) we could never hold a candle to John’s intelligence, and his quick and perceptive mind – and indeed he was one of the most talented and capable thinkers I have ever met or known throughout my life.

This was demonstrated early on when John began reading well before attending school – at the age of four – (no doubt encouraged and aided and abetted by Wes & Shirley who both happened to be teachers / educators) and he devoured books (as did all three of us in our own time) and I’m sure was always reading a few years “ahead” of the level he “should” have been reading at for his age.

He loved school (far more than I ever did!)  – and from what I can recall, he always always got incredibly good grades – in the U.S. this was known as being “a straight ‘A’ student” – and that was definitely John all over. Good grades, always succeeding, and working way ahead of the curve.  A success story waiting to happen – and happen it did.

As he continued to do throughout high school and then during his time at the University Of Southern California (UCSD at La Jolla, California) where he graduated – as expected – right at the top of his class.  He clearly loved school and learning – again, far more than I did lol – and just exceeded all expectations from the very beginning.  His brain was simply impossible to compete with, and no matter how hard I tried, I could never, ever get “straight A’s” – my brain is wired a bit differently I guess – being a musician, but John’s brain was pure intellect, knowledge and engineering creativity.

For me, growing up a few years behind and kinda…, in John’s “wake”, as it were – I found it pretty much impossible to compete – I couldn’t get the grades, and early on in my teens, our paths really diverged…I became a guitarist and pianist, and he went onto a brilliant and very long career in computer engineering – at that time, a very new and bleeding edge kind of career.  But I didn’t really feel in competition – he was good at what he as good at – very good – and I chose a different path – that’s just the way of it, really!

John didn’t even need to look for a job, while still at University, well prior to him even graduating, the larger tech companies of the day such as Burroughs Corp., Hewlett-Packard and others came to UCSD – and to all of the best universities and colleges – looking to hire the brightest and best students to work in the new and burgeoning field of Computer Science. John eventually took the best offer he got, which happened to be from H.P. – and ended up working there for his entire working life!!!

I don’t know a lot of the details of what he worked on during the 25 years-plus that he did work for Hewlett-Packard but I do know that he was very involved in some of the earliest “machine languages” one of which was Fortrans.

I did, later on,  as an adult, speak to John on many occasions about the work he did at Hewlett-Packard, and he was always incredibly engaged and excited about the complex and fascinating work that he did.  The issue for me though, was that while we could talk about it to a reasonably complex level of detail…a huge percentage of what John would explain to me – with every precise, exact detail intact – just went straight over my head.

I myself worked for many years in the IT field, but I was more of the “PC / Windows” generation, while John had a deep knowledge of the lowest level machine operations – I got the impression that Windows and other operating systems were of no real interest to him, he wanted to work with the nuts and bolts of computing from an almost conceptual viewpoint (which at that time, I could barely conceive of or imagine)  – for him, it was computer science all the way down to the ones and zeros.

That world – was – and still is for the most part – an utterly unknown; an almost completely mysterious place to me – it may as well be magic, the way machine language works – but for John, that was his comfort zone and later innovations like Windows and other operating systems – just didn’t seem to impress him all that much.

He was really passionate about his work and loved working with computer hardware as well as the more esoteric and conceptual work involving machine language and similar concepts – and would also, endlessly take apart and build computers physically, so he could work down at those mysterious and magical lower machine levels, a place where few humans dare to tread – John Stafford was completely comfortable there, and seemed less comfortable out in the newer world of “user friendly operating systems” and “applications”.  That was almost like “cheating” – that made it too simple for him – too easy, and not challenging enough, I think.

Without the work that John helped to pioneer and build up during his time with H.P. – modern computers would not be where they are today.  In those early days, innovation was the order of the day, and the work done on early machine languages back then, absolutely paved the way for the modern computers of today.

I’m exceedingly proud of my brother for his contribution to the practical aspects of computer science – he put his university knowledge to practical use immediately and had a long and prosperous career at H.P. – until he had to take early retirement in his 50’s due to the complications of living with Parkinson’s Disease. I am quite sure he would have worked there until fully retired had he been unaffected by the Parkinson’s – and how often does anyone ever, get to have one great job their entire lifedoing the same work that they love, at the same company for so very many years?

I think I’ve just barely managed 12 – 13 years total – my longest duration stints at any one employment – at just two of my “day jobs” with quite a few shorter duration bouts of employment in between.  I wanted to work at my first job forever, but it was not to be, and I really admired the longevity that John had with H.P. –  as well as envying him for getting one great job and being able to stick with it, grow and mature with it – from straight out of university in his early 20s until forced to retire before his time by a cruel and on forgiving disease.

I really wished that I had had that continuous steady progressive employment with a single excellent employer but it was never to be in my case. Somehow – John managed to do the impossible and work at one single job for his entire working life!  I find that to be both admirable…and extraordinary.

After retiring, the worst of John’s struggles continued and began to make his life very hard, and life became more and more difficult for him as the years passed. The progressive nature of Parkinson’s Disease meant that as time passed, John’s struggle became more profound and ever more difficult,  until eventually he decided that he would move into as assisted living complex where he could have some help with coping with ordinary tasks that had gradually become too difficult or even possible to perform.

Which…brings us to the present – a peaceful night of sleep and just quietly slipping away – free at last from the stranglehold that Parkinson’s had on both his body and that brilliant innovative mind.  It must have been so very, very frustrating to have such a wealth of knowledge, skill and experience and not be able to take any valid action to prevent the progress of Parkinson’s – I can only put that into musical or lyrical terms by way of a poetic description – by quoting something Peter Hammill once sang “The body becomes a constant traitor…but the spirit survives”.

I imagine that is something like how it must have felt – your brain is still the same sharp instrument it was 30 years previously, but the effect of this horrible, progressive disease turns your own body against you and betrays you, lets you down and forces you into a helpless, debilitated state – and you are powerless to do anything about it.

That can’t have been easy.   But John persisted, he kept going and I admire him for that – he never gave in, he always fought hard – and tried very very hard, to keep his independence and individuality for as long as he possibly could.  I salute that spirit and quietly admire his determination.  He was still the same brilliant young man I had known growing up, and I have rarely met anyone with such a rare, keen and unique intellect.

But John also loved to laugh, he took up the acoustic guitar later in life so he could play the folk music he had always loved – early on, it would have been the music of Simon & Garfunkel (no shame in that !!) – and, from a later time, he especially loved the music of the very well respected folk musician John Stewart (who later worked with Lindsey Buckingham & Stevie Nicks) – Stewart himself was also from San Diego, as the whole Stafford family is.

So while John was very much about computer science, machine language and other pretty technical work – he also had a very normal human side spending time with his beloved books, projects and music and living a quiet life at home.

MEMORIES OF JOHN – CALIFORNIA:

From the history of John’s arc through the world I would now very briefly share some of the many, many memories I have of John – particularly those memories of our childhood together, which amazingly and magically for us – included a four year journey to East Africa where our parents had volunteered to teach teachers how to teach, which was from 1967 through 1971.

John, being the eldest son, would have been around 11 or 12 years of age when we moved from San Diego, California to a Teacher Training college some fifty miles west of Kampala, Uganda, near the small town of Mityana.  Which was the end of the paved part of the road – the road turned from tarmac to dirt as you left Mityana heading west – and in 1967 – you wouldn’t find any more paved roads on your way westward – until you turned around and drove back into Mityana where the paved road ended – and you could then ride in luxury, for a full 50 miles – into Uganda’s capital city, Kampala.

John would therefore have been about 15 or 16 when the family returned from Uganda to San Diego where both of my parents then resumed their teaching careers – our mother Shirley teaching kindergarten for many years, then later, pre-school age kids, while our dad Wes taught the sixth grade for most of his life after our return from East Africa.

Before we moved to Africa for four years – we were about as typical of a sort of (lower??) “middle class” American family. Two parents, and two boys (Robert my younger brother was a bit of a “late arrival”, being one year old in 1967 when we moved to Uganda) and I have nothing but fond, happy memories – growing up, going to school and playing on a street called “Mineral Drive”, in the then pretty new suburb of San Carlos – one of the many, many suburbs and outlying parts of greater San Diego.

John had the chemistry sets and all things science, where I had the piano, music and my beloved Beatles, whose records I started collecting at about age eight or nine, not too long before we moved to Africa.  Sure – I had chemistry sets too, but John was the master of not just science tools but also built amazing electronic kits obtained from Radio Shack or via mail order.

I can remember being astonished and delighted when he would build a “breadboard” electronics project using nothing but diodes, resistors and maybe one of those new “transistors” that were starting to become available to ordinary consumers (and John would have been one of the first customers to seek out transistors I feel quite certain!) in the 1960s

While John looked to Radio Shack for electronic components and increasingly difficult and wonderful electronics circuits to build, a little bit later on, at age 13 when I returned to California – I viewed it more as the place where $25.00 (a huge sum of money to me in 1971) would buy my very first band a “real microphone”.

I remember that both myself and the drummer in the band , Brian Monaco, each bought one of these amazing Radio Shack microphones, which then got plugged into the second inputs of the tiny Sears or no name amplifiers we used then – plugged in next to where your guitar was plugged in. We were the main two singers – so we had to be heard!

Heady times… your first rock band, going “pro” at age 13 with your $25.00 boom microphones.   Amazing 1972 tech.

John’s pursuits were always much more serious, and much more difficult, then the relatively simple challenges I set for myself as the lead guitarist of the “Stafford-Monaco Band” of 1971, and I literally could not get my head around the idea that John could build working electronic devices – using only discrete components, a breadboard and his trusty soldering iron.

He even made audio devices that used tiny little speakers to produce sound.  He created circuits using LEDs that would flash in sequence…he was endlessly creative with his little circuits, which stood him in good stead later when he was in school and studying computer science at university.
It was all a bit beyond me, I loved the crazy devices he built and played with – but for John – it grounded him early on in good engineering practices – which came in very handy indeed for not only his university studies in computer science; as well as, later on – giving him practical “build skills” which he would then use for the rest of his life – both at home dismantling and re-assembling computers and other electronic equipment “for fun” – but also in his daily work at Hewlett-Packard for many, many years.

[END OF HISTORY SECTION]

A Moment Of Transition – The Road To East Africa

The above account is a bare bones history (believe it or not – that is really bare bones – barely scratching the surface!) just to provide the tiniest idea of John Stafford the man.

I’ve tried to do him justice from the historical perspective but it is literally impossible to “catalogue” an entire man’s life in a few blog paragraphs so I have given up while I am ahead.
I hope my historical preface goes some small way towards painting enough of an account of the basic occurrences in John’s life – and I am using that history now,  as my “launching point”  to move John’s story onto the core / formative years of 1967-1971 – for both John and myself – concentrating on my memories of our time together living at Busuubizi Teacher Training College, near Mityana, Uganda for four years.
In actual fact, we both spent our final two years in Uganda “commuting” between home and Kampala, Uganda’s capital, so we could attend an American-run school there – and while doing so, we each stayed with a different American family living on the Makerere University campus in Kampala – so our 1970-1971 was actually split between living at Busuubizi T.T.C. on the weekends, and staying at Makerere from Monday through Friday to attend school.

That was actually a brilliant thing, because it gave John and I a chance to interact with a lot more kids of our own age, who happened to be a very, very diverse group of young people from all over the world – and I firmly believe that that experience, formed the tolerant views on both the human experience and on the topic of diversity, that both John and myself believed in all of our lives.  It was an incredibly positive experience, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences – or the unique, remarkable memories that follow – for anything in the universe.  What a time we had – John and I !!!

AFRICA 1967 – 1971

Without a doubt, my best and most cherished memories are of growing up with my big brother John in the incredibly beautiful and strange, magical environment of a very undeveloped and mostly untouched by outside influences – Uganda of 1967.

We also had so many opportunities to travel with our parents, by car usually;  but also by train sometimes – to the other two East African nations – Kenya to the east, and Tanzania to the southeast – so at an early age we had the rare and wonderful privilege of seeing East Africa in a very “un-spoilt-by-humans” condition.

That “un-spoilt” time was never to come again – with the advent of one Idi Amin in Uganda – which actually happened while John and I were staying at Makerere University in 1971 – changed Uganda – and East Africa – irrevocably and forever – and not for the better.  We were so, so fortunate to have happened to go there before that difficult time of severe political upheaval and unrest.

I have a disturbing memory of creeping up towards the front gates of Makerere during the civil unrest during Amin’s takeover of the country, and seeing an enormous armoured “recoil-less rifle” parked at the University gates – thankfully with the gun’s muzzle pointing outwards.  There was a six p.m. curfew in Kampala, and it was definitely an unsettling end to our otherwise idyllic four year stay in that most beautiful of countries – pre-1972 Uganda.

TANZANIA AND ZANZIBAR

 

Trips to several National Parks in all three East African countries afforded us not only multiple opportunities to observe wild animals and (for myself and my dad, especially) birds – but also, we had the truly rare opportunity to visit Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania – the birthplace of humankind – where we saw the skull discovered by Louis B. Leakey and Mary Leakey, who had made the initial discoveries of the then-earliest known humanoid remains – so far in the last that our young minds couldn’t really quite grasp the distance in time of these ancient ancestors of ours.

Seeing that skull really sent the mind reeling…all those years, all that time from such humble beginnings to techno sophisticates that mankind has become in 2020 and beyond. What a thing to witness, John and I were in awe of the Olduvai Gorge archaeological site and it sparked a life-long fascination with the subject for me.

Also in Tanzania, we visited the remarkable Ngorongoro Crater which to me, seemed like the most beautiful place on Earth. I’ve never forgotten that visit, staying in a small hotel above the crater’s rim, with the most beautiful exotic flower garden I’ve ever seen – and on the morning before our trip down into the crater – in a Land Rover since the road was too small and treacherous for cars) I will never forget how incredibly beautiful the morning sunlight shone on those amazing beautiful flowers – and then I noticed something even more astonishingly lovely – the fluorescent plumage of light-dappled Sunbirds (Africa’s equivalent to the hummingbirds of the Americas) as they fed on the nectar of the flowers with their delicately curved beaks.

The road leading down into the crater proper (a dirt road, of course, being Africa in the 1960s) was so narrow and so difficult to navigate, that by law – Land Rovers only – would only be allowed to descend into the canyon in the morning hours, then later in the afternoon, no more descending vehicles – and only then, ascending Land Rovers were permitted. Had two way traffic been permitted – no one would be going anywhere on the tiny ridiculously narrow, steep and very dangerous “road” – which looked more like a wide footpath than an actual “road” – and we were used to narrow small difficult dirt roads.

So – we drove down early in the morning, visiting a Masai village at the bottom of the crater, seeing the lake and the masses of wild animals living there in huge herds…what an amazing day that was. John and I were in seventh heaven – so much to discover and learn!!

Other memorable trips were taken in Tanzania, including a visit with friends in Dar-es-salaam where I can recall getting up very early and going out onto the sand in the freezing cold dark early morning to see the bird life that lived along the shoreline. I remember going to look at the famous Makonde sculptures which were absolutely fascinating examples of local Tanzanian artists skill as sculptors.

On another day,  a short boat trip over from Dar-es-salaam, to the former Portuguese colony island of Zanzibar – and the unusual and unique Zanzibar City…I still have a beautiful carved wooden “Zanzibar chest” that Wes & Shirley brought home to California – Shirley gave it to me to put into my house in the US and it then subsequently travelled to Scotland with me in 2005 – so I still have a beautiful piece of art made in Zanzibar in the late 1960s – still, even now in 2020 … a memory of that single day’s visit to Zanzibar so many years ago.

On the way home, leaving Dar-es-salaam behind and heading north towards the southern Kenya border, as we drove past the legendary Mount Kilimanjaro, we had to stop in the road to allow a tortoise to slowly cross – which you don’t mind at all when you have such an amazing view of snow capped Kilimanjaro from the plains of Tanzania below – unforgettable moments and scenes from the life that John and I shared with our parents Wes & Shirley.

 

Tanzania is an amazing place and I wish we could have seen even more of it – but what we did experience – was absolutely remarkable.

KENYA

We only ventured down to Tanzania once I believe, to visit Olduvai, Ngorongoro and also to visit our friends the Stades who lived in Dar-es-salaam – the capital city of Tanzania. Tanzania was quite some distance from Uganda, but nearer-by Kenya was the country we visited the most after our many, many tours around our home base country of Uganda.

For example, we made several trips to Mombasa where we would spend a week swimming in the warm beautiful waters of the Indian Ocean, and also of course visiting as many National Parks as possible in all three countries for more and more animal and bird life experiences. We all became keen observers of wildlife and keen photographers too….what a place to grow up!! We were so, so fortunate.

My most precious memories of John and the family in Kenya – well, besides the amazing “Coraldene” resort we stayed at on our wonderfully restful and relaxing Mombasa trips to “the beach”…

…were of photo safaris taken in the west of Kenya, near the Kenya highlands… to places like Lake Naivasha (where wild monkeys ate all of the food in our campsite while we were away on a boat on the lake!!)…

…to the unbelievable sight of over one million Lesser Flamingos (along with smaller numbers of the Greater Flamingo as well) on nearby Lake Nakuru – one of the Bird Wonders Of The World surely. To see a million of anything (except stars of course, or grains of sand) is remarkable enough – but to see over a million large, pink flamingos all huddled into a gigantic mass of noisy gregarious bird activity, was an unbelievable and unforgettable sight that I have never forgotten no matter how much time has passed.

Another amazing journey was a rare trip by train through the Kenya highlands. We took the train, if memory serves, from Kampala in Uganda all the way across Kenya to our destination – Mombasa and another visit to our beloved “Coraldene” (where I saw one of the first live bands I’d ever seen) – the Kenya highlands being one of the most spectacularly beautiful places on Earth, having been created by the massive Rift Valley which is a huge geological “fault” on the African plate; which pushed up the highlands and made them into the beautiful thing they were then and are still today.
Going by train was amazing, a lovely, slow, deliberate climb up and up and up the escarpment until you reached the breathtaking highest parts of the “pushed up” land mass – and I remember we would open the train windows and gaze out in wonder at the astonishingly beautiful highland hills and villages as the train slowly made its way across the magical and almost unbelievable landscape – none of us had ever seen anything like it.

At one juncture – possibly on a different trip to Kenya (we went to Mombasa to our warm Indian Ocean beach haven many, many times over the four years we lived in Uganda) we took a day to visit a large tea plantation – tea growing being a huge industry in the highlands because tea grows well at higher altitudes (and the Kenya Highlands are definitely great for tea growing) and it was an interesting day walking around and seeing the tea in different stages of growth and processing.

 

Of course when visiting Kenya you had to visit the capital city, Nairobi which was considerably larger, more modern and more cosmopolitan than Uganda’s more traditional capital city Kampala. I don’t remember a lot about Nairobi – my memories tend towards wildlife (particularly of bird life in East Africa, my own personal passion for ornithology which is still with me today in 2020) and our visits to the National Parks in all three countries.

The National Parks in Kenya were no exception – amazing huge tracts of wild land teeming with huge herds of wildlife, from every imaginable kind of antelope to zebras and giraffe and buffalo and even sleek, beautiful cheetahs (my favourite big cat due to its amazing speed and agility) and lazy lions and lumbering hippos lounging in rivers…for John and I, to get to experience all of that amazing wildlife at such a young age – I am certain that those experiences left us both with really positive attitudes towards conservation and caring for both the wildlife and their environments – which are, of course – the National Parks.

UGANDA

 

Then…there were the trips around Uganda itself. These might range from a day’s drive with Dad if he had to visit a remote school somewhere miles away for some reason, to planned photo safaris similar to the ones taken in Kenya and Tanzania.

Uganda has several absolutely amazing National Parks from the stunning Murchison Falls in the north west, where the entire Nile river was forced through a 23 foot (?) gap in the rock – creating an amazing waterfall in the river – to the beautiful scrub land of Queen Elizabeth National Park (what else – Uganda being a former British colony) a stone’s throw across the Ishasha river from the Congo.

Wes & Shirley loved to tour around the country in our small Toyota station wagon (capacity four so not a “large” station wagon by any measure); and we took so many trips to so many amazing places during the four years we lived in Uganda – we travelled far up north to Moroto, which was basically an inhabited scrub/desert just south of the Sudan; where the locals feared that our cameras might be stealing their souls – they would leap off the side of the road into the bush if they saw you point a camera at them. What a remarkable time and place!

I remember our first trip to Murchison Falls National Park…we arrived in the late afternoon and the sun was streaming into this tiny village making the whole world go an indescribably beautiful dark orange-y brown colour that was something I’d never seen (before or since…unforgettable, beautiful light) – the most beautiful late, late afternoon early evening “light” I have ever seen in my entire life…we got out of the car to stretch our legs, and to ask where the campsite was that we were going to pitch our tent in for the night.

As we were standing there, suddenly – in complete silence mind you – three enormous giraffes came casually strolling into the Park village and walked right past us and our car – leaving us open mouthed in wonder at the prehistoric grace and huge gait of these enormous 18 foot tall animals, and they have such beautiful (and wonderfully large!!) gentle faces with those huge, liquid brown eyes…

They glanced down casually as they slowly strolled past us while the four of us just stood there awestruck at the sight of those three graceful, ancient creatures making their way unconcerned by humans or cars or Park villages. That is the largest animal I’ve ever been that close to – and until you can get close to wild giraffes, you really do not realise quite how tall, how broad and just how BIG they really are!!!

 

Incredibly beautiful wild creatures – walking past us as we stared up…waaaaay up at their beautiful faces with those impossibly long eyelashes…the astonishing beauty of nature. To a 12 or 14 year old child – that’s an amazing experience. John and I got to experience almost literal “heaven on Earth” in the incredibly beautiful, un-spoilt wilds of late 1960s East Africa…lucky beyond belief and an unforgettable, life-changing experience.

Later that night, Dad drove the family our dusty Toyota into a big empty field which was, apparently, a “campground”: amenities = zero, resources = one big empty field:

saf14

(Photo of the actual campsite at Murchison Falls that I am describing here – borrowed from the Stafford Family Snapshot Gallery and Timeline that follows the main blog entry below).  Dave Stafford, John Stafford and Robert Stafford work together to set up the main tent for Wes, Shirley and Robert Stafford to sleep in.

We parked along one edge of the crudely cleared campground, and set up our usual “no budget” camping / sleeping arrangements for our one night camping in Murchison Falls National Park.
Our younger brother Robert – who would have been about three years old at this time – slept with our parents in the big tent that we pitched about ten feet away from the parked Toyota station wagon. John and I – slept in the back part of the car with the seat folded down so we could stretch out our legs. I chose the side of the car at the very edge of the campground, while John slept on the campground side facing into the rectangular field.

As the evening progressed, a couple of other brave campers arrived in their vehicles and set up camp at different points around the edge of the campground, including a VW Camper Van with a huge bunch of bananas strapped to the van’s roof. This becomes significant to this incident shortly – bear with me – so Shirley would have prepared a meal for us and as it was now rapidly getting dark, we all went to our respective designated sleeping quarters for the night – Mom & Dad with Robert zipped up securely in the big tent, and John and I locked safely in the back of the Toyota wagon, bundled up warm in our sleeping bags.

This was African camping “1969 style” – cheap, effective and the most economical way to experience touring around Uganda on photo safaris or just as a way to avoid expensive hotels while visiting the various National Parks or just driving around the country (which was just as amazing as the parks in its own way) – we were a family that camped a lot over the years and it’s a great way to enjoy nature – and it’s a lot cheaper and is much more rewarding than hotels ever could be – a chance to see some nature and enjoy the fresh air and the great outdoors – it’s brilliant.

About two hours after we went to sleep, we were very, VERY suddenly awoken by a very sharp, powerful shock of the entire car suddenly moving – which it had. I remember being pretty frightened because I’d been jolted awake by the violent sharp shock to the exterior of the car…and being somewhat terrified – since I had just woken up and I had NO IDEA yet of what on Earth was going on – I remember whispering to my big brother who was in the sleeping bag next to me…”John…I think there’s a lion right outside of the car”.

I then tried to look out of the car window – out what had been a clear view out the car’s window of stars and dry grasslands – but my former view of the Ugandan brush land at night was gone – instead – the entire window had gone pitch black, like a total eclipse – I could no longer see the land, the stars – nothing – just a big mass blocking my view completely.

I don’t remember what John said in reply to my terrified whisper but suddenly – the car moved again – bouncing back to its original stable state – because the elephant that had leaned up against the car and caused the initial motion of the car that woke John and I up – had decided to move away so he stopped leaning against the car and walked away.

I could suddenly see out the window again and we both breathed a huge sigh of relief – it wasn’t a lion, it was a hungry elephant – and we surmised the next morning – based on the fact that the same or another elephant had taken the entire bunch of bananas (about 60 bananas – a huge bunch of bananas) off of the top of our neighbouring campers VW Camper Van (and had presumably eaten them all – they were GONE in the morning) and then – no doubt thinking that all cars might have free bunches of bananas strapped to their roofs – the elephant had walked across the campground and leaned up against our car (meaning the side of the elephant was pressed up against the window glass about six inches from where I lay sleeping) hoping to find more bananas…but, finding nothing – stopped leaning against my window and walked away – maybe to try a third car I will never know.

Of course, the elephant had no idea there were two slightly terrified kids sleeping in the car/banana restaurant he had discovered. I’m glad our car wasn’t configured as a giant mobile banana dispenser – because the elephant literally walked up, slammed his body against the side of the car, stayed there for a moment while seeking free food, and finding nothing – pulled himself away to go try his luck elsewhere.

That was a night to remember!! These were the kinds of amazing experiences that John and I were so, so privileged to be a part of. Amazing things happened during those four years – I mean on a single day – we’d encountered three giraffes at very close range just walking through the village so casually – and then a few hours later – an elephant gave us the fright of our lives until we understood what was actually happening. A hungry elephant looking for more bananas please!

At Home At Busuubizi T.T.C. – Near Mityana, Uganda


Of course, there were much more mundane episodes and memories, being children still, we both loved fireworks which you could purchase easily anywhere in East Africa (cheap firecrackers from China mostly – no restrictions back then) and we also both built plastic models of ships and planes as many children do whilst living at home at Busuubizi TTC – the teacher trying college near the town of Mityana some 50 miles west of Kampala.

One day we decided to take an old battleship model we didn’t want any more… we took it down into the forest about a third of a mile from our house (“forest” is what Ugandans call what Western people refer to as “jungles”) where we proceeded to stuff the model full of fireworks…then set it alight to watch the fireworks utterly destroy it. Strange ideas little boys get some times when they have unauthorised access to dangerous fireworks !! Who knows what prompted that – but it was FUN!

 

KAMPALA AND LINCOLN SCHOOL

During the last two years of our four year stay in Uganda, both John and I “commuted” between home and Kampala so we could attend school there – Lincoln School was American built and run, initially for the children of the various Embassies in Kampala, but eventually, anyone could attend, and we had a blast in a truly diverse multicultural environment of the school – my best friend was Predrag from Yugoslavia and I had friends and classmates from all over the world – from Norway and Sweden, all over Europe – every foreign national who was attached to an Embassy from any country in Kampala via their ambassador parents, ended up attending Lincoln School.

I recall lots of field trips and amazing school projects, and a great teacher called Mr. Van Dusen who drove us around Uganda to see African drummers tune up their drums with flames and then perform…. it was amazing. He also took us to see the remarkable Nyera rock paintings near Mbale in eastern Uganda which was a new and thought-provoking experience for John and myself.

I got my first electric guitar during 1970 (or thereabouts) and took it to school to demo for my pals. I can remember going to dances at embassy homes, and on one occasion – thirty kids on a large boat sailing on Lake Victoria – dancing the night away to the sound of a brand new hit song by a band called “The Doors” – “Light My Fire”, and I can remember saying it was really hard to dance for that long – the song seemed super long compared to most – and after five or six minutes I was exhausted! But how surreal to look back at now, so many years later – dancing as a young teenager to the Doors on a boat on Lake Victoria in Uganda in 1970 – that is absolutely bizarre and impossible – but it happened.

THE REST OF THE WORLD

My parents four years’ time teaching in Uganda was actually two two-year stints with a three month gap in between where we travelled back “home” to San Diego, and just stayed with friends until it was time to return to Uganda for the second stint. So my parents very cleverly worked our travel out so that on each transit between California and Uganda – they arranged for us to visit an amazing variety of places which to John and I, was even more amazing than living in Uganda for four years – at a very early age, we had experiences that many can only dream of.

So after the first two years – on the way back to California – we visited other countries.

On returning to Uganda after our three month break in California – we visited more countries.

And finally – on our final return from Uganda to California for the final time after the entire four years was up – we visited still more countries.

So we had three chances to stop off in various countries in Europe and we had even more amazing experiences whilst doing so. I’ve decided for purposes of this memory of John Stafford, to limit my detailed memories to the best and happiest times of our shared holiday, which roughly coincides with our time living in Uganda from 1967 through 1971.

In passing though, I wanted to make a brief list of the other places that the family had such wonderful opportunities to experience and visiting and spending time in those places, added more wonder and beauty to what was already the best and most wonderful childhood three brothers could have – Robert was very young (he was one in 1967 when my parents took the family to live in Uganda) but for John and I – it was the most amazing childhood imaginable.

Along with living in East Africa – these additional experiences in Europe only added to our cultural and historical educations – and changed both John’s life, and my life – forever. These memories now, are even more precious to me than ever before – and sharing them with my big brother John was a great way to grow up.

We looked out for each other, and helped Wes & Shirley look out for young Robert too – as families do. I feel so incredibly fortunate that I got to share these experiences with John and my family – and I know that those experiences enriched my own life so, so much – and I am sure that John cherished those memories as much as I still do.

A very, very brief listing of our rest of the world touring follows – in no particular order – and, no photos in this section of the blog – with some very brief notes on any notable experiences in those amazing places that John and I were so, so lucky to see and visit and experience.

Rest Of The World Tour – In Between Tours In East Africa

On the way to Africa initially – in 1967 – departing from JFK in New York City (where we had six weeks of training – and immunisations every Monday for six weeks) we stopped very briefly on the West coast of Northern Africa – essentially refuelling stops – but, our very first footfalls on African soil:

Liberia

Nigeria (??)
Or possibly, alternatively:
Senegal (??)
Liberia
I am absolutely certain we stopped in Liberia, but not sure on the second fuel stop – memory fail.
During the other three trips travelling between Uganda and California, we also visited:

London – United Kingdom (twice)- London only

Amsterdam – The Netherlands – including a very sobering and thought-provoking visit to the Anne Frank House – a beautiful city which I have returned to as an adult.

Athens – Greece – (twiceincluding but not limited toa visit to the Parthenon and a day trip to Delphi – Greece is an amazing country with so much culture and history – we really loved it there and from Athens, we also went on an amazing Mediterranean Cruise – a week on the Mediterranean – visiting several different Greek islands including:

Crete
Delos
…and possibly three or four others now lost to my fading memory, plus:

Ephesus – Turkey

…which was part of the same week long cruise – the ship visited five or six islands plus stopping at Ephesus for a day.

Jerusalem – Israel – the Garden Of Gethsemane is absolutely beautiful – old, old olives trees like we had never seen – also Bethlehem

Nicosia – Cyprus (to ease the transition of going from a Israel to Egypt in the very very tumultuous political situation in the Middle East in the late 1960s.)

Cairo – Egypt – including the Cairo Museum (mummies of Egyptian kings and queens), the Sphinx, and the Pyramids of Giza – including an absolutely unforgettable trip inside the Great Pyramid…an amazing, haunting unforgettable experience. To be deep inside the Great Pyramid….shivers.

Regina – Saskatchewan – Canada – to visit with Canadian friends who has been our next door neighbours at Busuubizi T.T.C. for the first two years 1967-1968.

Seattle – Washington – United States – to visit our grandmother, who had moved to Washington some years previously with her then new husband Harold.

 

As well as friends made in Uganda, there were also the thirty families were chosen for the US Aid funded program that took me parents to East Africa to teach – under a program called “Teacher Education in East Africa” (or “T.E.E.A.” as it was more commonly referred to) teaching student teachers “how to teach” – we made many, many friends among those 30 “T.E.E.A.” Families – which were initially dispersed across Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania in 1967 when we first went.

Some of those families and individuals returned after just two years, some did four or more and a few…just stayed and lived their lives our living and working in East Africa.

 

We remained in touch with several of those families, as well as the non-“T.E.E.A.” friends such as our Canadian neighbours that we later stopped off to visit in Canada as noted above.

 

Completing the list of countries visited, of course, are the three East African countries that we spent four astonishing and rewarding years in:

Tanzania – including Zanzibar

Kenya

Uganda

 

Looking back at these childhood memories spent with my “big brother” John after all these years – I know in my heart that despite the long protracted struggle with Parkinson’s that John had so much difficulty with, a struggle that he ultimately – but unavoidably – lost a few days ago…that his life was a brilliant one, and I am so proud and so glad that I got to share so very much of it with him; most especially, during the four very special years that our family had living in what can only be called a paradise on earth, in a natural, un-spoilt land full of wonder and beauty.

 

The people living there then, in Uganda, showed us the most incredible kindness, their spirit of generosity (when they themselves, had little or nothing to call their own), the welcome that they gave us and the mutual respect that grew between us – is unparalleled in my later experience living outside of Uganda in the many years since.
We had never encountered a place so beautiful in every way, populated by such gentle, kind, generous people, with a hunger for learning and knowledge and understanding, as we encountered during the four years that the five of us lived at Busuubizi Teacher Training College near Mityana, Uganda.

 

Finally…  because I had the same experiences – for the most part – that John did, during that amazing time – I know, I truly, truly know – deep down…with the greatest and most positive certainty, that the life of John Wesley Stafford, 1955 – 2020 – was, without a shred of doubt – an amazing life well-lived.

 

 

Dave Stafford

 

February 29, 2020 / March 1, 2020 – March 2, 2020

Central Scotland


 

Photo Gallery – John Wesley Stafford & Family

Family Snapshot Gallery – 1958 – 1972

TIMELINE:

San Diego, California: 1958 – 1965

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Shirley, David and John Stafford
– 1958 – photo by Wes Stafford.  John is age two, Dave is age three months (approximately).  Shirley Stafford looks supremely happy and amazingly beautiful in this photo – radiant, I would say.  Photo taken by the proud father, Wes Stafford.

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Shirley, John, David & Wes Stafford
– 1962.  John is age 7, Dave age 5 (approximately).

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John Stafford & Dave Stafford

“Professional Portrait” – circa  1965 – 1966.  John is age 10 or 11, Dave is age 8 or 9 (approximately).


East Africa: 1967 – 1971

Preparation: New York City – Summer 1967

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New York City, NY – Summer 1967:

In New York for six weeks training, weekly inoculations (something I absolutely dreaded and which gave me a lifelong fear of needles) and preparation for the “culture shock” of moving from the U.S.A. to Uganda – a ferry trip (possibly to Staten Island to see the Empire State Building?)  – with a pensive looking John Stafford – age 12 (or possibly 11) – holding his one-year old “baby brother” Robert Stafford on his lap.

We always joked later, that moving to New York City for six weeks, was far, far more of a “culture shock” than moving to Uganda ever was – and there is a lot of truth in that idea – New York was a… very different kind of place compared to what we had been accustomed to living in Southern California – New York City has a much more frenetic, fast-paced feel to it, especially when compared to the perhaps, more relaxed California lifestyle.  Culture Shock indeed!

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Unknown event – New York City:
Summer 1967.  Unknown boy in string tie (left) with John Stafford (right) looking very, very serious in his bow tie – clearly, both boys had won blue ribbons – for what event, is lost to the mists of time.

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Central Park Lake – New York City – Rowing:

A visit to New York City’s famed Central Park, where Wes Stafford rowed us around the lake – Dave Stafford and John Stafford standing on the lake shore.   Summer 1967.

 


 

Living In Uganda – 1967 – 1971

 

 

Mityana & Busuubizi Teacher Training College

 

Mityana – nearest town to Busuubizi T.T.C.:

 


Mityana, Uganda:


Dave, Shirley, Robert
& John Stafford at Mityana – the small town approximately three miles from Busuubizi T.T.C. where we lived – Mityana was located on the main 50 mile stretch of paved road that ran from Kampala in the centre of Uganda, fifty miles west to Mityana – where the paved road ended for good if you were heading further westward…

Busuubizi Teacher Training College near Mityana, Uganda

 

The College

 

Left:  Father Perrault introducing an afternoon student performance

Right:  Busuubizi T.T.C. student musicians performing

 

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Above:  Sign Describing the Busuubizi T.T.C. student’s play being performed

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Above:   scenes from the play

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Above:   scenes from the play

 

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Above:  Father Perrault’s rather untidy desk at the Busuubizi T.T.C. Teacher’s Staff Room

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Above:  Busuubizi T.T.C. student dorm rooms

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Above:  Busuubizi T.T.C. college classrooms

 

 

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Above:  Busuubizi T.T.C. fourth year student teachers group portrait

 

 

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Above; On the set at Uganda TV – Kampala, Uganda – Live Television College Debating Team Competition

 

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Above;  The Busuubizi T.T.C. Debate Team on live TV

 

 

 

 

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Above;  The opposing Debate Team from a nearby rival Girl’s College – who easily handed the Busuubizi T.T.C. Team a resounding and very humiliating defeat – crushed on live TV

 

 

Busuubizi Teacher Training College near Mityana, Uganda

 

At Home At Busuubizi T.T.C. – The Stafford Residence(s)

 

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Housing – In The Beginning – “House 1” (Stafford Residence ’67 – ’69):

External views of one of the two former nuns’ quarters that served as home for the Stafford Family while living at Busuubizi T.T.C.   For the sake of this narrative, I will henceforth refer to this as “House 1” – please see below for the rather convoluted history of where we lived during this time.

 

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Housing – In The Beginning – “House 2” (Martin Residence – ’67 – ’69):

Both houses were really lovely, old well-built red brick houses – very large by Ugandan standards – originally designed to house many nuns – they were large and spacious – both of them perfect for a family with children – as both the Stafford Family and our first neighbours (first two years only), the Martin Family from Canada – both had children, with Ritchie Martin actually being born during this first two year period living at Busuubizi T.T.C.

 

 

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And Then There Were Two – “House 1” & “House 2” – Full History:

Photo of both of the former nuns’ quarters that served as home for the Stafford Family while at Busuubizi T.T.C.   What actually happened was, that for the first two years, we lived in the house shown on the left (aka “House 1” – from ’67 – ’69) in the above photo – while our neighbours from Canada – Dan & Marilyn Martin, with their two children – lived in the house shown on the right (aka “House 2” – from ’67 – ’69).

That was the Stafford Family’s housing situation then, for the first two-year period running roughly between from 1967 – 1969;  of our stay at Busuubizi – the Stafford Family living in House 1, and the Martin Family living in House 2.

Then, after we had our three month break back in San Diego at the two-year mark of our T.E.E.A. contract (which had initially been for just two years, but, we had applied for and been accepted for a second two year contract to run immediately after the first)  – and, at the same time – with the Martins returned to Canada permanently at the end of the ’67 – ’69 period (since their teaching contract with the Canadian government had come to it’s final end) – when we came back from our “break” in the U.S., we decided that we would move from “House 1” – into “House 2”

Not that the houses or back gardens were terrifically different, but House 2 was perhaps, slightly more “well-appointed” inside, and it had a vegetable garden which House 1 had not had – free food is always a nice thing to have growing out back (though, House 2’s garden was not quite as large as the back garden at House 1 but it was definitely an improvement in enough other ways that it didn’t matter – it was a “minor upgrade” overall shall we say.

 



Busuubizi – Flora – The Beauty Of East African Plant Life & Flowers:

Some examples of plants and flowers that were already growing at the two red-brick houses when we arrived at Busuubizi in 1967.

 

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Busuubizi – Flora – The Beauty Of East African Plant Life & Flowers:

More spectacular flowers that were everyday adornments to the front, side and back gardens at the two red-brick houses at Busuubizi.

 

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Busuubizi – Flora – The Beauty Of East African Plant Life & Flowers:

This one is, I believe, a “passion flower” (or possibly “passion fruit” flower – I am not a botanist and I won’t even guess at the names of most of these beautiful plants / flowers) – which were quite common in Uganda but I always admired it’s delicate construction and beauty – a lovely, almost ethereal flower.

 

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Busuubizi – Flora – The Astonishing Size & Growth Rate Of East African Plant Life & Flowers:

Moving now into more generic photographs of the back gardens of the two houses, this photo of some sunflowers – that we grew from seeds – demonstrates not only the incredible growth rate of plants in the excellent year round growing conditions in Uganda – with it’s alternating “dry” and “rainy” seasons, causing the plants to grow very quickly, become very green, full, and lush – and in the case of these sunflowers grown from seeds – very, very TALL.


Dave Stafford
– boosted by Wes Stafford in order to attempt to reach the top most sunflower (and not even getting close, despite Dad’s assistance) – actually provides us with a rough estimate of the overall height that these gargantuan sunflowers had shot up to – Wes was six foot one inches tall, and with his arms stretched up holding my feet to steady me, would have represented about six foot plus perhaps 20 inches.

I would have been about 5 foot 7 or 8 at this point, and I am in standing position too – so that brings us to a subtotal of approximately, 11 ft 27 inches – call it 11 ft 24 inches so 13 feet – and you can clearly see that the tallest sunflower is still towering over my head by another four feet at least – which would put the overall, very approximate height of the tallest plant here at about 17 feet or taller – which is absolutely extraordinary.  The tallest sunflowers we had ever seen or grown back in California might have reached seven or eight feet – possibly 9 or 10 foot in extreme cases.   But with the voluminous rainfall and sunny seasons in between, these “ordinary” sunflowers – became true giants of their species – an amazing thing to witness – and at such close quarters, thanks to my Dad, Wes Stafford.

 

Photo by John Stafford

 

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Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 1 Back Garden:


John Stafford
playing on one of the amazing super high rope swings that Wes Stafford invented and managed to hang from the very, very high branches of a very large, very tall tree growing in the back garden at House 1.  We had an absolute blast with these “super swings” – which had enormous “travel” and actually allowed you to get pretty dangerously airborne!  Fortunately, we never pushed this too far, and never had any injuries or problems – not sure modern Health & Safety would approve – but those were innocent times, and we were a lot safer in many ways than you might be now in similar circumstances.  A great innovation in swing-making by Wes Stafford.

 

 

Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 1:
Left: A “play house” constructed by the two young men pictured, built in the back garden for Robert Stafford to play in – at House 1.

Right: Dave Stafford and his beloved Hammock – with Robbie Martin and Robert Stafford, who loved to get a free swing in the hammock (the super high rope swing being far too advanced and dangerous for these two much younger children) in the side yard of House 1.

 


Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 1:

 

Left:  A rather long snake skin brought to us – unfortunately – at House 1 (to see if we wanted to buy it – we decidedly did not – but, they allowed Dad to take a picture of it before leaving after their unsuccessful sale attempt.


John Stafford
and Dave Stafford with a very large Python skin – which was about the same length as our entire high-tech aluminium-siding-constructed “garage” (a tattered metal lean-to that just barely fit our tiny Toyota wagon in) visible directly behind the displayed snake skin – so that was a pretty long snake – perhaps, approaching 20 feet in length.  It is my understanding that they can grow to even greater lengths over time, but this was certainly the longest snake we had ever seen!

Right: A view of another high-tech piece of equipment that demonstrates the fairly basic nature of our accommodations at Busuubizi- our fresh water tank located in the back garden of House 1.

 

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Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 1:

Robert Stafford and friend, back garden of House 1

 

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Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 1:


Robert Stafford
in his rain gear, braves a nasty downpour just to be able to go out and play – now that is determination.

 

 

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Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 1:

More of Robert Stafford’s very rainy day – now adding the umbrella to his rain defence equipment.

 

 

 

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Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 1:


Possibly my favourite photo of Robert Stafford from this period, a beautiful shot taken through the window pane, and the expression on Robert’s face, as he is just about managing to avoid getting thoroughly soaked has a maturity and knowledge behind that belie his then very young years – from almost any viewpoint – this is a beautiful photograph of a child defending himself against the elements – and just about winning.

 

 

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Busuubizi – Back Gardens Of The Red-Brick Houses:  House 2:

Robert Stafford and Wes Stafford, mowing the rather large back lawn at House 2
House 2 was just somewhat superior in terms of both the house’s interior and the usefulness of the back garden  – and that, then was the Stafford Family’s housing situation then, for the second two-year period running roughly between ’69 – ’71 – of our four year overall stay at Busuubizi.

To complete the rather convoluted tale of who lived in which house “when”:  after the Martin Family returned home to Canada for good in 1969,  another Canadian educator – Les Norval, a bachelor at that time – arrived (to replace the now departed Martins, of course) – and since we had already vacated House 1 on our return from the US after the first two year stint and now lived in House 2 – Les then naturally moved into what had been “our” original home – House 1.

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Busuubizi T.T.C. – Les Norval, Educator / Neighbour / Friend ’69 – ’71:

A snapshot of Les in the staff room at Busuubizi T.T.C. proper.  A gentleman in the truest senses of the word, and a scholar and educator –  and, a great and true friend to all five of the Stafford Family during our final two years at Busuubizi.

Les was an incredibly kind, gentle and generous man who remained friends with all of us for many, many decades even after we had all returned back either to the US in our case or to Canada in his.

Les was also, an amazing neighbour and friend to all of us.  I remember one day, out of the blue, he just gave me a dozen or more 7 inch 45 rpm records – singles – that I still have to this day – some of them with “Les” scrawled on them with a black marker – and I can thank Les for an early appreciation of some pretty important music and bands that was contained on those records that he knew I would love.

He was so generous and kind that he realised that these records would mean even more to me than they had to him (since I was already at that age, a huge, huge fan of many types of music) – and he just said “here, here are some records I think you might like – please take these” – and I was flabbergasted, but I immediately played them all on my portable Phillips battery powered record player – which for one thing, led to me becoming an instant fan of the Beach Boys (one of the singles he gave me was “Break Away” – a Beach Boys tune I adore to this day) and also of a number of other bands – what a nice person!

So for the second two year period – Les lived in House 1 and the Stafford Family lived in House 2.  Simple!  So straightforward – but, it made sense at the time and it was a good decision.

I loved living in both houses – and best of all – behind the houses – there was nothing.  You could walk straight through your back garden (either one), and out into the grassy, scrub like top of a small hill.  A five minute walk down a narrow dirt path, led you to the edge of a patch of forest that filled a small valley directly behind the two houses – and then you would continue to descend on down the dirt path until you suddenly entered into the forest – and it got darker and darker until you reached the bottom – where small stagnant pools held abundant insect life and a lot of really, really beautiful butterflies, dragonflies and the like.

 

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Busuubizi – Behind The Two Red-Brick Houses – Down The Hill – On The Forest Floor:

The above photo is an actual photo taken in the small strip of forest I’ve just described that ran through the valley or depression at the bottom of the hill that our two red-brick houses “backed onto”.  John and I both spent many hours in the forest, just sitting and listening to the sounds of insects and bird song, and watching amazingly beautiful insects, including butterflies like this one, as well as dragonflies, and many, many other insects.

The forest (what Western folk refer to as “jungles”) is a quiet place usually, and I can remember being down at the very bottom with the butterflies, in almost complete silence at midday – with the midday sun far above, almost completely hidden by the canopy of the trees some hundred to two hundred feet above my head…

 

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Busuubizi – Behind The Two Red-Brick Houses – Down The Hill – More From The Forest:

Another actual photo of the same forest, this time showing the base of a tree and some mushrooms or toadstools growing on or next to the tree – and the lovely dappled, sunlight as it was filtered by the canopy of trees many, many feet above our heads.

It was a spectacularly beautiful, peaceful place and no one ever really went there except for John Stafford and myself.   We never ever saw anyone down there, although very occasionally,  we could hear logging crews cutting wood in the distance – but that was very, very rare.

If you continued on, from the forest floor upwards again, using the same dirt path – it would then begin to climb – up the next hill – and you would quite suddenly again, emerge into sunlight – and then climb up a very similar, grassy / scrub hill much like the one just behind the two houses – until you reached the summit of the next (uninhabited) small hill that was covered in wild, beautiful trees and tall grass.

You really didn’t see much wildlife except for insects and of course, birds – birds were everywhere, and African bird life is another topic for another blog at another time – an amazing subject, and much of my spare time in Africa was spent studying birds, observing them, listening to them – and gaining a lifelong respect and love for those amazing flying descendants of the dinosaurs – birds are astonishing creatures.

Snakes were everywhere – but, you never really saw them.  Only once in four years did we see a wild snake near our house – on that same grassy hill leading down the forest (I didn’t see it – Wes Stafford and John Stafford were walking down the path with visiting friends from the U.S. when they suddenly noticed a poisonous cobra “standing” up in the grass a few feet off of the pathway.  Not threatening at all, and they simply had a look – then walked past him and continued on down into the forest where John and Wes were leading them.

I was also aware of another type of snake (also, which I never saw!) – the green mamba – which is an all-green snake that likes to hide in bright green banana trees and other bright green trees – a very poisonous and deadly snake – and I am quite, quite certain that both John and I would have walked within a foot or two of these and never, ever have known it – because their camouflage is so perfect, they blend in so well into the bright green foliage (evolution designed them to disappear into the plants and trees to give them the advantage of surprise when hunting prey).

So, when you were just walking along, or riding your bikes as we both often did along these tiny dirt footpath /trails that wound everywhere across the landscape (since humans had walked there before) – you would just be utterly oblivious to any snakes at all – the brown coloured ones would be camouflaged by the grasslands and scrub, while the green mambas had the perfect cover and camouflage provided by the banana tree or other bright green trees – of which there were very, very many indeed throughout the Ugandan natural environment.

Blissfully unaware of any dangers – John Stafford and I walked very far afield – I know I was sometimes five or six miles away from the house (unbeknown to Wes and Shirley Stafford – who probably thought we were just beyond the back yard) …. but we never ever, came to any harm at all and were absolutely perfectly safe for the entire four years out there in that wild, untamed and incredibly beautiful natural environment of Uganda in the 1960s – no mishaps, no close encounters with any dangerous animals or snakes (and the snakes I am sure, were EVERYWHERE – but – you never, ever saw them thanks to millions of years of excellent evolution – giving them the most perfect, amazing camouflage imaginable – specialisation in action.

In this part of Uganda, it was a pretty “standard arrangement” that the tops of hills would be grassy, with trees, and the valleys or depressions, would fill up with forests – with the trees reaching up between the variously sized hills ever seeking the sun – but it made for an enchanting landscape to view and especially, to explore – and both John and I, spent many, many days and hours – separately sometimes, often, together – exploring the forests and hilltop environments common around Busuubizi.

 

 

 


 

A Brief Interlude…

 

A Truly Remarkable Gesture

 

 

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Welcome home!
Prepared decorations / greetings loving prepared and created by Busuubizi T.T.C. students in anticipation of the return of their beloved “Mr. Stafford” after our return from a three month “break” in our hometown of San Diego, California at the end of our first two year contract in 1969.

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Welcome home!


I cannot express the surprise, delight and wonderful feeling that seeing these painstakingly-created designs made of stones, flower petals and other natural object – and laid out on the pathway leading us to our own front door.
After the long, long flight and journey from San Diego all the way back to Uganda  – to return to Busuubizi to this remarkable, unique, artistic and resounding “Welcome Home” is just one of many, many examples of the kind-hearted, gentle Ugandans as they expressed their admiration and gratitude for the work that their favourite teacher, Wes Stafford was doing at the College – we were touched greatly by this amazing display of welcome and friendship and true generosity of spirit – the people of Uganda were among the most gentle and kind that I have ever encountered anywhere in the world.  What an incredible “Welcome Back” that was !!!   Absolutely amazing.

 

 

 


 

 

Busuubizi T.T.C.: 

 

At Home / Indoors At Busuubizi T.T.C.:

 

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At Home / Indoors At Busuubizi T.T.C.:

Views inside of the house – with Shirley Stafford seen in these two photos – working constantly on projects and in the photo at right, making clothes for the three of us boys on the old fashioned cast-iron “treadle” sewing machine she brought with us – since we did not know if we would be assigned to an area with electricity or not – she reckoned correctly that with foot power – she could sew by candlelight if need be.

Talk about being prepared – what a remarkable woman Shirley was and is !  Extremely intelligent and very, very capable – and an amazing teacher, too.

 

 

 

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Wes Stafford & John Stafford
in the dining room – event unknown – circa 1968.

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Christmas In UgandaWes, John, Robert, Dave, Shirley Stafford – circa 1968.

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Shirley, Dave & John Stafford – Unknown Location – Uganda – circa 1968.

 

 

 

 

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Wes Stafford – Dave, Shirley
(seated) and Robert Stafford (foreground)

Photo by John Stafford – Family Camping Trip – Unknown Location – Uganda – circa 1968.

 

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Dave Stafford and Robert Stafford in dining room at House 1 – circa 1967 – 1968

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The bathroom at House 1
– and our incredibly tiny,  hot water heater – located in the bathroom, it was the ONLY source of hot or boiling water in the entire house – meaning that if, when trying to cook out in the kitchen, Shirley Stafford needed hot water – she had to take a pan from the kitchen, walk down the hall from the kitchen to the bathroom, light the pilot light if it wasn’t lit, start up the water heater – and eventually, get enough hot water for her needs – and trundle back up the hall to the kitchen – every day, numerous times a day – for four years!

Yet – she never complained once to my memory – and she tackled this much less convenient, more difficult, and much more basic lifestyle with only the basic comforts of brick walls around you – with incredible grace and competence – she was totally comfortable working in this decidedly less modern environment.

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Robert Stafford in the bath, as usual – laughing like mad – a very happy little kid!

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At Home / Indoors At Busuubizi T.T.C.: 

The matching Stafford brothers – Dave and John –  at home – house 1 – living room (attire handmade by Shirley Stafford on her cast iron treadle sewing machine) –  Dave and John grinning at the camera, at home at Busuubizi.

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The three Stafford brothers at home at Busuubizi – John Stafford reading to Robert  –  at home – house 1 – living room – circa 1968.

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Watching our tiny TV set, television in Uganda was still in it’s infancy in 1967 / 1968, and had
just onebroadcast Television Station, named “Uganda TV” (rather predictably) – which broadcast in glorious black and white only.


At that time, they had just five or
six hours of programme available (and, not always reliably available – outages were commonplace and sometimes lasted for hours – but generally available) each night – that was the full extent of “Uganda TV at the time!


But, it was definitely better than nothing – at home – House 1 – living room – circa 1968.

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John Stafford at Busuubizi T.T.C  posing for a portrait outside House 1 – circa 1968

 

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John Stafford in his bedroom at House 1 – he was a big fan of the author Charles M. Schulz’ “Peanuts” characters – as were we all – and John had this amazing collection of super-sized “Peanuts” drawings on his bedroom wall – pure class ! – House 1 – circa 1968

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Parallel Universe: an eerily similar pair of images to the two photos of John Stafford directly above: 

This time, of Dave Stafford at Busuubizi T.T.C  posing for a portrait outside House 1 – circa 1968

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dave Stafford’s
bedroom at House 1 – where there is a slight indication of a possible – very slight – fondness for bird life and ornithology – just a couple of small hints are visible in this photograph… – House 1 – circa 1968

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Fourth Of July – American Embassy Sponsored Annual Picnic – Kampala, Uganda:

Left – Wes Stafford – drinking beer (a VERY rare sight indeed!) – with Dave Stafford & Robert Stafford – Photo by John Stafford – circa 1968 – 1969.

 

 

 

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Fourth Of July – American Embassy Sponsored Annual Picnic – Kampala, Uganda:

Right – Dave Stafford – sack race – looking under enthusiastic – since that activity did not involve birds or music – sports not being my thing, really – ever.

 

A Brief Interlude / Sojourn In Kenya (Mission Of Mercy Visit):

 

Manor House Boarding School, Western Kenya:

 

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Dave Stafford and John Stafford in their Manor House school uniforms – photographed by Wes Stafford on the grounds of Manor House circa 1968.

Two very rare shots of John Stafford and Dave Stafford wearing their “school uniforms” – during an abortive, ill-fated attempt to send us to a British “boarding school” in western Kenya, which was called “Manor House” – an educational experiment which failed miserably – it was simply not for us – and why we might need to learn Latin or Horseback Riding, I never did understand…

John and I barely managed to last just one semester there – about three months – and
then it was back to Uganda for more home schooling again (we did home schooling / correspondence courses between 1967 – 1968) until ultimately, finally, in 1969 – when we were able to attend the American school in Kampala, Uganda.

That ill-fated attempt at attending a “boarding school” – quite an alien concept to Americans (although perhaps millions of British people emerged relative unscathed from such institutions – or did they??)  would have been during late 1968, with our later attendance at Lincoln School in Kampala, for the final two years of our stay – being much, much more well-suited to our needs than the rather tradition-bound and peculiarly English school that Manor House was – a most unpleasant place!

 

 

 

 

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Dave Stafford
with visiting little brother Robert Stafford – and John Stafford, again in their Manor House school uniforms – photographed by Wes Stafford in the dorm room at Manor House circa 1968.

 


Friends & Neighbours – Both Near & Far

The People In Our Lives – 1967 – 1971:
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At Home At Busuubizi T.T.C. – Friends & Neighbours:

Father Perreault, the head and director of Busuubizi T.T.C. one of two French Canadian priests who dedicated their lives to the College and to their excellent programme for student teachers – teachers being a desperately-needed resource in the young, growing nation of Uganda during the 1960s.

Father Perrault, pictured here with an unidentified visitor or educator / colleague, came to a disturbing and truly tragic – and violent – end, at the hands of Idi Amin’s out-of-control military in 1971.

After some 40 plus years living and working at Busuubizi T.T.C. and helping to nurture both the college itself as well as mentoring and sending off thousands and thousands of well-trained teachers every year for those 40-plus years, decided that the time had finally come to return home to Canada for some leave.

He had never taken leave in the entire four decades he lived and worked at Busuubizi, and I am sure he looked forward to the prospect of returning home to Canada to the land of his birth and his family.  That was, however – never to happen.
In an incredible tragedy that we only learned about much, much later on after it originally happened – Father Perrault had travelled from Busuubizi to Uganda’s only airport at Entebbe (where, it seems, a lot of bad things have happened I am afraid to say) and for some unknown reason – was accosted by soldiers, who shot and killed him for absolutely no reason – and, I have been unable to verify this, but we were told at the time, that, realising they had just killed a harmless, innocent Catholic priest – the soldiers threw his body into nearby Lake Victoria to hide the evidence of their hideous, unprovoked crime.

This was my first real personal experience of violent death, of someone I knew well and had known for four years as a good, good and kind, gentle person – like his assistant headmaster Father Landry (see below) – these men were there for the purposes of good, for education, to help and nurture people and raise the level of education for all Ugandans – for enlightenment.

There in Uganda for life, giving up their home in Canada and coming to East Africa – there for the very best of reasons – dedicated, caring about Uganda and it’s people who often lived in poverty which can many times, be attributed to a poor education.
Fathers Perrault and Landry, worked very, very hard, for a very, very long time – so the injustice, and the horror at what Amin’s soldiers did to Father Perrault – haunts and horrifies me to this day so many, many years since.  One of the saddest events of my life, happening near the end of our time in East Africa – which, while not cut short – our eventual departure in 1971 some months after Amin took control of the country – certainly meant that it would be a final departure for us, and we would not return to Uganda while such political unrest – under the rule of a cruel despot – was in power – and the subsequent damage Idi Amin did to Uganda has been sadly, well-documented since then.
If you are not familiar with the more recent history of Uganda – suffice it to say, that decades after Amin was deposed and left the country – the damage he did, laid waste to a once beautiful land; destroyed and decimated wild life; violated the National Parks and game preserves which were used as food supplies – and generally set back Uganda 50 years – compared to the excellent forward progress made under the previous leadership of President Milton Obote – since (and before) Uganda had obtained it’s independence from the United Kingdom (I believe in 1962) and part of the great strides made in growth, education and improvement can be directly attributed to the quiet work of men like Fathers Perrault and Landry – men of peace, educators – kind, gentle people who deserved better treatment than received.
That forward progress ended abruptly in 1971 – while John Stafford and I were staying at Makerere University in Kampala at the very moment Amin took over Uganda from Obote (who was out of the country when the coup happened) – and we then spent a few last uneasy months quietly packing up in preparation to return to the U.S. for good – thanks to Amin coming into power right near the very end of our four year time in Uganda.
Father Perrault – may he rest in peace – was a good, good man and an excellent education, and the work that he and Father Perrault did – assisted by people like Wes Stafford, the Martins, and Les Norval – was invaluable in that forward push for education and enlightenment that flourished so brightly in Uganda between 1962 (and before) but ended forever in early 1971 when Amin seized control of the country forcibly and announced that he was now the President of Uganda.

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At Home At Busuubizi T.T.C. – Friends & Neighbours:

The remarkable Father Landry – French Canadian priest and educator, one of two French Canadian priests who dedicated their entire lives to building and running Busuubizi Teacher Training College – which began life as part of a Catholic mission effort – and was still being run by two remarkable French Canadian priests of whom Father Landry was one.

Father Landry was a regular visitor to the Stafford house on many evenings – since he and Wes worked together so closely at the college, they had become good friends. Many a night was spent in uproarious laughter and fun when Landry visited us – not your typical priest then, and he liked a drink and a laugh as much as the next man – a great guy to work with and Wes had a fantastic working relationship with both of the the Catholic Fathers and joined in with assisting them with the growth and expansion of the their Teacher Training programmes.  A remarkable, unforgettable character and a huge part of our daily lives for the entire four years we lived in Uganda – a good man.  I have the fondest memories of this kind and gentle, and very funny man.

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At Home At Busuubizi T.T.C. – Friends & Neighbours:

Friends from Canada – our only neighbours at Busuubizi during the 1967- 1969 period (they returned home to Canada for good in 1969) – then living in the house next to ours (there were two large brick houses built along the dirt road that leads up to the actual college – both formerly nun’s quarters – they lived in House 2 – see above under “Housing”)

Marilyn Martin & new arrival Ritchie, Dan Martin & son Robbie – who lived in the “other” former nun’s quarters next door to the Staffords for the first two years we lived at Busuubizi – circa 1967.

Left- Marilyn Martin with Ritchie & Robbie Martin and unidentified helpers, House 2 back garden – circa 1968 – 1969.
Right – Various Martins and Stafford relaxing in the Martin’s back garden at House 2 – with John Stafford visible at the far right.

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Other Friends Farther Afield:

Left to right: Dave Stafford (with George Harrison-inspired Beatle haircut), the young son of Paul Mayerson (not pictured), another teacher friend from a nearby school some short distance from Mityana at a place called “Nambutamba” – which is where this photo was actually taken, and John Stafford (with sensible, non-Beatle-inspired haircut) – playing Frisbee at Nambutamba – circa 1968 – 1969.

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Other Friends Farther Afield –
Old Friends:

During one of our visits to Kenya – foreground, George Fleming – fellow teacher and good friend of Wes Stafford (George and Wes had worked together at the same school in the U.S. prior to applying to T.E.E.A. – and out of 30 families in the entire US who were selected to participate in the Teacher Training programme – both Wes and George Fleming – from the same school in the same city were accepted.

We were assigned to Uganda, while George and his family were assigned to work in Kenya. The Stafford Family visit the Fleming Family at their home in Kenya – in the centre – Shirley Stafford & Robert Stafford – at the back, George’s wife and children – circa 1969- 1970

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Other Friends From Near And Far – Visitors & Visits:

A single American woman on a T.E.E>A. contract just like ours – who travelled to Uganda on her own as one of the 30 selected to participate – Vera Washington – another T.E.E.A. educator working under the same US Aid funded programme that my parents were contracted under, came to visit us at Busuubizi one day – and seems more than delighted to re-acquaint herself with young Robert Stafford.

Vera was a dynamic and remarkably individual with a big heart and an infectious laugh – really funny and really fun to be around – one of the nicest people we knew within the extended T.E.E.A. “family”.  Circa -1967 – 1968.

 

 

 

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Other Friends From Near And Far – Visitors & Visits:

 

More T.E.E.A. educator friends – this time, the Stades, came all the way from Dar-es-salaam by car – a two day journey at least – to visit the Stafford Family at Busuubizi.  From left to right:  John Stafford (with binoculars), Dave Stafford (with walking stick) Ramon Stade (his wife, Pat Stade – is not shown) with infant son in his backpack, and Wes Stafford with Robert Stafford being held aloft, outside the Girls Primary School just a few hundred yards up the road, towards the college proper – setting out on a long hike to visit the forest and countryside beyond Busuubizi T.T.C. proper – perhaps, two or three miles of walking in an afternoon – a nice visit from a really lovely family.

Later on, when the Stafford Family was travelling on one of many, many photo “safaris” to Tanzania – we stayed with the Stades (who were based in Dar-es-salaam) – just as they stayed with us when they came to visit in Uganda – when we were visiting Dar-es-salaam in Tanzania, and the island of Zanzibar.

This is the advantage, of course, of being acquainted with or friends with, 29 different American families and individual teachers, who were living strewn across all of East Africa – was that wherever you were travelling, visiting or going on photo safari – you could just about guarantee that you could stay with a friendly family for a night  or two – while you went about your travels – again, as with camping – avoiding costly hotels and other expensive places to stay – and having 29 friends across three countries is a great unofficial “travel network” to say the very least – an excellent arrangement.


Other Friends From Near And Far – Visitors & Visits – The Nickels – Kampala, Uganda – 1969 – 1971:

Kampala, Uganda – at the Makerere University home of John and Evy Nickel (John was a teacher and lecturer at the University), who graciously hosted me and allowed me to stay with their family during the week – returning to Busuubizi every weekend during the summers, of course – so that both John Stafford and I, could attend Lincoln School in Kampala – during our final two years in Uganda (John stayed with a different American family who lived on the other side of the Makerere University campus).

Seated from left to right are Tony Nickel, Linda Wurster, Dave Stafford and an unidentified friend of Linda Wurster (I really liked Linda a lot – as you can see from my body language lol!) – and the Nickels’ two prized poodles, Penny and Dolly – with Tony and Linda.

 


Busuubizi T.T.C. – Outdoor Scenes

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Nearby Busuubizi:

The old signpost and sign pointing towards Busuubizi, a turn off from the main paved road that runs from Kampala to Mityana – just before you arrive in Mityana, you would turn off to the left towards the college.

Wes Stafford put up a new sign (featuring distances now indicated in the brand new metric system just adopted in Uganda – following suit with it’s old mentor the United Kingdom)  towards the end of our stay in Uganda, and then carefully dismantled the old sign – and later, shipped it home – he brought it back to San Diego, cleaned it up and it hung over our fireplace for many years during our time in California after returning for good from Uganda in 1971 – a wonderful keepsake / reminder of our time at Busuubizi !

 

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Kanene – The Sacred Tree / Approaching The Turnoff To The Final Road To Busuubizi:

Starting from the paved road that runs from the East to the West from Kampala (paved for just 50 miles – with the pavement ending – for good – at the western end of Mityana town), you would take a left turn to the South, onto the “connecting road”  – a large, well maintained dirt road (seen above) that ran about two miles down to where another left turn, would take you onto the Final Road To Busuubizi.
Turning left at “Kanene”, the large, hollow,  sacred tree (seen above) and take the smaller dirt road just a short distance – perhaps a third of the mile – passing the two former nuns’ red brick residence houses that became the Stafford’s homes – on your right, until you reach the College itself at the end on the left side.

 

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The Final Road To Busuubizi:

The dirt road that ran from a row of shops at the start of the small dirt road that ran from the “connecting road” that ran between Mityana (and it’s paved road) and the turnoff to the left for Busuubizi T.T.C. – which is the road you see in this photograph.

 

Wes Stafford and Robert Stafford are working on clearing the road (Wes is standing almost directly in front of our house, which is out of shot just behind him) – and Dan Martin, our neighbour – can be seen leaning on a shovel at the far right.
These road works, were part of the preparations for a forthcoming visit by the Archbishop Of Uganda to Busuubizi T.T.C.
The large tree at the back of the photo seen here is another view of “Kanene” – this time – from the “Final Road To Busuubizi” viewpoint – looking BACK towards the “connecting road”  (alternately – you can see it from the “connecting road” viewpoint, in the image directly above this one – please see “Approaching The Turnoff To The Final Road To Busuubizi” directly above this entry).

The tree is at the corner where you turn left to go up to the College, at the very start of the “Final Road To Busuubizi” – the smaller dirt road that runs from the Mityana to Busuubizi “connecting road” up to the college – this ancient tree, named “Kanene” – an old, hollow tree that the Ugandans had a deep respect for (and fear of) due to it being haunted.  According to the local people, not only was the tree itself haunted – everyone around lived in real fear of “Kanene” – I believe due to the notion that evil spirits inhabited it, and could roam free at night and cause people harm – and dared not touch it or go to near it – especially at night – ancient “Kanene”  was treated with real respect.

 


The Final Road To Busuubizi:

Left: Robert Stafford, helping with the preparations for the Archbishop’s visit.
Right: Cows passing by on the road to the college, past House 1 – as they did nearly every single day.

 


The Final Road To Busuubizi:

Left:  Primary school boys, in white or pink “uniform” shirts – help with the preparations for the Archbishop’s visit.
Right: Handmade sign made by the students to welcome the Archbishop Of Uganda to Busuubizi Parish.

 

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Welcome And Celebration – Archbishop Of Uganda:
Nervous musicians perform for the Archbishop on his arrival at Busuubizi T.T.C.

 

 

 


Nearby To Busuubizi T.T.C.

 

Termite Works On A Grand Scale

 


Termites Building Big In Uganda:

We were always amazed at the incredible size of African termite mounds – and these were not the largest we saw. Two very tall termite mounds very near to Busuubizi T.T.C.
Top left:  Dave Stafford climbs to the top of a very tall termite mound
Top Right: Dave, Shirley, Robert and John Stafford pose in front of a termite mound
Bottom: Typical burlap “trap” – made by Ugandans just before the rains began – because they knew that when the rains come, that flying ants – which are considered a delicacy – would all fly from their nests to mate on the wing – only by trapping them with these home made traps, the ants would fly – and then crash back down – earthbound – and then the Ugandans would come along and eat the ants – grasping the wings, and biting the (apparently) delicious insect bodies with their back teeth – they were absolutely delighted to capture these and eat them by the hundreds – and there were thousands and thousands of them flying every rainy season.

Not for the faint of heart – I wouldn’t try them, and no one in the Stafford family ever tried such a thing – a very different cultural aspect of living in a very different country.

 

 

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Termite-Hill Inspired Architecture: 

A few miles from Busuubizi, while we lived there during 1967 – 1971, an architect designed a church which was built during our time there – that from a distance – looked exactly like a termite mound that had been split apart into three sections.

This new church was an absolutely brilliant architectural triumph, and was a striking addition to the rather wild environs around Mityana – you could see it for miles as the photo (taken by Wes Stafford) above demonstrates – and it was forever known as the “termite mound church” – a remarkable building not far from where we lived.

 

 

 

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Unknown location, UgandaClimbing

 

Clockwise from top left:  Dave Stafford, John Stafford and Robert Stafford doing a bit of climbing.

 


 

 

STAFFORD FAMILY PHOTO SAFARIS – 1967 – 1971:

 

TANZANIA:

 

Olduvai Gorge, Archaeological Site, Tanzania

 

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Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:
Arrival – at one of the most ancient sites on the planet.

 

 

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Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:
A selection of Stafford Family snapshots from a trip to the place where the earliest humans were found in the 1960s by Louis B. and Mary Leakey:  Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania – a place that when you walked down into it – you could literally “feel” the weight of the age of the place – millions of years of strata laid down in layers for future generations to discover their earliest origins – as we did in the 1960s thanks to the amazing discoveries made at Olduvai Gorge.

 

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Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:
You can see the “strata” or layers in the rock – each one representing a huge chunk of geological time…

 

 

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Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:
Incredible views from above the Gorge – which you have to climb laboriously down into on foot – but, absolutely worth it – one of the most fascinating and revealing archaeological sites in the world, and it was a huge privilege to get to visit such an ancient and important site – from the time of the dawn of mankind.

 

 

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Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:
An incredibly close up and detailed view of the different strata or layers in the Gorge.

 

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Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:
In the late 1960s when we visited Olduvai Gorge, it was a different age and people were much more trusting – at the site, ancient bones (no doubt, mixed with more recent bones or possibly bones from almost any era depending on where they are found at the site – and as we walked down into the gorge, and when we looked around on the ground – we were amazed to see fossils and bones literally almost everywhere you looked or walked – hundreds and hundreds of them,  many lying right on the surface of the earth or only very shallowly buried or covered with loose topsoil  Fossils everywhere – bones everywhere – an archaeological paradise for the professional team that ran the site.

 

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Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:
A staff member picks up a set of embedded or fossilised bones to show us what can be found in ample quantities throughout the site – making it one of the richest and most interesting sites containing fossilised remains in the entire world – it was an absolutely amazing thing to see in the bright heat of the Tanzanian day – with the sun beating down and the bones bleached to purest white by millions of years of sunlight pouring down on the barren gorge – an astonishing and humbling experience.

 

 

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Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania:


Robert Stafford
looking for fossils and picking up items to examine – the youngest archaeologist in the Stafford Family.

 

 


 

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

 

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Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania:


John Stafford
and Dave Stafford at the gates of the Ngorongoro Crater conservation area. 

 

 

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Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania:

 

Robert, Dave and John Stafford at the hotel grounds above the crater on the morning of out trip down into Ngorongoro.

 

 

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Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania:


Robert Stafford, Dave Stafford
and John Stafford – preparing for the one-way trip downhill, via Land Rover, during the morning when the single dirt track road down into the Crater’s “direction” is down – and then at a designated time in the afternoon – the specified “direction” of traffic changes from “down only” to “up only” – as two vehicles cannot possibly meet or pass each other on the impossibly narrow and very treacherous, “Land Rovers Only” access road to the Crater floor.

 

 

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Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania:


Dave Stafford
and John Stafford in the Land Rover

 

 

 

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Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania: 

Our drivers and guide preparing for the descent, while Stafford Family members prepare for the tour of the Crater by Land Rover.

 

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Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania: 
One of just two surviving family photos of the Crater bottom itself – a massive space with an enormous amount of diverse wildlife, enclosed by the sloping walls of the crater itself.

 

 

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Ngorongoro Wildlife:

The other surviving photo of the actual Ngorongoro Crater bottom – including this brilliant photo of some of the wildlife that lives in the Crater.

 

 

 


The Road To Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

 

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The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

The approach to Mount Kilimanjaro when driving north from Dar-es-salaam towards the southern Kenya border.

 

 

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The Road To Kilimanjaro:

As described in the main body of the blog above, this is the tortoise that we had to stop for – to wait for it to safely cross the road – before we could continue north as we were departing Tanzania on the road to Mount Kilimanjaro and then, onto the southern Kenya border to pass back north into Kenya – on our eventual way back across all of Kenya to our home base in Uganda.

Dave Stafford and Robert Stafford watch the last moments of the tortoise’s slow traverse of the paved highway.

 

 

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The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

Views from the Tortoise Stopping Point.

 

 

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The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

More views from the Tortoise Stopping Point.

 

 

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The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

More views from the Tortoise Stopping Point.

 

 

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The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

Remarkable telephoto lens images of Mount Kilimanjaro taken from the Tortoise Stopping Point on the main paved road that heads towards southern Kenya beyond Kilimanjaro itself

 

 

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The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

More telephoto lens images of Mount Kilimanjaro taken from the  Tortoise Stopping Point

 

 

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The Road To Kilimanjaro:

 

More telephoto lens images of Mount Kilimanjaro taken from the  Tortoise Stopping Point – my favourite of these remarkably good quality photographs – especially given that they were taken on a 1960s model Yashica slide film camera with an inexpensive telephoto lens – about 52 years ago at this point in time (March, 2020).

 

 


 

 

Tanzania And Brooding Socialism

 

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Communism In The Late 1960s: 

Possible evidence of Communist Chinese influence on Tanzanian culture:  the Five Year Plan bar as photographed by Wes Stafford – somewhere in Tanzania.  My Dad thought this was hilariously funny – and it is quite an incongruous name for a local Tanzania bar!

 

 


 

KENYA:

 

Unidentifed Wildlife Refuge & Care Facility, Kenya

 

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Animal Magic:

At a home for orphaned wild animals in Kenya, John Stafford takes his turn to pet a tame baby rhinoceros – while Shirley, Robert and Dave Stafford look on.

 


 

 

Lake Naivasha – Kenya

 

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Lake Naivasha Campsite – Western Kenya:

 

Monkeys help themselves to our lunch, which we discover on returning to the camp after a short boat trip on the lake.  Beautiful creatures, and we were laughing so hard it wasn’t even irritating that we now had no lunch to eat – only in Africa could such a thing happen.

 

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Lake Naivasha Campsite – Western Kenya:

 

More monkey business…

 

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Lake Naivasha Campsite – Western Kenya:

 

Monkey sitting on the hood of the Toyota…

 

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Lake Naivasha Campsite – Western Kenya:

 

Dave Stafford, Shirley Stafford, Robert Stafford and John Stafford at the Lake Naivasha campsite. Photo by Wes Stafford.

 


 

The Mombasa Coastline – Kenya

 

Fort Jesus, Kenya Coast

 


Fort Jesus:

Whilst on holiday at Coraldene in Mombasa, Kenya, the Stafford Family took a short trip north up the Kenya coastline to visit an old Portuguese fort – Fort Jesus – Kenya.
Left:  Robert Stafford and John Stafford pose in one of the fort’s windows.
Right: Dave, Robert and John Stafford – literally tickling Robert with our fingers, behind his back – so you can’t see us doing it in the photo – but we are. Robert was quite ticklish – so we would sometimes resort to ticking to get him to smile for the camera – and it worked better than we had hoped on this occasion – you can see both John and myself quietly grinning at Robert’s delighted laughter – I love this photo of the three Stafford brothers.

 


 

Mombasa And Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya Coast

 

Mombasa

 

 

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Mombasa, Kenya:

 

Dave Stafford, John Stafford and Robert Stafford pose at the Mombasa sign – 59 feet above sea level.

 

 


 

Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya Coast

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

Views of Coraldene Beach and the Indian Ocean – and the impossibly beautiful, warm tranquil beaches and warm waters of the Indian Ocean at Coraldene – heavenly beyond belief.

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

Views of Coraldene Beach and the Indian Ocean

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

Views of Coraldene Beach and the Indian Ocean – Low Tide – headlands to the south jutting out into the Indian Ocean.

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

Robert Stafford and John Stafford at the beach.

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

Robert Stafford and John Stafford with the help of others work together to bury Dave Stafford in the sand.

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

John Stafford continues the work solo,  to bury Dave Stafford in the sand.

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

John Stafford and others succeed in burying most of  Dave Stafford in the sand – the end result shown in this photo above.

 

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

 

John Stafford building sandcastles to amuse himself with the help of others

 

 

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

John Stafford, Shirley Stafford, Robert Stafford and Dave Stafford at the beach. Photo by Wes Stafford

 

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Coraldene Beach Resort, Kenya:

John Stafford, Dave Stafford, Robert Stafford and Shirley Stafford at the beach. Photo by Wes Stafford

 

 


 

 

 

The Kenya Highlands By Train – Amazing Journey Through The Rift Valley

 

The Kenya Highlands By Train

 


The Kenya Highlands By Train: 

Another Stafford Family trip, this time, an absolutely amazing journey – on an old British sleeper train – from Kampala in Uganda up through the Rift Valley escarpment and into and through the amazing, steep, rolling hills, tea plantations and unbelievably beautiful scenery of the Kenya Highlands.  Robert Stafford having a lot of fun on his first ever train trip.

 

 

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The Kenya Highlands By Train:

Kikuyu Station Approaching – unforgettable views from the slow-moving, relaxed-pace train trip – much of the way was a very steep gradient and the train often travelled at remarkably slow speeds – which gave us all the time in the world to gaze out in wonder at the unique and lovely Kenya Highlands slowly passing by.

For myself – an absolutely unforgettable journey like no other I have had before or since – an utterly unique experience.

 

 

 

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The Kenya Highlands By Train:

 

Views from the train windows…

 

 

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The Kenya Highlands By Train:

Views from the train windows…the British designed vintage train moves slowly up the escarpment over the Rift Valley and then across the Kenya Highlands.

 

 


 

 

The Kenya Highlands By Train – Visit To A Tea Plantation


Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands

 

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Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

View from a distance.

 

 

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Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

Fields of tea bushes.

 

 

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Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands

 

Tea Processing Facility

 

 

 

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Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

Processing tea leaves.

 

 

 

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Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

Processing tea leaves.

 

 

 

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Tea Plantation – Kenya Highlands:

 

Tea bushes at the plantation..

 

 


 

 

UGANDA:

 

Murchison Falls National Park – Northwestern Uganda

 

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At The Falls – Nile River – Murchison Falls National Park:

Shirley Stafford, Robert Stafford, John Stafford and Dave Stafford taking a well deserved rest after hiking with Wes Stafford up the river to this vantage point.  Photo by Wes Stafford –  circa 1968 – 1969

 

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Camping At Murchison Falls Wilderness Campsite:

The Notorious Nocturnal Visit From A Hungry Elephant – Seeking More Free Bananas On Top Of The Stafford’s Car:
And not realising, that Dave Stafford and John Stafford were sleeping in said car, when said elephant decided to lean up against the car – hard – looking for more bananas like the elephant had just found and presumably eaten, on top of another vehicle farther down the campground – and no doubt, the elephant “made the rounds” that night, probably checking out the tops of every car in the campsite looking for more delicious, free bunches of bananas.

And then…probably not finding more – but of course, utterly unaware that when he leaned against that particular Toyota station wagon, two very, very frightened boys in their sleeping bags – while Wes Stafford, Shirley Stafford and Robert Stafford were sleeping peacefully and undisturbed in our large tent that was pitched perhaps ten feet from the car – that he frightened the life out of us!

I’ve never forgotten that night, and the fright that John Stafford and myself got – but it turned out fine in the end – he only stayed there, leaning against the car windows – for less than a minute – and once satisfied that there was no food on top of this particular car – he moved off in search of more free bananas on other vehicle roofs – and John and I could start to breathe again.
Please also see the main text above where the initial version of this story was recounted.

 

 

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Right Of Way In Uganda – It Belongs To The Elephants:

 

The Stafford Family were always happy to see these semi-humorous but very serious “Right Of Way” signs – which were remarkably common in National Parks – advising motorists to yield and wait for any elephants (or indeed, any wild animal) in the road to move on their own accord – and elephants very often did stand or sit in the road – and sometimes, would not move for hours – which meant that any cars approaching either had to turn around and look for an alternate route around the obstruction – or, wait.
I can remember waiting not only for elephants, but for ostriches, baboons, buffalo, antelope and any number of wild animals to decide to get up and walk off of the road – it was a common site to see cars stopped on the road in National Parks – patiently waiting for animals to wander off of the road so they could then proceed.  I applaud this approach and very much approve of this viewpoint – the animals were here before us, and will probably be here long after we are gone – they SHOULD have the right of way – in all things – all animals – always.

 


 

Queen Elizabeth National Park / Ishasha River Camp – Southwestern Uganda

 

 

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Right Of Way In Uganda – It Belongs To The Elephants:
See above for the rationale and implementation of these Right Of Way signs – here is the Queen Elizabeth National Park “version” of the Right Of Way sign very similar to the photograph above of the Murchison Falls National Park “Right Of Way” signs – it made me feel very happy to see Uganda protecting it’s precious wildlife resources even back then in the late 1960s.

 

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Arriving In Queen Elizabeth National Park:

 

John Stafford, Dave Stafford, Shirley Stafford and Robert Stafford – Photo by Wes Stafford.

 

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Arriving At Ishasha River Camp – Queen Elizabeth National Park – Near The Congo Border:

 

Shirley Stafford with camp sign – Photo by Wes Stafford.

 

 

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The Ishasha River – The Congo (Later Renamed “Zaire”) Visible On The Far Bank:

 

Wes Stafford, with trademark beard – with Robert Stafford – walking along the bank of the Ishasha River, which was literally a few hundred yards from the self-catering huts at Ishasha River camp – extremely basic accommodations but good enough for us – a roof over your head is all you want when travelling on the dusty roads of wild Uganda in the late 1960s.  Comfort!

 

 

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Ishasha River Camp – Queen Elizabeth National Park – View From The Access Road:


Dave Stafford, John Stafford
and Wes Stafford – Photo by Shirley Stafford.

 

 

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Ishasha River Camp – Queen Elizabeth National Park – Self Catering Accommodations:

 

John Stafford with Robert Stafford, and Dave Stafford, with the dusty well-travelled Toyota station wagon parked out front.  Photo by Wes Stafford.

 

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Ishasha River Camp – Queen Elizabeth National Park

 

Two views from our accommodations looking out over the plains to the east of the Ishasha river – where commonly, lions climb trees and sleep in them – and, on one occasion – we saw a hippo, on dry land – running – at full speed – far, far inland and far from the river where one would expect hippos to stay – and I have never seen such a large animal, sprinting at such a speed – clearly, the hippo was panicked, and was running straight across the plains – very similar to those in the photos above – towards the Ishasha River – perhaps two miles away – and the safety and protection iot would afford him.
The five of us, pulling the car over to the side of the road – got out of the car to see this poor hippo racing past perhaps a quarter mile in front of us – heading for the safety and security of the water.  At the speed he was travelling – I am absolutely certain that he made it to the river without incident – and there was nothing chasing him – he was just clearly spooked or frightened or perhaps had wandered too far from the river and become disoriented or lost – we will never know – but to see a hippo running – when normally, they barely move and just float in the water all day – was an amazing and unique experience that you could ONLY have in East Africa – and it is a sight I can still visualise now in my minds eye – the huge, dark body of the hippo as it ran at what must have been at least 20 mph – he was gone in about two minutes – towards the river.  What an amazing sight!

 

 

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Queen Elizabeth National Park – On The Road:

 

Robert Stafford, Shirley Stafford, Dave Stafford and John Stafford at the side of the road. Photo by Wes Stafford.

 

 

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Queen Elizabeth National Park – On The Road:


Ominous rain clouds in the distance – beautiful and thunderous skies are very common all across East Africa, and we saw some of the most spectacular and unusual weather phenomena and the most amazing downpours and storms that I’ve ever experienced in my life.

 

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Queen Elizabeth National Park – On The Road:
The sun is out again – and in the far distance, a stately, tall giraffe wanders…

 

 

 

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Uganda’s Famous Equator Markers – Queen Elizabeth National Park:

 

On every significant roadway, whenever and wherever that road intersected the Equator – the Ugandan Government had seen fit to install these remarkable “Equator Signs” or markers – and in the East, in the centre of the country and in the West as we were when we encountered this one – we very often found these signs on various roads.  For a kid, it was quite a novelty to stand with one leg in each hemisphere – that was a remarkable and unique experience that you could only really have in certain places on Earth.

 

 

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Uganda’s Famous Equator Markers – Queen Elizabeth National Park:

 

John Stafford, Shirley Stafford, Robert Stafford and Dave Stafford stand in the Equator sign as so many other tourists have done since the time they were first installed in the early 1960s.  An excellent idea and definitely a hit with kids, and tourists – alike.  Photo by Wes Stafford.

 

 

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The Height Of Fashion – Queen Elizabeth National Park:


Dave Stafford
and John Stafford in matching handmade shirts sewn by Shirley Stafford – seen here with the coolest 1960s sunglasses I have ever seen along with Robert Stafford – and we are all clearly uncomfortable with the light levels – which must have been extremely bright that day.
Poor Robert has his eyes firmly shut, but Shirley remains coolly unaffected – protected by those amazingly stylish and awesome shades – and smiling very happily because she doesn’t have to squint like the rest of us clearly are – brilliant!
Photo by Wes Stafford

 

 


 

Moroto – Northeastern Uganda – Just South Of The Sudan

 

 

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Welcome To Moroto Sign – Northeastern Uganda:

 

Wes Stafford standing next to the “Welcome To Moroto” sign, you can see by the dust how dry, arid and desert like the northernmost reaches of Uganda are – a completely different climate and atmosphere when compared to the other parts of the country we had visited – mainly in the north and south west parts of Uganda.
Anywhere to the southern part of the county, the climate was so wet and the foliage and plant life so lush, green and rich – that visiting Moroto was a real shock – a much more similar environment to somewhere like the Sudan (which was not that far to the north of Moroto – which is near enough to the southern border of the Sudan) and it seemed very, very alien and strange – but fascinating to us, realising that there could be so many diverse and in fact, incredibly different micro climates and, types and distribution of vegetation – in a small country that is about the size of the American State of Missouri – you could drive across Uganda in a day, and probably do a circuit around it in three days – but in that small geographical space – was a unique and incredibly diverse array of almost bewildering natural – and very different – physical environments.

Photo by John Stafford

 

 


 

John Stafford – 1955 – 2020 – rest now.

 

 

                                                              …let it all go

JohnStafford-GreekIslandTour-WithFamily-Circa1969

John Stafford – Centre facing the camera – Greek Islands Cruise – circa 1969

Remembering John Sinks… and “Hope”

Co-author of perhaps the most melodic and delicate piece of Crafty repertoire that the short lived but absolutely brilliant Robert Fripp String Quintet performed live at their remarkable shows back in the early 1990s – John Sinks was not just a musician, composer, or Crafty Guitarist – he was all three of those things certainly, but he was also, so, so much more – guitar tech extraordinaire for King Crimson / Robert Fripp, John worked in the industry for many, many years and gained an amazing wealth of audio knowledge that he shared freely and with great kindness to all he came into contact with.

I was fortunate enough to be on a Guitar Craft course during the same week as John was and the following remembrance examines an afternoon spent in John’s company – which changed my entire life dramatically and sent me down so many new and exciting “musical paths” that I am still exploring today so, so many years later.

When I learned on January 15th, 2020 that John has passed away back on December 29, 2019 (may he rest in peace) I was immediately moved to try and capture something of the indomitable spirit of the man by recounting my one and only encounter and interaction with him – one of the best experiences I ever had and one that has helped me, encouraged me and informed me every since that day back at the beginning of the 1990s.

At the Guitar Craft course that both myself and John Sinks were at, I do not know however if he was only present in his capacity as Robert Fripp’s guitar tech, if he was attending that course in full as a Crafty Guitarist – or perhaps both – but by sheer chance I ended up in John’s company for one remarkable, rainy wish of a day in Los Angeles, California – as I had rather recounted the following experience in a Facebook post on January 15, 2020 I thought I would present it here in a less raw, more formal setting as part of a blog – rather than in the “unedited not proof read” version that I accidentally-posted-before-I-was-even-done-writing-it original Facebook post.

Here is that post in a much more readable form:

 

Eulogy – John Sinks – who passed on December 29, 2029

Written on January 15th, 2020 by Dave Stafford – as a remembrance of a gentle, giving person and of an astonishing and unusual day spent in John’s company.

 

 

[Written immediately upon reading the announcement from Robert Fripp of the passing of John Sinks late on January 15, 2020:]

 

 

This is so so sad.

I have an abiding memory of an afternoon spent listening to John speak at length about RF’s then guitar system’s signal path, speaking to a group of Crafty Guitarists who had accompanied Robert to a secret recording studio in Michael Kamen‘s house in Los Angeles, CA on a very, very stormy, rainy afternoon – and while RF was laying down guitar tracks with Midge Ure (whose album he was contributing to at Ure’s request) in the main studio, outside in the studio’s anteroom, John Sinks held court to perhaps a dozen of us who were on a very short hiatus from a week-long Guitar-Craft -course-in-progress a couple of hours away outside of Los Angeles.

An unforgettable day for myself which began with suddenly meeting Midge Ure – as he and i both ran full tilt – (absolutely bolting since it was such a torrential downpour) through a blinding, stinging rain, running up Michael Kamen’s driveway to get out of the downpour…then ending up out in the studio’s anteroom, hearing both the recording session through the playback monitor as we all sat transfixed listening to John carefully and meticulously, step by step, explaining exactly how Robert’s complex stereo looping guitar system worked.

I had very little technical expertise at that time and I think I learned more about signal flow, signal routing, alternative ways of achieving audio goals – sheer genius pedalboard and rack mount design – that day, certainly more than I had ever known to that date, and possibly more than I have learned SINCE that time – it was an absolute master class in sound design, and even though I did not understand some of it, I would ask questions and John would patiently backtrack through the explanations made so far and clarify the meanings as needed.  His patience was amazing and his ability to clearly explain difficult audio or routing concepts was impressive to say the very least.

He made this somewhat specialist and possibly “dry” topic come alive and his enthusiasm was infectious – soon, almost all of us in the room were joining in with questions and observations – making it one of the most interesting and most challenging technical discussions I have ever had the pleasure of taking part in.

And what I learned just from listening to John Sinks speak about Robert Fripp’s guitar system, has helped me and inspired me when I have subsequently tackled audio technical designs of my own making – for many, many years to come and still today.

(Literally as we speak, I am designing a new guitar and synth pedalboard that I could not have made without what I learned that day from John – so his skill and knowledge is still working through my hands as I prepare my own built-from-scratch pedalboard for my upcoming live shows later in 2020 with Mach 17)…the legacy of that day and the value it had to me and for me, technically and philosophically – lives on into the future as I build this new board…

Even still today, that eye-ooening opening master tutorial on looping, guitar signal path options has stood me in great stead as a source for creative, innovative ways of routing audio signals to achieve just about any goal for your guitar sound, whether it be for a live or a studio project, and I owe a real debt of gratitude to the memory of John because in one afternoon, he imparted so much experience, expertise, skill and valuable, valuable information to myself and that small group of Crafty Guitarists who had opted to travel with RF to this rainy day Midge Ure recording session at a secret home studio in Michael Kamen’s house…

I have never forgotten that remarkable afternoon, set to the unbelievable audio backdrop of Robert Fripp playing guitar solos onto tracks for the then-next Midge Ure solo record, listening to John Sinks speak – with passion, at length – about a topic he clearly loved and knew so, so well – it changed my own perception of what a guitar system was and what it could be if one applies intelligence, logic and creative design to the process of getting a signal from a guitar – through a carefully and thoughtfully designed sound system – ultimately to the ears of the listener as beautiful looped, stereo guitar sound – an absolutely amazing experience.

I had never met John before that day – and I never encountered him again after it – but that one rainy afternoon in LA changed me and my perception o how guitar audio CAN be processed – with incredible ingenuity and undeniable creativity – if you just apply logic and patience to solving each audio or routing challenge – until you reach the point where things actually sound the way you intend them to sound – the way you “hear them” in your mind’s eye and imagination.

I went to that session with almost no experience of guitar sound design – and after just a few hours of discussion led by the amazingly knowledgeable John Sinks, I walked away with the basis for all of the audio / guitar sound design I’ve consequently done in the ensuing thirty years or so!!

That day changed everything – and thanks to John’s persistence and patience, I came away from that session with a new and exciting understanding of what is possible for the modern guitarist using technology applied with intelligence and care.

What an absolutely brilliant day that was – and sadly, I never had the opportunity to thank John for taking so much time to explain so very, very much about guitar signal processing – so I am saying it now:

“Thank you John Sinks.”

Thank you for sharing so, so much of yourself with us that day, and for giving so unselfishly of your hard-won knowledge, experience and skill that we who listened that day…might someday benefit from what we learned then – and the value of what i learned that day cannot be underestimated- it changed EVERYTHING for me…in such an incredibly good way.

The patient explanations and the generosity of spirit that moved John to share so very much of himself with a group of complete strangers – also cannot be underestimated.  What a remarkable gentleman and a great loss to all who knew him – and even those of us who only briefly encountered John – like myself.  But as in my case, that brief encounter was such a positive and uplifting experience that it was an all-encompassing, incredibly, and very practically useful for anyone pursuing the craft of playing the electric guitar well experience  …his skill and knowledge were an unexpected and truly valuable , and inspirational – input into my life.    

Thank  you,  John  Sinks.

 

And also thank you for co-composing (with Antonio de Honestis) one of the most singularly beautiful pieces of Crafty Guitar repertoire that will ever exist – the exquisite, delicate, ethereal, melodic and simply stunning one of a kind song that is “Hope”.

 

Rest now.

The Reduced Note (& One Note) Guitar Solo – And Why It’s Important

This is a topic that I’ve long wanted to discuss but never felt quite like I knew how to explain it;  nor did I have, until very recently, a clear understanding of exactly which particular guitar solos (solos that that feature a reduced palette of notes, and often contain – or even are – just a repeating, single note – see “Camel – Lady Fantasy” below for one of those) – solos which have captivated my imagination and inspired me – for quite a few decades now – to hopefully play a bit more simply and melodically than I often do.  To be less “busy”, to play more “economically” – to try to “say more” using fewer notes.

A very, very specific event triggered a sort of “full internal realisation” that there are, for me, three very specific examples of a reduced note guitar solo that I find to be both irresistible and incredibly beautiful.

That mental “trigger” event took place on November 25, 2019, which was when I attended an appearance by Steve Hackett & Genesis Revisited, at the very beautiful Usher Hall in Edinburgh, Scotland – and this particular Steve Hackett tour of late 2019, has / had two very specific purposes:

  1. Celebration of the 40th anniversary of Hackett’s 1979 album “Spectral Mornings”
  2. The Genesis Revisited band performs the entire classic 1973 Genesis album, “Selling England By The Pound” as the centrepiece of their live set.

I suspected, from looking at the average age of the crowd that assembled at Usher Hall for this momentous occasion, that the majority of the attendees were there specifically to see and hear Hackett’s band play “Selling England” – this now venerable piece of progressive rock history…suddenly, impossibly…I do not know how – aged 46 years – but, aged to perfection as this night in Edinburgh soon demonstrated.

 

NOTE: This is a blog about reduced note guitar melodies or solos, and three songs that contain such melodies – and how and why that has inspired me as a guitar player over the years.

However – there will be “digressions”, so while the majority of this blog [which has now grown wings and has become something more like a dissertation on reduced note guitar melodies or solos] – these will be brief, but hopefully interesting – “digressions” – which may include but not be limited to:

  • An unintentional, partial review of the Steve Hackett & Genesis Revisited Concert on November 25, 2019 at Usher Hall in Edinburgh

  • An unintentional, very, very partial and scattered review of Genesis Live at the San Diego Civic Theatre on January 25, 1975

  • A strange discussion regarding “My Theory” that the band Yes – often cited as a “typical” progressive rock band – were and are anything BUT typical.  I know – it sounds strange – but it’s what I’ve observed.

  • Even stranger – I used a random comparison of some pretty darn perky, cheerful, positive and hopeful Jon Anderson lyrics – and then randomly compared those positive lyrics to the….rather more serious, rather more depressing, rather heavier and more terrifying lyrics of various contemporary Prog Rock bands (i.e. “…and the word is “love”….” vs. “INNOCENTS RAPED WITH NAPALM FIRE”) – so what was that about “typical” again??

  • A review and discussion of the 1973 album “Selling England By The Pound” by Genesis

  • A review and discussion of a 1973 concert by the progressive rock band “Focus” – regarding an appearance on BBC Radio, date unknown but near Christmas 1972 (believed to be recorded in January, 1973) featuring compere Bob Harris -wherein Focus play a short set of music, just over 55 minutes of music – but it might just be the single best live set that FOCUS ever played as a band – an AMAZING concert (and – one of our featured “Reduced Note Melodies” is taken from the second track of that live show)  which is why it keeps cropping up in the discussion…

  • Any number of small to medium to large digressions as the mood takes me….literally – anything might happen…

 

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BACKGROUND:

Originally written by the “classic” line up of early Genesis with Peter Gabriel providing flute, vocals and the lyrics; the music itself, was composed in varying combinations of Tony Banks, keyboards; Michael Rutherford, bass guitars, bass pedals and 12 string acoustic guitar, the mighty then-unsung hero of the drum kit young Phil Collins and finally the then be-spectacle’d-and-seated-not-unlike-Robert-Fripp Steve Hackett himself on electric lead guitar, 12 string acoustic guitar and classical nylon guitar as well; “Selling England By The Pound” went on to become one of the band’s best selling and most venerable of albums – much, much beloved by fans and admirers alike.

“Selling England By The Pound” was released in the year 1973.  I was a young teenager at the time with little to no money to spend on luxury items like vinyl records but this album caught my attention and it became literally one of the first ten or 12 albums that I ever purchased.   By anyone. I had a Led Zeppelin album…”Led Zeppelin III”. I had a Jethro Tull album – “Thick As A Brick”. I had an old Cream album – a now very rare compilation called “Heavy Cream”. I suspect I had some Hendrix albums – and my old well played out Beatles records. That was about it for my record collection coming into the early 1970s.. a very, very limited selection of artists to say the least.

Into this tiny, eclectic “collection” of 12 inch album vinyl came a new record (new to me) by a new band (new to me) playing a new (new to me) kind of music – progressive rock. OK, “Thick As A Brick” was sort of progressive. “Yessongs” – absolutely was (is) progressive…but it was Yes – and although they often get listed as and cited as a “typical” Progressive Rock band….if you think about it, and if you do a quick mental comparison of Yes music and Yes lyrics to even just a few other progressive rock bands – you may realise something of a shock:

“Yes” is not a typical progressive rock band – if anything, they were and still are – atypical. Even a general high level comparison shows this rather bold statement to be true – using just lyrics to describe this first example of “why Yes are actually atypical rather than typical”:

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QUICK COMPARE – LYRIC QUALITY AND CONTENT

YES LYRICS versus TYPICAL PROGRESSIVE ROCK BAND LYRICS

Positive message >>>>>> Doom and gloom realism

Spirited delivery >>>>>> Standard or negative delivery

Uplifting lyrics hopeful / visionary >>>>>> Gritty realism, chronicling of dire events, etc

Highly spiritual >>>>>> Storytelling (fiction) or standard events

Personal experiences >>>>> Third person “invented” content – not personal

[You want some examples you say? You don’t believe me? Well OK I will try:]

>>>>> Yes Lyric Example:

(Yes – Jon Anderson – Time And A Word)

Jon Anderson1970

“There’s a word and the word is love and it’s right for me
It’s right for me, and the word is love

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>>>>> Other Typical Progressive Rock Bands – Lyric Examples:

>>>>>(King Crimson – Peter Sinfield – “21st Century Schizoid Man“)

(from “In The Court Of The Crimson King” – 1969)

Peter Sinfield – 1969:

“Blood rack, barbed wire
Politicians’ funeral pyre
Innocents raped with napalm fire
Twenty first century schizoid man

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>>>>>(Camel – Andy Latimer – “Never Let Go“)

(from “Camel” (self-titled) – 1972)

Andy Latimer – 1972

“Crazy creatures of our doom

Telling us there is no room

Not enough for all mankind

And the seas of time are all running dry

Don’t they know it’s a lie…

Man is born with a will to survive

He’ll not take no for an answer

He will get by, somehow he’ll try

He won’t take no, never let go, no…

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>>>>>(Peter Hammill solo album – Peter Hammill – “This Side Of The Looking-Glass”)

(from “Over” – 1978)

Peter Hammill – 1978

 

“the stars in their constellations

each one sadly flickers and falls…

without you, they mean nothing  at all”

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RESUMING OUR NORMAL PROGRAMME NOW…

Having been previously brought up on a strict diet of The Beatles, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and other, harder rock…and one very “cheerful” progressive rock band called “Yes” – the music of Genesis was a shock to the system and a very welcome alternative to the sometimes rather obvious prog stylings of my then favourite (and the only prog band I had ever even HEARD so far….I might hastily add) prog band the redoubtable Yes…who I loved for their mad guitarist Steve Howe and the mighty Chris Squire’s amazing lead guitar-like bass lines – not to mention the very young but already very powerful Bill Bruford on drums – and I thought Yes could do no wrong. And they didn’t do wrong…well, at least not until the late 70s – and that is another tale for another time.

While at that tender age I was both impressionable and easily convinced that someone like Steve Howe of Yes, (or even his remarkable predecessor the incomparable Peter Banks) – could literally play just about anything – it wasn’t until years later that my view, especially of Steve Howe – changed a bit, and I began to feel that this “I’ve got 400 different guitars – and I brought 150 of them to this concert” approach was a bit – dare I say it – loose, a bit sloppy around the edges (listen carefully to the lead guitars on Yessongs for example – inspired, exciting – but lacking substance and especially – lacking the consistency, beauty and steady focused hand of a Fripp or a Hackett – just not quite as focused – or really as serious – as a great guitarist should be).

Don’t get me wrong – I have huge, huge respect for Steve Howe – I love his melodies, I love his varying and various style – I love his playing – love his guitar work on record (“To Be Over” may be the single most beautiful thing ever played on a pedal steel guitar) and even live – but, there is a consistency, and a quality – that I can feel in my bones and hear well, when I listen to Robert Fripp, Steve Hackett or even the somewhat “looser” Jan Akkerman – that I thought Howe also had, but over time, I could sort of see behind the curtain – and I felt a bit let down and a bit underwhelmed with the “accuracy” of some of his live renditions – even on that classic live album of classic live albums – there is a TON of exciting, great lead guitar on the record….but if you listen closely….

 

I hadn’t yet heard King Crimson, and Steve Howe was the only guitarist in Prog that I knew – so when I heard Steve Hackett’s beautiful, thick, sustained lead lines on tracks like “Forth Of Fifth” or “The Battle Of Epping Forest” that I suddenly realised that my love affair with the brilliant and incredibly complex and amazing music of early Yes, while not yet quite over…was clearly in trouble.

I had discovered a slightly darker side of progressive rock in the work of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, which immediately led me to some classic and incredibly powerful earlier Genesis records such as the absolutely stunning album “Genesis Live” from 1972 (I think) – an album that featured just five long and utterly astonishing songs that changed me forever…from the gentle almost baroque verses of “The Musical Box” right up to the terrifying coda of “The Knife” – this was an album that was a real and gritty and powerful as an early 70s progressive rock outfit could be.

Fast forwarding just one year forward from the remarkable and unforgettable “Genesis Live” – which I heard AFTER I had purchased “Selling England By The Pound” in hindsight it sounds almost like two different bands – the evolution of the songs, the lyrics, the arrangements – changed so quickly and so radically it’s almost as if an invisible “fast-forward button” had been pressed, suddenly and unexpectedly ushering in the music of the future – which in 1973 – was the uncanny and decidedly odd – but amazing –  “Selling England By The Pound” – a complete sea change away from the entire period encompassing the almost ethereal “Nursery Cryme” and “Foxtrot” album which were then turned on their heads and delivered with chilling, dark precision on the cult classic ‘Genesis live” album…the studio albums are both full of light and beauty but when the band went out to play those songs…a hitherto unknown force entered the room and brought those delicate wonderful progressive songs to life in a brand new and very powerful way indeed.

I was blissfully unaware of all this strange Genesis history when I walked into a White Front store in La Mesa, California and bought “Selling England By The Pound” for probably about $4.00 – it was a long, long time ago.  For a teenage guitarist with a growing interest in non blues non Clapton non rock based music – progressive rock – it provided a new standard by which to judge everything else.

Soon enough, I went seeking even darker and potentially more disturbing forms of prog which led me away from what I would deem the “melodic prog” of bands like Yes or Genesis…to a more dissonant, fragmented musical world where strange time signatures and abrupt unexpected changes in time signature, rhythm or dynamics had a huge impact on me as a guitarist and pianist.

Listening to the music of Yes gave way first to listening to Genesis…a pleasant transition – and then to still very melodic bands such as Focus, Nektar or the redoubtable Camel (and decades later, of course, I finally got into Caravan, having completely missed them back in the day…the “other Camel” if you will) ….but then, my tastes expanded – and I started to embrace a lot of really powerful…and consequently much darker – progressive rock music.

Steve Howe and Steve Hackett, over time, gave way first to folk like Camel who added just enough jazz to prog to make it more interesting (without turning it too far into a true jazz / be bop freak out like Can or other Krautrock or European prog bands too many to mention)…

…and finally, to the harder, more edgy sonic worlds of Robert Fripp’s King Crimson, the truly frightening and very very powerful Van Der Graaf Generator and eventually, I finally turned my ears and my musical brain around just enough to appreciate the wizards of prog…the absolutely unique, uncanny band that was Gentle Giant.

All by the time I was about 16…all of the above had happened to me in just a few short years…a stunning transformation.  On the strength of my love for “Selling England By The Pound” – I went to see Genesis, on their last tour with genius lyricist / singer Peter Gabriel – hoping that they might play one or two tracks from the one Genesis album I owned, knew and loved…“Selling England By The Pound”.

But of course, I wasn’t aware then, that they had just spent something like a year and a half touring the tracks from “Selling England By The Pound” relentlessly – and despite Peter Gabriel handing in his notice before the 1974/1975 tour even began..the band wanted to move forward with or without him – so for that tour, they were playing their new album – 1974’s “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”.  All of it,  All four sides of it, In order. And nothing whatsoever, from ““Selling England By The Pound”. Nothing!!

I didn’t own the new album, I had no money, I’d heard the single “Counting Out Time” exactly twice on the radio…but nothing could have prepared me for that experience.  I was 17 years old, and sitting there in the Civic Theatre in my home town of San Diego, California where I saw and heard a band at the absolute height of its performance powers.  Trying to describe that experience would require an entire blog just for that purpose. And I seriously doubt I could do it justice with just words to describe it. I would fail.

Of course – that night – they played exactly ZERO tracks from the one Genesis album I owned, the one Genesis album I knew and loved…zero.

The trade off there of course, was getting to witness what very few did manage to see and hear and experience: the full dramatic and sonic impact of what is surely Peter Gabriel’s lyrical masterpiece and a most amazing concept album, performed live by what may have arguably have been, at that magical moment in time – the best progressive rock band on the planet.  

Steve Hackett sat down to play guitar,  as Fripp did.  There the similarity ended…I knew instantly that Hackett was then – and still is now, in 2019 – in a league of his very own when it comes to prog guitar.  Masterful is one word. Assured is another. Confident and capable are two more words.

But it was the sounds…the SOUNDS I heard that night, from the baffling but wonderful garbled flanger lead solo on “Counting Out Time” to the power and mystery of the brief but oh so intense guitar solo in “Anyway” to the odd almost Indian music guitar and synth themes on side four of the album – or the soaring, slow bends of “Broadway Melody Of 1974” overlaying Tony Banks eerie mellotron parts with the perfect guitar sound…

Hackett displayed such enormous range, and used such an extraordinary palette of strange and wonderful and new guitar sounds that my teenage brain could barely function, could only dimly understand what the hell was happening on that stage.

Rock music was turned on it’s head that night, for me, and I would never again approach music from the straight Hendrix meets Clapton meets Page traditions that I learned and grow up with – the modified electric British Blues – no, I wanted to sound like Steve Hackett.  Or Robert Fripp.  Or Peter Hammill.  But not – not the blues – not even the melodic prog of Yes.

i wanted to play guitar like Hackett’s amazing, beautiful soaring lines as in the utterly exquisite lead guitar parts in “The Chamber Of 32 Doors’ or “Anyway” or “The Lamia” I had never heard or imagined anything like this music – before or since…and going to see Genesis play “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” absolutely pushed my playing style, my entire career, everything – firmly away from the rock traditions I started out with…

So at age 15, I was like every other kid with an electric guitar – a beautiful Fender Jaguar in fact – playing hard rock and hard blues and immersing himself into the music of the day…Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and / or Cream, ZZ Top, Zappa – a traditional young rock guitarist’s upbringing in the early 1970s.

This blues based rock tradition, which I loved and will always love…came unstuck in time, it was shattered and destroyed and gone and while I still played Led Zeppelin tunes and still – and always will – have a huge love for that music and that time….it was all over for me by the time I was 18.  I was done with ordinary rock, I moved first, to the land of progressive rock – and then, into the amazing world of ambient, looping and also, as an adjunct to all of the above – Robert Fripp’s Guitar Craft.

I’d been both progged and ambientised and also, completely loopified…and you just don’t come back to the blues once that happens to you!!!!!

I’d become a prog guitarist in my heart…whether I would or no,  I started learning Hackett and Fripp and Andy Latimer riffs or songs – and in particular, tried to figure out how to solo in a more prog way… and that was NOT particularly easy to do!!

I worked hard at it, and I had the additional, very helpful benefit of also being a passable pianist, so with help from my best friend Ted, who was an amazing pianist, organist, and singer – I set out to learn these strange prog songs, first on the piano – so I could sit down and sing the songs, and then later – much later – learning some prog guitar soloing skills to a modest degree.

I learned dozens of prog songs on the piano, so it was odd – I wanted to play like a Steve Hackett or a Robert Fripp, but to even get into the right mindset to make some modest attempt at working in a similar non blues “”proggy” vein lead guitar wise…it was odd, but I had to come at it via learning Tony Banks and Keith Tippett – I.e. I had to first, learn the chords, the structure, learn to sing, learn Peter Hammill and Van Der Graaf Generator songs, try to learn “Funny Ways” by Gentle Giant…

One huge breakthrough – ably supported by my best friend Ted Holding who worked out the fast middle bit somehow – I think I started to have some lightbulb moments when I learned, painfully, over many weeks – the incredibly beautiful piano part for the song “Anyway” by Genesis – taken from side 3 of the 1974 album “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway – once I mastered that – I could sorta see how prog was meant to work.

Other pop influences crept in, I spent a huge amount of time trying to understand and learn the piano style of Donald Fagen – leader, singer, and pianist of Steely Dan – and I learned how to play his remarkable arrangement of the song “Charlie Freak” from the 1974’s “Pretzel Logic” album by Steely Dan…and there were NO CHORDS in the sheet music!  I had to force myself to follow the notation, learning it note by painful note- both parts left and right hand – until one day – I could actually play and sing it.

I fared less well with Fagen’s “Fire In The Hole” although I have worked out about 90 percent of the piano part – it’s a stunning piece of arranging and it is NOT easy to play – I can tell  you that for certain.

I learned ALL kinds of piano parts, and bits of songs, from the wonderful sweeping arpeggios of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Take A Pebble” to working out dozens of pretty darn difficult songs by Peter Hammill and / or Van Der Graaf Generator – now – those are some challenging pieces!  Very, very dense musically, very intense – and not easy to reverse engineer “by ear”.

 

I had to understand the songs inside and out, musically – on the piano, mind you!!  – and eventually after years of work…it did lend itself to providing a basis whereby I could finally, years down the road…actually play some pretty convincing prog-ish lead guitar.

So – rather unusually, it took a proper understanding of progressive rock keyboard parts, to get my brain to the point where I could then also play prog with lead guitar.  It took me many, many years to reach that point.

And – without a doubt…buying “Selling England By The Pound” changed my guitar playing life forever – which subsequently pushed me towards Van Der Graaf, Gentle Giant and of course King Crimson.

For me personally – it was Fripp’s other very important work  – first in looping with Brian Eno in “Fripp & Eno” but even more specifically, seeing Robert Fripp doing a live “Frippertronics” performance in 1979 – that set me down a course towards both looping guitar and ambient music, which I then remained with for a couple of decades and Ambient Loop Guitar is still very much part of what I do even today.

Prior to having my entire traditional classic rock background utterly derailed (beginning at about age 15!!) forever, by first, Yes, then by Genesis (Peter Gabriel era), then by King Crimson…and onto the strange,the freak, the impossible dare….Van Der Graaf Generator, Gentle Giant, Camel, Nektar, Focus and so many more…

…and prior to at the same time, being diverted down a totally different parallel but separate path to looping and ambient music, via the discovery of the music of Brian Eno, Fripp & Eno and most important of all, seeing Robert Fripp looping live Frippertronics at Tower Records in San Diego, California in 1979 – prior to all that…

I think that I would have written, performed and recorded what I would now call “normal songs” – rock songs, blues based or ballads…

But as soon as all of the above happened to me, well, it took a while, but instead of me writing, you know, new versions of Hendrix or Clapton songs or doing my moon take on blues based rock…instead – thanks to this amazing transformation that I went through in a mere three years – this is what I came up after absorbing and refining all of this input…at least, here’s the “prog” side of my work (looping and ambient can be found elsewhere):

[all of the following tracks are taken from my 2016 album “progressive rock”:]

the complete unknown

planet obelisk

day seventeen

It might not be apparent at first when listening to these three decidedly “progressive” tracks that Steve Hackett and “Selling England By The Pound” were an influence on these pieces (but they most definitely were and are), not to mention Robert Fripp, Andy Latimer, Jan Akkerman, Steve Howe, and a host of others – but you can also detect the keyboard players from these bands in the keyboard parts I’ve chosen and used, especially in my use of Hammond organ and mellotron…so I’m not just channelling the worlds best progressive rock guitarists but their keyboardists and even bassists where possible. I’d like to be able to channel an entire prog band from 1974 – and these tracks are my first real attempts at that..not made until I had gained enough experience to even attempt prog.

I even have one very proggy piece that not only is a nod to the influence of King Crimson, but it was particularly created as a tribute to my favourite rock bass player of all time, the late John Wetton (of Family, King Crimson, U.K., and Asia) – so while the guitar parts are definitely influenced by the guitar style of Robert Fripp; this track is really all about the bass guitar and how someone like Wetton used it as a powerful improvisational tool to rival and challenge some of the great prog lead guitarists… proving – not that anyone doubted this – that bassists can improvise too!!!

It’s not about how many strings are on your guitar, it’s more about how you use those strings…and Wetton knew how to play his instrument.

[another track taken from my 2016 album “progressive rock”:]

wettonizer

this is a much “shorter form” piece than the three long pieces (see above), but it was made with the very specific purpose of showcasing the bass guitar and what can be achieved with just four strings….John Wetton was an amazing player and singer and his bass playing seriously influenced my guitar playing if that makes any sense – ergo, “wettonizer“.

He is sorely missed.

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INTERLUDE

The above very, very lengthy background and musical digressions was necessary (thanks for reading this far) to provide the proper context, so you can see the background I came from, what my influences were and are…and how some chance key events in my life, namely:

 

  • Buying the “Selling England By The Pound” album in 1973

 

  • Subsequently – a year or so later – seeing Genesis (featuring Steve Hackett) perform “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” Live At The San Diego Civic Theatre in 1974

 

  • Gradually moving away from classic rock towards progressive rock with the adoption of listening to and following various remarkable groups from Genesis to King Crimson to Van Der Graaf Generator to Camel to Focus … [consequently pushing me away from blues based music towards a different, much more progressive and I hope, creative rather than commonplace approach to music… ]      1974 – present

 

  • Hearing the music Of Brian Eno.     1974 – present

 

  • Seeing and hearing Robert Fripp perform live improvised music using a guitar, a small pedalboard and two Revox reel to reel tape machines live in a Tower Records store in 1979 (seeing Robert looping live – in a record store in my hometown – at age 21 – changed everything permanently – it re-wired my brain from “lead guitarist” to “loop guitarist” and eventually caused me to become an ambient looping guitarist.     1979 – present

 

  • Beginning a lifelong association with Guitar Craft in 1988.      1988 – present

 

The unusual series of personal “life events” above, are what shaped me and my guitar playing, and brought me to the here and now of December 2019… where I can finally see the connection of three of the most important “reduced note” or “one note” guitar solos that I have found to be both very inspirational as well as intensely beautiful and moving on an emotional scale…spine-tingling, shiver-inducing guitar beauty.

Getting great musical BEAUTY via a reduced palette and by restraining the impulse to flail about and solo madly every time the opportunity arises is the hallmark of a mature and highly developed musical mind, and I feel that, each in their own way, the three guitarists who originally performed my top three reduced-note solos are all exceptional musicians and exceptional guitarists…three very different players – but all three using the same musical device (note economy, reduced palette) to deliver an emotionally-charged, poignant lead guitar performance on record and / or in live versions of these three songs.

The mastery and the self control that these three guitarist demonstrated when recording or performing theee pieces cannot be understated  and while the solos may seem “simple” on the surface, using very few notes and relying solely on the appeal of a very restricted range of melody – that’s actually, much, much harder to do than shred up and down some over-complicated-super-dissonant-glissando-proggy scales.

These three guitarists all did what I wish I could do – write extraordinary, beautiful and memorable melodies using only the sparsest and most basic of materials, and using fewer notes to say much, much more.

That is made all the more interesting, because normally, all three of them play quite a lot of notes during a typical album or a typical concert, so for them to be able to control their playing in this way, to STOP playing all those amazing scales and notes, and instead, reduce down and almost restrict their music palette for just a few quiet, intimate guitar moments. And yet, during those moments, they are able to wring extraordinary emotion and impact through the simple act of playing very few notes.

I’d like to take just a moment to provide a dramatic illustration of what I am suggesting here, I have taken two short snippets of Jan Akkerman of Focus, both taken from the same Bob Harris “compère’d” Live At The BBC concert that is the source of one

START OF THE CONCERT – Jan Akkerman – lead guitar – short sample from “Anonymous II” the first piece of the night. Listen to the speed, the dexterity, the seemingly impossible flurries of notes that he produces during this opening number.

JUST A FEW MINUTES LATER – Jan Akkerman – lead guitar – short sample taken from “Focus I” – one our examples of an actual “reduced note” melody. Listen to the restraint, the control, the extremely even, slow tempo, the very few notes used to conjure up the gorgeous, simple, and I feel, intensely beautiful and unique piece of music.

It doesn’t even seem possible that it’s the same guitarist who was playing “Anonymous II” just x minutes earlier and it’s perhaps even more unbelievable that the two clips are by the same band and from the same performance on the same stage a mere x minutes apart !! And yet… there it is, the evidence of our hears

This is the ability of the master musician, to be able to do a sonic transformation like my small demonstration shows here – from inspired high flying experimental improv of nth order free improv involving intense physical effort, powerful concentration and sheer will power and stamina to even be able to shred that fast and that hard…and then mere minutes later – bottling all that improv skill and determination up – and suddenly just slowing everything down, bring the wildness of that crazy shredding improv down into a quiet, quiet moment – this quiet moment ! – slowing your breathing, slowing your hands and your heart and then gently breathing life into a fragile, beautiful melody that is all the more intensely beautiful because of the restraint shown – the quietest most sensitive, emotive reduced note solo ever performed on a stage.

That is literally what happens during this amazing 55 minute vintage 1973 Focus BBC radio concert, not only is the demonstrated transformation from “improv shredding” to “quietest moment of beautiful reduced melody” a virtual masterclass that clearly demonstrates the band’s prowess and skill at both volume dynamics and performance dynamics: but it’s also testament to four master musicians who can get from a scream to a whisper – and then back again – to an even wilder more intense scream… almost effortlessly.

I learned a lot about dynamics from listening to this concert…and even more about what truly beautiful guitar playing is. What a remarkable performance!!

Conversely, Andy Latimer demonstrates the same restraint, not once, but twice in the Camel selection presented here, the absolutely amazing feedback guitar one-note solo of “Lady Fantasy” which follows a reduced note solo earlier in the piece – simply extraordinary!! Two for the price of one.

Andy is just repeating that one note, over and over again, as part of one of these “sparser” guitar solos (the reduced note solo that occurs first in the song at 5:10) … which is so beautiful, but then – moments later – feeding back into the amp, and somehow “holding” that one incredible fed-back note (which occurs later in the song at 7:48) …for so, so long… it’s an incredible performance proving beyond a shadow of a doubt when it comes to guitar notes… less can absolutely be so much more.

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These three pieces, and probably many, many others I am only peripherally aware of – really made a huge difference to the way I approached guitar playing… while everyone else,every other guitarist around me seemed to want to be the fastest guitarist, or the cleverest guitarist playing impossible cool or wonderful scales….

I just wanted to play long, slow simple notes that would be of such an obvious beautiful emotional quality that your ears would just want more…slow, stately and very beautiful. That is probably why I adopted the energy bow starting in the late 1970s – following the example of Bill Nelson – who stopped using a pick or plectrum, and played all oh his guitar parts using only the energy bow (or e-bow) as a permanent alternative to picking.

I did the same because it really sets you apart, but more importantly, it allows you to play slowly, carefully, playing long, long duration notes … and in using the e-bow, both in place of the pick or plectrum, and as the main sound engine when I play ambient loop guitar… it gives you that beautiful, reduced note vocabulary almost automatically- which was and is a true gift, allowing me to play slowly – very slowly – with infinite sustain – and allowed me to achieve my dream of playing a few notes well rather than, hundreds of notes quite, quite sloppily and uncertainly.

So these songs were also a influence on my approach, even affecting the tools I used – to play – and especially – to loop the guitar.

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THE SONGS

REDUCED NOTE GUITAR SOLO NO. 1:

Focus – taken from BBC Radio Live 1972/1973 concert – “Focus I” – the host is Bob Harris

Featuring Jan Akkerman, Lead Guitar

Full concert: https://youtu.be/yJM9GcQ966k

Note : to hear the full selection “Focus I” – please go to 23:36 in the video timeline or go here to access sound samples relating to this discussion

There is no YouTube video of “just the song” “Focus I” available separately in YouTube – but really, you owe it to yourself…just go listen to the whole concert!!  To my mind, this is the very BEST Focus concert you can get: the best line up, the best set list and it makes their official live record, “Live At The Rainbow” seem almost …dull and lifeless… (??) by comparison…. don’t get “Live At The Rainbow” – get this instead (or at least, in addition to) that – because this is by far the better live performance. It may be short, but it is sweet. Focus at their very prime – this band is on fire this night, Van Leer and Akkerman are bouncing off the walls in their excitement – a fantastic show!!!!

Section with reduced notes melody: 23:59 to 24:18…

Or – 

I’ve set up a folder with eight sound files in it– which will allow you to hear for yourself what I am talking about with regards to how guitarist Jan Akkerman starts out cold, in the first song of the performance – with all guns blazing – shredding rock and jazz at supersonic speed and basically demonstrating in the space of one long and awesome song – the concert’s opener “Anonymous II” – during this song, Jan Akkerman sets out to share the power and the passion he feels when he plays lead guitar – and this classic track taken from “Focus III” is an absolutely astonishing piece of music.

I have broken “Anonymous II” into three pieces – Intro/Guitar Solo, Central Guitar Solo (which includes a band improv that features guitar heavily), and finally, a final solo and coda – I selected three areas of the song that are ALL ABOUT the guitar, all about Jan Akkerman’s skill and ability – and if you listen to any one of the three “Unrestrained Shredding Samples” I have shared as excerpts from this amazing live version of “Anonymous II” – or you can listen to all there – I’ve merged them into a special five minute “just the guitar playing please” edit that really drives home what a powerful, precise and quick guitarist Jan Akkerman is.

The other four excerpts are what happens about twelve minutes later – the shock of the change from the wild, improvisational and inspired lead guitar playing that you hear in “Anonymous II” – to the pastoral, peaceful beautifully quiet sound world of the song featured here – “Focus I”.  In the folder with the sound files in it I have provided, for reference – the entire unabridged track

as played just a few minutes after the impossibly fast and incredibly skilled lead guitar playing demonstrated in the concert opener “Anonymous II”.  The difference is startling!  It is almost like two different bands – and the care and precision with which the other three guys in the band “support” Akkerman as he plays this delicate, beautiful reduced-note vocabulary rendition of the classic Focus track taken from their very first LP “In And Out Of Focus” – they play with such care, you could hear a pin drop, the bass and drums (played by the incomparable Bert Ruiter and the even more remarkable Pierre Van Der Linden) – are played with such delicate, understated precision while band leader Thiis Van Leer underpins the simple guitar melodies with the perfect moving harmonic foil of a slow-leslie’d Hammond Organ – just playing simple triads to support that gorgeous, gorgeous yet incredibly simple melody that Jan Akkerman plays so perfectly, and so incredibly beautifully, on this particular occasion.

This song for me, is an unforgettable moment in time – time just STOPS while they play it – its so breathtakingly perfect in it’s reduced-note glory.   It is probably the very best example of a “reduced note melody” or “reduced note solo” that there is – “Focus I” is very simplistic (ESPECIALLY if you compare it with the song played just moments before – the prog / rock / jazz / insane rave up improv that is “Anonymous II”) and to me – it’s the contrast that is absolutely amazing – from a scream to a whisper from the first song of the night to the second – talk about shifting gears.

It may be an intentional device, too – by deliberately showcasing a very precise, very quiet, very beautiful and melodic tune like “Focus I” RIGHT AFTER a pretty atonal, harsh and wild jazz/rock improvisation – the band demonstrate that they understand live dynamics like few bands do – the only other band with an amazing sense of dynamics that I am aware of – I would qualify that – with an “unusually highly developed understanding and sense of the great importance of being able to control both volume dynamics as well as song dynamics” – was Genesis in the early 1970s.

Sometime around Christmas, 1973 (strangely, the date of this well-known BBC radio show’s recording and broadcast are not known) – during the transition from “Anonymous II” to “Focus I” is an amazing demonstration of a consummate artist just showing us how it’s done – like Genesis before them – going from a whisper to a scream with care and precision (or in this particular case – from a scream to a whisper….It’s not that easy – believe me – but Focus sure do make it sound easy here during the first two songs in this remarkable BBC radio concert.

.

So – my personal history with the song “Focus I” by Focus – taken from a live radio broadcast made on an unknown date (late 1972 or earlier 1973) – I recorded this concert myself directly onto an old Kodak cassette tape that became one of my most prized live concerts ever – and it documents this line up of Focus at the absolute height of their powers – it is and always will be, my favourite live recording b6 this extraordinary band from the Netherlands.

After about 15 years or so, when the Kodak cassette shell finally wore out, I actually did a “tape transplant” – I carefully removed the two tiny reels of tape from the Kodak shell, and physically moved them into a new shell – into a brand new state of the art TDK or Maxell shell (throwing away the brand new tape reels from the target shell just so I could preserve this beautiful music!!) – and that preserved the tape for a further 15 years or more.

I don’t think it has ever been officially released, despite the fact that it is actually a much better and cohesive live performance of early Focus material than their official live album of the day (I believe from 1974) “Live At The Rainbow” it’s lacklustre by comparison, This BBC recording to me, is the definitive live statement of the band and it’s an absolutely wonderful concert showcasing music mostly from the then-new studio album “Focus III” as well as tracks from “In And Out Of Focus” and “Moving Waves” (aka “Focus II”) – the bands first two studio albums.

This unique live document also happens to contain the first example that I became aware of, of just how effective and affecting a guitar solo with very few notes could be.

Normally, during the early 1979s (and in fact, in later years as well) when Focus would perform the track “Focus I” (taken from their first album, “In And Out Of Focus”), they would do it much as it is on the studio album:

First (for about three minutes), the band plays, the simple yet melodic piece that establishes the main melody on lead guitar as well as the beautiful Hammond Organ of the remarkably talented and capable founder of the band, organist and flautist Thiis Van Leer. His simple organ chords underpin the stately, slow, clean lead guitar melodies played by Akkerman with great care and precision.

Then (gradually speeding up the tempo, for an additional six or seven minutes) they would continue on into the “jam” or “improv” section – a section that never, ever “worked” for me in the studio version (too fast, too funky, and having little in common with the intensely beautiful melodic themes that make the first three minutes so outstanding) or in any live versions that I ever heard. Until I taped a live BBC Radio concert onto a cassette one day.

So normally, in 99.999 percent of the cases I know of – the studio version, the version on “Gold” and so on…”Focus I” has an approximate duration of nine to perhaps twelve minutes, and consists of mostly a fairly funky, jazzy, instrumental jam or improv with organ solos, flute solos and guitar solos – typical of Focus (and many other Prog bands of the time) but in the case of the slightly cumbersome long improv that makes up 70 percent plus of NEARLY every live version of the song “Focus I” – not my favourite, and definitely not their best.

The second and third Focus albums, to my ears, are where the band hits its stride while the material from “In And Out Of Focus” is still an idea in development – it’s a first album of a new band finding its feet.

I loved the first section of the song, but when the all-too-short three minutes of beautiful, melodic progressive rock melody came to an end, and the faster funky improv began…I would reach for the “skip to next track button”. I could never resolve that somewhat careless and inconsequential improv, I could not reconcile it with the sensitive, emotional and beautiful melody of the first part of the song – the two sections just do not work together for me both as a musician and as a listener and admirer of the band’s music.

So – this rare, rare one-of-a-kind performance of “Focus I” – wherein, the band play the three minute, beautiful thematic and wonderfully understated “Focus I” …and then bring it to an absolutely perfect, quiet and beautiful conclusion after just three minutes of some if the most inspired, retrained, carefully and lovely playing I’ve ever heard.

Well, for me – this special short version of the song – without the funky jam at the end thank God!!! – is a dream come true…the “beautiful part” of “Focus I” had been freed from the disappointing second section…and was thus revealed to be an even more incredible thing of beauty than I already knew it to be…

For reasons unknown and never explained, on this one unique occasion in late 1972 or very early 1973, with Focus playing a full concert for BBC Radio…they made the unprecedented and inspired decision to include “Focus I” in the set, but to perform it in an unknown form – with a beautiful, natural, perfect “ending” or “conclusion” – where normally, a not-very-good jazzy improv normally would appear.

Thus transforming it into what I consider to be its ideal form – certainly into it’s purest, most undiluted form. It should always have been this length; with this structure; with this ending…including two or three really beautiful guitar chords played as a miniature coda once the drums bass and organ fade out…Akkerman ends the piece on his own in a brilliantly understated way – fantastic!!

I have no idea why, but I infinitely prefer it in this version, and in fact now that I have this gem of a near-perfect live performance…three minutes being revealed as the perfect length during which to express a wonderful melody (with a short burst of double time instrumental excitement in the middle of the piece,) which then quickly resolves back down, and slows back down for the final iterations of beautiful guitar and organ led, stately, understated and lusciously beautiful music – music which only Focus could produce with such perfection in a live setting.

This…is where we find our first example of the “one-note guitar solo” – in this one-of-a-kind “short version” of “Focus I”:

REDUCED NOTE GUITAR SOLO NO. 2 (+ AN ACTUAL ONE-NOTE SOLO)

Camel – taken from the album “Mirage” – “Lady Fantasy”

Featuring Andy Latimer, Lead Guitar

Full song: https://youtu.be/El9GSoOvcD4

This remarkable song contains both a reduced note solo and an actual one note note solo – both in the same incredible piece of music – bonus reduced note content if you will:

First section with reduced note solo: 5:10 to 5:38

Second section with one note solo: 7:48 to 8:11

There is so much I would say about the irrepressible and amazing Andy Latimer, founder member, lead guitarist and mainstay of one if prog rocks most endearing and most enduring bands – Camel.

I remember feeling as if I would never, ever get to see Camel play live. In the 70# for an album or two Camel also included my favourite Rick horn and woodwinds player if all time…Mel Collins. We were all so excited – Camel is going to play in San Diego…and the unbelievably talented and capable and, to my mind, undeniable master of rock saxophone and flute – the best there is – and having just ended his amazing stint in the legendary Islands-era King Crimson In 1972… that he would end up in Camel just a few years later seemed like a god send…what better band for Mel to be in than Camel? answer: NONE. AND THEN..the show was cancelled, due to an injury in th3 band..land my hopes of seeing Camel were dashed – I thought perhaps forever, but then my fortunes changed.

I happened to be in London only to find that Camel wer3 doing their 20th anniversary tour – so I finally got to see the absolutely amazing guitarist Andy Latimer in action, and see and gear him play those impossibly beautiful Camel songs, such as the extraordinary “Ice” or even “Rhayader Goes To Town” from “The Snow Goose” album to the harder songs from Moonmadness like the stomping middle section of “Lunar Sea”…what a repertoire, what a band – what an extraordinary lead guitarist.

But the real concert highlight was seeing and hearing Andy and the band playing this classic, classic album track from one of their earliest and best albums, “Mirage” ( my favourite Camel album of all if you must know!!) the lovely tale known as “Lady Fantasy” – a prog rock standard if there 3ver was one, a lengthy piece with various sections…lovely melodic verses, interspersed with wild bass and drum riff-driven rocking improvs and jams – featuring organist Peter Bardens and Andy Latimer vying for position in the ‘who can solo the most amazing tonight nightly live contest’ – and I always thought Andy won – but then, I am a guitarist and therefore, always biased in favour of the guitarist – always.

Hearing and seeing this amazing song performed liv3, including a near record perf3ct recreation of the remarkable “one note feedback solo” this live performance proved that this unusual feedback on3 note guitar solo was not a fluke or an accident in the studio or a one-off throwaway..,the fact that he went to the effort, trouble and toil of painstakingly recreating that beautiful, amazing feedback…live…every night, year in, year out – “Lady Fantasy” remained in their set for a long, long time, often appearing as a most welcome encore.

I managed to see Camel a number of times in later years, because Andy moved to California where I lived…so I got to see Camel live in California fir a number of fantastic tours from Dust & Dreams to Harbour Of Tears and beyond… and I got to see them play “Lady Fantasy” – with it’s extraordinary reduced melodic solo and then that amazing long feedback one note solo – I saw them play it live quite a few times during those years.

Finally – full circle – after not having seen Camel for decades, in 2018 I decided to travel to Newcastle to see and hear them play the “Moonmadness” (from 1976 originally) album in its entirety – and a now older but no less keen Andy Latimer stepped onto that stage and it transported me back to my first concert on British soil, the aforementioned Camel 20th anniversary tour – then via several years of California concerts…and finally back onto British soil once again, this time with a word perfect, spot-on rendition of the amazing, classic “Moonmadness” albumwhich was truly an honour to see and hear.

And, unsurprisingly, Andy’s prowess as a lead guitarist is absolutely undiminished despite the years past…what a great band, and a fantastic band to see and hear live in concert…trust me. The band I though5 I would NEVER see, I ended up seeing half a dozen tines across four decades… in two decidedly different locations, too – Britain or California!

The inventor if the one note feeding back guitar solo – the genius of Andrew Latimer – brilliant !!

REDUCED NOTE GUITAR SOLO NO. 3:

Genesis – taken from the album “Selling England By The Pound” – “After The Ordeal”

Featuring Steve Hackett, Lead Guitar

Full song: https://youtu.be/VZU3AVyAFC4

Section with reduced note solo: 2:13 to 3:20

In some ways this is the most sophisticated of my three example songs, but that can’t be helped…Genesis’ music had been evolving year after year from the almost primitive proto-prog of “Trespass” and then through that incredible cycle of prog masterpieces – “Nursery Cryme”, “Foxtrot” (which gave us both Steve Hackett’s lovely classical guitar tune “Horizons” not to mention, the incredible 23 minute plus album closer, “Supper’s Ready” (which, astonishingly – they could actually play it live and the did both at the time of Foxtrot but also years later in the late 70s when Phil Collins has taken over as the lead singer…

I never dreamed I would EVER get to see or hear “Supper’s Ready” live…but I was lucky enough to do so on the Wind And Wuthering Tour – so with Steve Hackett at the height of his 70s-era powers, in 1977, with the amazingly brilliant Phil Collins singing all 23 minutes plus of lead vocals AND helping out guest drummer Chester Thompson on the more important drum parts…that was a unforgettable experience to say the very least..

Collins fronting Genesis in 76, 77 was untouchable – and Banks, Rutherford and especially Steve Hackett has all improved greatly since the departure of Gabriel in early 75.

The surprisingly heavy really powerful renditions of the once-almost-ethereal songs from “Nursery Cryme” and “Foxtrot” on the “Genesis Live” (1972) album…the intensity and power of Genesis was a powerful, compelling force of nature that really pushed me towards that kind of performance…progressive rock done with power and glory…that was Genesis in 1972 – as captured on the raw, rough and ready musical experience that is immersing yourself in the amazing live sound of the Genesis Live album.

Which made the sudden arrival of “Selling England By The Pound” such a strange and wonderful event. The rawness, the dark, rough and intense, almost overpowering, live sound of Genesis as portrayed on the 1972 live record – was suddenly gone. But was it really? An initial comparison seems to indicate that “Selling England By The Pound” is worlds away from the intensity of Genesis Live. They are two VERY different albums, less than a year apart – by the same band, the same five school chums.

“Selling England By The Pound” is very sophisticated, way ahead of its time and it seems to have, somehow, through some inexplicable means (magic? time travel? I really do not know how this record was SO good for its time). It had somehow eclipsed itself (???) and almost surpassed the quality of the entire Genesis back catalogue to date… a true and astonishing quantum musical leap of real progression in progressive rock, with a forward-thinking futurist musical bent light-years beyond the more delicate compositions on Nursery Creme and Foxtrot. No other Genesis album to date had ever quite attained this level of sophistication.

If you worried that the power was waning or somehow lost – i.e. where did that dark, old, terrifying live band from Genesis Live GO? This album was so pleasant, so nice sounding…but then about four minutes in, when the ominous synth and guitar riffs of the album opener “Dancing Out With The Moonlight Knight” kick in properly – you realise “oh my dear god, this is MORE powerful/than Genesis Live (especially if you turn the volume UP) – power, progression, refinement, ominous heavy and terrifying riffs and wild but controlled guitar and synth solos… in the opening track alone you get so so much, including Hackett playing in an incredible way, at tempo, and just raising the roof – he and Banks together on this track are more terrifying than all of Genesis Live combined. And from the dizzying crescendo of “Dancing Out With The Moonlight Knight” the band then – somehow – drop dynamically into one of the most lush, beautiful ambient pieces of music I’ve ever heard – which runs for two or three minutes after the first five minutes of the song tore the top of your head off and then hope that the ambient coda can somehow put you back like you were before the incredibly sonic and wildly dynamic first song began.

The first song … is like an entire albums worth of ideas …l compressed into one incredible song, “Dancing Out With The Moonlight Knight” ,,, might be my very favourite Genesis track of all time. It lacks nothing. And in concert…they would often play the intensely beautiful ambient coda for several minutes longer than on the record, with Hackett playing mysterious almost a Fripp-like lead guitar lines…it is amazing when you hear the live recordings of the “Selling England By The Pound”.

As you move through the rest of the album, the dizzying heights of sheer musical ability become ever more overwhelming … such as the triple threat of one of Peter Gabriel’s most beautiful and beautiful sung vocals, Tony Banks most complex and advanced piano composition to date – light years beyond his previous bests…and on top of that, Steve Hackett turning an absolutely blunder of a very extended guitar solo that meshes with Bank’s piano and keyboards in a beyond perfect way…I could only be talking about Firth Of Fifth here…which seems to be the favourite “Selling England” track for the majority of fans – and with good reasons because it’s about as near to perfect of a song as you could ever ask for or even dream of…an extraordinary work of great beauty, storytelling and heroic passion in both the lyrics and in the vocal delivery, but a huge portion of its incredible emotional intensity is in the keyboards and the soaring, almost impossible beautiful lead guitar lines.

I’m not saying Rutherford or Collins is in any way substandard on the track or on this album, but on Firth Of Fifth…Gabriel, Banks and Hackett are so amazing that they steal the whole show. Rutherford does add in some incredible deep dramatic bass pedals underpinning some of the best Banks / Hackett solo moments and Phil Collins by this time was pretty much the best drummer in prog so all five contribute so, so much to this album, and to a song like Firth Of Fifth… so much. Hackett is absolutely beyond belief stunning with his long, long and incredibly beautiful extended melodic soloing..it’s sublime.

It makes me waver on my earlier statement that “Dancing Out With The Moonlight Knight” is my favourite track, because “Firth Of Fifth” threatens to take that title away from “Dancing Out With The Moonlight Knight” … these are difficult choices.

I love every song on this quaint, wonderful and utterly unique album and I could talk about the qualities of each song endlessly.

But now we have reached something extraordinary – “After The Ordeal” – an instrumental (a real rarity on a Genesis record) – and the piece that triggered my memories of the earlier Focus And Camel songs, the “missing link” that was there all along, patiently waiting for me to “realise” my personal favourite triumvirate of reduced note guitar melodies or solos…

What I actually already internally “knew” but it took hearing Steve Hackett live, in 2019, playing this nearly perfect song, a mixture of serious classical guitar work structured progressive rock, and searing, smooth beautiful melodies all merged together with the brightest loveliest sonic glue imaginable, this song sounds like the relief after an ordeal, it sings without words of hope eternal, it’s blissful, it’s simply beautiful.

But when Hackett goes for that thick, intense neck humbucker pickup Les Paul sound, and the band slows almost imperceptibly and then Steve plays THAT MELODY…there is possibly nothing more beautiful in all of progressive rock, than the slow guitar solo in “After The Ordeal” by Genesis as performed by the awe-inspiring Steve Hackett on this classic 1973 progressive rock record…a record so perfectly formed, so beautifully made by these five ambitious young men full of hope and vision and then, realising that vision in the creation of a masterpiece with basically, no flaws whatsoever.

And I was fortunate enough to hear the Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited Band play this wonderful album in full…an experience not possible in 1973 as I believe there was at least one track that they did not perform live – ironically and strangely – that track just happens to be “After The Ordeal” – so I feel doubly blessed and lucky because I got to hear and see Hackett and company play a song considered – back when planning the “Selling England By The Pound” tours … what –

too difficult to perform?

too technically challenging?

Not appropriate for live use since it is an instrumental?

…so what would Peter Gabriel have to do – stand there mute for six minutes?

…walk off stage during the song – back on for the next song featuring vocals?

Whatever the actual reason, Genesis did not play it live (that is know of – I would love to be “wrong” about this!!} in 1973 but in 2019…Genesis Revisited did – an absolute highlight of the show.

Sheer beauty… exquisite musicianship… what a truly beautiful, beautiful song “After The Ordeal” is. I feel so lucky to have seen and heard it performed… shiver-inducing melodic perfection and perfect guitar playing – perfection.

> > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > >> > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > >

IN CONCLUSION

  • Three incredible progressive rock songs
  • Three incredible progressive rock bands
  • Three incredible guitarists
  • Three incredible reduced note solos

Seeing and hearing Steve Hackett With Genesis Revisited, here at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh a few weeks ago on November 25, 2019, performing the song “After The Ordeal” as part of a full band recreation of the entire 1973 Genesis album “Selling England By The Pound” – I suddenly realised…this song is the missing link, this is what ties together, at last – when combined with the two examples I’d had in my brain for the last 35 years or so. To my mind, the three most important “reduced note guitar solos” in prog history maybe…

For me, they are pure inspiration, and they taught me the value of playing fewer notes less often and they also taught me that playing a single note really well has far more impact both on record and in live performance – than playing many notes “just OK”. In simpler melodies… there is greater potential for deep meaning,for real beauty, for real inspiration…for sheer perfection in music – than you will ever get shredding 5/4 time dissonant scales. It’s in those simple, repeating notes …. you only have to listen and I believe you will hear what I am hearing ….some very, very special moments in the history of recent music…and these are all great achievements of extremely capable players…who in inventing these reduced note solos, show a sensitivity and emotional content far,beyond the average guitarist.

Life is so fast paced, and it always feels wonderful when you can slow right down and enjoy a quiet, relaxing moment. I think that these three selected guitar melodies or solos are the guitar equivalent of slowing your life down and enjoying a quiet, contemplative moment…these amazing guitarists do the exact same thing when creating and performing these unique and wonderful reduced notes solos…giving us a beautiful gift of timeless, gorgeous, and very real music .,,of the contemplative kind.

There are doubtless, many, many more examples of this phenomenon out there and I would love to hear what your favourite reduced note or one-note solos are.

While I was writing this, I started to think about one example, which is the use of long, clean repeating guitar notes utilised by Robert Fripp on the classic 1974 track, taken from the final studio album by a 70s Crimson Line-up, the incomparable “Red” as used in the long instrumental section of the song “Starless”… another great example of the one note phenomenon- slowly climbing chromatically as the long section builds and builds dynamically. So there are clearly, many, many other examples of reduced or one note solos out there… but for me, these three particular songs, with their amazing, slow, restrained guitar playing captivated me back in the day and still feel as fresh and as inspired…and as incredibly beautiful as they always were – and again, for me only perhaps they always will feel incredibly special and very, very beautiful – part of the ongoing never ending soundtrack of my life.

I feel so fortunate to have… noticed these tracks; and finally, after SO many years of listening – made the connection by finding the missing link – “After The Ordeal” which fits so incredibly perfectly with both “Focus I” and “Lady Fantasy” which I had connected together years ago – the missing piece of my triumvirate of notable reduced note or one note solos…long may they run.

As a guitarist, being able to slow down like that, to stop, to set aside the baggage of your chops and just play a simple but totally beautiful melody or solo – which then becomes part of music history because it also happens to have occurred within a really important piece of progressive rock from a certain era – the early 70s – and now, a few years down the road, I can see and hear the connections, I could suddenly “connect the dots”, and hear and fully realise that these three guitarists, while arriving at the idea of writing and then performing a reduced note or one note solo independently – each within their own band… that accidentally, this idea forms a link between these three different artists or bands – bands whose guitarists inserted these minimalist mini solos or melodies into compositions that each band was composing a resting at the time… and now, x number of years later, you can definitely and clearly hear that this idea that less guitar notes is more…works no matter where you try it,if it’s done with an open mind, an open heart and the honesty of those five or six or perhaps seven, beautiful, beautiful notes.

What an amazing sound…that one note repeating over and over, or feeding back for minutes….and for me, that’s pure inspiration – and, an even purer, more meaningful kind of beautiful guitar.

On the first Camel album, “Camel”, there’s a lovely song called “Slow Yourself Down”. I remembered this song when I was writing about Andy Latimer and as I was writing about how these three amazing guitarists – Latimer, Hackett and Akkerman – literally had to slow themselves down – shift gears – move from high level, high speed, glorious free lead guitar free-flying improvisation mode – to suddenly reduce that vocabulary, and play an absolute blinder of a reduced note (or one note) solo – and how they do that in a live situation, the incredible shift in dynamics and volume and approach and emotion – so it does make me wonder if somehow Andy Latimer was giving his future self some good advice: it’s great to shred and fly high with amazing free improvisation when you are on stage or when you are recording…but sometimes, you may need to…slow yourself down.,.because you are coming along…

Regardless of that – it’s good advice, and I am so,so glad that so many of the masterful, extremely skilled guitarists that I listen to and hopefully, learn from – and I definitely feel that Akkerman, Hackett and Latimer have all demonstrated that they can slow themselves down and play these astonishing, simple, beautiful solos that have inspired me so very much over the years.

Respect.

 

 

They tell me you’re searching for a new place,
They tell me tomorrow will have a true face.
They say that I don’t understand,
When you speak of your summertime land –
Just slow yourself down, I’m coming along.
They tell me your past often hurt you,
And even your friends, they would desert you.
But now you are beginning to see,
The same things have happened to me –
Just slow yourself down, I’m coming along.

 

Listen Now…

The forms have all come together perfectly now. A new KIND of music has arrived.

https://youtu.be/xNzPqFYcuKY

I personally feel that this is the start of something truly important in modern music. When a thousands-of-years-old classical Indian instrument can effortlessly power a song as beautiful as this…seamlessly…

Something is happening. Something truly good.

I literally cannot stop listening to this song.

“Sheer profundity” as David Crosby once said back in the 70s.

“Incredible skill and artistry…a perfect balance of instruments and voice, creating something much larger than its component parts…something truly, exquisitely and breathtakingly beautiful”. Dave Stafford, December 6, 2019.

Sheer beauty.

This has been my blog for today, Friday, December 6, 2019.

Dave

You have a choice – of what you listen to…

 

Sometimes in the world of music, strange things happen that don’t make an enormous amount of sense to me.

 

 

One of those things – which happens regularly, and has almost certainly become much worse over time – is the odd and very wrong correlation between truly good, truly inspirational or truly meaningful music – and an artist’s “popularity” – whether that is reflected in record sales, media exposure – it doesn’t really matter – this undeniable fact remains:

The “music industry” rewards and promotes artists that produce a particular “kind” of product, which seems to have but one criteria:

“Can this ‘product’ make us money (and lots of it)?”

 

The industry has always been interested in money, while over time, showing less and less interest in the actual music.

The inevitable upshot of this, unfortunately, is huge media exposure and significant sales for the “right kind” of artist (according to their entirely greed-driven “criteria” of course!) – usually (not always but often) an artist with only a modicum of musical ability or actual talent – the Industry wants as many of these “money-making” artists as possible – and consequently – the rest of the bands and musicians in the world, who do not meet this “Magical Money Making Criteria” – well, they struggle in such an environment (a harsh, cruel demanding environment).

Artists with genuine skill – with real talent – whether that be the mastery of an actual music instrument, or a singer with real vocal skill and dexterity – or artists who have unique and notable skill as songwriters or producers of cutting-edge, modern forward-thinking music – are first of all, always in the minority in the minds of the record companies, and during the last couple of decades, many of them felt so uncomfortable or unhappy with this “business arrangement” – that they sought other ways to move through the marketplace – ways NOT dependent on being signed to a major label, and in fact, NOT dependent on a record company or the music industry in any way shape or form – and that is a good thing.

So rather than having to kowtow to the system, and beg on bended knee for a “record contract” that won’t be favourable or good (unless you happen to be one of the one-in-a-billion who actually meet the Magic Money Making Criteria) – so they either formed their own independent labels (one example of which is Robert Fripp & David Singleton’s remarkable DGM – Discipline Global Mobile – an artist-centric label if there ever was one) or moved to labels that support quality music over sheer money-making prowess.

 

The above merely states a problem that exists, and of course, it’s subjective – there are exceptions, of course, to every “rule” or “theory” – and this theory of mine is no exception to having exceptions.

Of course, there are a number of bands, artists and performers, who sell enormous amounts of records, get massive media exposure – AND they are real musicians of quality – they actually play their own instruments, they have studied music or been working musicians for the majority of their lives and have learned from the sheer experience of being on the road in a working band for 30, 40, 50 years or more – that end up in the same financial space as the “Money Making Artists” who do not necessarily have the actual skills, talents, or abilities that make them admirable to fans of real music and the more discerning listeners.

 

One of the biggest issues here, I think, is the traditional “record company” or “music industry” view of artists as “money-making machines” – but more specifically, their view that CDs, DVDs, and other saleable items that present music – are “products” – and of course they are products – but the record companies, over time, seem to have shifted from viewing an “album” or a “CD” as a record, a recording of music – it it’s simply become a “product” – they have transformed it from an object of joy and wonder into a simple and depressing object of commerce – a product (ugh) in the most negative sense – and then it gets dealt with like a product:

 

  1. How many can we produce as cheaply as possible to maximise profit?
  2. How many can we sell at as high a price as possible to maximise profit / greed / etc.
  3. How can we sell as much of this “product” as possible / in what ways can we “market” this to maximise profit?

You can just about see the common denominator there… hmmmm.

I can remember in the 1970s (and farther back than that, I am afraid) that there was still the “illusion” that music and albums were about….music and artists – and music itself – songs – albums – mattered – and record companies (in some limited cases at least) actually cared about the music that “their” artists produced – as music – and NOT just as a “product”.

 

But – the view of album or CD as “product” – WAS always there – it’s just that over the past several decades – that idea has grown and grown – and the ideas for maximising profit go even farther back – which is why there were so many cases of musicians and bands receiving literally a few pennies for each album sold – while executives and record company board members and owners, skimmed 97 percent off the top – these “recording contracts” or “deals” were just atrocious and utterly unfair to musicians who worked (often all of their life – and sadly, often ending in poverty and dying alone and forgotten) at music – for their entire life time, dedicating every hour to writing, performing, and living and breathing music that they truly believed in.

 

So as the “music industry” and “record companies” have more and more viewed the output of musicians as “product” – the idea that music is anything but a money-making tool has all but disappeared from their minds.

In other words, if artist isn’t selling x million “units” of their “product” then the industry is no longer interested in that artist. Artists were regularly “dropped” from labels for not shifting enough “product” – some who had in fact, sold very well for the first ten years of their career – when that 13th album failed to shift a million – the record company would just terminate the contract because the artist was no longer producing the kind of money (not – the kind of music) they are interested in – large amounts of money.

That artist would have been faithful to that company for decades, making lots and lots of great records that sold well – but as soon as the sales fall away even a little bit – and the cash cow doesn’t look to be able to generate massive income as it had done – it was “out the door” for that artist – who then had to scrabble around and find a new or different record label with the stigma of having “just been dropped by one of the majors” which means their ability to negotiate with their new label is automatically negatively compromised…they are not a “hot property” anymore, because the record company kicked them to the kerb.

The really ironic thing there, is that the example of “that 13th album” I gave – that mythical 13th album would very probably be a musical and artistic triumph – a “critical success” – i.e. the critics loved it, the fans loved it even more – but it did not make enough money to satisfy the greed of the industry.

It might even have been that band’s musical masterpiece and the pinnacle of their career – which might have spanned 20, 30 years – they reach a point of musical maturity and consummate skill – they make an AMAZING, beautiful record that their fans and followers absolutely love – even the critics like the album – and their “reward” is – being dropped from the label and finding themselves out on the street with no label support.

 

As noted above and elsewhere – artists and bands that ended up in this situation, have dealt with this problem in many, many different ways:

  • Some simply moved house to another traditional label and carried on their career on a new label.

 

  • Some could no longer stomach the product-centric, money-centric, and let’s face it – greed-centric attitudes and practices of the music industry, and moved to an ethical company such as DGM.

 

  • Some decided that the best solution was to become their own record company – and would either form an actual company to produce records, market those records, take care of distribution, etc. themselves – and, getting dollars per CD, instead of pennies which I view as a positive thing.

 

  • Others created a sort of “cottage industry” where they form a “record company” of sorts – or a record label – and some aspects are dealt with via external contracts – but control is still central and still belongs to the artist.

 

Others…possibly – lost heart to such an extreme – that they did none of the above, and after having their faith in their 20 or 30 year relationship with a major label so badly shaken by being suddenly, and without warning, “dropped” because their 13th album was the first one that DIDN’T sell one million copies…causing them, sadly – to just give up.

They stopped playing music, and perhaps, changed to another artistic pursuit (a lot of musicians seem to end up as painters – artists still, but using a paintbrush instead of a plectrum to make their art) or even dropped music altogether and got a “normal job” – and left the greed and corruption and disappointment – behind – forever.

 

Kicked to the kerb, surplus to requirements – dropped by your label.

But in these cases, the length of their career as a major label star, that sells millions – is limited to merely month rather than decades as it was previously. So “stars” are made, the money is sucked out – and then they are dropped in a now-very-rapid-turnover-scenario that literally ingests hapless singers or rappers or whatever – pushes them through a pre-defined process producing some of the most lifeless, vapid “music” ever made – said music is marketed in an extreme way – a LOT of money is made (and the musician will see very little of it proportionally) – and then – they are dropped when their next song does not succeed – and more, “fresh talent” is sought, brought in – processed – dropped – repeat ad nauseam forever – a very, very sad and pathetic cycle that is even worse than the record company behaviours of yesteryear.

 

Whereas – in contrast – today’s modern musicians, who have learned to play actual instruments and taught themselves to write and perform their own music – do not depend on the record industry for anything – and simply produce music that means something to them – presented to the world through both YouTube and a plethora of different social media outlets – and we instantly have a new and amazing world where lesser-known musicians can compete with the biggest stars – and often surpass them in musical achievement.

 

The other upshot of this truly unfortunate situation, besides how discouraging it is for these “ordinary” musicians (who generally speaking, are anything but) – is that artists with amazing talents are often ignored, missing in action, cannot sell records easily, or are otherwise downplayed in the marketplace simply because they are not artists with the magic “this artists is gonna make us RICH” formula – instead, they offer honest, heartfelt music that they make because they love music – not because they want to get rich – they want to earn a living as a musician – and hope that some will hear and appreciate their music.

But, sadly, so much of this good music is so far under the radar, or at best, hanging on at the periphery of the normal “music industry” – outside the pale – it’s an unfortunate situation but it’s difficult in this day and age – to get music of quality heard or appreciated because the world is geared towards the shifting of product rather than, the sharing of inspirational and beautiful music.

And – via the gradual but insistent brainwashing of the record-buying public by the music industry – who pretty much “force feed” us the latest records by “popular artists” (their opinion – not mine!) such as but not limited to Juslake Beaver, Tailor Sweeft, Ariande Latte Grande, Ed Sneeran, Lady BlahGah, Smiley Cyprus and on and on – big names maybe – but I have questions

  • How many of these folks can actually write a decent song?

 

  • Which ones can actually play a real musical instrument?

 

  • How many of these can actually sing – and I do not mean sing through a pitch correcting vocoder or other technology that can easily take a poor or even downright bad singing voice and at least, force it into “tune” – whether that has any actual qualities worthy of our admiration – is in doubt in some cases.

 

Sure – some of the people that I have poked gentle fun at by naming them in a slightly disrespectful way – actually – I find it difficult to speak these names aloud or write them out properly – because I actually find a fair percentage of them slightly objectionable – because they are making millions, by “singing” or “playing” – while countless hundreds of thousands if not millions of real musicians, who have real skill on an instrument, real singing ability, real song writing or production skill – are ignored, not heard of, cannot sell records – because they are outside the system – the system that produces these “products” made by these “big name” artists.

Sigh.

 

None of this is very cheering, but there is always hope. I think a lot of artists have handled this transition really gracefully, and seem to be more settled and much, much happier running their own affairs as compared to their previous experience of “record companies” and the “music industry” – they seem far happier, and well-adjusted – making music on their own terms – and having their own destiny in their own hands.

 

I think that is fantastic – more power to them, and I can only send my best wishes and hope that their music will be heard by those who need to hear it – and I also think that his mass-migration of musicians from the major labels to either, ethical labels or to their own self-created labels, companies or cottage industries – is one of the best and most positive outcomes of this entire dark, negative “the product rules” attitude and practice of the music industry – because it has effectively, de-centralised what was a terrible monopoly held by the major record companies, where the amount of control that they held and exerted over their artists was a truly awful, almost evil thing – and by walking away, by closing that door – and opening a new way – these artists have set the stage for a real revolution of self-producing, non-record-company-depended truly “independent” artists – and I think that is absolutely wonderful – and about time, too.

A lot of musicians have suffered a lot – many literally ending up in true poverty because the record company took most of the money that was made – and some of these poor musicians ended up in the worst situations imaginable – especially back in the 1950s and 1960s when most of the greedy machinations of record companies were not as publicly known as they are nowadays – much has come to light during the past few decades – often through the personal stories of the musicians themselves (have a read of Robert Fripp’s Diary at DGM Live for one such tale) – who, after suffering at the hands of the music industry for decades – finally came forward to tell their horror stories – so gradually, the truth of the behaviour of these large record companies has come to light – and it is not a pretty story at all.

 

I don’t generally like to focus as much on negative behaviour as I’ve had to in this blog, but I felt it was important to set the scene for some of my upcoming blogs  – what I am really here to write about – and that is one of my ongoing stories regarding musicians that are NOT as well known.

In writing the above…I hope I have expressed and explained the kind of roadblocks and difficulties that so many great (but possibly not very well known, sadly) musicians have had to endure and then, eventually – thankfully – overcome – and I literally believe this to be a real triumph of the human spirit – and a great example of a great good coming out of a bad evil.

 

Really, the bad behaviour and greed of these companies – when brought to light by the sad facts of their behaviour and the way they treated “their” artists for so, so long – well – there is some vindication now – music is triumphing, and the record industry – has almost nothing to do with that.

In the past – you “had to” have a record deal to make records – or CDs – and you “had to” be signed to a label if you wanted to have the ability to manufacture, market, and distribute your music on any scale small or large – you had no choice.

 

Now – there are choices – and I think, that getting a “record contract” or “signing with a major” is probably the worst of those choices. Sure – they have massive distribution channels, and massive marketing departments that CAN and do promote albums on to sell in massive numbers – and for the “popular artists” of the day, those few that actually meet the criteria of “money making magic” – i.e. they “feel” lucrative to the record companies – because they sense the millions and millions of dollars that will probably soon be lining their pockets the next time they create a “product” for one of these “popular artists” – and that product then sells in the millions thanks to the machinery of the record industry.

 

But – “the times they are a-changing” – and the biggest change of all is certainly the Internet – which has enabled a number of extremely talented musicians – and artists and sculptors and wood-workers and people engaging in crafts of many, many diverse types – musicians can now gain massive popularity – and gain a large audience – if their music is good, if they are a sincere and committed artist – simply by producing and performing their own music and broadcasting it over the Internet – and then letting the people decide – what music do I love?

 

For me – the choice is clear – I am interested in music that is created by skilled, talented, committed musicians who primary interest and goal is CREATION – creating music that is beautiful, inspiring, or very, very unusual, using groundbreaking techniques and technologies that were previously unimaginable – especially in the world of the “traditional” record company – who are set in their ways and methods – and they can carry on doing what they do – but I don’t really care.

 

Because I will just seek out real music, made by real musicians – and I will NOT be seeking out “product” produced by “record companies” – any more – except in those rare cases where real music, made by real musicians – happens to also be extremely popular, and happens to sell in huge numbers – rare, but not impossible (please see my final remarks below regarding the extraordinary musician Billie Eilish for a working example of this rare possibility).

 

I’d prefer that it happens (massive success of music – not products) where the artist is NOT signed to a major label, and that those artists can actually sell millions of CDs or more likely, downloads – without a greedy pocket-invading record company attached at the hip, taking 95-plus percent of the proceeds when it was the artist that actually did 105 percent of the creation of the music.

As time has gone on, I find more and more that most of the music I am interested in – is produced by ethical record companies, artist owned companies or distribution networks or even direct from the artist to consumer sites of which there are more and more and more every day.

That’s how it should be – it needs to be about the music – not about “product” and how much of that product can we shift and how much ridiculous money can we make from that “product” – that is old world thinking and in the brave new world of 2020 and beyond – I am so, so happy and glad to see things changing in this way – so that we can get back to what is important – the music itself.

 

It needs to be about the music.

 

I think that some people just “like music” in a very vague and general way, and they don’t care about what music is playing – they will happily listen to what the radio is playing, and they will learn to like artists not based on their skill, talent, or song writing ability – but because they have been told “this is good music” – when in reality – what that actually means, is “this is the music we want to sell and make a LOT of money from, so we want you to like it – so you will buy it – and make us wealthy”.

I was always amazed by this type of person – and I would say to them “you are content to listen to what the radio tells you is ‘good music’ – wouldn’t you rather explore the actual sound of different bands and artists yourself, and make up your own mind ?? – instead of allowing someone (the record company) who is driven by one non-musical idea – greed – to DICTATE to you “what good music is” and “what you should be listening to”??

 

They would generally just give me a blank look and profess to not really knowing what the hell I was talking about.  But I have given this a lot of thought, for a long time – and I am finally now finding time to suggest these ideas and I hope they can be received and used in a positive way that brings a lot of new, creative, inspirational, unique and beautiful music to a lot of listeners who may well be missing out on a lot of great listening experiences – because they just haven’t considered this question of “who” is telling them “what” music is good and “what they should be listening to” or liking – and I truly believe that this choice should come from within – and not from the record industry’s rather obviously money-driven “suggestions”.

 

I learned to love music by first, hearing it on the radio – but there is stopped – sure, I went out and bought records that I had heard on the radio – back when I was a kid or a teenager.

But very, very early on – in my early twenties certainly – I began a much more organic process of music discovery – which is basically – word of mouth, discussing the merits of various artists with strangers you meet in your local record store (and some of them becoming life-long friends, as it turns out – such as my good friend Michael P. Dawson – who I met in Off The Record on El Cajon Blvd many, many decades ago now) – reading about artists in music magazines – the method was not important – but what is important, I think, is that I was CHOOSING my own music.

Meaning too – that NO one else – was choosing for me, or choosing on my behalf – it was 100 percent of my own volition, my choice of music, of artists that resonated with me personally, what sounded great to my ears, what sounded beautiful – what sounded unique – and I just ignored – and still ignore to this day – what the record industry or what record companies – “recommend” – no thank you – I can make my own choices here!

 

Additionally, by listening to one group, I might then discover another (or many more in some cases) and then from that artists, another – and the process over time – over the past few decades in fact – has led me to learn to love and spend a lot of time listening to a lot of artists that are really not that well known – but I personally find them infinitely more satisfying to listen to than the “popular music” “products” that the music industry is “recommending” – selling to you regardless of whether you actually really love the music or not – they do not care about that at all – as long as you buy a copy.

 

If you really sit down, and listen – listen with your ears, your brain, your whole body – close your eyes, listen with your heart, if you will – and listen to the qualities of the music you are listening to – you will realise very, very quickly – that a lot of these mass-produced, mass-marketed “musicians” (and I use the term very dubiously there – to my mind, many of these popular, massive-selling musicians are not musicians but almost more like imaginary “singers” who can’t play any instrument, don’t even know what a scale is – and just “got lucky” or “had a lucky break” and got themselves a lucrative money-making contract with a major record label) – and sadly – that has very, very, VERY little to do with music.

That might seem like an extreme position – but I would challenge you to compare side by side, music made by million selling artists who do not play an instrument, who do not write songs, but simply do as they are told and play their part in the creation of “products” (not music, but money making noise a lot of the time) that are quickly and mass-produced with a view to cash in on the short-half-life that some of these artists have – they have one huge “hit song” – MILLIONS are made by the record company – and then they disappear when their follow up song “fails to chart” – and the same old cycle takes over…with the music of lesser known, unfunded, self-sufficient real musicians who play actual instruments, sing beautifully, have real skill at modern production or some kind of actual ability, talent or skill – and I think that the latter group will consistently sound beautiful and inspirational – and for me, anyway – the majority of those “artists” inhabiting the former group – feel “manufactured” and sound thin and lifeless by comparison.  That is how it sounds to me, that is how it feels to me…lifeless.  Uninspired.

 

 

During this “Inner Revolution” of empowered artists making their own media and presenting it on YouTube and via Social Media – I have begun to enjoy and listen to a huge number of artists that previously I was unaware of – had never heard of. A lot of truly beautiful, absolutely amazing music is now available on YouTube and on the Internet – endless, beautiful, real music made by astonishingly talented and creative musicians.

And nary a record company in sight – thank the Gods.

Now back in the day – before the Internet – early on I decided that while there was the occasional song on the radio that I liked or even liked a lot – that radio, and other media controlled by the music industry – did NOT have my best interest at heart. They wanted me to like certain artists so that I could join the millions who blindly, and without thinking AUTOMATICALLY buy every release by popular artist Artist Name Goes Here – because they have been TRAINED and GROOMED to do so – subconsciously perhaps but trained nonetheless – by the music industry.

They wanted me to like, and then BUY – the million selling artists that they wanted to make more of, sell more of – and that was once again – just to satisfy their endless GREED!

I refused this. I did not want ANYONE to tell me:

  1. What kind of music I like to listen to
  2. What kind of music I enjoy
  3. What kind of music I should purchase (with my hard earned money)
  4. Which artists are “good” and that I should like them because – they SAID they were good (whether they actually were or NOT) – and usually – they were NOT good – not talented – not capable of much of anything except – creating product, selling product, and being on a very short roller coaster ride of “fame” that will almost certainly DAMAGE them more than it will ever help them
  5. No company – or individual – has any right to dictate to me what I do, what I listen to, what I like, or what I buy – they can “suggest” but I for one – I refuse this – and I want to MAKE UP MY OWN mind

 

For some strange reason – I decided this very, very early on – when I was a teenager or just shortly thereafter in fact – and I have stuck to this tactic ever since. I don’t generally like what is “popular” (because “popular” is artificial – it’s dishonest – and it’s totally contrived and fed to you by greed-driven record companies – they do NOT care about you – except as a source of MONEY) and I want to form my own opinions.

 

Pre-Internet, this could be accomplished in a number of ways – through conversations with other real listeners to real music, from reading about music and bands and artists where that reading then led to listening – and so on.

As one random example of this – one of the bands I happen to like is Roxy Music, who you have probably heard of – and since I am a guitarist, I really like Roxy’s guitarist Phil Manzanera – he has a unique and beautiful style of playing guitar, and I have always enjoyed his playing.

 

[AN EXAMPLE of the word of mouth – follow the players “method” follows]:

 

I had a few Roxy Music albums early on – starting oddly, with an unofficial one called “Foolproof” (an amazing amalgamation of two great live performances)…

 

That then led, to me purchasing “solo albums” by Phil Manzanera and listening to those.

Reading the album sleeves and notes revealed the other musicians playing on the record.

One of the Phil Manzanera records I bought, noted “Tim and Neil Finn” on vocals on various tracks (this is 1978’s remarkable “K-Scope” – one of Manzanera’s lesser-known absolute master works – a must have for anyone who likes creative guitar playing) – and I had heard of them – they were in a band called “Split Enz”.

So reading the album jacket of Phil Manzanera, led me to Tim and Neil Finn – which led me to Split Enz.

A few months later – I had fallen in love with that band; purchased all of the albums I could find by them – and even got to go see them play live on their first U.S. tour – I absolutely love Split Enz – thanks to Tim and Neil being on a little known Phil Manzanera album from the late 70s !

 

Of course then years later – my interest in Split Enz meant that I would then follow Neil Finn’s later band “Crowded House” – which later included Split Enz alumni older brother Tim Finn and keyboardist extraordinaire Eddie Rayner.

So entirely by osmosis – I got into all of the following bands simply by following the names of certain musicians that kept cropping up until I got curious to hear them – and bought a record.  Which would often then – lead to still more artists. In this one example – you could argue that because I liked Roxy Music , that I then over a very short period of time began to enjoy the music of and collect recordings by

 

 

 

 

 

And on and on and on – a wonderful snowball effect of one great musician leading to another to another to yet another…

 

And at the same time – Phil Manzanera’s album “K-Scope” ALSO was a further pointer to me to further explore a number of OTHER musicians who appeared as guests on K-Scope that I was already aware of – such as

 

 

  • Brian Eno (and therefore, of course – back to Roxy Music, to Eno’s voluminous and amazing solo career, and to Fripp and Eno – which of course leads back to King Crimson AND John Wetton…endless inter-connectivity).

 

So by following just a handful of musicians who I admired – I could then learn and grow and experience the bands and records that those musicians had worked on – all because I read one record sleeve.

 

One thing leads to seventeen others – and what a great, great way THAT was – to discover new music.

[EXAMPLE ENDS]

 

Finding the music of Split Enz was a huge positive experience to me – and that was based on the fact that I really, really like the vocals that Tim Finn did on Phil Manzanera’s “K-Scope” album – so much so, that I had to go and find out about Tim Finn’s own band – Split Enz – who I had heard of but never heard.

Tim Finn has a truly beautiful singing voice, and Phil Manzanera recognised this and asked him to sing on “K-Scope” – and the fact that Manzanera did that – led me directly to one of the most astonishing and rewarding collections of music in the current age – the discography of Split Enz.

 

Of course – now – with the Internet – it’s even EASIER to do all of this “cross-pollination” of artists – you see a video and you like the singer – you find out their name and then, what band they came from – you listen to or watch THAT band and you fall in love with that – and it just carries on, and you learn about – and enjoy – more and more and more amazing music by making your own choices – identifying certain musicians whose playing or singing you really enjoy – and then following out to their branches in the “musical family tree” as it were.

 

Regarding what you listen to – and whether you allow radio or social media or anyone besides yourself  “decide” what you are listening to or are going to listen to…I just think that you just can’t believe what much of what you are told.

Just because the record company wants me to buy the latest record (by anyone in my tongue-in-cheek, quasi-fictionalised list of “big name artists” above) – does not mean that (if I am sensible, and thinking for myself – instead of letting them do my thinking for me) that I should buy them.  And I don’t!

 

I think it makes much more sense – to start with music that you truly love – that you found on your own – you were not TOLD to like it – let’s say you grew up listening to your dad’s collection of Marillion records- and you actually really liked them – because they are real musicians who really play real instruments and they write their own songs – and they are pretty good at what they do – so starting there – instead of following what ANYONE told you – you made a decision for yourself – “I like this band – I really enjoy hearing their music (thanks, DAD!) – so that then, can easily lead you to a huge, huge world of related music, similar music, or even dis-similar music that has some relation to the music of Marillion – or, to early music via the bands and artists that Marillion themselves love – the bands that THEY loved and were inspired by.

So you read about early Marillion, and you find out that they were influenced by a couple of the most important and well known “Progressive Rock” bands that started out in the late 1960s – in this case – early Genesis with Peter Gabriel as their singer – Fish from Marillion makes no denial that he pretty much based his entire style on Gabriel-in-early-Genesis – alongside the additional influence of Van Der Graaf Generator founder and vocalist Peter Hammill.

(Interestingly – I was at the Steve Hackett concert in Edinburgh just last night – November 25, 2019 – and Fish walked past me a couple of times – he was in the audience to see Steve Hackett’s recreation of Genesis’ “Selling England By The Pound” – so that confirms that there really was a very strong influence on Marillion by early Genesis – not that there was ever any doubt about that – but Fish was there – listening.  Still.  That’s a nice affirmation of one’s influences – it was why I was there too – because Hackett was a huge early influence on my own guitar playing back in the early 1970s – he was so different, and seeing him live in 1975 performing “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” with Genesis changed me forever in a lot of profound ways – and it set me down a much different course in terms of the music I love, and, the kind of guitar melodies and ideas that I like to play – a massive influence.

 

So from making your own decision that you actually really enjoy the music of Marillion – that could easily lead you to discover the brilliant early music of early Genesis and Van Der Graaf Generator – and if you follow those two trails, you will end up at Robert Fripp, King Crimson, John Wetton, Bill Bruford, Brian Eno and a host of other extremely capable, talented brilliant musicians – but who they are does not matter – what DOES matter – is that the choice needs to be YOUR choice and yours alone – and NOT the choice of radio programmers, or TV, or what the record companies would very much like you to buy so they can get themselves a few more houses in a few more countries and some extra sports cars and swimming pools and so on – and because I am a contrary old son of a gun – I want to THWART that – I don’t want the record companies to get rich – ESPECIALLY if they are taking MY money from me (as well as taking away my choice!) to do so – I want my money to go to the artists that create the beautiful music that I love – NOT to a disassociated, greedy executive that wouldn’t know “good music” if it hit them right between the eyes.

 

I want to make the choices – and I choose MUSIC over PRODUCT – every time.

I choose what I like – not what anyone TELLS ME I like – every time.

 

Listen with your heart – really listen, and if you don’t already hear and see it – you will soon see that the list of big name, top-selling artists – that a lot of their music is of a much lesser quality than the music of real musicians who are not part of the Record Company Contract Machine Process any more.

There is so, so much amazing music available now – and not nearly enough time to listen to it all.

 

You can avoid a lot of the bad music – by deliberately refusing to participate in the brainwashing exercise that the music industry and the record companies is forcing onto you – telling you what to listen to, what to buy, what artists are “good” – it’s all nonsense – YOU should be deciding these things – not some faceless, greed driven company.

 

I say – do not listen to what they say to listen to; do NOT buy what they say – but instead – listen to a LOT of diverse and interesting music – and buy what YOU like – not what they tell you to like.  Buy what speaks to your heart, what makes you happy, what music makes you feel good – the music you have chosen for yourself to enjoy.

 

 

You have a choice – please use it – and support artists and musicians directly whenever possible – and do not support a bad business model that was always unfair to artists and in many cases, was extremely damaging to them – and please do not let a faceless corporation tell you what to listen to and what YOU like – only YOU can truly decide that – but it means some effort – you have to listen to a lot of different music and then make up your mind what you want to spend your precious time actually listening to.

 

Today – I’ve been listening to the remarkable Martin Newell (in particular, the 1995 EP “Let’s Kiosk” and the 2000 album “The Spirit Cage”) – as well as selections from various albums by the remarkable singer / songwriter Sam Phillips – both very independent artists who have carved a path through the minefields of corporate greed and the music industry and come out on top – and boy am I glad, because I love listening to this music – I’m very, very glad it is available – and I do not have to buy from a major label to get it, either.

That’s the best of both worlds – I am making my own choice of who I listen to – AND I am supporting the artists I love directly whenever possible by buying direct from their websites or web stores.

You have the same choice, and I think a lot of times it would be better – that it is better – to try some new artists that you have chosen because YOU like them – not because some faceless money-making entity TELLS YOU that you like them…when really, maybe they are not all that good – and really, probably – there are a large number of hardworking and very talented musicians out there making truly inspirational and beautiful music – and you may be missing it if you allow your choices to be made “for you”.

 

I just think that listening to lesser-known music can be incredibly rewarding – and I don’t want anyone miss out on the beautiful and moving music that I have found and enjoyed since I consciously started making my own choices many years ago.  Don’t miss this stuff – it’s truly worth it.

 

As a final note – sometimes, artists that appear to be in the “money making / record industry” mould that I have discussed here – happen to be as valid, as serious, as moving and as inspirational – as these lesser-known non-power-money funded artists I am talking about – and a perfect example of that would be Billie Eilish – an extraordinarily talented singer and songwriter – who has had an absolutely meteoric rise to huge popularity and “fame” – but mostly done outside the confines of the worst excesses of the industry.

I have huge respect for people like this – who have the vision, the talent, and the songwriting chops to just “be good” wherever they happen to be placed in the “business spectrum” of the music industry – talent is talent, skill is skill – and for me, an artist like Billie Eilish – who has a much, much larger following than most of the artists I follow – is equally as important and vibrant as the many less-known musicians that I also follow, listen to and admire – so it is POSSIBLE (although it does not happen often) that an artist can straddle those two world effectively without compromising their soul or their music – so that needed to be said.

 

Other artists that are products of the “we really want to make a lot of money camp” – can be as untalented or even vacuous as anything – not pleasant, not worth listening to – but propped up and supported by the love of the Almighty Dollar – it’s those that I find difficult to deal with.

 

Choose well – and I hope you enjoy your listening even more now – listening to music is one of the greatest pleasures in life for me – and I’ve thought long and hard about it over time – and things are starting to fall into place – you can see through the cracks – and easily get at what is true, honest, good and also – beautiful.

 

 

 

Have a great day!

 

Dave

 

 

davestafford.bandcamp.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overlooked & Under Appreciated: Master Works by Oft-Overlooked Artists – Sam Phillips

In today’s edition of this as-yet-non-existent series – this being the first in the series (ahhhh – now it exists)  – we are looking at 2001’s “Fan Dance” by Sam Phillips.

 

I could easily see myself writing any number of blogs with this title – and it may well transpire that over the coming time, I do just that, because I am listening more, and I am listening more often – and I am going back and listening to records that I loved ten, twenty, thirty years ago – and finding that in some cases, they are so much better than even I thought – hindsight, and the passage of time, reveals them to be absolute works of genius.  Which more often than not, comes as quite a surprise to me – OK, I knew it was good…but I had NO IDEA it was that good….

 

Maybe at the time I knew that it was something very special – or thought that – or maybe not – obviously, when music is new, you form an impression of it – you listen to it – maybe a little, maybe a lot, maybe obsessively – then time passes, you listen to other music – but eventually, you find yourself coming back to certain artists, to certain albums, to certain songs – to certain lyrics – to works of what are now, with the benefit of hindsight – clearly, far beyond other contemporary works by other artists – and these realisations just keep hitting you and hitting you and hitting you – oh my God, you wonder, how on EARTH did I NOT SEE (or more accurately, how on EARTH did I NOT HEAR) that this record is an absolute impossible musical miracle – like nothing before and like nothing since.

You can’t easily or readily see that or hear that when a record is new – and sure, some records instantly reveal themselves as having qualities that we love, that we know in time will just be more and more appreciated – but it’s still difficult – the work is NEW.

But this strange thing that human beings experience – the passage of time – well, for me at least, the passage of time changes my perception of music – and sometimes the changes are slow, gradual, and orderly, but in other instances – the new or changed perception LEAPS out at you and it’s almost a shock – here is a record I’ve heard dozens of times – maybe hundreds of times – that I’ve always loved, respected – but today, today, because of “the passage of time” – today that record is revealed in an entirely new light.

You see and hear it for what it actually is – and you probably unconsciously “knew” all along that it was significant or important or meaningful or all of the above – but it takes that additional trigger – time passing – usually, a LOT OF TIME passing…to bring the sudden realisation – that “oh my God, this is genius” moment – a moment that could be 30, 40 years in the making.

 

This morning, I sat quietly, doing absolutely nothing else, and listened to Sam Phillips’ mostly acoustic offering from 2001, “Fan Dance” – which, at the time, I liked it very much, it is clearly one of her best and most enduring works and it stands up really well now, some 18 years later – really, really well – it sounds like it could have been made yesterday – and in fact,  just after I listened to the entire “Fan Dance” album, I then put on a somewhat later work – 2013’s “Push Any Button” and while the music has changed – the messages – and the feeling of hope I get from the lyrics – remains – these are songs of hope.

 

A SLIGHT DIGRESSION – TRENDS IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

Some artists who don’t have really sweet worldwide distribution deals, have no choice but to operate at the periphery of the “music industry” – which actually, I think is the better  place to be – because of the well-documented and really oppressive ways that companies control and manipulate their artists – time and time again we hear the stories of how artists were robbed of their royalties, given the worst deals imaginable, and the view over time of “record companies” and the “recording industry” has naturally, due to these depressing and oppressive facts, developed as a very negative view indeed – my personal view of record companies has undergone a massive transformation over the past 40 years – and my view now is that anyone who can operate OUTSIDE of the confines of the “music industry” – is the better for it.  Myself included.

 

When I was 16 – I wanted a record deal. By the time I was 25, 30 – I never ever wanted a record deal – because I saw how these “deals” negatively affected the musicians I loved and even some that are friends or acquaintances – it was heart-breaking to see what happened to them because of their “record deal” – but it was also a cautionary tale for me and for us all – be careful – be very careful – what you wish for.  An all-expenses paid trip to – being enslaved, being used or abused – and your music denigrated to the point of being a product and a product only – and when your music becomes a “product” – you know that trouble is with you.

 

A very large cross section of extremely talented and capable musicians have been burned, and burned again, by the music industry – and the horror stories go on and on, from the earliest exploitation of artists being given a few pennies for their work, while music industry “executives” and management skim 98 percent “off the top” and put it straight into their own pockets…to the lapses in good judgement and other “business practices” perpetrated by the music industry onto both artists and the record-buying public, too – just too many bad stories that I really am not sure I want to hear too many more of – we know what happened – so now – how do we move beyond that into a better future for musicians and for music lovers?  How does it work, now?

So – musicians made music in good faith, trusted their “record label” to take care of them, to promote their music – and to pay them fairly and treat them fairly – and in practice – that happened so rarely, that everyone just assumed the worst – and rightfully so – about the behaviour of the “greedy leaders” of the “music industry” – sure, there were always a few exceptions who really cared about music – but not many.

Meanwhile – the good faith of musicians, who trusted their record labels. …was rewarded with exploitation, outright theft – and the bad, bad faith of record company and music industry executives – who, sadly, it turns out, are as uncaring about music as many oil companies are uncaring about the environment – it just demonstrates one of mankind’s ugliest traits – greed, greed, greed – and more greed, and it becomes all about taking and taking and taking – and never about giving anything back or supporting the musician who creates this “income” in the first place.

 

It’s no wonder then, that so many musicians and artists have taken back their music and their art – sometimes at huge personal expense – being forced to pay to recover the rights to their own musical creations – and then re-presenting them to their fans directly, via direct-to-artist purchase websites and online stores.

I applaud this approach – I feel much, MUCH happier, giving £40.00 pounds directly to the artist who created the work – making sure they get PAID for the work they have done – I feel very uncomfortable and very unhappy when I realise how much of the money I spent buying records, cassettes and CDs over this past half a century – I regret how much of that money went straight into the greedy pockets of executives who created nothing, and who exploited, used and harmed the musicians who music they stole.

OK – the above is probably really a separate topic for a separate blog – but much is known about this now, thanks to the stories told by the artists themselves – who basically come directly to the fans and say “look – I am not on a record label anymore.  You used to buy my records from the record company – but now, I am making my own records without a label – or, on my own personal label – and I want to deal DIRECTLY with you.  I produce a CD of music, a DVD of a concert, or other media that you want to hear and see – and instead of giving 90+ percent to a record company, and a few pennies to me (if I am lucky) – you can now pay me directly for the CD or DVD that I created for you to enjoy”.  This makes ME feel very, very happy indeed.

It’s sad the reasons for it – as alluded to above – but in the end, it’s such a good, good thing – because it means I can SUPPORT the artists I love, by putting my money into THEIR pockets (so they can make more records, create more art – share more of their art with us) for the first time – I know where my money is going – NOT into a black hole or the pockets of a greedy executive who cares nothing for music or the artists that I really love, and whose music means very much indeed to me.

So that all being said – nowadays, many artists who used to be wholly captured by and in thrall to  and who were horribly used by the music industry – have freed themselves from that corporate grip, and now are dealing directly with the fans – which is probably, the way it should have been all along!

 

And it’s not any particular type of artist – I like a fairly diverse array of music, from pop to the heaviest prog metal and everything in between – and seeing the creative ways in which these very creative people have walked away from the traditional models and found other ways and better ways to share their art with their fans – it’s an amazing and remarkable phenomena – and it’s odd to think that it came out of oppression, out of being under the thumb of a record company, it’s due to being robbed and used by purveyors of corporate greed – and the artists have totally turned this around – and made it be about the ART again – the music, the songs, the films, the performances – the things that made them start out to become a musician in the first place. We are back to the source, to the root – to the music.

The approaches to rebuilding and reconnecting to their audiences are as varied as the artists who have freed themselves – on the one hand, you have highly organised individuals like Robert Fripp – whose highest level projects such as King Crimson, operated on the world stage, through traditional record company and music industry practices – with all of the infrastructure and the bad deals that came with it – and after being betrayed by his long term business partners – Fripp took the time to think this through, and instead of just going to a “sell direct to the fans platform” – as many, many other excellent artists have done – he decided to create his own label, DGM which might be easily called the “world’s first ethical record company”.  They don’t have written contracts – they work on the honour systems – a handshake is the “contract” and honesty and fairness are the terms.

DGM supports much more than just Robert Fripp and his side projects, so the creation of DGM and the fact that DGM could then become “home” to other artists – that’s a brilliant accidental by-product of the very negative impetus that drove Fripp to create DGM in the first place.  So now – instead of only having “traditional” record companies to deal with – musicians and artists can make an ethical choice, and go to a unique company like DGM and find success – and a direct connection to their fan base – so it is win-win-win in that scenario.

Other artists – I am thinking now about the remarkable cottage industry put together by singer / songwriter Sam Phillips – the actual subject of this blog believe it or not! – who has never been comfortable with the music industry – and once the oppression of regular record labels became too much – she left, and set up her own website and started selling directly to her fans via that website.

Initially, she did this via a subscription service called “The Long Play” which I wrote about in some detail in this blog here.

The positive response to “The Long Play” was so overwhelming, personally I think it is fantastic to be able to deal directly with the artist in these cases, and the way Phillips has developed her media and marketing is honest, straightforward and admirable indeed – and I feel happy, because the money I spend to buy her records – goes back into her industry, into her team – which will only bring more amazing records, DVDs and downloads – it’s now a very positive, good circle of fair commerce – rather than a negative record industry style experience.

 

AND SEVERAL DAYS LATER I AM MAGICALLY BACK ON TOPIC…DIGRESSION ENDS

As is my way, I have initially at least, really diverted away from today’s topic with my little discourse on independence from record companies – but that is the background from which today’s actual topic emerges – at last.

In recent years, with the emergence of artist-run and artists-selling-direct-to-fans sites, often that artist will re-acquire the rights to their entire catalogue (where possible) which means it’s easy enough nowadays, to go to www.samphillips.com and to purchase a CD or a download of a thirty year old record.  I know that Bill Nelson and other artists who previously had very, very complex and scattershot distribution – has made a real effort to bring back all of the earliest parts of his catalogue so his entire life in music can be viewed and heard and acquired in one place – his own website – and I am always very happy when I read that artists have managed to re-acquire lost catalogue items – and can hopefully, built out a full catalogue that represents the entire body of their entire life as a musician.

 

In this particular case, I already had the record I am going to discuss here, which is 2001’s “Fan Dance” by Sam Phillips but it was actually the fact of me going to purchase more recent works by Sam (in particular, 2018’s “World On Sticks” which I had just missed last year due to circumstances beyond my control; and even more spectacular – the audio and video versions of “Live At Largo” – fantastic recent releases from Sam)  – trying to complete my collection, which in fact goes way, WAY back to the very earliest days – in acquiring more recent records – it drew my attention back to some of her earlier works – so I have been  listening to a LOT of Sam Phillips lately, both modern and earlier works – and it’s been an absolutely incredibly enjoyable and joyous experience.

These songs – whether they be from last year or thirty years ago – these songs have something in them that is immensely attractive to me – and I think that just now, in 2019 – in going back and listening to a few key releases, that I have possibly figured out what it is that appeals to me with regards to the music of Sam Phillips – and it can be summed up into one very important word:

 

Hope.

 

Whether I am listening to “Love Is Not Lost” from “Recollection” (in that instance, going really, really far back into the mists of time) or the latest studio and live tracks just downloaded from www.samphillips.com – there is one common theme in this music – and it is hope.

I believe that subconsciously at least – I knew that already – and I have known it for a long time.  But it took that curious thing I alluded to earlier – the passage of time – to suddenly and very, very clearly show me that it’s HOPE that drives this artist forward – hope for something better, something beyond the ordinary – something beyond the hurt and heartbreak of life.

Like many singer / songwriters – Sam does write about pain – emotional pain – the pain of just existing in a baffling and inexplicable world – and that is one thing – but if you really listen, and if you then allow the passage of time to sink in – and then really listen again – you will hear it.

You will feel it and know it – that no matter how sad or depressing those real-life stories can sometimes get – in the uplifting way that Sam writes, and sings, and harmonises (oh my dear God, those harmonies!) and in the uplifting way that Sam presents her lyrics – you can clearly see and hear the hope in her heart – and for me, that helps me to realise that yes – there is hope – when I struggle – and I think that this knowledge is such a powerful thing.

Sam Phillips is a serious musician, who writes serious songs about many, many topics – some, the more expected or ordinary (for lack of a better word – there is nothing ordinary about any of Sam’s songs really!) “singer-songwriter” fare – i.e. love songs, songs of loss, songs of longing, wistful songs, and so on – but she also writes a lot of other types of songs – some of them, very, very dark indeed (I am thinking of “The Black Sky” now, from the remarkable “Martinis And Bikinis” album from 1994 – which, by the way, features a few tracks with Colin Moulding of XTC on bass guitar – don’t miss that one!) – songs about mankind’s ability to destroy and fuck up the world while we sit and watch in horror – so her writing runs a real gamut from being all about love to the most biting social commentary possible – but no matter what the song is about, for me, somewhere  in there, in some turn of phrase or lyrical invention – there is HOPE.  Or possibly, a warning that a lot of bad things are happening, and we NEED some hope.

Over the past 20, 30 years or more, there has been a LOT of music produced, by a lot of artists – that holds little or no hope whatsoever.  It’s all the darkest, most real, most terrifyingly true stuff – it’s real, it is happening:  and musicians and artists are looking at events and reporting them through their art – and it’s just terrifying because it’s TRUE.

And – in that massive outpouring of musical truth – there is a lot of great music, OK – it is true that lyrically some artists and some bands almost seem  to espouse or prefer a “THERE IS NO HOPE” kind of ethos within their music – and because that is also usually the absolute truth – it does appeal , it is of interest and I love a lot of that music – probably because it DOES tell the unvarnished truth – and I will always prefer hard, honest music over something less real…

However – within the lyrics that Sam Phillips writes – and it’s not often overt at all – I just get an intense feeling of hope from what she is saying.  A sense of hope…and this is the really important point here – that I do NOT get from many, even from most, artists no matter how good or how much I might really love their music – other artists rarely make me feel the way listening to the music of Sam Phillips makes me feel.

It took me a long time to realise that, and even longer to articulate it (until just now, in actual fact).

I think that the human being’s enjoyment of music is an incredibly complex, multi-faceted thing that it is not easy to understand, describe or understand easily.  For me, every piece of music has components that I listen to in different ways, for different reasons – there is no single standard “way” of listening because often, a certain element or elements leap out at me and attract me where for another listener – those same elements hold nothing for them, they do not move them or affect them as they affect me.  And there is nothing wrong with this – just as each human being is a unique individual, I think that each listener has his or her own “way” of listening to any particular song, album or artist – and the perception of each song is going to be different each time, for each listener – that’s what makes listening to music such a unique and such a very “personal” thing – because the same song – can have a huge array of very different effects on each different listener.

Some listeners will love a song because of the vocal.  Or the words.  Or the bass guitar.  Or the drum sound.  Or the way that one splash cymbal hits just before the vocal chorus begins…

Other listeners will find other components that stand out or appeal to them – and you end up with thousands and thousands of different yet all valid “reasons” why we like a song.

 

But beyond that personal interpretation – sometimes, there are globally available energies that we could ALL tap into if we were aware they are present.

I think that the quality of “HOPE” which is not tied directly to just one song or one lyric or one bass note or one piano chord – but in fact, this quality seems to exist ALMOST independently of the song itself (unlikely as that seems and as counter-intuitive as that seems) I think that the feeling of hope that I get comes from some underlying mechanism – something about the lyrics, the way she has written each lyric – and if you just judged them on the surface – you might not “get” the feeling of hope.

So while I am sure it (the hope) is mostly contained in the lyrics – I am also quite sure that (the hope) is NOT in the lyrics or rather, not in the lyrics alone.

 

 

Somehow – and this is the feeling I’m getting these past couple of days in revisiting the “Fan Dance” album of 2001 so closely – somehow it’s not just in the lyrics, but the hope I am now seeing, now hearing now FEELING properly and completely for the first time since 2001 when this record appeared – that hope is tied to the ENTIRETY of the performance.  I will try to say what I mean here:

It is in the warmth of the tone of Sam’s voice as she sings the melody

It is in the amazing blending of voices that occurs when Sam harmonises with herself

It’s also in the unique and lovely background vocals and harmonies which seem straightforward on the surface, but can be often quite sophisticated and complex – as one example, the song “Love Is Everywhere I Go” contains a lead vocal, a second, overlapping vocal “response” (“looking through you…”) and background vocals – and somehow – this is all woven into an incredible single vocal “tapestry” if you will – along with, an astonishing transition from the “bridge” back to the chorus – which I don’t really even understand how she DID that – but it’s amazing.

The vocal layering and complexity – with an ultimately very simple sounding and straightforward output as “the vocal” – of a track like this – it also contains a lot of this hope I am now detecting – somehow – woven into this elaborate and beautiful tapestry of interwoven voices.

 

It’s also in the CARE that is shown in the playing – in the deliberate, slow, precise strokes of the acoustic rhythm guitar – which is then mirrored in perfection by the deliberate, slow drum beats and then  to the details of that following percussion – when that crash or splash cymbals DOES hit just before the chorus begins again – the band is so tight, so together as to be performing as if one body – those drum parts mirror those Sam Phillips rhythm guitars which mirror the bass and atop which sits the Magic Vocal Tapestry Full Of Hope – it’s in THERE.

The HOPE I am hearing and feeling and experiencing now, that I did perhaps feel in a lesser, more clouded way back in the day – it’s so much a part of each and every song on each and every Sam Phillips record – it’s definitely there – but as you can see, articulating “where” it is within a particular song is very, very difficult, if not impossible!

 

So I know the hope is very real, I can feel it absolutely – but I don’t exactly (or even inexactly) know where it is “coming from” in any given song, or on any given album – but – one thing I do know –  it that it is definitely there – and it’s my hope – that if you like the music of Sam Phillips – it would be my hope that you have heard this feeling of hope coming through her music,  too.

 

For me, this quality sets Sam apart from many other musicians – where I don’t feel that hope in others’ music – I just don’t feel anything even akin to hope in a lot of modern music.  And maybe it’s there too, in the music of those other artists – but it’s harder to see.  Or will take longer to see.  The “passage of time” – that’s a variable that is not in my control – or anyone’s control – and in this case, a certain amount of “a passage of time” has allowed me to see, hear and experience something within this music that I already loved – that I had never really seen, heard or experienced until I listened again to the “Fan Dance” album yesterday and again, today.

I am very glad that this happened, because we can all always use a little more hope – and, I’m also happy to report, that it doesn’t feel like just a little hope – often with Sam’s songs and Sam’s records –  it feels like a great big, joyous, hopeful hope – and that has made me feel very happy indeed.  Now when I hear these songs – I am given an extra gift, I am uplifted – and you don’t get that every day.

 

What a remarkable experience this has been – and it’s all down to perception, the passage of time, and suddenly recognising something important – something very important – that was actually there all along but I just did not realise it.

It’s all about the hope.

 

Note:  for the purposes of this blog I listened to the “Fan Dance” CD a few times, but in terms of direct inspiration and for me, having the most readable, easiest to see, hear and feel – in terms of the hope theme I am talking about – I relied upon these particular tunes, with their particular lyrics – and it is upon these particular tracks that I formed the opinions expressed in this blog – and that is not to discount any of the songs NOT named – the entire album is a brilliant expression of not just hope, but of a visionary singer songwriter who writes with a rare, rare honest and forthrightness that frankly, I think – the world could use a lot more of.

 

My specific, particular song by song inspirations then – from the “Fan Dance” record – for this article – were:

 

Edge Of The World

Five Colors

Wasting My Time

Taking Pictures

Love Is Everywhere I Go

 

Also useful is this discography of Sam’s work

I could cite any number of Sam’s lyrics (or songs or albums) to try and demonstrate that underlying hope – which perhaps, on the surface – when you just read it – flat, on a page – (as below)  – maybe the sense of hope doesn’t come through as strongly – but if you put on the record, and listen – I think that then – I believe then you will hear it, you will feel it – and the lyrics themselves will take on a new meaning  that comes from your deeper understanding of the song as a whole.

The lyrics alone then, are not responsible for the perceived sense of hope – it’s actually the entire construct of the song – the music,  the instruments, the rhythm, the harmonies – the singing, the phrasing – the feel – many intangible properties making up a whole musical experience that in these cases – also house the secret weapon of Hope – real perceptible hope – it’s there for all to experience – and I am so, so glad that I took the time to go back and really listen to these songs… because that allowed me to have this extra experience that I am not sure all listeners of “Fan Dance” have yet had.

 

It would then be my hope that what I have written, might help unlock that same hope for any or all of you wanting to experience more than just “listening to a few songs” – for me, this new hope has huge value – underlying or not, visible or not – I am so glad it’s there – and I am so glad I happened across it in my music listening experience.

 

“There is no end to the good”.  Just think about that one crucial line – which appears right at the start of the song – bringing so much positivity, so much real hope – there is NO END to the good.  It is forever – it is always there – it is always available – I think that is part of what Sam is telling us.  A big part of it – have hope, there is hope, I know there is hope – so – you my patient audience – please have hope too.

 

________________________________________________________

 

Love Is Everywhere I Go

Sam Phillips – 2001

 

 

Going down this road again
I finally know
There is no end to the good

Love is everywhere I go
Looking through you
Love is everywhere I go
Looking through you
Love is everywhere I go
Looking through you

Burning light inside my dreams
I wake up in the dark
The light is outside my door

Love is everywhere I go
Looking through you
Love is everywhere I go
Looking through you
Love is everywhere I go
Looking through you

Chasing every fragment I see
Looking through you
Love is looking for me
Breaking open the clouds
I’m not stranded in time

Love is everywhere I go
Looking through you
Love is everywhere I go
Looking through you
Love is everywhere I go
Looking through you

 

________________________________________________________

 

 

“There is no end to the good”.

 

 

Dave Stafford

September 1, 2019

Emotional Responses To Specific Pieces Of Music – how and why do they happen?

Today I am going to write about how a certain song,  might – and can – trigger powerful emotional responses in human beings, and – for a future, related piece – I am also interested in how an “emotional connection” can form with regards to a specific piece of music – a song, an album sometimes – and how the interplay of time, distance, nostalgia, longing, sorrow, joy, alienation, hope and a myriad of other powerful emotions can be and often are experienced by listeners – and under what conditions and circumstances does this occur?

While I have spoken to other musicians, acquaintances and friends about this phenomena from time to time over the years, it’s only recently, when hearing certain pieces of music for the first time in many months – or, in a few instances of hearing pieces after many years of not hearing them – that I’ve had a remarkable emotional experience – and up until now – I have never really explored the “how” and the “why” of this.

Given that I only have my own emotional responses to hand as a reference;  I am going to cite just one recent example today – where I experienced a very powerful, emotional response during the playback of a particular song.   I think I will leave the “emotional connection” issue for a future discussion – and concentrate on and just look at the sudden and inexplicable emotional response alone in this blog – it’s a mystery enough on its own!

I’ve been “listening to music” now actively for several decades, and that experience, over time, has changed, and changed again.  In the past, I’ve had strong emotional responses to songs, and more recently – some really, truly powerful ones – and I feel that the time has come to try to gain a better understanding, to gain in some cases any understanding – of how and why both powerful emotional responses (as well as the less emotional but no less interesting emotional connections to songs) occur – I want to attempt to gain any understanding at all – because a lot of the how and why is just not clear to me so far.

It’s my hope, too, that by broaching this somewhat personal and sensitive topic, that others might “weigh in” and share with us,  their own experiences with emotional response  to music – so that we might all better understand what happens to us when we are powerfully “affected” by the simple act of hearing a particular piece of music.

The only way we can begin to understand the powerful, emotional experiences I am referencing here, is to describe one such experience in as much detail as possible – which is both embarrassing and also, very personal – because I think – and I don’t really “know” this – but I think – that each of us unique individuals is different – and therefore, each of us will have a very specific and very personal experience based on our own individual emotional “make up” if you will – and I would break that down thusly as a sort of background to the discussion in general:

  • Some individuals may experience a powerful emotional response to a piece of music – while others, may not. For those who never have experienced this – well – this may not be a very interesting blog to read lol (my apologies), unless you happen to know someone like me – who this DOES happen to from time to time – and / or you are curious to want to understand more as to the “how and why” of these emotional responses – what is actually causing them – how do they occur – why do they occur – none of these are simple questions with simple answers – so the more data we have – the better.

 

  • The “symptoms” or “affects” of the emotional response will also vary greatly between individuals – in some, it might just be a wistful feeling, it might be a smile or a happy feeling, it might be a sad feeling –  perhaps a welling up of tears but no actual physical response – right on up to and including some truly powerful and inexplicable emotional responses such as suddenly bursting into tears unexpectedly or sobbing uncontrollably a moment or two after a “particular” song begins to play (or when a playing song reaches a certain point in its musical and lyrical narrative) – the exact “when” of the response is somewhat indeterminate.   So the level of the reaction will vary greatly between experiencing individuals.

 

  • So – the term I am using – “emotional response” – clearly runs a gamut from mild – to medium – to incredibly powerful feelings “evoked” by a particular song – the most extreme reactions I would term “powerful emotional responses” while the milder ones I would just deem to be lesser “emotional responses”.  That is about as far towards “defining” this experience that I have got to date – “emotional responses” and “powerful emotional responses”.  Not much of a definition – but it’s a start, and it’s a place from which a more definite definition can grow I hope with some further data and some further descriptions of other experiences should those appear in response to this blog.

 

  • In some cases, the “trigger” for the response, might just be “part” of a song rather than the entire song – a chorus, a verse, maybe just the lyrics – who knows? For me, it usually “feels like” it’s the whole song, like it is a true mixture of
    • the music playing and it being heard and understood – and
    • the vocals and lyrics sung being heard and understood…

…but, sometimes, within that experience – one particular musical phrase or one particular lyric – can sometimes impact the listener with a further, even more powerful response – so some parts of the song are more powerful “evokers” – than others.  It’s very difficult to articulate this point clearly – I would say, as example, that during the experience that I had – that the” level” or “intensity” of my emotional response definitely increased at certain crucial points which seemed to correlate with certain words, certain tones in the singers voice, or certain emotions that the lyrics and the vocal performance produced in me – it wasn’t just – a flat response, but more like a very short, very powerful emotional roller coaster ride – with certain parts of the song (i.e. “…and once when I was so drunk” and especially “she was strong…and she lifted me…”) caused a much stronger emotion for a few fleeting seconds – as part of what was already a highly charged and very emotional experience – peaks of intensity, might be one way to describe this.

 

 

So… bearing the above in mind, here is a recent “powerful emotional response” that I had to a song.   I have attempted here,  to set up some background so you can understand the context better – because the onset of the response was so sudden, so unexpected  – that I want to understand that background as well as possible myself – in the hopes of reaching some kind of understanding as to how and why this very sudden, very, very unexpected, and incredibly powerful emotional experience happens – and even stranger – why does it only happen on certain occasions, under certain sets of circumstances – and not every time I hear that particular song?

 

EXAMPLE SONG – “The Girls In The Flat Upstairs” by Martin Newell – taken from his 1995 record “The Off-White Album” – it’s the final track on the record – featuring a two guitars-bass-and drums rock band with a real string quartet added for an amazing pop sheen – it’s a cracking tune! (I recommend this song and this entire album to anyone who likes high quality pop or rock music with thoughtful, intelligent lyrics – by all means – give it a listen if you can).

 

NOTE: A full transcript of the song’s lyric is provided at the very end of this post – please see below.

 

Background

In the early 1990s, in about 1993, via my longstanding admiration of the band XTC and probably through the auspices of “Chalkhills” – the official XTC website (admirably built, run and maintained for many, many years now by my friend and fellow Level  One Guitar Craft partner, the remarkable Mr. John Relph – mandolinist extraordinaire) – I learned about an album called “The Greatest Living Englishman” by an artist named Martin Newell with whom I was not familiar with at that time.

My initial interest in this album was due to the fact that one Andy Partridge (of the band XTC)  had played a lead guitar solo on one of the tracks (“We’ll Build A House”) – and being a huge fan of Andy’s guitar playing – I simply wanted to hear that solo.  And on a more human level – I wanted to hear any album by a friend of Andy Partridge – and by someone who Andy admired enough to take the time to support the album by playing on it – that definitely piqued my interest in the record.

So I got that album (and, incidentally, I subsequently learned that “We’ll Build A House” guitar solo note for note – it’s not terrifically difficult but it’s quite subtle and beautiful – you should have a go if you are a guitarist!) – and that – the purchase of and enjoyment of buying that album – then – later on, led me to automatically buying the next Martin Newell release – “The Off-White Album”  from 1995 – which, curiously – features a fantastic guitar solo by the OTHER guitarist from XTC – the remarkable Dave Gregory.

By the mid-1990s then – approximately 25 years ago now – I collected these two albums by Martin Newell – and I played them both a lot – and over the years, neither has been neglected – they both have a lot of great songs on them – and in fact, as John Relph of Chalkhills pointed out – Martin Newell is a proponent of something I think he called “Jangly Pop” (or is it “Jangle Pop” – I am not quite sure now) – which is an apt-enough description.

I would, however, hasten to add – that this description does not mean this music is frivolous in any way – and while some songs are definitely excellent examples of “Jangly” or “Jangle Pop” – some of the songs are also hard-hitting social commentary and are moving in the extreme – and are still relevant and hard-hitting after 25 years – in my personal opinion.

These two albums are pop albums, made mostly with a sort of two guitars bass and drums approach – featuring the excellent socially aware and often fairly biting social commentary of Martin Newell’s lyrics – mixed in with songs of love and loss and all of the familiar topics that get covered on the more serious less frivolous pop music or singer / songwriter releases.  Martin himself,  happens to also be a very well-read and well-respected poet of no mean skill – so he brings a poet’s sensibilities to his” jangly” pop music and to his more serious lyrics, too – a potent and attractive combination of factors.

In fact it was the element of storytelling, and the obvious poetic bent of some of the lyrics on both of these mid 90s albums – that made them stand out from the crowd at the time – and finding out later on that Martin Newell was in fact very well known for his poetry – well, when I learned that, the lyrics of these two albums made even more sense to me than they already did – they have a somewhat deeper meaning I believe, because of the way they are presented – as living stories with a poetic lilt – that’s maybe not quite it – but it’s something like that.

Not your typical “I love you why don’t you love me” kind of boy-girl pop song lyrics – but in fact, Martin’s lyrics loaded with meaning – foresight, foreboding, hindsight, regret, fear, alienation – insight – it’s all there in Martin’s words – not to mention, a wicked sense of humour which can be seen in some of the wonderful titles and puns that abound in Martin’s work – for example the title of the album that the example song in this blog comes from “The Off-White Album” – which happens to contain a track that clearly pays tribute to a George Harrison song – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – from “The White Album” by the Beatles – I mean come on – “The Off White Album” – that is a great album name and a funny one, too – a great slightly off-kilter view of a pop album –“Off-White” rather than “White” – brilliant!

 

As with all albums, there is a real mix of tracks on both records, and you get some very sentimental, lovely songs and some powerful, dark, socially aware songs where Martin is clearly less than pleased with the way the government is doing things, with the politics of the day, or with the attitudes of real folk he has encountered while busking – such as “Queen Phyllis of Colchester” – [which as noted above –  is a nearly direct copy of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – from Martin’s “The Off-White Album”] – which happens to be the track where Dave Gregory unleashes his own inner Eric-Clapton-psycho-guitar solo – so the albums both contain songs ranging from very light-hearted to much more serious – and everywhere in between.

 

If you are by chance, familiar with these records, then this example will make more sense to you perhaps – but if not, if it’s possible, if you are able to hear “The Off-White Album” once or twice so you get the feel for what kind of music this is – an excellent work of true quality I would say – nothing particularly unusual about it that might make it good music to evoke an emotional response – just a good quality album, by a good artist who writes excellent lyrics and makes good records.

What’s not to like?

 

I suggest a listen to “The Off-White Album” by Martin Newell then, because that is the album that contains the track that affected me so deeply in this example.  Barring that – a listen to the actual song in question – “The Girls In The Flat Upstairs” by Martin Newell – taken from his 1995 record “The Off-White Album” – would also help set the scene for this incident.

 

THE INCIDENT

2019 has been a strange, strange year for me – and it has been a transitional year for me in a lot of ways – for example, over the past three to four months, I’ve been undergoing a physical and mental transformation of my music work space and my working method in my head – with a view to doing things a bit differently going forward – please see my previous blog regarding, among other things – a new approach to music making that I am in the process of formulating this year (2019).

Because of the work being done on physical infrastructure / sound systems and the like, I pretty much didn’t have a lot of ready access to my library of recorded music for a few months while I was doing a lot of the physical re-construction work – or –  it was available rather, but I was not – so while normally, throughout my life, I have always listened to recorded music as part of my pretty much daily experience of music – to some degree, during the first half of 2019 – I did not listen to as much music as I might have normally – so I was feeling a bit disconnected perhaps, because of that – I don’t know.

 

So –  one of the first things I did during my physical set up of my new office space, was to make sure that the sound card and speakers were in working order, and that I had my new favourite music player up and running (FOOBAR 2000 – a great player – get it!) and I then did start listening to items from my catalogue of recorded music again – from my main CD library.

During this time, I also did some serious upgrading of the data for my recorded music – i.e. I fixed my internal song tags over a period of weeks…so I was going back through a lot of catalogue items, updating and correcting the tags – which left my entire collection in such better condition in terms of its data being far more useful , correct and clear now compared to what it has been historically since I started collecting my music digitally in about 2008.

 

Having a much more modern and capable music player such as FOOBAR 2000, allowed me to visually “see” a lot of problems in the data and in the tagging – which led to me getting a great tagging tool – “MP3Tag” – so I used that tool to make corrections and apply categories and add missing content – and so on – and in just a few weeks, the quality of my music tags went from liveable to extremely well organised and documented.

As a result of all of the above, as the year progressed, I began listening to more and more music again, as you do when you’ve had a time away from it – you want to hear things again that you have missed hearing, and so on.

It was nearer the beginning of this process, when I didn’t have the sound card and speakers set up, and I had not been able to listen to much recorded music for a few months – this is when this occurred, and it surprised me in an incredible way – it was just out of the blue.

I was working on installing music software or getting programmes and samples and synths to do my bidding or some such tedious set up tasks (loading software, joy of joys), when I decided to put on some Martin Newell music – which I hadn’t heard for a couple of years perhaps.

 

When I reached the final piece of music on “The Off-White Album” – which is a lovely song about some kindly neighbour girls who looked after the singer of the song when he was really drunk – “The Girls In The Flat Upstairs” that I suddenly realised that I was sobbing uncontrollably, just crying like a child at this ordinary story of life as told by Martin Newell.

I have always liked that song – but it had never, ever had an effect like THAT on me before!  It happened so suddenly, and it was such an intense feeling – really upsetting! – it took me completely by surprise – completely.

 

My brain immediately went into “analysis mode” and I tried to think – what on EARTH just caused that?  What on earth…

And what is even really stranger is that I absolutely had never had any comparable or “relate-able” experience – I’ve never had any personal incident like the one depicted in the song or anything even close to that experience described.

I have never had an incident where I got a bit too drunk and my neighbours or friends or something – had to get me into the house and put to bed – but the way Martin tells this story – it sounds like he did have such an experience – or at the very least, his song writing talent has allowed him to “invent” this wonderful story of the neighbours helping him when he could not help himself.

There must be something about the lyrics, I thought – but then part of me thinks that it’s the real string quartet that is featured in the song – those string parts – perhaps it is those really affect me (??)  Even when I am not having a powerful emotional response to the song – but I am just unsure as to what it really, precisely it is that causes this sudden, uncontrollable emotional experience.  My brain desperately tried to find an explanation, a reason – for such an outburst – and I came up with nothing – no answers.

 

I keep going back to the lyric of the song – and also, the way in which Martin sings those lyrics – he describes his upstairs flatmates in the first part of the song – and then suddenly the scene shifts, and he is talking about “once when I was so drunk…she was strong – and she lifted into my room and put me to bed…” – he goes on to describe how she (one of the girls from the flat upstairs, of course) took care of him and left him a drink “for next day” when he woke up – and  there is absolutely no correlation to my own life here – so I have to begin to believe that in this particular example – that the sobbing and the tears and the heartbreak I experienced when hearing this song again after some time away from it – is (perhaps?)  an “EMPATHIC” response on my part.

 

i.e.  I feel  emotion not for myself (since I have no frame of reference for an experience like this one in my own life) but on behalf of the recipient of the care and kindness of “The Girls In The Flat Upstairs”  – there is real emotion in Martin’s voice when the strings preface his vocal and he says “and once, when I was so drunk…she was strong” – I am not entirely sure, but I believe that that particular line – “she was strong…”  is possibly the “trigger” that in this case, led me to burst into tears spontaneously and cry all the way through to the end of the song.

 

What an extraordinary and completely surprising thing to happen – and – why didn’t it happen, on the previous dozens of listens to that song over the period from 1995 through to this very different listening experience of early 2019?

Why now?  And – and why DIDN’T I react to it emotionally for the first 24 years of listening to it?

 

NOTE:  Since that time, I have out of curiosity – played the song again – since the early 2019 “emotional event” I have just described – to see if anything would happen.  I didn’t experience the extreme reaction again – but I did feel something akin to it under the surface – and remarkably, when writing the paragraphs above, recounting the actual incident –  I did briefly become overwhelmed with tears and again when trying to write out the lyrics.

So that was a recurring emotional response – something about that line “once when I was so drunk…she was strong…” somehow, those words, sung so beautifully by Martin and supported so beautifully by his band and the real string quartet he used on the session – somehow – that was the trigger – I think.

 

From here forward then – I have nothing but questions. I’d very much welcome your opinion here – any ideas or thoughts you might have about this incident, the how and why of it – I’d be very interested indeed to hear – because music is a very powerful yet mysterious thing – and this was an unforgettable experience for me personally – a beautiful experience despite the very real sense sorrow and sadness accompanying my reaction.

 

  • How did it happen that a song I know well, that I’ve heard dozens of times over 25 years – how is it that suddenly, in the here and now of 2019 – how did it happen that hearing it caused a powerful emotional response in me this time – and not on many other listening occasions?
  • Why did this occur – has something changed, does the lyric now hold meaning for me that it did not previously?
  • Did my perception of the song itself change – am I hearing it in some “new way”, that “allows” for an additional layer of perception which is emotional upset? (Like going from 2D to 3D video?)
  • Did I somehow gain a new or different understanding of the lyrics – or somehow detect emotional content in the singing or in the lyrics that I was perhaps, not able to detect 25 years ago when I first heard the song?
  • What on earth caused this to happen?
  • Why this song – why not a hundred, a thousand others? Why not really famous songs about very naked emotions – “Yer Blues” or something like that – why THIS beautiful song?
  • I would have understood this better, had the lyrics of the song affecting me be something relating to an experience that I had had in my life – but in this case, there is absolutely no relationship to any personal experience I’ve had – I’ve never needed to be carried to my bed and put to bed because I am too drunk to get their myself; I’ve never had flatmates or neighbours who went out of their way to help me or care about me – the song could in fact, be a total invention (as it turns out, it is partially autobiographical – please read on below) – but regardless of that – it does NOT relate to any similar real incident in my life.
  • I would have expected a song that recounts an experience – probably an emotional one like being in love, or, of losing a love or maybe some other kind of recounting of some other emotional or other trauma – to be something that would trigger such a response – that makes sense, because you can “relate” to the characters in the song, something nearly identical or very similar may have happened to you in your life – so you can relate and therefore, that song might suddenly strike you as being “exactly about you” and “all about you” – and that very similar experience that you had that apparently, the singer of the song had to.
  • Not so in this example – I have no relatable anything between my life, and the events and the story of “The Girls The Flat Upstairs” by Martin Newell.
  • So – how – and why – did this happen?

 

 

I would love to hear your own experiences if any – like this, and what conclusions, if any, you came to in trying to understand why your response occurred.  Please don’t be shy – speak up – I think it is an interesting demonstration of the power of music – but it’s an “intangible” quality of music – it’s definitely not in the score “add extreme emotion HERE” – and that intangible quality isn’t easy to pinpoint or describe or explain – and yet – it exists, and it can be very surprising and very powerful indeed.

 

This is just one example of such an incident;  I’ve had a few other similar ones here and there over the years – but not one so powerful, so recent, and so utterly inexplicable.

I could now listen to that song over and over – and I would feel nothing more unusual than the very pleasant experience of listening to a well-written and well-recorded piece of pop music that I happen to admire.  It seems odd to me that on just one occasion, really, that this song should have such a profound and upsetting effect on me – it was quite, quite upsetting to say the very least.  I’m actually, very glad that it doesn’t happen every time – or I would spend far too much time sobbing over a song instead of just enjoying listening to music as I always, always have.

Having said that – I am also very glad it happened, because while it was upsetting at the time – for three or four minutes only so not a big deal – it was actually a unique and wonderful experience that is quite rare, so it was interesting and memorable for me in that regard.

 

In considering this still further, spending still more time thinking about it – I can come up with but one tentative, half-baked “theory” as to why this song may affected me so much that day – which is this – it could possibly be due to a sort of – for lack of a proper description – a “long-delayed short bout of self-pity” (hopefully, I just invented that – but it sounds quite unpleasant) – and this is only a theory – I am not sure I believe this – but, many years ago, I did tend to drink a bit too much myself – [a lot of young men and women, too, do this] – but in recent years I am basically 100 percent sober – once a year I might have a glass of wine – or a Guinness Stout – but then I might let two years lapse before I do that again.  So now, for the past eight or nine years – I have had very, very little to drink, and I no longer use alcohol as a pain-killer – which I admit I did do back in the day – this is not uncommon – especially among musicians I am afraid.

 

But back in the day, quite a few years ago now – I drank quite a bit of beer and wine and sometimes even stronger alcohol (including a few months where I drank copious quantities of Tia Maria – don’t ask me why – because I have no idea lol) – and now –  I don’t.

For health reasons only, I do regret that I drank so much – I used to really knock back the white wine – which also makes you gain huge amounts of weight by the way) – but now, in hindsight (which is always 50/50 of course!) I don’t think the drinking ever “helped” me  with anything and I think my body – which I now take care of much better than I used to – didn’t need all that alcohol.

It’s alleged “pain killing” qualities aren’t really there – it pretty much just damages you although short term, you can get some great illusions that you are “feeling no pain” and that you have somehow (by poisoning your system?) managed to “drown your sorrows” – I hate to break it to you – but there is very little of the factual in that notion or even in the notion that drinking kills your pain –  it kills your brain cells – but it doesn’t kill pain.

So with that background… my thought was – OK, when Martin sings so mournfully, so beautifully “and once when I was so drunk…”  maybe – just possibly, I was suddenly transported back in time – and was suddenly identifying with my “25 years ago heavy drinking persona” – and feeling the heartache of how futile drinking yourself into a stupor actually is – and maybe a “long delayed short bout” of the dreaded “long delayed self-pity” is what triggered my response – I may never know.

I suppose it could have been something like that – but somehow, I don’t feel like that could be it at all – because it’s the story – the “reality soup” that Martin created – and the sounds of the guitars and the string quartet – the feeling of the song – that made me feel that emotion – not the fact that I used to get “so drunk” a long, long time ago – so – that theory is more of a question than an answer – but it’s one remote possibility.  So having presented my one vague, uncertain and only vaguely possible theory as to how and why – I am prone to just retract it again and go back to the place where I was when I started down this particular rabbit hole – wondering just how on earth what happened to me that day – how did that HAPPEN to me?

 

 

This then, leaves me once again – with a lot of questions and not any definite answers at all – it’s still a mystery to me – and may always remain so.

 

 

We may never know.

 

 

Dave Stafford

August 28, 2019

 

 

CREDITS AND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

 

 

Meanwhile – credits (and edits, too) are due where credits are due…

Author’s Notes and Commentary:   When it came time to prepare this blog, I found to my surprise that one could not obtain the lyrics to Martin Newell’s song  “The Girls The Flat Upstairs”  on the Internet – since apparently,  no one had ever bothered to transcribe them. Very remiss indeed!

 

The final transcription below, is actually a composite transcription worked up by myself with assistance from John Relph and then finalised by Martin Newell himself at my request – originally, I had transcribed it “by ear” (and my ears are NOT what they once were lol) and then, uncertain on quite a few points – I took my first draft of the transcribed  lyrics to my old friend John Relph – yes – the chalkhills.org John Relph – who then made a few subtle improvements and suggestions to the lyrics – and then also suggesting that if I am still unsure (and I was still unsure on a few of the words even after a few iterations of drafts) – “why don’t you just ask Martin?”

 

So, since I wanted the lyrics to be transcribed with 100 percent accuracy – that is exactly what I did – I took the composite Dave Stafford / John Relph “unofficial rough transcription” from August 2019, and asked Martin Newell to cast his eye over it – which he very promptly and very kindly did – and I am proud to say that the “by ear” transcription that John Relph and I worked on – only contained two minor errors – just two words incorrect – out of the entire lyric – so we did pretty well for ourselves there.   Amateur transcribers – clearly on the way to future glories…

 

This version, however, below contains Martin’s final corrections so is in fact a 100 percent accurate lyrical rendering of the song “The Girls In The Flat Upstairs” from “The Off-White Album” by Martin Newell.

 

In his response to me just a couple of days ago, Martin also added the following insights into the song’s creation:

 

“This song was what we call a kind of ‘reality soup’…  it’s fictional, but has many elements taken from life experience and mixed up together in the lyric.

It was written in 1994 and recorded in December of that year but remained unreleased until April 1996. The album went mostly un-reviewed and un-listened to at the time. Liberacion in France gave it a glowing review (Nick Kent, no less). Some people said they preferred it to the Greatest Living Englishman. I left music a while later for three years, because my poetry was doing so well”.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

I am very happy to have a properly-approved and fully corrected, fully accurate lyric as well as some provenance and comments from Martin regarding this song – because I feel it helps us to begin to understand the song as well as possible, so that we might be able to then try and “figure out” why on earth this song – and these lyrics – evoked such an unexpected and powerful emotional reaction in myself.

 

 

And I would be very curious to hear from you regarding this topic – has this ever happened to you? – that totally out of the blue, you are listening to a song you’ve heard many times before, that you have no particular connection or relationship to – and yet, it suddenly affects you in a truly powerful, unforgettable and meaningful way?

 

In my case – I will never listen to this song the same way again, I can tell you that – it will always bring the memory of that powerful experience – so I am glad the song exists – because it triggered something unique and something that was definitely not a “typical” day to day listening experience.

 

I think that we’ve seen, on many, many occasions – over time – that music can be a very powerful force indeed.  As to exactly how music does this – that may never be known – but the emotional response I had was well worth the price of admission – I didn’t mind, because it elevated the piece beyond being “just a song” to now becoming a part of my life’s emotional experience – and that really is something significant – at least to me.

 

Please let me know if you have had any kind of similar experience – I can’t be the only one.

 

Until next time…

 

I remain

Dave

 

 

[Full lyric transcription – approved by Martin Newell himself – follows]:

 

 

 

The Girls In The Flat Upstairs

Martin Newell – December 1994

 

 

Ah Lindy sometimes got down

and she worked in a club,

doing drinks or the door…

 

She’d say “I’m tired of this town –

of the farm-boys and jerks

and their fights on the floor”

 

“And one day I will break out

And I’ll save…

I’ll buy some B&B and me and Sheila will live

And we’ll drink till we drop

On a Saturday night”

 

The girls who lived in the flat upstairs…

The girls who lived in the flat upstairs…

 

And Sheila was so alive…

she would laugh and she’d curse, and say outrageous things,

she drove a big motorbike…

she wore leather and jeans, and she had lots of rings

 

And once when I was so drunk…

She was strong…

And she lifted me into my room and put me to bed

With a washing-up bowl, and a drink for next day

 

The girls who lived in the flat upstairs…

The girls who lived in the flat upstairs…

 

Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on…

Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on…

Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on…

And wherever you are, you better watch your chemicals, girls

 

Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on…

Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on…

Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on…

And wherever you are, I hope you watch your chemicals, girls

 

 

Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on…

Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on…   (oh, oh no…)

Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on…

Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on…

 

Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on…

Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on…

Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on……

“Wing Beat Fantastic” by Mike Keneally + a new approach to music creation…

Hello,

I am beginning today as I often do recently – by listening to Mike Keneally’s musical masterpiece, “Wing Beat Fantastic” while I go about my business – since I recently finally got to see and hear Mike play guitar and keyboards (on the recent “Bizarre World of Frank Zappa “ tour when it stopped here in Glasgow) – since seeing Mike play – I’ve been going back to the items I have from his recorded catalogue – and I had almost forgotten just how much I love this incredible music – in my opinion, “Wing Beat Fantastic” is one of the most important records we have, and  for me it cemented the inescapable fact of Keneally’s genius as musician, writer, arranger, guitarist, vocalist (oh my God, those vocals!), keyboardist, engineer, producer and yes, I agree – guiding light – this album “kills me” – in the best possible way – because it is in itself, a perfect piece of rock music with some of the best arrangements of some of the best songs ever written in the pop idiom.

I think something happened to Mike when he made this record, the retired spirit of the Beatles visited him in the night, and sat on his left shoulder during the sessions – the sounds, the playing – the sheer joy of “Wing Beat Fantastic” rings so incredibly true – so much so that I can’t stop playing it at the moment – it is an experience like nothing else on earth.

I think that on top of that, that when the opportunity arose for Mike to work with these orphaned Andy Partridge tunes – that he took that with a seriousness bordering on the edges of “oh my God, I have to do these tunes justice – I have to make them into what should have been” – and “I also need to create my own tunes that are equal or better to make the whole thing sit together in as perfect a way as possible…”

It must have felt like an overwhelming responsibility – while at the same time, having the potential, the excitement – the idea of finishing up some half-completed masterworks by the Lennon & McCartney of XTC – songwriter / guitarist Andy Partridge of XTC –  I would imagine that just the idea of doing “Wing Beat Fantastic” had to be one of the most exciting things that can happen to a musician – to receive those tapes, to have someone say to you, “here – here is something so rare and so precious and so utterly unique – now – it’s down to YOU, Mike Keneally, to make something of it”.

 

 

And make something of it – he did.  Something fantastic…the ineffable oomph of everything that is “Wing Beat Fantastic”.

 

 

While the Zappa virtual show was the first time I had the pleasure of hearing and seeing Mike playing guitar and keyboards, and singing – it was not actually quite the first time I had “seen” him, though…

Many, many years ago, I had attended a special screening of an amazing batch of live music videos by various progressive rock bands.  This was a few years before the Internet, and certainly far in advance of YouTube – and Mike Keneally was the host – he gathered us in a small theatre, and then proceeded to blow our minds by showing us live performances by early Genesis with Peter Gabriel in full regalia – and to a bunch of Californian music fans – sure, we loved Genesis and Peter  Gabriel but WHO KNEW there was actual FILM of them actually playing – not maybe the best quality film – but for us, it totally brought these progressive bands to life for the first time ever.

We wouldn’t have had opportunity to see them in their heyday or in Europe and the UK – where they often mainly played in the earliest days of prog – Genesis didn’t start coming to California until the early 70s – so to see something like “Supper’s Ready” played live by the classic five piece line up of Genesis – what a treat.

I can’t really recall much else of what was on the programme – but it did also include a “more recent at the time” clip of Frank Zappa’s band playing live, and featured our video curator / host Mike Keneally himself, playing the picked-note pattern that is “Watermelon In Easter Hay” – so he included himself in the program, and why not? – but it was mostly his extreme enthusiasm for prog that took me by surprise – he knew his prog – and his appreciation for bands like Genesis, Gentle Giant, Yes and so on was inspiring – it made you feel less alone – hey, here’s a young guy, a great player in his own right, from Frank Zappa’s band – that ACTUALLY LIKES all the same prog bands that I like….hmmmm.

 

Taking the long. long view back to that odd night of grainy, questionable quality video curated by a young Mike Keneally – and then being catapulted by time to 2019 and seeing the man himself playing lead guitar, synth and singing so amazingly well, live – supporting his virtual band leader the late Frank Zappa, from beyond the grave – and there it was again – footage of musicians – but this time with a live band backing the pre-recorded vocals and lead guitars of the late, great Frank Zappa.

So video was a big part of both events – but – the mature Keneally, leading and inspiring this amazing band of musicians in their shared support of their old bandleader, the amazing Zappa – hearing and seeing Mike play in 2019 – well, I am so glad I finally got the chance to see him play – because in the last 30 or 40 years – he has become one of the most remarkably fluid, creative and interesting musicians on the planet.

I mean, I have the albums, I remember being absolutely blown away by “hat” at the time it came out – which is a remarkable record – but seeing him now, as a more mature musician – he is absolutely at the height of his powers right now – what a powerhouse performance he put on that night – and I was fortunate enough to be there to hear his lead guitar added to and blended with  Zappa’s and taking centre stage on compositions where there was no video of FZ – and his renderings of tracks like “Farther O’Blivion” was absolutely astonishing – this is a man who understands something about Zappa the player, Zappa the guitarist – the sheer genius of Zappa the serious composer and writer– and the reverence and joy in the performances was more than apparent – this band was almost like an extension of Frank – and I think Frank would have been flabbergasted and also amused to hear and see Keneally and friends playing live “backing” to videos of Frank that had been turned into holograms…Frank would have LOVED it!!

Why not?

So it’s been Keneally week around here, and that’s a good kind of week, I reckon.

 

As you might have noticed, I’ve not been writing a lot lately, but I believe that this year, that is going to change – and I am here to tell you why.  When I first started working on the blog (a few years ago now) – I had all these “ideas” about what it should be, what it shouldn’t bewhat I should write about – and so on.  And that’s fine for what it is – but I think it needs to change now, and become much more stream-of-consciousness – and hopefully, much more interactive – I want to challenge, I want to talk about some of the more introspective and personal aspects of music – and I want to hear your thoughts on my thoughts…if you know what I mean.

 

So – planning blogs and choosing topics – that was then – this is now.  I want the blog to become to my writing, like an “improv” for writing – without the formal ideas and planning –  I want it to be the “writing” equivalent to what a good, unplanned and unique “improv” is to my guitar playing or piano playing – it’s a whole new decade about to start and the end of a most interesting one – and I hope that maybe, just maybe – I’ve learned something this time around.  I can do this without the safety nets – no net for the blog, no net for the guitar and keyboard playing.

 

Out of the ashes of the old, comes the new.  Fewer rules means more freedom, but by adding back in unique intangibles, hopefully I can avoid too much repetition of what has gone before – and move forward with new writings and new music for a new decade.

 

And today’s blog is a new thing – a thing I’ve not really experienced before – it’s done without any plan whatsoever – and that is in line with my new approach to music – I am going to stop “planning” – and start allowing music to appear based on – whatever the heck I feel like playing (or, for the blog – whatever the heck I feel like writing about), and without trying to compose, but to allow a kind of “improv” that can lead to compositions – I am going to try to (serious cliché alert – but it is the ONLY way I can describe this – wince) to let go as much as possible

To that end – I’ve done a bit of work over the past three or four months (yet another reason you haven’t heard from me much recently) – I’ve been very busy revamping my recording rig, rebuilding the studio, and preparing for a new scenario where I set up my equipment – plug in an instrument – and play.

Just –play – and see what comes out of it.  At the same time – there is a lot on my mind that I want to explore in the writing, here in the blog, with you – and I hope we can discuss a number of musical aspects that we haven’t looked at previously.

 

I think that for the mature musician, artist, player, or writer – that you have to go through a lot of stages during your development as a musician – first you have to learn your instrument, then, you need to acquire enough technique to navigate through that instrument – and over time, you build up infrastructure – obviously, physical infrastructure – so guitars and amps and effects and devices with which to record and perform – and the physical is undeniably a big part of your experience as a musician.  It’s what makes you sound like you sound…

 

But I think it’s the mental infrastructure that undergoes the longest and most lasting and most important transitions – and maybe, this just takes time – you have to have played your instrument, performed, recorded, composed with it – for x number of years – when quite suddenly, the mental infrastructure or if you like, your own set of “rules” – changes, or you suddenly perceive things in a new way that you never imagined or saw before.

That is sort of my lame and not terrifically articulate way of trying to explain the mental transformation I am going through right now (over the past several months – as I’ve rebuilt the physical infrastructure of my music – at the same time, I have been rebuilding the mental infrastructure too) – I think I had reached a point where I realised that most of the work in the physical – is just routine, it’s necessary, it’s good, it’s positive – but it’s more in your mindset, it’s in the mental infrastructure, it’s the road map – the way to get from silence to music and back again unscathed…that is what is important.

 

Another way to express this might be to say “it doesn’t matter what guitar you play or what amp you use or what modifiers you use to change the sounds your instrument makes – what really matters is – the notes you play”.  And those notes and chords – come from the set of possible notes and chords that form PART of this “mental infrastructure” – and choosing those well, is what makes the difference between a performance – and an inspired, beautiful performance or recording.

Which notes, which chords – yes, that is incredibly important – and choosing well might result in a rare, one of a kind performance where you actually exceed what you are normally capable or – or, if you are recording, it might result in the creation of a truly unique and remarkable composition – that you might never have come up with if you had just chosen ordinary or predictable notes and chords – so yes, that choice is important…very important…however:

On top of the very desirable goal of picking enchanted and beautiful and unique notes and chords – there are also what I will call “The Intangibles” – and that is perhaps, a more flexible set of mental infrastructure rules that overlay the “play this chord now, now play those three notes” kinds of instructions – so part of your brain is getting you to play notes and chords…but at the same time, there is another force at work – The Intangibles – and they can be the source of real magic – they can take an extraordinary set of notes and chords, and turn them into a once-in-a-lifetime tour-de-force performance or recording – or even just an enhanced, more meaningful experience of playing your instrument.

 

It’s those Intangibles I want to now take a good look at – because there are so many of them, some obvious, some subtle, some so subtle as to be done almost unconsciously – what are they?, and how can I harness their power?

I think now, that my goal has shifted to combining the “Magic Of The Intangibles” with “The Well Chosen Notes And Chords” – so that when I strap on that guitar, and I turn on the Physical Infrastructure that takes my thought and turns it into a chord or note – what Intangibles can I apply, to take that particular performance to the highest level possible – to make it the very best that it can be?

That is what I want to explore going forward from here.

I want to work out how to do that – so that I am no longer just “improvising” – but instead, I am applying creative ideas in real time – overlaying the notes and chords (which I hope, are being produced almost on “autopilot” by this time) with a new excitement and in particular, with something (The Intangibles – whatever they become) that elevates the music I am playing beyond the ordinary, beyond the “same old thing” beyond being predictable and repetitious  – even if it only happens once in a blue moon – it’s an amazing goal to work towards attaining – and that is what I am aiming to do right now – here as we approach the end of 2019, the end of a decade – I want to step up, and use The Intangibles to drive forward a heightened, impassioned, kind of new music that will take even me by surprise.  Universe – surprise me!

 

To bring us full circle, I want to say that I can definitely sense an absolutely amazing and unique set of “Intangibles” in the recording of “Wing Beat Fantastic” by the remarkable Mike Keneally – a musician who is defined by his brilliant set of internal, mental intangible rules for making records and for performing – it’s one of those records that has that special something about it – that most other albums just do not – and I might never be able to articulate what “that special something” is – and maybe that is the whole point – it’s built off of some kind of “intangible” or set of rules that Mike was holding in his mind as he created it – something inspired him in a way I doubt he’d been inspired before – to take the seeds planted by Andy Partridge – and in nurturing them and growing them into this incredible record – which to my way of thinking, is simply one of the best pop records ever made – and if you’ve heard Mike Keneally’s other albums – this record sounds unlike any of his other releases – so give it a try – it’s atypical, and well worth the journey – it truly is “fantastic”.

Moving forward, I want to try and articulate some of the new intangibles that I’ve been conceiving in my head and that I hope will inform upcoming recording and performance projects in an incredibly positive way – and hopefully, I will learn a few things along the way.

 

More as it happens – fellow music lovers and fellow travellers.

 

 

Thank you for listening.

 

 

 

Dave

 

August 17, 2019

 

 

N.B.  Honourable mention:  “Wing Beat Elastic” by Mike Keneally – a record of amazing remixes and a remarkable breakdown of the musical DNA from “Wing Beat Fantastic” if you like “Wing Beat Fantastic” – you will almost certainly enjoy this record, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sinuous 1990s – The many-headed stylistic beast

DECADE BY DECADE – THE LIVE CONCERT EXPERIENCE / OVERVIEW

Episode 3: 1990s

Garbage

The 1990s spawned a wonderfully diverse and interesting selection of musical acts ranging from the heavier music of Alice in ChainsPearl JamJane’s AddictionDinosaur Jr, Foo Fighters, and Nirvana to the more intellectual (perhaps) music of bands such as R.E.M.SoundgardenThe LemonheadsThe Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, and the wonderful Garbage.

 

 

 

The Foo Fighters

This in almost stark contrast to the music of the early 1980s, which began with a whimper rather than a bang with all of those synthy / poppy bands from the UK – sees a real return to harder rock music, to heavy guitar music, in a much more powerful and possibly closer to the 1970s in lineage way – the 90s rocked hard.

 

 

 

Motörhead

One of the main examples of a band that really, really rocked hard, perhaps the hardest, is the redoubtable Motörhead. led by the late, great Lemmy.  This type of extremely heavy, extremely fast rock became one of the hallmarks of 1990s hard rock – and Motörhead – with Lemmy at the helm – definitely led the way.

 

 

 

Faith No More

Alternative Metal also sprang forth in great numbers during the 1990s, which saw many very popular bands such as ToolHelmet, the very underrated Faith No MoreRed Hot Chilli Peppers and Rage Against the Machine to name but a few – representing a thriving alternative music scene with some powerful new sounds emerging.

Industrial Metal also gained popularity during the 1990s, in the form of Nine Inch NailsMarilyn MansonMinistry, and the amazing German band, Rammstein.

 

NIN

Nine Inch Nails

In the main, this was a fairly new form of music for the 1990s; although 1980s antecedents such as Killing Joke might lend credence to the notion of a fusion of metal and punk as the ingredients of this new genre – with the additional third element of electronica added in – and one of the best examples of that holy trinity of styles would be the oft-overlooked Prodigy.

Bjork

The 90s also brought us trip-hop, another new genre explored by artists such as Portishead, and Björk,slow-moving beat-based electronic music.

 

Meanwhile, Indie Rock proponents such as Sonic Youth and Pixies rose up in the underground scene, with bands such as Pavement,  Yo La TengoThe BreedersSuperchunkDinosaur Jr.Guided by VoicesLiz Phair, and The Flaming Lips quickly following in their footsteps.

Oasis

But for many, what kept real rock alive in the 1990s was the resurgence of rock in the United Kingdom otherwise known as Britpop – a massive phenomena in early 90s Britain – featuring a number of popular, chart-topping bands such as  BlurSuedePulpManic Street PreachersElasticaSupergrassThe Verve and of course, the remarkable Oasis.

 

These in turn provided the impetus for the success of the more provincial “Madchester” bands hailing from Manchester in the U.K., such as Happy Mondays, and The Stone Roses.

 

Radiohead

What happened after Oasis, then? – well, post-Britpop – a new batch of musical acts appeared with the likes of the VerveTravisStereophonicsFeeder, with the extremely popular band Radiohead leading the way towards the latter half of the decade.

 

Britney Spears

I haven’t really got the space to add in all of the other genres of music that had famous 1990s practitioners, for example – over in the pop universe, such remarkable phenomena as Britney Spears, or even farther outside my own mostly progressive rock world – artists such as  Janet JacksonMariah CareyTLC, or Robert Fripp‘s favourite singer, the redoubtable Whitney Houston.

 

 

The Spice Girls

I am obliged legally to mention the rise “manufactured pop” which had existed for a long, long time in one form or another, but reached a new zenith with the “creation” or rather, “fabrication” of huge stars such as the incredibly popular Spice Girls.  Manufactured boy bands and girl bands proliferated to the point of total oversaturation and have lead to the kind of “X-Factor” or “Britain’s Got Talent” environment we are forced to live in now.

 

I blame the Spice Girls for that.  And the Monkees, the Jackson 5 and the Osmonds before them.  Shudder.

But enough of this very incomplete list (above) of bands popular in the 1990s, which while not complete, at least gives you an idea of what kind of music was in the air during this most curious of decades – and onto my own concert experience in this new world of industrial metal and slow moving trip hop – and of course for me, eternally stuck in the music of the 60s and 70s – my “1990s Concert Experience” will be mostly comprised of the music I know and love, along with a sprinkling of newer artists to try and expand my limited range of musical interests – in every decade, I tried to attend a few “atypical” shows – shows that I wouldn’t normally think about attending (such as, as noted below, “Earthworks” – or later on, “The Innocence Mission”) – just to experience something new.

 

DAVE STAFFORD CONCERT ATTENDANCES – THE 1990s:

1990

This year was like any other year full of exciting live concerts that I might attend, and I started out with a fairly small number of shows, mainly from artists I already favoured and had seen in previous years – but not, possibly, in their newest 1990s incarnations.

A young Todd Rundgren

These 1990s performances I witnessed included Todd Rundgren, Peter Hammill (as always, meaning a trip up to Los Angeles to see him at the famous Roxy Theatre), and the incredibly capable guitarist Robert Fripp, this time performing acoustically with the remarkable League Of Crafty Guitarists.

Also, there was at least one new excursion into a completely different kind of music than I was accustomed to – I went to see Bill Bruford’s “Earthworks” live at the Royal Festival Hall in London – since I had to be there then anyway – and that was a very, very different  experience musically speaking.

ph

A young Peter Hammill

Being what I guess can only be described as “modern jazz” – I did enjoy it on a musical level, but it also confirmed for me that I am firmly rooted in the clutches of rock, pop, and progressive rock – and I don’t really stray outside of that very often.

But I am glad I saw them, and it was a great venue too – always nice to attend a concert on what was then foreign soil but is now, home.  Bruford and his band of stalwart jazzers put on a very respectable show – and for what it was, I did enjoy it – but – King Crimson live it was not!

1991

Crowded House – circa 1991

1991 was a somewhat different year – which began, again, with the ever-touring Todd Rundgren (whose music, if I am honest, I was enjoying a bit less each time I went to see him) but this time, I took in Crowded House (this incarnation, with Tim Finn, band leader Neil’s older brother – both alumni of the remarkable New Zealand band Split Enz – joining the band, so I got to hear the Finn Brother’s amazing vocal harmonies in person) – this was and is, my favourite incarnation of this band, the “Woodface” tour and album – a fantastic show.

 

 

Tin Machine

Another real highlight of ’91 was that I finally, after many, many years of constantly missing him, finally got to see David Bowie performing live – and what a performance – with his new band Tin Machine – with the astonishingly brilliant and talented Reeves Gabrels on lead guitar – this band rocked my socks off – they were fantastic live – just plain two guitars bass and drums rock and roll.

 

I was kinda glad I didn’t go to a “normal” Bowie concert, which would probably have been a bit like listening to a Greatest Hits compilation – seeing him play with Tin Machine was very real, very vibrant and you could see in his eyes and in the infectious grin he had on stage – that he was having the time of his life with his little rock band!  It was most excellent – and, I gained a new guitar hero in Reeves Gabrels, whose career I have followed ever since – an absolutely fabulous and uniquely intriguing lead guitarist with a very personal and unmistakable style – an awesome guitarist!

 

1992

1992 was an unusual “quiet year” for live shows, starting out with a very small, intimate performance by the very talented California Guitar Trio at a small bookshop – the Better World Galleria – in San Diego, California.  This was at a time when I was still very involved in Guitar Craft so I am actually acquainted with the guys in the band and I think that they invited me personally to attend – so I did – and as they always do, the Trio put on an excellent performance.

The rest of the year was dominated by two very important and significant events, the first of which was seeing my third and final BeatleRingo Starr.  In 1974, I had managed to see George Harrison at the LA Forum with Ravi Shankar, and Paul McCartney in ’76 during his Wings Over America tour, but to date I had never managed to see John Lennon (I never did) or Ringo Starr – from my favourite band of all time –

Ringo Starr – White Album Sessions 1968

The Beatles.  So when I had the chance to see Ringo with his All-Starr Band – who, in 1992, included the aforementioned Todd Rundgren on lead guitar – how could I say no?

Seeing Ringo live was a far, far more musical and brilliant experience than you might have thought, and with all of the other musical guests in the band it became more of a star-studded walk down several different memory lanes – the Beatles one being of course one of the most important ones. Ringo‘s son Zak Starkey was incredibly capable as the band’s main drummer – with Ringo joining in when he wasn’t busy singing or being the MC of the show.

Rundgren performed a version of his song “Black Maria” which Ringo had apparently requested as his favourite Rundgren track – while the band supported Ringo through the expected Beatle hits – including a very moving “With A Little Help From My Friends” where the crowd totally got behind Ringo when he hits the high note at the end – the crowd just went wild – and it was really, really a much better experience than I thought it might have been – thoroughly enjoyable.

So in 1992 – I got to experience the third and final Beatle I would manage to see perform live, despite that band breaking up way, way back in 1970 when I was still very young (but already a huge fan of the Beatles – even then).

The second and final concert event for 1992 was another one on “foreign” soil, I once again found myself in London, this time at the Town and Country, for the 20th Anniversary Camel Tour.

This was the first time I got to see Camel  after several missed opportunities in the previous decades – so I was overjoyed as they have always been one of my top favourite bands – and I was not in any way disappointed.  Andy Latimer is surely one of the most talented of all progressive rock guitarists, and seeing him play those remarkable tunes at long last was absolutely fantastic.

Camel – circa 1972

A great show, and a great start to my experiences seeing Camel live – I was fortunately enough to live in California at the same time as Andy Latimer, so I saw the band a number of times then from Dust & Dreams on through Harbour of Tears – and then again more recently – really recently – I went to see the band performing “Moonmadness” in its entirety at the Tyne Theatre in Newcastle just last month (September 9, 2018)  – and they were as absolutely brilliant as ever.  The very best of prog.

 

1993

1993 was a very, very unique year for me in that I saw certain groups that had such a lasting and enormous impact on me both as a listener and as a musician – it’s a year like no other, when at least two of the bands I saw that year – only really EXISTED during that year – and it meant that this was a very special year indeed for live music.

The first of two concerts I attended featuring the Robert Fripp String Quintet – at the fantastic Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, California – this band was absolutely unique and only existed I believe, as a live performance project  – their one album is a live album.

A rare photo of the Robert Fripp String Quintet performing live in 1995

This band was really a combination of Robert Fripp on lead guitar and soundscapes, Trey Gunn (of King Crimson) on Stick, and the California Guitar Trio on acoustic guitars – an unusual musical marriage of the acoustic and electric sides of Robert Fripp.

 

The music that this group played was so unique and so exquisitely beautiful that I’ve never forgotten the beauty and heartbreak of hearing pieces like the incredible “Hope” performed live – and then, the climax of each concert was one of the most dissonant, out-there Fripp Soundscape performances ever created – the “Threnody For Souls In Torment” – I think the title says it all.

So from great beauty to great dissonance – this band could do it all, and in the space of one performance you would experience an almost bewildering array of ever changing musical beauty and emotion – as well as technical prowess so powerful as to leave you breathless – a band that you just had to see if you could – and one of Robert’s best spin-off projects – perhaps the best.

My next concert for 1993 was something very, very different indeed – again, at the remarkable Belly Up Tavern – this time, it was Soukous music from the Congo (Zaire) in the person of Kanda Bongo Man – whose band is the only modern band that plays Congolese-inspired music like the music I heard growing up in East Africa.

Kanda Bongo Man – Live

I had recently been listening to quite a lot of music by this group, so when I saw they were playing live, I hastened to get tickets – and it turned out to be an absolutely awesome evening of live African music from a very, very capable band with a truly great lead singer and performer – the Kanda Bongo Man himself.

This one definitely falls under the category of “shows I would never normally attend” but as I grew up in East Africa, I have a huge soft spot for this kind of twin lead guitar based music – and the guitar playing I witnessed that evening was absolutely fascinating and very faithfully recreated the music I remembered – interlocking lead guitars not a million miles away from the sound of Fripp and Belew’s interlocking lead guitars on the 1981 King Crimson masterpiece “Discipline”!!

I’m very glad indeed, that I attended this most unusual show – and I think it’s definitely a good idea to occasionally go outside your comfort zone and go see a concert that you would never ever think to go see – and for me, in 1993, this was the one.

Next on my agenda was a trip up the coast to San Juan Capistrano to the renowned Coach House, to see a second, even better performance by the Robert Fripp String Quintet – and the fact that I got to see this truly magical group play not once, but twice is something for which I am eternally grateful.

As if Fripp’s amazing Quintet was not enough – a unique and unusual live performance – the next thing that happened in 1993 was yet another one of a kind, limited edition short-lived musical projects – and I

Robert Fripp & David Sylvian circa 1993

am talking now about the absolutely stunning “SylvianFripp” – the somewhat unlikely musical meeting of the minds of the former leader of art-rockers Japan with the Guitarist of the Crimson King.

 

I drove up to Los Angeles to see this one, and I remember something unusual – I went with my then bandmate Bryan Helm of The Dozey Lumps and Bindlestiff – and I don’t recall that we ever went to many concerts together, but it was unusual to have another musician to discuss the music with afterwards – and we both thoroughly enjoyed this most amazing performance – the official “Sylvian-Fripp” album, which had been released some months previous to this concert – did pale justice to the monstrous force of the live performance unit – the studio album lacks quite a bit of the punch of the live outfit – and it wasn’t until the live album “Damage” came out, that you could hear on record just how powerful this band was.

The songs are some of Sylvian‘s best, and in the live setting, they also did surprising numbers from the Gone To Earth album (that Fripp had played lead guitar on previously) or even Fripp‘s own tune “Exposure” – the oft-recorded Exposure that has been sung by various singers over time – and Sylvian the latest in a long line of Exposure vocalists.  But the main events were some of the extended tracks where Fripp went full-frontal Hendrix Assault Guitar on us – and I will never forget the screaming, shredding blasts of amazing moving chords that Fripp unleashed on an unsuspecting audience at the Wiltern Theatre that night on tracks such as “Darshan” – that was absolutely a mind-blowing performance.

Seeing both the Robert Fripp String Quintet, and then, just a few months later, seeing the Sylvian-Fripp live concert, all in the same year, was very nearly unbelievable and the sheer virtuosity and musicianship of both of these projects involving Robert Fripp was absolutely undeniable – it changed me as a guitarist forever.

 

1994

Every decade has it’s truly quiet year, and this year – for the 1990s – for whatever reason – was my quietest.  According to my research so far – I only attended one concert this year – but it was a most unusual one – I had been listening to a CD called “Pieces of Africa” by

Kronos

Kronos Quartet

Kronos Quartet so I decided to go and see them play live – a third entrant, perhaps, to the “atypical” concerts that I like to add into my schedule from time to time – one of those concerts I would not normally think about attending.

 

But I remember a very intriguing and very different musical experience – this group are known for their almost chameleon-like ability to move between musical styles from strictly classical to works such as the aforementioned “Pieces Of Africa” to interesting string quartet interpretations of rock music.

One standout moment for me – a real surprise – when the band suddenly kicked into an all-strings version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” – and it sounded incredible! – it doesn’t get more rock and roll than that – of course, in a strictly classical music setting!  Fascinating show.

 

1995

Well – the Decade Of The Fripp continues in full swing…

Fripp-Soundscapes2

Soundscapes – Rack Configuration

…and 1995 started out with two shows in a row from Mr. Fripp – this time, performing his live guitar magic – the magic known now as “Soundscapes” (formerly: “Frippertronics“) – I attended two identically-configured shows, one on January 27th and again on January 28th, which featured the remarkably talented and capable California Guitar Trio as the opening act, and then Fripp‘s Soundscape performance followed.

What is a Soundscape?, you may ask – well, Fripp states on the Discipline Global Mobile web site that Soundscapes “has the aim of finding ways in which intelligence and music, definition and discovery, courtesy and reciprocation may enter into the act of music for both musician and audience”.

Soundscapes really have to be experienced live to fully appreciate their amazing sonic qualities – the recordings, which are generally speaking all live anyway – don’t quite do them justice without the visual aspect of seeing Robert sending notes to different loopers

Fripp-Frippertronics

Frippertronics – The Original System Using Two Revox A77 Reel-To-Reel Tape Recorders

to do different things, playing melodies with different effects or guitar synth voices to provide musical textural variety, and also, the sound of a brilliantly-conceived stereo electric guitar system live in the room – it’s an amazing immersive experience, and whether you like Soundscapes or not – they are really something to experience live.

 

I was lucky enough to see this remarkable show at least twice, because I’d also seen a rehearsal that year that Robert did, when I was on a Guitar Craft course, where he used the assembled Crafties (those of us on the course that year) as guinea pigs – did we mind if he tested his system?  No – we did not mind.  So I’d seen a similar show to these, done in the big room at Ojai, California – during a Guitar Craft course – so my own experience of Soundscapes is a bit more varied than most – and I feel very fortunate indeed to have had the additional amazing experience of seeing and hearing Robert do an entire Soundscape performance in a room in an Ojai facility.

Of course, I was also able, on that course, to get a decent look at Robert’s pedal board, so when I finished the Course, I went straight to Guitar Centre and bought the same pitch shifter that RF was using – and I used that for years – it was fantastic, because of course with a little work, I could pretty much get exactly the same live two octaves up sound that he did – it sounded great.  (Note:  the pedal in question was the Digitech Whammy II – a great pitch pedal at the time).

 

Fripp-Soundscapes

Soundscapes

 

After starting the year out on the high of getting to see the Trio twice followed by Robert Fripp twice, a few months passed and then, not to my surprise, I found myself sitting at Copley Symphony Hall on June 28, 1995 – waiting for the new “double trio” version of King Crimson to take the stage – so my third Robert Fripp concert of the year and my third concert containing Robert Fripp that year – 1995 was definitely the Year Of The Fripp for me!

 

KC Double Trio2

King Crimson – Double Trio Configuration – circa 1995

King Crimson were very, very accomplished and very, very powerful, and this was the first time I had seen this “new” incarnation – which meant it was the first concert experience of tracks such as “Dinosaur” which I thought was absolutely astonishing – and also, the beautiful side of the double trio, as represented by the very gorgeous “Walking On Air” – sung beautifully by Belew, with both Fripp and Belew playing clean, reverse guitars – a plethora of stunningly gorgeous reverse guitar sound – fantastic!

 

The final part of my wonderful 1995 concert experience was dedicated to a new interest I had developed in the 1990s – in a band from the East Coast of the United States called “The Innocence Mission” – I’d heard (or seen, rather?) an MTV video late one night by this band, and on a whim, I bought their first album – which I very much enjoyed.   I began to follow them, and continued to buy their albums and then, logically, when I heard they were to be playing live – I went to see them.

InnocenceMission3

The Innocence Mission

The band consists of a husband and wife team, who play guitars and keyboards / guitars respectively, although wife Karen Peris sings most of the lead vocals, they both sing – and the band has had various supporting members over the years – to the point where I believe they are now down to just a duo at the present time.  When I saw them in 1995 – they still had a full band of drums, bass, lead guitar, and piano or acoustic guitar played by Karen Peris.

 

 

So my final concert experience of 1995 was seeing this remarkable new group playing live – and it was a revelation – the songs, some seemingly so fragile that you thought they might break while being sung – others more upbeat, but all with a lovely positive light about them.  I absolutely loved their second and third albums (Umbrella and Glow, respectively) and I continued on following them for many, many years after those albums, too.

 

InnocenceMission2

The Innocence Mission – Full Band

I am so glad I took the chance to just buy the first Innocence Mission CD sound-unheard – and I really liked it – and that really brought me years and years of enjoyment, allowing me to see this band more than once live in a concert setting, and enjoying their records throughout the 90s and beyond.  A really nice way to end the year, with a tight, organised show featuring some of the most beautiful, delicate and fantastic songs – really gorgeous music – and Don Peris is a very accomplished guitarist too whose playing I also very much enjoy.

Another happy accident – and I can now proudly add this band to the list of bands that I admire and enjoy listening to…the Innocence Mission.

 

1996

Although no ticket stubs survive from this year, I am aware of at least a couple of shows I attended – the first – being a second concert by The Innocence Mission – I believe this would be for their third album “Glow” which meant new songs, and new chances to

KarenPeris

Karen Peris

see the remarkable Karen Peris sit at the piano and sing the most beautiful songs in the universe – and it was another incredible night – which ended with the chance for a brief conversation with the Peris couple – they were both really accommodating and very kind – so I had a fantastic experience at this second really quality performance by this then-up-and-coming indie band.  Really enjoyable.

 

I should note here that both times I saw The Innocence Mission, they were accompanied by another band, called 16 Horsepower, that opened for The Innocence Mission on both occasions.  They were not really to my taste, but it was interesting music – the lead singer was a kind of tortured soul (??) and his vocal approach and lyrics were provocative and interesting – so it lent some interesting contrast to the more straightforward beauty of the songs of Karen and Don Peris.

 

The final big musical event of 1996 for me, was a second visit from King Crimson, again, in Double Trio mode – this time, at a strange outdoor gig in San Diego at a new venue called “Hospitality Point” (i kid you not) and I was roped in – thanks to my involvement with Guitar Craft – into the job of handing out flyers to the punters as they entered the performance area.

This particular King Crimson performance was very significant to me, first of all – the band had improved and moved on since the first time I’d seen them at Copley Symphony Hall in San Diego, the year before – and they had expanded their repertoire somewhat too – and that was why I particularly did not want to miss this particular show – because I had heard that they were now performing the classic King Crimson song “21st Century Schizoid Man” – so after being a fan of the band for many, many years, and seeing them play four or five times by this point – I finally got to hear them play Schizoid Man – and it was immaculate – when they got to the famous “precision” section near the end of the song – the whole band dropped down, and they played those famous precision riffs – perfectly in time, six bodies united in sound – and it really was impressive – they got the HARDEST part of one of the band’s most difficult songs – exactly right – the way it should be.

I was impressed to say the least.  Also had been rewarded with a back stage pass, but really didn’t do much except watch Tony Levin walk past – everyone was in hiding after what was probably an exhausting show.  Another great King Crimson experience – the Double Trio was loud, they were incredibly talented musicians – and for me – it really worked – I loved that version of the band – and I’m very happy not only that I got to see them play twice, but also that I finally, finally got to see the band – any version of the band – play “21st Century Schizoid Man” – live.  An experience, in my opinion, well worth waiting for – after all, I’d been waiting since 1981, really – when the band first re-emerged – so just the 15 years had passed – until one version of the band finally learned the song!

 

1997

This was an interesting year – and it started out with a very unusual an interesting show in a somewhat unusual venue – a guitar shop in Santa Monica, California called “McCabe’s Music”.  “McCabe’s” was well-known for their very small, intimate acoustic performances – they had a small concert space upstairs – that seated perhaps 70 or 80 people (?) and I can remember being very excited about going to a concert at this famous guitar shop – I remember I went early, so I could look at the guitars and so on – and browsed around in there for perhaps an hour – before they threw us all out so we could all come back in again for the show – or, maybe they let us stay in – I can’t recall.

The artist we were all waiting to see is the very famous British musician – guitarist and songwriter Roy Harper, doing a rare appearance in California playing live upstairs at McCabe’s – news of the show was just out of the blue – but I wasn’t about to miss this – my first chance to see Roy Harper live.

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Roy Harper in more recent times

I was not disappointed – two very good sets of amazing music later, I was stunned by the man’s ability to perform these utterly unique and very specifically his songs – he writes songs like no other – many of them hard-hitting, others, the most tender love songs you might imagine – any cross-section of any dozen songs from any Roy Harper album will give you a set of songs that covers a massive range of emotion and colour and humanism and beauty.

 

He is a poet, writer, activist – outraged and angry peacenik – and I loved this crazy, nutty Englishman and his eccentric music – and his voice – his voice is an instrument in itself, and clever use of delay and reverb live lends itself to some stunning vocal performances along with his lone acoustic guitar – he often managed to sound like a lot more than one man with a guitar.

Those two shows are among my most prized memories – and when Roy came back after the intermission – he was noticeably relaxed, I think that the McCabe’s staff had possibly supplied him with some high quality California cannabis-derived product of some kind – so the second set started out with Roy just laughing for about five minutes – and the audience laughing with him and at him – it was hilarious – and then, he turned in a performance that was even better than the stunningly good first set!

A remarkable experience indeed, and while I was able to see Roy on other occasions later on – this first time was definitely the best time – an intimate venue, and a great performance from someone who is a National treasure – there is only one Roy Harper – friend of Jimmy Page – 1960s minstrel – stoned hippie free love advocate – poet and singer extraordinaire.

Next on the agenda then, for 1997, was the first of a number of shows by Camel – the first time I’d seen them in five years – Andy Latimer was now living somewhere in Northern California, and had his new version of Camel playing up and down the California coast for quite a few years.

I think that this year would probably have been the concert for Dust & Dreams, which is a fantastic album in it’s own right, and I absolutely love the music of Camel but in particular, I love the flute and guitar playing of leader/lead singer/lead guitarist Andy Latimer, and it did my heart good to see Andy doing so well, with a FANTASTIC new band – the first time I saw new bassist Colin Bass in the band – and playing fantastic new

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Andy Latimer – Camel’s Guitar Genius

material too – I’ve seen Camel four or five times now, across the years – and the performances have all been uniformly immaculate and of the highest musical quality – Andy knows how to arrange a proggy tune!  So this latest new incarnation of Camel – was OK by me – and I went to see them more than once.

 

To this day, I would say that Camel in a way, represent what “Progressive Rock” is and what it should be – more than almost any other band.  And the performance I witnessed just last month – where the band played the entire “Moonmadness” album without stopping – then, took a break, and then came out and played a LONG set of classic Camel music – and they were stupendous.

Only Colin Bass remained now in 2018, from the 1997 lineup – so they had a new drummer (Denis Clement) and keyboard player (Pete Jones) for the Moonmadness 2018 tour – and the new keyboard player Pete Jones has an amazing voice – so this new Camel, the 2018 Camel – has the best live vocal approach I have ever heard the band have!

They even attempted – and easily pulled off – a live three part harmony – and the two part harmony singing between Latimer and the very,  very accomplished new keyboard player Pete Jones was absolutely spot on throughout – raising their game as a live performance act even further.  And Latimer has battled on despite ill health – the man is an absolute legend!

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Fish – Marillion’s Original (And Best) Singer

1997 continues with another legendary concert – the final tour of Marillion where their lead singer was still named Fish.  The tour for then-new album “Clutching At Straws” – remarkably, Marillion had done the impossible by making a followup album, to their hugely successful mid 1980s album “Misplaced Childhood” that was just as good if not better – I actually prefer it – and so had upped their game musically – and I was excited to hear the band playing this new album – I’d seen them playing “Misplaced Childhood” previously when I’d seen them live in San Diego; this time, I traveled up to the old reliable Coach House, to see Fish‘s last stand with Marillion – of course, we didn’t know it was his last tour with the band – but the writing was on the wall.

 

The show at the Coach House that night was absolutely amazing and I had a fantastic time – the band were so precise, and this was a great new bunch of songs – and I think their performance this year, on this tour – was miles beyond what I’d seen previously when I saw them live – and to my mind – still never exceeded by the “new Marillion” – the one with the singer NOT named Fish.  That Marillion – has never quite come up with another album that thrills me as much as the brutally honest and self-examining “Clutching At Straws” does.

At one point during the performance Fish was supposed to do a costume change – but he told the audience instead – “I’m supposed to do a costume change now but I will be damned if I am going to go up and down those BLOODY stairs one more time” – to which the audience ROARED in pleased approval and Fish just got on with the next song – wearing the wrong costume – the music was all that mattered – and that was his way of reminding us of that fact.

It was a great show and I think an example of Marillion at their very best!

Finally to round out a very exciting and concert-filled year, another show by Todd Rundgren – this time, played at the smaller, more intimate Belly Up Tavern, and if memory serves me correctly, this was the year that he finally played “No. 1 Lowest Common Denominator” live – which was a song that I dearly loved from the 1974 “Todd” double LP – that despite seeing Todd several times since first seeing him with Utopia in 1977 – it wasn’t until 20 years later – here in 1997 – that I actually got to see and hear him play this remarkable song.

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Todd Rundgren in recent years

It was a concert for me, of mixed emotions – with highs like that, but also with lows in that some of the newer songs that Todd was performing, just didn’t sit too well with me – I was losing interest in a lot of his newer music – while still very much liking and appreciating his back catalogue.

 

 

Each year, it seemed, Todd’s shows more and more favoured the newer, less interesting and creative songs, and every year, the number of older, interesting, and very creative songs from his best albums, dwindled and dwindled until they became almost non-existent. There also seemed to be less and less emphasis on his substantial abilities as a lead guitarist, and more emphasis on acoustic, piano or other non-virtuoso performance material – in other words – he stopped playing guitar – or at least –  cut it way back.

Later on in his career, he did somewhat remedy this by playing a lot of the older material again – and playing more guitar again – but he had long before that kinda “lost” me.  This may well have been the very last time (to coin a phrase lol) I went to see Todd play – I am not sure.

 

1998

At this point, the haze of time and memory, has drawn a curtain over the decade – and only a couple of glimpses of that clouded memory remain – I have only one entry for 1998, and that was for a new band – a band I had recently discovered by a most unusual method for me – I had heard their new single on the radio, and felt like I had to have that record.  I never hear records on the radio.  But in this case – that’s actually how it happened.

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K’s Choice – Sarah & Gert Bettens

That record, turned out to be “Everything For Free” – a wonderful (and also somewhat bittersweet) tale of how everything is free and paid for when you live in a lunatic asylum – from the point of view of someone – an inmate – called “Billy” – as sung by Sarah Bettens – who is showing a visitor around their gilded psychologically-demanded prison and explaining how he gets “everything for free” – it’s a chilling and beautiful tune with a biting, socially aware lyric – by the remarkable Dutch – or perhaps Dutch/American band “K’s Choice“.

 

I bought their brand new 1998 album – “Cocoon Crash”  on the strength of hearing that one song one time driving home – and fell in love.  This was to me, a fantastic find – a new band, a new sound, and a remarkable lead female singer in Sarah Bettens – with a unique and unforgettable voice – or rather, a unique brother (on guitar – Gert Bettens) and sister (guitar and vocals – Sarah Bettens) team that harmonised beautifully together.

I’ve never had another chance to see them perform, but I have continued to buy their albums and follow their career – this band, and in particular the string of albums they made from 1998 probably into the first part of the next decade – really resonate with me.  “Cocoon Crash” is probably my personal favourite, but they have made a number of albums of equal quality – this is a talented and capable band.

The performance took place in tiny, tiny beach front club in a suburb of San Diego called “Mission Beach” – a place I lived when I was a teenager.  The club was very, very small but the band rocked hard and loud, and sounded absolutely amazing – I was blown away by all of the instrumentalists, they were all Dutch except for their bass player who was American – and they played their socks off that night in that tiny place.  Sarah Betten’s voice – and attitude – was unique, infectious and fantastic – and when she came in on third electric guitar the additional noise and din was absolutely amazing – what a great live performance – and, from a band that was brand new for me.

 

1999

The records here completely disappear for a period of time – and it remains unknown if I attended any concerts in the last year of the century or not – I simply do not know – I have so far, not found any ticket stubs or other evidence to show that I did; but should such information become available, I would of course do an update on this blog – so – with K’s Choice and their amazing performance at Cane’s in Mission Beach, California – this decade of concert attendances comes to a somewhat premature end – 1999’s activities remain a complete mystery.

 

 

THE ATYPICALS – A QUICK LOOK

While this concludes the Performances Attended section of the blog, I want to take just a moment to list here, the “new” bands or at least – new to me – i.e. bands that were outside of my experience when I first encountered them in the 1990s – as a contrast to the many bands that I had already been following during the previous two decades.

So while it’s obvious that I have a propensity for bands and artists such as King Crimson, Robert Fripp, Todd Rundgren, Camel, Peter Hammill, and any other classic Prog Rock outfits – the 1990s were, for me, also – a time of new musical awakenings – and while I have provided details of all of these artists in the section above, I thought it was worthwhile compiling a quick list of the “atypical” Dave Stafford concert attendances – those concerts that I would not normally have gone to, or, artists and bands that were either new to me or new in general – which I was encountering and having my first or nearly-first experiences with – through the auspices of seeing them perform live in the 1990s:

The Atypical Bands And Artists List for the 1990s – Dave Stafford’s Concert Attendances:

 

Awesome Guitarists – one motivator for attending so many concerts

I was a guitarist then, and I am still a guitarist now;  so it’s only natural that I would follow and enjoy music by the world’s most talented and capable guitarists – and the list of guitarists that I was lucky enough to see in the 1990s is a pretty staggering list of remarkable, talented musicians.

THE 1990s GUITARIST’S HALL OF FAME:

For each decade, I have created a list of the remarkably diverse and talented batch of lead guitarists I have witnessed within the bands or artists I had seen during that decade (see my blogs for the 1970s and the 1980s respectively – and near the bottom of each, you should find a list of guitarists similar to this one following).

 

 

Forward still…on into the distant future!

So in conclusion – for me, the 90s were packed with many, many performances from many of my very favourite musicians – you will see the names of two in particular, cropping up again and again and again in the account above – Todd Rundgren and Robert Fripp – and in the case of Robert Fripp, during this most interesting decade, I managed to see him perform in, actually, five different groups – which is an astonishing feat in itself if you think about it.  I feel very, very fortunate to have been following his career very closely at the time, and that gave me the opportunity to see him play guitar in so many different performance modes – it was simply amazing!

As well as seeing Robert Fripp play many, many times in five different bands, I managed to see a Beatle – my third and final live Beatle experience with the great Ringo Starr – and also managed to see Todd play guitar a few times, and Camel – who I dearly love – twice – once in 1992 and again in 1997 – a very interesting contrasting experience.  On top of so many Prog-based highlights, including seeing the amazing Peter Hammill performing live at the Roxy in Los Angeles at the start of 1990 – I also became familiar with a handful of new or newer groups – and three of those groups became huge favourites of mine over the years.

It was, for me, a really nice mix of shows – heavy on the things I love, and an enormous number of performances by one Robert Fripp – possibly my favourite guitarist of all time – as well as two master classes in Prog Guitar from Mr. Andy Latimer – not to mention the guitar work of Peter Hammill, Todd Rundgren and young Steve Rothery – none of those guys are exactly slouches when it comes to playing electric guitar – and then a light sprinkling of some very diverse new music – covering jazz, classical, African and new kinds folk rock or rock with just a handful of bands – the perfect mix of live concerts of both the “old familiar” and the “new exciting” shows – making for another nearly perfect decade of truly enjoyable concert attendances.

Until next time then – once again my friends ~

 

Dave Stafford
October 5, 2018

 

Next time on Decade By Decade – The Live Concert Experience / Overview:

The 2000s – The Naughtiest Decade

 

1990s Concert Ticket Stub Collection (courtesy Dave Stafford)
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Concert Ticket Stubs – 1990s

 

The Dreaded 1980s: Not So Bad After All

DECADE BY DECADE – THE LIVE CONCERT EXPERIENCE / OVERVIEW

Episode 2: 1980s

Most of the musicians I know, share with me, a general sense of … horror is really the only word that suits, although it’s not exactly the right word…at the memory of the music of the 1980s – which included but was not limited to – everything bad about the emerging synthesizer, synths badly played and not sounding very good at all – and all of the other early musical crimes of the early and middle 80s.
synthpop

A lot of bad, bad music was made in the name of quickly producing a hit MTV Video – trying to cash in on the video craze – and things were decidedly NOT about the music, as they definitely HAD been in the 1960s and 1970s.

 

I try not to remember some – or even most – of those songs and bands, and when I hear them – they make me uncomfortable at best, and downright unable to listen in others – they are just not the best songs nor are they, for me, the best musical memories – those will always belong to the late 60s / early 70s when Prog ruled the land – and I looked out at the 70s Music Scene – my own “70s Scenario” – and saw that it was good.
poison

Meanwhile, over on the hard rock scene, another disturbing trend was emerging, again, fuelled by MTV videos – albeit part of a different demographic – one populated mainly by teenage boys – within that demographic “MTV Video enthusiasts” –  and with a clear desire to cash in on the video craze – Hair Metal (later known as “Glam Metal” – fair enough) had arrived, and it looked like it was trying to stay (thankfully – it did not) – or at least – it did not stay for long.

Bands that I literally could not understand the appeal of, whose music was made so cheaply and nastily (and that was, unfortunately, reflected in the SOUND of that music, too!), just so another air-brushed group of four hooligans with MASSIVE HAIR could make a few million dollars at our expense – and the punishment for us, was having not only to hear this vapid form of “metal”, but to SEE these ridiculous “hair” bands, who were all clearly about the size and curliness of their perm, and definitely NOT all about their skill as writers or musicians – let’s face it, a lot of those bands – could not write a song to save their life, and their musicianship ranged from barely adequate to definitely sub-par.

With the emergence of a whole new breed of Hair Metal bands on the one hand, and the pop / synth / Revolution Of The Synthesizer that was coming to our TV screens and to our ears mostly from Great Britain – there was a lot to answer for “musically” during the 1980s.   Across the pond (where I live now) in this Synth Revolution – a similar and parallel activity was apparent – pop songs written just so a synth or synths could be used in the video, but which probably had no other good reason for existing.

Back in the 1970s (which suddenly looked pretty darn good to me) synths were used in the arena of Progressive Rock, but they were wielded by men and women of skill and talent, and used on songs that were finely crafted and worked on for often, many weeks or even months – until perfected.  Music created for the sake of music, of pure musicianship made by real artists – craftsmen – people who had studied their instruments and knew how to use them – finely crafted songs, that were challenging and often quite difficult to perform – but rewarding in every sense – there is nothing on earth quite as satisfying as a musical composition that works on every level – including, exciting to perform and hear, in live performance.  I missed that, especially within the recorded music of the 80s, I didn’t at first, feel there was much around of any real quality.

I got the feeling that with the whole Synth Pop Revolution (which, while it did have it’s roots in the late 1970s, to my mind, is mostly, a 1980s phenomenon) coming from Britain and the Hair Band revolution emerging from LA – that they would have spent just a few days on each piece, and no more – clock is ticking, time is money – and meanwhile, again mostly in LA “…and I have to go and get a new perm, so please let’s wrap this up”.  I can just about picture any session by one of these bands – where a lot of time is spent pouting into mirrors, and gazing adoringly at your own magnificent curly blond locks – or whatever it was.

But – as the 1980s wore on – there was a quiet musical revolution going on in the background.  It didn’t belong to any one group or any particular type of group, but rather, was a combination of a number of interesting events and occurrences in the 1980s, that were probably not brought to the fore in the news coverage (or, the MTV News Coverage) of the day.  This was not, however – a revolution of recorded music – but instead – of live performance.

I am thinking in particular of two cases or scenarios – or “types” if you wish – one, where established artists who had worked very hard in the 1970s or even 1960s, to establish themselves and their musical credentials – some of these artists, after being vilified and ridiculed by the punk movement – waited out the last few dismal years of the 1970s (as progressive rock was nearly wiped from the map by first, punk, in Britain, and then New Wave in the U.S) waiting for an opportune moment to put their head above the parapet to find out if they were still as resoundly resented as they had been…

But I think that those established artists, whether ordinary rock artists or progressive rock “musos”, it didn’t matter, they were all realising that they could not only survive in the unfriendly 1980s – but in some cases, in many instances – they could thrive.  In particular – on the live concert circuit.  And live performance is exactly what that first of two groups of musicians I am thinking of has in common with the second group – new emerging bands, who, while their music may have been “born” in a calendar year that indicated that it was in fact, still the 1980s – while that was undeniable, what was also very apparent, was that there was a kind of “backlash” – there was a hankering for the recently-departed 1960s and 1970s.

Some bands were not afraid to boldly embark on brand new careers, in the 1980s, playing music that on paper, did not and would not “work” in the wonderful “look ma I’ve got a synthesizer” world of MTV, or “look ma, I got me a perm and now the Record Company has given us a $500,000.00 advance on our album” heady days of the early Eighties – that was still going on, although perhaps to a lesser degree in the latter half of the 1980s – but at the same time, my two Secret Musical Forces – were also at work, working hard to bring out music of quality in the Decade That Quality Forgot.

And to their credit, they did it.  What tipped me off to it, was a strange but undeniable fact – OK, I had been fortunate enough to have seven years in the 1970s, when I was witness to some of the most amazing live music ever performed anywhere at any time in history – I was lucky enough to be alive and be old enough, to attend shows by now-legendary Progressive Rock and Rock acts – and there will never be a time like the 1970s again.  What I had noticed – was that, the quality and availability of good live music, seemed to be on the rise in the 1980s – NOT declining as you might have thought.

Punk gave us the good shake up we needed (in hindsight, that is undeniable), and as much as I resented the damage that punk and to a lesser degree, New Wave, did to Prog – I needn’t have worried, because not only was Prog alive and well in the 1980s, but there was also an entire parallel music scene, that you could choose to attend, so for every Eurhythmics show that I didn’t attend, there was a show built on the basis of quality music – whether that be Prog Bands from the 1970s, or other 70s act, adapting, surviving and even flourishing, during the musically-depressing 1980s.

 

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I could, in the space of a few weeks, attend shows by Crowded House (the remnants of New Zealand progressive rock heroes “Split Enz”) – who I also happened to see play live in 1981 – one of the first shows I attended in the 1980s – and in a way, you could not really get more prog than that in 1981…

 

marillion

 

…despite the band making a very poppy record – 1980’s “True Colours” – they had a still-beating prog heart – and their natural successor, Crowded House, who later went on to even more dizzying heights of success – but – as a pop band – not a prog band – or – stalwart live performers like ex-Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thompson; or new bands like Marillion, whose music sounded like it was straight out of 1974 – and yet – strangely – it was 1985 – now that was a surprise!

A diverse and exciting mix of live performers then – all out touring, all bringing in large audiences, all being quietly successful while MTV continued to trumpet the “news” that the world was now ruled by Synthesizers, and informing us that “Don’t You Want Me (Baby)” (or whatever it’s called) was a really, really good song (it isn’t).

enobrian70s

Brian Eno himself, the once-flamboyant feather-adorned synthesizer-player of the legendary art-rock outfit Roxy Music, stated that punk was “a breath of fresh air” and over time, while at first unsure – I did come to totally agree with that sentiment.  Prog was in need of a shake up – but the media portrayed it more like a death in the family, so for a couple of very depressing years – we were left with an apparent void, which was being filled by the practitioners of punk and new wave from say, 1978-1980.

 

But – once the air had been cleared, there was no reason in the world for the rock or prog bands that had been swept up in the Great Cleansing – to lay down their instruments and quit – and in fact – most of them did not give up – they may have taken time off during a period in which it might have been difficult to fare well, but…

…eventually – sometimes sooner, sometimes, much, much later – they would in fact, return – and, join a growing number of newly emerging 80s artists who were neither Synth-playing robots nor Hair Metallists – but in fact, were just playing different kinds of rock music – from an only slightly-disguised version of progressive rock (Marillion channelling early Genesis) to a band like Crowded House, who took their prog Split-Enz roots (see what I did there!) and mutated into one of the finest pop bands the world has ever known.

For me – I was even fortunate enough to see one example of these two “groups” of mine – the two Secret Warriors Of Quality Music – on the same bill at the same show – as I was fortunate enough one year, during the 80s, to see Crowded House playing – with the great Richard Thompson as “support act” (!!).  On paper – that just seemed all wrong to me – but as a concert – it was actually brilliant – Thompson is a guitarist extraordinaire, a consummate master, and to have someone of his skill and experience opening for the less-experienced but really, no less talented Finn Brothers (of Crowded House and Split Enz fame) was strange but wonderful – and actually, an inspired idea.

thompsonrichard

Even more remarkable was the fact that during Crowded House’s set, Richard Thompson came out with his guitar to play on one of their songs – so here we had a standard-bearer from the long-ago 1960s, an ex-member and founding member of the great Fairport Convention – on stage with a bunch of musical upstarts from New Zealand.

 

 

I got a genuine laugh at the time, from hearing young Neil Finn taunting Thompson verbally, calling him a “guitar hero” and so on – it was hilarious.

crowdedhouseSome combinations of musicians, you think to yourself – “that could never happen” – and there I was, hearing Richard Thompson improvising a solo to “Italian Plastic” by Crowded House.  Very strange times indeed – but, at that moment – and during countless other 1980s concert moments – the quality of this live music – drove all thoughts of big hair and synth robots right out of my head – and I could live in the moment again, and experience quality live music again.

It was almost as if,  the 1960s and 1970s had just carried on without interruption. almost as if punk and new wave had never happened – and by the mid 1980s, I felt that the old bands were definitely on the way back “in” (I mean, just look at the massive resurgence of interest and huge popularity of both Jethro Tull and of ZZ Top – two bands definitely of the previous decade – yet, in 1987, 1988 – enjoying an immense and very real popularity that required no hype from MTV to propel it) – if anything, these bands began to turn the tables on MTV, and by 1987 – you were far more likely to see an awesome video by ZZ Top or Jethro Tull, than you were to see the dread “Don’t You Want Me (Baby)” video.

jethrotull

But what groups am I talking about here, in my two imagined groups?  Well, the easiest way for me to document that, is to turn first to my setlist.fm entries for the period of time, to get a sense of the shows I was attending – and once I have refreshed my failing memory there, I will be able to jot those down as I hope, valid examples of the two types:

Type Uno

– (Existing) Prog Rock or Rock bands and artists returning to music in the 1980s – at first, possibly more represented by concert appearances than by records, but by the end of the 1980s, they were producing smash hit albums that sold very, very well and were often award-winning and more popular than anything that we now consider to be “Classic 80s Rock” or “Classic 80s Dance” or whatever.  It was Jethro Tull, not Billy Idol or Gary Numan, scooping up awards for best album – and if that isn’t a shock result, I don’t know what is!

But what a brilliant result – I was very, very happy for Ian Anderson and co – to have survived punk, then, to have survived – and then, defeated the 1980s – that is testament to the commitment and vision of Ian Anderson – he managed, somehow, to keep Jethro Tull afloat through all that tribulation – and then, emerge successfully. at the end of their ordeal – with an award-winning hit record – I have to heartily congratulate him on that feat of persistent vision.  Brilliant work!

 

jethrotull2zztop

 

The great ZZ Top carved an equally impressive path through the myriad labyrinth of late 1980s music, and even did so with an only very-slightly updated sound – I remember seeing them in 1975, a raw, powerful blues band with real talent and skill – and here it was now, some 12, 13 years later, near the end of the 1980s – and they were back with…guess what – powerful, bluesy music – with several massive hit records included in their late-1980s successes.  Another brilliant success story almost exactly parallel to the story of Jethro Tull in the late 1980s.

But Jethro Tull and ZZ Top are highly visible, very popular groups – there were a surprising number of other bands in this category – and now I am referring to my setlist.fm listing for the 1980s – one of those bands, is the remarkable Queen.  1980 saw Queen produce an arguably very unique record in their canon, the much-overlooked “Jazz” album – and I was lucky enough to get a ticket to see them, very last-minute – and I am so, so glad that I did – again, it was in live performance where these rock and prog bands of the 1970s excelled, and Queen always put on an impressive performance.

maybrianBrian May to me, is one of the most interesting guitarists that Britain ever produced, with a very, very different and very, very unique guitar sound that no one else has ever really successfully replicated.  Queen built a whole new reputation during the 1980s – moving from the dramatic, prog-inspired heavy rock of their early and mid-70s albums, to much more sonically challenging records such as 1980s “Jazz” – and a host of other brilliant records – so again, very popular band in the 1970s – somehow managed to catapult themselves into massive popularity and success during the 1980s.

A First Time For Everyone

Split Enz – the precursor to the above mentioned Crowded House, Split Enz was New Zealand’s premiere progressive rock band in the 1970s, with a huge underground following and some of the most interesting and quirky music ever created in any country – by 1980, they had gradually been leaving the trappings of prog rock almost entirely behind, and by the time I saw them in in early 1981 – their “True Colours” album was riding high in the charts, a huge pop success thanks mostly to the tune “I Got You” – sung, incidentally, by Neil Finn, the future leader of Crowded House – rather than by Tim Finn – the actual (original) lead singer of Split Enz.  Well – one of two lead singers in the original band is perhaps, more accurate.

finnneilI will never forget being at that show, sitting there in the audience – I could clearly see the muscles in the then-very young Neil’s throat moving, moving as in a panic response – in pure fear, as he opened his mouth to sing this huge hit song – I believe this was the band’s first trip to America, and very possibly, their first show of the first tour of America – and the poor guy was scared half to death.  He needn’t have worried – the song, and the band, were received rapturously by the audience – I was absolutely blown away by the quality of musicianship (and, it was the first time I got to see the amazing Eddie Rayner on keyboards – the man is a genius) and seeing Split Enz – even in their later, “pop” persona – was a wonderful and utterly unforgettable experience – one of my favourite bands of all time.

(Note: Split Enz / Crowded House is the only band to appear in both the Type Uno and the Type Dos categories – because Split Enz was an existing Progressive Rock Band from the early 1970s, while Crowded House was a New, Emerging Band in the early 1980s that just happened to be made up of ex-members of Split Enz – so they get entered once – very early 1980s – as “Existing Prog band” and once again – early 1980s), as “New Emerging Pop band”.  A remarkable feat – being the only band that managed to straddle two very dissimilar groupings!).

zappafrankA man who needs no introduction, the late, great Frank Zappa – I honestly don’t think that any change in musical styles ever affected the forward velocity of this man – one of our greatest modern composers, and a genius at getting bands to play impossible music with impossible chops – there is nothing on earth like a Frank Zappa led and directed live performance.

I place him in the “existing Prog” category although Prog isn’t exactly the right way to describe the sheer genius of Zappa – I really think he remained unaffected by punk, unaffected by MTV – unless there was some aspect of it that he could manipulate to further his own aims – in which case – he would.  I think of all of the “existing artists” out there – that Frank just sailed through the 1960s. 70s and 80s without batting an eye – all just water flowing under a large musical bridge – while Frank was busy composing, arranging, or playing the most amazing lead guitar the planet has ever experienced – only Fripp and Hendrix are in the same league – and he could have taught those two a thing or two I feel certain lol.

So while I include FZ in this category – he was gloriously unaffected by the basic stupidities of (most) 1980s music.  Lucky guy, I would say.

This list of Existing Prog bands that came back in the 1980s (that is, if they were ever really “gone” in the first place) would not be complete without both the redoubtable and resilient Yes, who continued to make music in the 1980s, undergoing a radical musical transformation that I personally, in the main, do not enjoy (I was left cold by the Drama album and tour – a 70s-meets-80s experiment that in my opinion, simply did not work) but I have to acknowledge, it gave them a new lease on life that carried them far into the future, while Genesis, the Hardest Working Band In Prog (maybe) were being led by their undeniably charismatic “new” lead singer, one “Phil Collins” – and the success that Collins and co enjoyed during this decade where Prog was NOT King – is undeniable – and must have been so, so galling to the various departed members of the band who had only been with the band during the years of debt – among those, being original lead singer Peter Gabriel and renowned but long departed original guitarist Ant Phillips.

Gabriel is another one on this list, who fits right into this category very comfortably – an ex-progressive rock lead vocalist, revered for his seminal early and mid-70s progressive output on classic Genesis albums such as “Selling England By The Pound” and “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” – leaving Genesis at the height of their then-success in early 1975 to pursue a solo career.  Said career definitely took some interesting musical twists and turns, sometimes veering sharply away from prog (the first “Peter Gabriel” album for example), other times, returning to embrace it once again (the second, Robert Fripp-produced, “Peter Gabriel” album) – but, by the time of the 1980s – Gabriel‘s solo career was in full swing.

gabrielpeter

He became a star in his own right, without  Genesis, and was extremely popular with prog rock fans plus a whole new generation of fans that came to his music first, through his now-famous series of eponymously-titled albums – the first three (or four – see below) albums all being entitled “Peter Gabriel” – the fourth, finally getting an “actual” title – “Security” – although according to Wiki – it’s actually called…”Peter Gabriel”.  So there are four – not three !

Note: the fact that the first four Peter Gabriel albums had no title beyond “Peter Gabriel” (with the exception of the final one, which was ‘sometimes also known as “Security” ‘), was apparently really just too difficult for some people to understand or relate to – so interestingly, to make it easier for those who found this concept (which was Gabriel‘s idea – he wanted it to be like a newspaper – the same paper, with the same headline – but coming out at different times with different stories in them) too difficult – so people invented “names” for the albums based solely on the cover art – so strangely, many people “know” these three classic records as “Car” (Peter Gabriel I”)“Scratches” (Peter Gabriel II) and “Face” or “Melting Face” (Peter Gabriel 3).   For the fourth – well, it somehow acquired the “name” “Security”.

Personally – I like the original titles and the idea of it having the same title every time – that was unique – but – apparently this was too much of a stretch for some possibly less-pliant minds – so they invented these somewhat lame cover-art related “names” – for three albums that already had perfectly good names – or, rather, a perfectly good name.  It’s funny what lengths people will go to, to “force” something unusual or out-of-the-ordinary into terms that they are comfortable with – great lengths, it would seem, sometimes.

So along with Yes, Genesis, and Peter Gabriel, the 1980s was also an amazing time for one of the most underappreciated and hugely talented individuals that early 70s (or in this case, actually, late 1960s) progressive rock ever produced – and of course I am talking about the remarkable Peter Hammill, of the band Van Der Graaf Generator (which, incidentally, is still going strong after re-forming in 2005) – the 1980s saw Hammill evolving his solo performances, which were originally, just himself sat at the piano or sat with an acoustic guitar, singing “solo versions” of Van Der Graaf Generator songs (the bulk of which, were written by Hammill – the main writer and only lyricist in the band) as well as, singing songs from his rapidly-expanded selection of solo albums.

hammillpeterI was lucky enough to see Peter Hammill on several occasions, in differing musical settings, during the 1980s, and while I truly wish I had been able to see Van Der Graaf Generator play live “back in the day” – seeing these solo performances was actually, in a way, a far more powerful and intimate experience.  I have had the good fortune, for example, to witness Hammill, on his own at the piano, playing his remarkable suite of songs which make up the second side of his 1980 solo album “A Black Box” – a song called “Flight” – which is so difficult to play, that I was only able to work out, myself – on the piano – the first part of the song.

By far the simplest part of “Flight”- “Flying Blind” is the first of the several shorter songs that make up “Flight” in it’s entirety – whereas, Hammill reeled off the thousands and thousands of notes and chords of the entire 20 plus minutes long piece – as if it were nothing, all the while singing in that incredibly powerful, moving voice of his – seeing him play and sing “Flight” – live – by himself – as the encore of a remarkable live show – was an absolutely unforgettable experience for me.

hammill-potter-mcintoshA few years later, I was fortunate again, to see Hammill bring one of his small “ensembles” to Los Angeles, back to the Roxy which was where he always seemed to play when he was here in the US – this small group included just two other members, former Van Der Graaf bassist Nic Potter, and “pub musician” Stuart Gordon on violin.

But these two musicians – were no ordinary musicians, and I had no idea what an amazing musical experience we were all about to have – with Potter anticipating every phrase, every pause, in Hammill‘s incredibly strange vocal arrangements – and coming in on time, unfailingly – to Stuart Gordon’s “square wave violin” (my mental term for it – his violin run through guitar effects to achieve some unbelievably beautiful and/or dissonant effects) and the renditions that this band did of tracks such as “Cat’s Eye / Yellow Fever” – with it’s throbbing bass line, power chord guitar (provided by Hammill, of course!) and wild super-effected/treated violin gyrations.

I had never heard just three people sounding like a full on prog outfit on a tiny stage like the stage at the Roxy was.  What a show (you can hear a version of that show, on the Hammill album “Room Temperature” – Live – and well worth the investment I would say) it was – absolutely unforgettable – a brilliant experience.

In some ways, then, the 1980s portion of Peter Hammill’s career, moving through the amazing solo records of the early 1980s – starting with “A Black Box” (which, to give you some perspective, in 1980, this was Hammill’s TENTH solo album!) and then moving on to his very popular and quite hard rocking 1981 offering “Sitting Targets” – and then as the decade progressed, I saw tours for albums such as 1986’s “Skin” which was at yet a whole ‘nother level – the man is incredibly prolific, and each time, has a larger and larger back catalogue of songs to draw on – so that towards the end of that time, the range and power of songs that he could pull from that remarkable inventory of sensitive, emotional, moving songs became extraordinary in the extreme.

Each concert became the showcase for such a broad range of emotions and such an incredibly diverse and remarkable selection of songs, that it was just almost too much to take. What an extraordinary range and depth of feeling this man commands from the stage, with this intense and wonderful body of work that is “the Peter Hammill solo catalogue”…and it is still growing today (as of June 6, 2018 the count of his solo albums is 37 in Wikipedia), as he continues to produce albums regularly despite now being in his 70s.  What a remarkable character!

My 1980s was inhabited by all of these kinds of musical heroes – so my interest in, and my time spent listening to, what was supposedly currently popular “music” – began at a wane and pretty much disappeared completely as more and more of these amazing bands and artists from the 1960s and 70s, arrived in town in the 1980s to remind me that they were far from gone – that they were, in fact “alive and well and living in….” to phrase a coin (thanks, Ian!).

utopiaBut the list is far from complete – Todd Rundgren, and, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia – the popular 1970s comedic band “The Tubes” (they of “White Punks On Dope” fame) – so many bands from the 70s, were doing so surprisingly well in the 1980s – and, were out there on the road – proving that their music was truly alive and was far, far more real than what MTV was presenting to us as purportedly, the music of the times – that was not MY experience of the 1980s.

 

KingCrimson-1973It was only starting in 1981 that even more significant groups began to return, still working in Type Uno here – and this was a real surprise entrant – the return of the mighty King Crimson – after a seven year hiatus – Robert Fripp had returned, with only one former member of any former version of the band (Bill Bruford, on drums and electronic percussion) in tow – having created a totally re-imagined version of the band, and the success of their debut album (1981s total return to form, “Discipline”) and tour cannot be underestimated.

 

 

kingcrimson1981I can remember myself and the guys in my band, we were FLABBERGASTED at the idea that King Crimson was on tour, and was going to be playing in San Diego – at the UCSD gymnasium, of all places – but hey – we didn’t care – it was KING CRIMSON – alive and well.  This new version of King Crimson, featured bassist and Chapman stick expert Tony Levin, and the unstoppable Adrian Belew on lead guitar and lead vocals.

 

This “new” band, the utterly revitalised and recharged King Crimson – was nothing short of extraordinary.

To see a concert, in 1981, by what was supposedly at this time, a “dinosaur” band like “King Crimson” – a concert that had more musical quality in it’s worst moment, than some 1980’s “bands” could produce in an entire show – this concert was really, in comparison to most concerts – an experience of almost high art – rock music, progressive, intelligent music – elevated to a new plane of existence, with the interlocking musical gamelan of the Fripp & Belew Lead Guitar Axes Of Power – over one of the most powerful and unique rhythm sections ever envisioned – this was four of the best musicians on the planet, getting together to play a dozen or so of the most amazing songs that you had never heard.

 

The band did also include one or two “old” King Crimson songs, thrown in – probably more for the sake of nostalgia – or, more likely, because the new members of the band wanted to PLAY those songs lol – this concert was a sublime musical experience, that absolutely blew my mind – I could think of nothing else, for weeks, but that amazing, beautiful music I had witnessed – and I listened to the album constantly, trying (and failing, dismally) to unlock it’s musical secrets – what an extraordinary musical document.