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.

 

splitenz

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.

GenesisI think for me – that was the turning point – seeing King Crimson play for the first time ever; and seeing Peter Hammill and Bill Nelson and Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel and Genesis and Yes – all playing music in the early 1980s – when television might have you believing that something called “Billy Idol” was ruling the video-waves – the air-waves having now been superseded by the medium of Music Television.

Or – by someone called “Gary Numan” who apparently, was the next big thing – and I am not in any way disrespectful towards these artists – I very much respect their achievements and enjoy their music, too – and yes, they did make records in the 1980s, and sell records, and become “very popular” and so on.

But behind the scenes, in the background – were truly great (often very under-appreciated) musicians, with far more experience (and skill, I am afraid, too) who were out on the road, proving that their music was very real indeed,  given concerts displaying consummate skill and musical vision – and perhaps – at least slightly more real, than the perceived vision of what music was as presented by “MTV” and “MTV News”.

But sometimes, you have to judge by a different yardstick, and increasingly for me, it was a very, very musical yardstick – i.e. did this concert move me to tears?  Was the guitar playing such remarkable work of impassioned quality, that it will haunt my memories for years to come?  Those were the kinds of questions that I was walking away from concerts asking myself – concerts mainly by the supposedly long-dead “dinosaurs” of music – the progressive rock musicians of the 1960s and 1970s.  It was no longer really about what was supposedly popular – for me, it was becoming just about music, quality music – and nothing much else mattered.

And that is how I have really remained, to this day – I am not interested in what band sells the most records.  I am interested in what band or artists or guitarist or other instrumentalist – can do something never done before, or something unique, or something truly beautiful or skillful or ingenious.  Or – in some rare cases – all of the above.

That is what I was already evolving into in the 1980s, because I was seeing all of these amazing bands, behind the scenes – behind the very false, fabricated MTV Video World of “Music” and the MTV “Video Music Awards” and so on – none of that was what was real – what was real, were the opening notes of the title track of “Discipline” – the first piece played by the new King Crimson at their concert here held at UCSD gymnasium.

kingcrimson-disciplinecoverTo start a concert, with the final piece and the title track of your first album in over seven years – that is very probably the single most difficult to perform out of an entire album of truly difficult to perform songs – coming out and playing that song FIRST, makes a statement – that says “we can do THIS” – and “THIS” – is simply the part you had to hear, you had to be there – to believe – perfectly interlocking guitars over a sinuous and sliterhing bass part with an insistent, cymbal-less beat throbbing behind it – modern music taken to a whole new level, in a time-signature that I still can’t count to this day.

 

What a way to START a concert!

So it was truly musical experiences like this, that really take you out of yourself, and really make you consider the nature of what is beautiful, what is dissonant, how and when dissonance can be in itself, beautiful, and so on – music that MAKES you think – and think, and think.  That is how the music of “Discipline” made me feel at the time.  What a great way to celebrate the return of the much-missed King Crimson – we were SO glad they were back, and this career was to be short lived, but, would lead to ever-evolving versions of the band – this particular version, what has become to be known, curiously enough, as “the 80’s Crimson” did the bulk of it’s work, first as the band “Discipline” in 1980, and then, as “King Crimson” in 1981 – lasting just four years and producing three fine albums.

But there is still more to this story – still more former prog or former rock musicians, coming out of the woodwork now, re-inventing themselves in startling and remarkable ways.  Bill Nelson, former leader, lead singer, and lead guitarist of the 1970s prog/rock band “Be-Bop Deluxe” was out and about in the 1980s, fronting various versions of his 1979 creation “Bill Nelson’s Red Noise” and I saw one of these post-Red Noise concoctions play live at the Whisky in Los Angeles – and because it was the Whisky, and, Bill Nelson was one of my favourite English guitarists at the time – I took the opportunity to situate myself just in front of his pedalboard (which absolutely fascinated me, it was very, very long and thin and had about a dozen pedals on it, most of which, I was utterly unfamiliar with) and once again, I proceeded to have my musical thought processes melted away and re-formed several times during the evening’s proceedings.

nelsonbill74

Nelson is just one of those people that is ridiculously talented, and can make music with anything he turns his hand to.  Tonight though – it was all about the guitar, and actually seeing him play, at such close range, was a rare privilege indeed for me – to be able to watch how he created the chord shapes and guitar parts that made up these songs that I so, so loved – “A Kind Of Loving” or “Do You Dream In Colour” or even the bizarre “Youth Of Nation On Fire”.

 

 

He played an outrageously cool selection of songs from his first couple of solo records – and it was again, an absolutely unique and totally unforgettable musical experience.  What a show!

This show also included a real moment of drama, as Bill‘s beautiful pedalboard FAILED after one song, so, philosophically, he watched the technician hauling away his entire bank of effects – and saying something about how it may be difficult later on, when he gets into some of the more complex changes of sound… he then turned around, with a determined look on his face – plugged his guitar lead directly into his Music Man combo amp – tested a nice, chunky, distorted power chord – and launched into the next song – sans all effects.

Hearing that song played with raw, straight, unaffected guitar – was an absolute revelation for me – an amazing experience – of a true artist’s grace under pressure –  he handled it like a pro – no problem – just got on with the song, sang and played it beautifully, and then happily, took delivery of his now-repaired pedalboard just in time for the next song to begin.

nelsonbill1980sThey never really missed a beat – the whole “incident” only slowed the show by literally, two minutes – and what a unique and unusual thing to witness – that made it particularly unforgettable – getting to hear the absolutely raw – guitar-straight-into-amp Bill Nelson style – and it ROCKED.  He didn’t lean on his pedals for support to hide weak playing, as some players (myself included – I hasten to add) do – he used them to enhance and improve the sound of his guitar.   But – I could have happily watched and listened to the whole show with the guitar-directly-into-amp scenario, too – with – or without a big pedalboard full of exotic gutiar effects – either way is absolutely fine by me.

 

I would say that during the first few years of the 1980s, that Bill Nelson re-invented himself and his music, on a par and very much in parallel, with the way Robert Fripp re-invented and re-imagined his own role in the new King Crimson.  Gone were the trappings of “rock star” / Be-Bop Deluxe frontman Nelson – no more costumes or make-up or TV appearances were needed – no more limousines – just – music – music as experiment, and I can remember buying his first solo single, the aforementioned “Do You Dream In Colour?” on 7 inch vinyl which included two B-sides that I liked even better than the A side – and that was the start of a truly remarkable series of records – that moved through areas of music that I can scarcely describe using just words – those words would be “GO now, and listen, ye, to these two albums”:

  1. Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam by Bill Nelson
  2. The Love That Whirls (Diary Of A Thinking Heart) by Bill Nelson

See – now I don’t need to try and describe how incredibly diverse and musically amazing those two early solo records are – not to mention – some of the most astonishing lead guitar work I had ever heard Nelson play – even on the opening track of “Quit Dreaming…” a song called “Banal”, ironically enough – there is a solo so dramatic, so silken smooth and flowing – so, NOT “banal” in any way – and I think that is the point – you have this hard-edged, almost frightening riff playing throughout this song  – but when it finally bursts into this solo – you get a few moments of the old 1970s Be-Bop Deluxe sweet sweet flowing lead guitar on 1980s steroids – simply amazing guitar work on this record – other pieces of note include one of my personal favourites of Bill’s – another strange one, “U.H.F.” which has a beautifully-flanged lead vocal, and again, absolutely amazing, dissonant / unique lead guitar throughout – this one is another that is just astonishing in terms of the quality and passion of guitar playing – it’s off the scale, it really is.

nelsonbillrecentSo Bill Nelson – in the early 1980s – was in every way, an ever-exploring pioneer of new kinds of musics, and his bands were hand-picked to deliver that music with the greatest impact.  I was so, so fortunate that I was able to drive up to Los Angeles to see that gig – what an absolutely unforgettable night that was!!  Standing there, just a few feet away from someone with such consummate skill with the guitar – it seemed effortless to him – autopilot on, and now – play.  sing.  perform.

 

But – it was a faultless, unbelievably professional, polished performance – Bill took his bands and his music very seriously indeed, and this outfit was more than road-worthy – they played his music – the way it was meant to be played.

 

I have now, I believe, spent more than enough time talking about Type Uno artists – however – believe it or not, I didn’t even make it past about 1983 in assembling the examples above.  If I were to continue on in this vein for the rest of the 1980s, I would add in another dozen or so examples of Type Uno artists – those ex-rock or ex-prog musicians who, for the most part – trod a very different path in the 1980s, from what their previous careers back in the 1970s had been.

And sometimes, as in the case of both King Crimson and Bill Nelson – that led to some absolutely extraordinary music and, live concerts that represented that recorded music.  I felt so, so fortunate to have been there to witness that – especially the re-birth of King Crimson  – that was almost miraculous.

Crimson was one of several bands, that I literally thought I would never, ever get to see – because from my perspective – they had suddenly disbanded in 1974 – never to return as far as we knew.

So that was a welcome return to form – along with, experiencing the new musical directions of Bill Nelson, Peter Hammill or any number of existing, surviving rock and prog people – all of them, doing so incredibly well (who knew???) in the supposedly-musically-“dead” 1980s!  The more I thought about it – the more I realised, that in some ways, the 80s were almost MORE musically rich for me than the 1970s were – for one thing, I got in a FULL 10 years of concert-going, versus the seven I had managed in the 1970s (and that was only due to my age – not through choice) – so I had an “extra” three years in which to have even more incredible 1980s concert experiences.

For another thing – these artists – who were AMAZING during the 1970s – had come back, bringing new ideas; new technologies; new ways of thinking about music; new recordings; and most importantly to me – concert tours where their faithful, loyal fans could still go and see and hear them play – and as often as not, I was totally surprised by how much these artists had grown and evolved – always, in such a positive way – that I now view the 1980s as a really, really positive decade – in terms of my overall, over-time concert experiences.

Who else, then – would I place into the Type Uno category – before I delve into Type Dos – well, a quick further check of setlist.fm’s listing for user “pureambient” (that’s me, by the way) reveals that the illustrious company noted above would also be joined by jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, populists Hall & Oates (who I only became interested in, after hearing Daryl Hall’s remarkable collaboration with Robert Fripp, “Sacred Songs” from 1980 – another overlooked Fripp-produced masterpiece – and Fripp was so insistent that Hall was so good – that I had to go and see for myself.  He was.  He was an amazing singer).

roxymusicThen, there was the early-80s version of Roxy Music which, by 1983 when I saw them for the second time, had mutated so far away from their original Prog roots, that they seemed to be a completely different band – one that very well might have been better named “The Bryan Ferry Orchestra” and be done with it – with Phil Manzanera and Andy MacKay physically present at the concert, but, reduced to the roles of glorified sidemen by the rather large ego of one Bryan Ferry…

 

The only redemption, for me, was that Phil Manzanera was permitted to perform ONE of his songs – and chose to play “Impossible Guitar” which I absolutely love – so I was fortunate to get to see that rarely-performed-live piece of brilliant guitar work – made an otherwise difficult to stomach Roxy concert, much more bearable.  By way of contrast,  when I saw Roxy in 1979, four years earlier – they were then already on their way towards this not-so-good musical place, but – there was still some prog left in them, and they played a few good versions of a few older tunes back in 79.  Not so at the 1983 concert that I saw – which was pretty disappointing to say the least.

belewadrianAdrian Belew – well, he was around in the 70s, although more in the role of very talented sideman to either Frank Zappa or later, David Bowie – and I felt very, very fortunate to get to see him with his original band, “Gaga” – at the wonderfully tiny San Diego State venue of The Back Door (a music venue so small, that even ***I*** have performed there in the past – lol).

Belew and his band were absolutely unbelievably talented, funny and skilled – and it was a truly memorable evening for fans of the eccentric electric guitarist – the only true successor to the performance spaces that Jimi Hendrix used to inhabit – Belew fills that void to some degree.

More gigs for guitarists – now this was another aspect of the remarkable, the impossible things that happened in the 1980s – that you would have thought, would either be impossible, or only could have happened in the 70s – but – not so – I am talking about now, one of the most incredible performances I have ever seen – Paco De Lucia, Al DiMeola, and John McLaughlin – what a line-up.  Three legends of the guitar – each with their own style – and the combination of the three together, performing a variety of impossible pieces – was like nothing I had ever seen before and I am not likely to ever see again – everyone I know who went to this – will know what I am talking about – this was about skill, passion and grace – and these three gentlemen had lots of all of those things.  It was…amazing.

guitartrio1A year later, the trio returned – and this time, joining them on steel string acoustic guitar – was none other than future Deep Purple lead guitarist and Dixie Dregs alumnus Steve Morse – a guitarist I have seen many times – with the Dixie Dregs (another group that is in this category, that I was lucky enough to see during the 1980s)

morsesteveLater, Morse created the “Steve Morse Band” (yet ANOTHER group that is in this category, that I was lucky enough to see during the 1980s), I even got to see Morse performing at a guitar clinic in a local music store – an immensely skilled and talented player. Adding Morse to that trio (DeLucia, DiMeola, and McLaughlin) – created the single most remarkable mini-orchestra of guitarists that the mind could imagine – the Impossible Quartet – and that show was even better than the standard trio show that I saw the previous year.  What an experience!

And then – I went to see Allan Holdsworth.  I was beginning to get into jazz, a little bit – I’ve never really played it, but, I do have huge respect for those that play it well – the “Pat Metheny”s and so on in this world – but – Allan Holdsworth – who, again, was around in the 1970s, so he definitely falls into the Type Uno category – is a guitarist on an entirely different Guitar Planet.  To this day, I have never before or since seen a modern jazz guitarist, or in fact, any guitarist outside of the classical tradition, with the kind of a) encyclopedic knowledge of scales, modes, chords and….everything there is to know about a guitar fretboard and b) incredible, incredible, speed – I’ve never found another like Allan Holdsworth.

holdsworthI can remember sitting on the edge of the stage, just watching his left hand, trying so hard to figure out what on earth chords he was playing – as he played through one of my very favourite of his pieces – “The Things You See (When You Haven’t Got Your Gun)” – and there is this beautiful beautiful chord progression, that he “swells” into a big delay and reverb setting – and it’s just sublimely beautiful,

And as I watched, I realised, that even with my twenty some odd years of guitar playing experience at that time – that I literally, had absolutely NO idea what those shapes indicated – I could not understand WHAT CHORDS the man was playing.  I knew one thing though – they are beautiful.  Still are.

Later, I found out why – when I got ahold of an Allan Holdsworth music book – and the title of the book pretty much explains why a guitarist of 20 years plus experience, had no idea what it was that he was seeing and hearing when watching Allan Holdsworth play – the book is called “Reaching For The Uncommon Chord”.  THAT is why.  Because he uses inversions that most people can’t even FORM with their fingers.  “Uncommon” is exactly the right word – and seeing him play, hearing him do this – live – opened my eyes to whole new UNIVERSE of sounds and ideas that I think, I am still absorbing today – almost thirty years later.

What a remarkable guitarist – and a really nice person too, very approachable. Sadly, Allan passed away very recently – and it was a huge, huge loss to the guitar-playing, and listening, community.  An absolute Hendrix-Order, Zappa-Order, Higher-Order guitarist unique in so very many ways.  Not, however…for the faint of heart – Holdsworth is possible a musician best appreciated by other musicians as his playing style may be too intense for the public to absorb or appreciate.  If there ever was a “guitarist’s guitarist” – it was Allan Holdsworth.

Every time I think I have exhausted the list of possibly Type Unos – I find still more to add to the list – the aforementioned Richard Thompson whose career soared during the 1980s – including a lot of excellent performances both on acoustic guitar and with full “electric” band – I was lucky enough to see both types – and also, the aforementioned band Richard used to be in, Fairport Convention, who also enjoyed a resurgence of their own during the late 1980s, possibly thanks to their close touring association with the unstoppable Jethro Tull.

At the end of the 1980s, re-emerged one of the first of the many, many, many different re-configurations of the band Yes – which featured the classic five man lineup of Yes without bassist Chris Squire.  I went to see this strange band in 1989, whose first and only album was pretty underwhelming, largely because of the possibility of seeing these four ex-members of Yes, playing older Yes material live in concert.

It was – interesting.  Originally, they had Tony Levin as their stand-in replacement for the very difficult to replace Chris Squire – and that was what I had been looking forward to – only to find out, that Levin had dropped out early on, and had been hastily replaced by Jeff Berlin.  Now – Jeff Berlin is one of the most amazing bass guitarists on the planet.  I’ve seen Berlin play in a tiny club with Allan Holdsworth and Chad Wackerman, and Berlin was actually, clearly, the bass-playing equivalent of Allan Holdsworth – they were a match.  How Wackerman ever kept up with those too, will always be a mystery – stunning musicianship.

But Jeff Berlin is more of an improviser’s improviser, so the idea of him playing Chris Squire’s very inventive but, very structured bass parts – well, to my mind, it just seemed like a WEIRD idea.  And in concert – well, Jeff was fine.  Jeff played all the right notes – but the feel, was all wrong – he played with a jazz, loose feel, which did not suit Squire’s intended style – so it just sounded so odd to my ears.  Not entirely successful – four experienced prog guys – with a super jazzy improvising loose bass player – no.  I wished I’d seen the Levin version…but alas.  ABWH were short-lived, and I think that is possibly a good thing.  Yes is just not Yes without Chris Squire – let’s face it.  It’s just not quite right without him.

Finally, again near the end of the 1980s, we had some glimpses of the future – Adrian Belew’s pop project, “The Bears” started making records and went out on tour, and I for one was very much enamoured of their approach – I loved the idea of two lead guitars, bass and drums, where often, both of the guitarists were playing “backwards guitar” as they sang and played live – I loved that.  I have always been a huge fan of reverse guitar, and seeing the huge grins on the faces of Rob Fetters and Adrian Belew while they were both playing backwards – it’s as much fun to do, as it is to hear!  I saw The Bears a number of times, and they are an extremely quality pop group as you would expect – excellent music.

And then – Robert Fripp and the League of Crafty Guitarists – not a “band” in the traditional sense, this latest Fripp invention – was simply Fripp performing in public on acoustic guitar, with a group of the then-best Guitar Craft students.  The repertoire was written in part by Fripp, and in part by members of “the League” and it’s a most interesting presentation – playing in Fripp’s “new standard tuning” for guitar – this was a most inspirational group to witness playing live – but in one sense, it’s also one of the most radical of re-imagining’s possible – to get from King Crimson in the 1960s and 1970s, to the League of Gentlemen in 1980, to the League of Crafty Guitarists in the late 80s and also, on into the future – that was Robert Fripp – always moving forward on so many different musical planes.

Type Uno groups that I did NOT see – the list is just staggeringly long, I am sure, but while I am on the subject – Robert Fripp’s “dance combo” the aforementioned League of Gentlemen” were one of the hottest musical properties of the year 1980.  A four piece led by Fripp and ex-XTC keyboard wizard Barry Andrews – that is one band I really, really wish I had the opportunity to see play live.  Ach well as they say…

 

Type Dos

– New, emerging bands, or, complete rebuilds of older bands that mutated into new bands – so in this category the most obvious is the one I have already mentioned, Marillion, and, the other one I have already mentioned, Crowded House.

This category does include a few bands that may well have existed in the very last part of the 1970s, but I would still class them as new not so much in that they are brand new in the 1980s, but they were not necessarily full-established or very experienced when compared to most of the Type Uno bands – many of whose roots went all the way back to the beginning of the 1970s or even into the 1960s.

There is a huge difference in an artist who formed a band in 1968, coming back to perform live and make records in the 1980s, and a band formed in 1979 that then continues on into the 1980s as part of their natural evolution – those to my mind, are “new emerging bands” – I have just taken slight poet license on when they emerged – and if I were to just adjust the time period, this silly concept of two types would work a bit better – but for now, it’s what I am working with.

The first half of the 1980s, for me – according again to my setlist.fm list of concerts attended – was a pretty sparse time for new bands with new music.

I did see a few of the most important bands of the 1980s, most notably, the great XTC, but there were far far more bands that I never did see – because mainly, to be totally honest – I was spending my time and my money, attending concerts by Type Uno artists – artists I knew and loved, and, who I knew would not let me down by giving a poor concert.

So I continued to attend concerts with a definite 1970s mindset – and that worked for me – and if you look at the list above compared to this listing of Type Dos shows attended – it’s absolutely pathetic in comparison.  I was only making an almost-token effort to include Type Dos bands in my concert-going – but if truth be told – that was mainly because – there were not that many Type Dos bands that I really enjoyed the sound of.

In some cases, I wonder exactly why I went – for example, I attended an outdoor summer extravaganza, three bands playing live, beginning with Madness, then, Oingo Boingo, then, headliners The Police.  Now this was a competently-performed set, all three bands had something to offer – but, in hindsight – I believe I enjoyed Madness far more than I enjoyed The Police.  I was never that huge of a fan of The Police, and I think it was more about peer pressure – everyone at the place I was working was going to the show – so would I go?  Sure – why not?

I have never, ever been a fan of the music of Danny Elfman, leader and creator of Oingo Boingo, and I just think it’s absolutely silly music – not for me, at all – meant to be “funny” – but – it isn’t.  Madness were terrific – great energy, good chops – a lot of fun, and a lot of musical credibility.  Then I suffered through Oingo Boingo.  Then, I did enjoy the set by The Police but it was more about wow look at that drum kit or, wow, Sting really can play the bass AND sing at the same time – look – he’s doing it.

Or rather – doing part of it – they did have three background singers, which makes the whole idea of being “just a trio” a bit silly – and I felt it was really unnecessary.  It seemed to me, that it would have been much, much better if we could have heard what JUST the three of them could do, live – now that might have been interesting. They played a competent set, with songs from every album including the then-new “Synchronicity” which for them, was ultra-complex.  They did a credible job – but that’s what it seemed like, more of a chore, a task, a job to be done – they didn’t seem like they were having any fun at all – and their lack of enjoyment was contagious.

I hope that others will remember that concert more happily than I do, but my overall impression was of being underwhelmed by The Police, and not liking Oingo Boingo one bit (I still don’t).  But – every cloud has a silver lining – at least I got to see Madness – they were great – awesome performance.

Still sticking with the mainstream, again, not really sure WHY I went – outdoor show in summer time?  nice weather?  for some inexplicable reason, I went to see Men At Work.  It was not particularly memorable.  I still do not know why I went.  In this same category, I would place The Motels, a group I barely remember – and I don’t remember a particular song I like or anything – no idea.  Those two shows – which I did attend – just flew past almost unnoticed.

I did also, however, see some very real and very powerful live performances – the aforementioned XTC among them – but I would say one other of those, was Gang Of Four.  Now – this was a band I knew absolutely nothing about, I had not heard them play – and the other guitarist in my then-band, Slipstream absolutely INSISTED that I should go to this concert – so, we went – it was a long, long drive up to LA I remember – and I was absolutely transfixed and shocked by the band once they started playing.  I have never before or since seen a band quite like this one – dark, powerful, with a lot on their minds – and deadly serious about what they were playing, and what they were saying.

With tunes like “(Love Like) Anthrax” or “Armalite Rifle” and heavily politically inspired lyrics, I found it to be a very powerful and musical experience.  The music was  – jarring.  But – this “post punk” outfit – really stuck in my memory, and I am grateful to my pal in the band for being so insistent that I attend – because I am glad that I did.  I hadn’t seen much or many bands that had a political agenda (unless you count U2 – which come on, you can’t seriously count U2???) so it was a breath of fresh air in that sense – not you ordinary love songs here – but songs that meant something.  It was a really different musical experience too, and one that was thought-provoking at the very least.

xtcliveMost important to me, was seeing XTC play live in what turned out to be, their last ever live performance – they played in San Diego where I saw them – and then, in LA the next night – they did not show up, because Andy Partridge was on his way home to escape a world of nightmares from touring and over use of prescription medications.

They never did really return to the stage – but – it also ushered in their “XTC’s Golden Age of Studio Recordings” – where, much like the Beatles – their music really, really changed once they left the stage behind for good.

XTC’s performance itself ,was absolutely amazing:  Andy was filled with so much incredible energy, and the band were animated and lively – Dave Gregory was especially amazing – bouncing back and forth between lead guitar and lead synthesizer – and the band’s vocals were also great – Colin and Andy sounded so, so good together.  I am so, so glad I went to this – I had been getting more and more into their music, and I thought why not – that should be a good show.  I never dreamed for a moment, that I would witness the last live concert by the band – wow.  What a shock to find out after the fact, that Andy had fallen very ill and returned to the UK – swearing that he would never perform live again.  Sadly – he kept that promise – mostly.

After seeing Gang Of Four first, and then, XTC, in the first part of the 1980s – was unfortunately, for me, the highlight – the rest of my Type Dos experience wasn’t quite so memorable – but I will have a go anyway:

Starting with Asia – now, in one sense, you could almost class Asia as a Type Uno band – except – what band would that have been back in the 1970s?  King Crimson?  Yes?  ELP?  Because they were not a direct descendant of one particular band – I have to class them as Type Dos – but the music they brought to the mid-80s, definitely had more of the feel of a Type Uno band.

JohnWettonAsia then – as a new “prog” band – with ex-Family, ex-King Crimson bassist and vocalist John Wetton on bass and lead vocals, with Steve Howe. ex-Yes on lead guitar, and with Carl Palmer, ex-Emerson, Lake & Palmer on drums – and, some guy called Geoff Downes on keyboards – this was a “new” band, playing “new” music.  Oh – I so, so wanted this band to be good…

 

Their debut album was a bit confusing – slightly proggy, but overlaid with a sort of sickly sheen of popiness that felt forced at best.  It was just – weird.  But I went to the show, to see the PLAYERS – not so much for the band, and certainly not for the album.  And – the players were good – again, Wetton is more than competent he played and sang well – it was fine.  Steve Howe did his usual high quality lead guitar work, nothing disappointing there – and Carl was a fine drummer for the outfit.

Perhaps it’s better if I just leave it at that – rather than try to analyse it any further – this SHOULD have been a great band, but I remember being so disappointed by everything – the album, the show – that I never bought (or heard) their second album, or anything they ever did after that.  I just lost interest immediately.  A missed opportunity.  A failed attempt at commercial success?  Something funny going on there – I don’t really know what.  But somehow – it just did not work.

On a couple of occasions during the 1980s, I went to see Elvis Costello play, usually with the Attractions in tow – and this was one of those weirdly unsatisfying things – it should have been excellent – but it was just OK.  They played well – very well.  The songs are good – but something about it – it just did not have the excitement, nothing urgent, in a lot of ways, it did not seem like “live” music – but more, an accurate re-creation of studio music.  I know that must sound weird – but I hope you can get what I am meaning.

On the surface – Elvis Costello and the Attractions put on a really good concert. But below the surface, there was something dissatisfying about the whole experience, that one could not put one’s finger on – I don’t know WHAT it was – but I felt let down, I felt disappointed – I think I thought that he would be amazing – and when he turned out to be just some guy with a guitar – well, I ended up feeling a sense of disappointment.

Then, things took a slightly upward turn, and the quality of the Type Dos bands I was going to see play, started to improve again – and that began with a gig by the revitalised Pretenders.  I am so, so glad that I got to see this band play in 1984, and I think that Chrissie Hynde is absolutely a musical genius – to write these songs, to go to Britain and put this band together – and then to succeed so well – I am so so happy that she did this.

pretenders

It didn’t last long – my personal favourite record of theirs being the astonishing Pretenders II – I think after those first two remarkable records – that things began to go downhill a bit – but when I saw them – they were at the height of their powers – and those were not insignificant.  Chrissie herself, is a powerful performer, and her approach to her vocals and her guitar playing – stick in the brain, and she definitely left a good impression on me.  I am very glad that I  chose to go see this band play live – an awesome experience.

 

The Pretenders’ opening / support act, however, the much hyped The Alarm – left me pretty cold.  I felt like they were competing for musical space with U2 – and to be honest – no one was, or is, competing for that space (!) – it’s not really a desirable musical space to inhabit !!!  But they seemed to me, like a third-rate impersonation of U2 – and while that may be overly-cruel on my part – I cannot think of a kinder way to express what for me, is a true assessment of how The Alarm sounded – “68 Guns” – maybe – but none of them were loaded.  Or they only brought 49 of those guns with them on this night – I am not sure.

Another double bill of new, emerging bands was Big Country with support from the forgettable Wire Train – and I think that my interest in Big Country was probably almost entirely derived from the fact that Stuart Adamson had been a huge fan of Bill Nelson = something he held in common with me.  The band were fine, nothing wrong with them – but nothing hugely memorable, either.  I can’t really remember Wire Train at all – much as I would like to say something about them – I cannot – I have absolutely no idea.  So this was another one that just flew past me, almost unnoticed…

I have to mention (by contract I am afraid) that I did see the band Berlin, or at least, I saw part of their set – but I hasten to add this disclaimer – going to see Berlin was never my intention – I was going for one reason, and one reason alone – not to see Terri Nunn or hear her telling us about all the roles she could play – but to hear the opening act – Bill Nelson – with a full band, on the very short “Mountains Of The Heart” tour.  And Nelson was amazing – he was not happy that night, as Berlin had used up all of the sound check time, leaving Nelson NO time to sound check his own band.

So, as retaliation (which, while juvenile in the extreme. was actually, appropriate under the circumstances) Bill decided to extend his set by an extra six or seven minutes – making Berlin wait, making Berlin late to get on stage – and he did this, much to MY good fortune, by taking a super-extended, in the spotlight, energy bow guitar solo – which was extraordinary – I’ve never heard of Bill Nelson doing this before or since – the last song had ended – but he continued playing his beautiful, powerful sustained e-bow sound – and he played and played and played – I was absolutely overjoyed.  Eventually, he relented, thanking the audience and apologising for the short set – MADE short by the thoughtlessness of the people in the band Berlin.

So while I went to a Berlin concert – it was not to see Berlin, and I actually left during one of the first few songs of their unremarkable set.  Going home was preferable to seeing Berlin play live.  Seeing and hearing Bill Nelson play an amazing short set of fantastic songs, followed by a really long “spite” guitar solo – was absolutely astonishing.  A fantastic experience!

marillionPerhaps the single most significant of all of the Type Dos bands – would be Marillion.  Bursting onto the scene in the early 1980s, but apparently believing that it was actually, still 1974 – this remarkable band of Englishmen led by one slightly mad Scotsman – became quite successful despite the fact that their music was a direct throwback to the 1970s – people didn’t seem to mind, because Fish and Marillion were brilliant on stage, Fish was incredibly friendly and personal both on and off stage, and the time that they flourished – up until 1987, when singer Fish left the band after the classic album “Clutching At Straws”.  This was a great time in music.

Fish, having his remarkable, very, very prog-sounding outfit out on tour, making retro-prog albums, playing retro-prog live and everyone loving it – what a fantastic and probably impossible thing to happen.

I really enjoyed the music of Fish and Marillion during the 1980s, and even though they SOUNDED like a Type Uno band – they are definitely the archetype of a Type Dos band – a new emerging band with a unique presence and quality music, too.

On a short trip to Britain, by complete accident, I happened to go to see a Japanese heavy metal band, Vow Wow, playing at the Marquee in London.  I wasn’t really meant to be there, I went almost by accident, but it was an enjoyable-enough experience – the band were OK, not great, but not bad – but for me, just being in the room where all of my Type Uno heroes had played – from the Move to King Crimson – was enough – at least I can say I’ve seen a show at the Marquee – OK, I wish it had been by a band that I knew, or that I liked – but – it was better than nothing lol.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S. was another attempt at a sort of Asia-style supergroup, the ill-fated GTR.  Now – I never did get the first GTR album – because after I saw them play – I would not have, and did not, want to have it.  Again – this was touted as an amazing new group, led by two of the best guitarists in progressive rock – Steve Howe and Steve Hackett.  To me – that was an irresistible combination of talent and skill – it HAD to be good !!  It wasn’t.

There was nothing good about it – singer Max Bacon was so unremarkable, that all I remember is his name.  I also do not know who else, apart from the two famous guitarists – was in the band.  None of that mattered – because they just were not very good.  I don’t remember or know a single song by them.  It’s almost as if history, ashamed of itself, has erased most of the memories of this band – to hide it’s shame.  And I am part of that – eager to believe in these two superhero guitarists – in practice – it was nothing but a huge let down – a real disappointment.  Not recommended – at all.

Towards the end of the 1980s, I ended up seeing a truly mixed bag of new, emerging artists – Type Dos artists – which included the then-very-popular Suzanne Vega, a lesser-known but far more talented singer called Maria McKee, as well as, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum of female singers – the band X from LA.  I won free tickets to see X – which I enjoyed far more than I thought I might – I particularly enjoy John Doe’s singing.

Then came what I might term as the Unavoidable Event – part of you, really did not want to go – but – you felt like you were obliged to – everyone you knew – was going – so I held out for a long time – and then ended up getting really, really horrible seats for – at the back of the Sports Arena, in literally, the VERY top row – so far up, I am surprised I did not get nosebleed – and that didn’t help my enjoyment of the show.

Having a point of view from behind the stage did have advantages, I could see what The Edge was doing really well, and his confidence and obvious skill, along with his basic humility – well, his was an impressive performance.  But sadly, U2 is not really about The Edge – it’s about one man, who I shall call, for the sake of humour – Knucklehead Smith.  That guy – the leader of said band – was just as over the top, as loud, as not funny – as we all expected him to be.  For me – he was the low point of the show.  The band could play.  But could he sing?  Sort of.

It was OK.  I wasn’t bad.  Some of the songs were pretty exciting, and the guitar work could not be faulted.  I suppose I am glad in a way, to give me a more well-rounded view of what the 1980s were all about – that I saw U2 live.  But I could have done without Knucklehead Smith – he is one crazy dude.

The last concert I remember from the 1980s, was held in a tiny club, a concert given by a new guitarist on the scene, who was just releasing his very first album, which he called “Surfing With The Alien” .  Once again, not quite sure why I was there – but I am very glad that I was – because I got to see the original, the most humble, the most basic Joe Satriani – before he became a “big star” – and it was a good, good concert – very modern, the guitar sounds were great, it was clear he was a really good player – and I left quite impressed with this young man and his guitar.  The fact that he went on to such incredible heights of fame – and that it all began with that one album – and I was lucky enough to have been there, to see the birth – to see the very beginning of Joe’s very successful career as a guitarist – more power to him.

That – my friends – was my 1980s concert experience!

 

Never Thought I Would See The Day When…

I simply love live music, and really, there can never be enough good concerts each year – or each decade for that matter – there is always someone that I missed out seeing “back in the day” or newer artists that I want to check out live – there is always something going on.  I feel very fortunate indeed that I have been able to see so many great concerts.  Moving to Britain was also a hugely fortunate thing in terms of me being able to see bands performing live that did not regularly play in far-off San Diego, California (where I lived for the first half of my life) and so many bands that I never got the chance to see when I lived in California, I have not only seen but in some cases, I have been able to see performing live several times.

This includes bands or artists – and mind you, these are bands or artists that I firmly believed I would never, ever get to see play live –  such as:

  • Caravan Caravan
  • Gong       gong
  • Muse  muse
  • Neil Young     neil

 

 

To my ever-lasting astonishment, I did eventually get to see these four bands – and it was difficult to believe it was happening until the actual moment – came – and for example, with Neil Young, whose music I had loved since I was a teenager – at age 13, two of his songs were among the songs that the very first band I was ever in’s repertoire, so I basically grew up with Neil Young as the soundtrack to my life – but everytime he played in San Diego, I couldn’t go, or I didn’t find out until too late, or it sold out or any number of things – and I ended up never seeing him play.

Little did I imagine that I would see him years and years and years later, in Glasgow, Scotland, playing one of the most amazing sets of original music I have ever seen, with his new band “Promise of the Real”.  It was an extraordinary night, and a long-held dream come true – and, he played so many of the songs that I truly, truly loved, including “Alabama” and “Words (Between The Lines Of Age)” from the 1972 classic album “Harvest”.  I just could not believe it was happening…I was seeing Neil play in this surreal situation, thousands of miles away from California where I would have thought and expected that I would see him play.  It’s funny how things work out.

I can’t remember feeling so happy, so very satisfied with a concert – the songs were all good, the band was extremely good and Neil was just Neil – a remarkable man full of the most remarkable songs but also, a world-class lead guitarist with a style that is as unique in it’s own way, as a Zappa or a Hendrix might be – there is only one Neil Young, unmistakable, as he takes “old black” through it’s paces – and I was lucky enough to hear and see him soloing quite a bit that night.  Really fortunate.

So in cases like these four, and others I mentioned in my previous blog – it seems that dreams really, really can come true.

 

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 1980s is a pretty staggering list of remarkable, talented musicians:

 

 

Forward…into the future!

So in conclusion – for me, the 80s were a far, far more exciting time musically, for me, than I actually had expected it to be – because I largely ignored what the media would have had me believe was “my experience of music” in the 1980s – and instead, I spent my time and money on going to live music concerts put on by both Type Uno and Type Dos artists – which gave me a great mixture of very, very experienced musicians from the 1960s and 1970s, updating and renewing their sound for the tech of the 1980s, while the Type Dos shows gave me an idea of what new bands were around, what they sounded like, and how they compared to the more familiar Type Unos that I knew so very well.

Starting my decade with the musics of Frank Zappa, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Queen, Genesis, and Yes – and that was just in the FIRST 10 months of 1980 – on up to and including Peter Hammill, King Crimson, XTC, Bill Nelson, Allan Holdsworth, and Peter Gabriel – and finally, up towards the end of the decade, the Dixie Dreg’s, Adrian Belew’s “The Bears”,  Richard Thompson (electric band this time!) and Robert Fripp with his League of Crafty Guitarists  – and many, many more – once again, I had an enormous amount of fun – and I realise now that for me, that my idea of “fun” is quite different from that of most people – I have a lot more fun when I am watching and listening to an incredibly talented lead guitarist (or in some cases, a pair of amazing guitarists – like Robert Fripp & Adrian Belew of King Crimson – or Adrian Belew & Rob Fetters of The Bears), playing as part of an incredibly talented band that has worked out an amazing repertoire of impossibly beautiful, and possibly technically demanding songs – now – that’s MY idea of fun!

Until next time then again–

 

Dave Stafford
June 6, 2018

 

Next time on Decade By Decade – The Live Concert Experience / Overview:

The Sinuous 1990s – The many-headed stylistic beast

 

1980s Concert Ticket Stub Collection (courtesy Dave Stafford)

1980sConcert Ticket Stubs – 1980s

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It was 45 years ago today…

DECADE BY DECADE – THE LIVE CONCERT EXPERIENCE / OVERVIEW

EPISODE 1:  The 1970s

 

It actually was – 45 years ago TODAY, literally – today – May 28, 2018 – or for me. in this first of a number of upcoming concert reminiscences – it was actually, May 28, 1973 – and as my first blog of 2018 (finally!) and the first in a series of blogs about live music, concerts, tickets stubs, setlist.fm, and associated items – this one kicks off with a doozy:

The mighty Led Zeppelin – performing live at the San Diego Sports Arena !

Sports Arena

San Diego Sports Arena

The first real ROCK CONCERT I ever went to – I was 15 years old, a sophomore at Grossmont High School, in La Mesa, California – an incredibly gawky, awkward teenage boy with long, straight hair half-way down my back, six foot six of far-too-skinny raging metabolism…and there I was.  Standing up there in the CRUSH at the foot of the stage of the San Diego Sports Arena, waiting for Led Zeppelin, my favourite band – to walk onto the stage.

It was all new to me.  I’d never been in a crowd that large before – never.  I’d never smelled that much…herbal scented smoke before.  I’d never seen the sight that became commonplace for me over the next several years – at the Sports Arena in particular – the sight of dozens of Frisbees flying back and forth, criss-crossing across the length and breadth of the place – and the wonderful haze created by that same scented smoke that cast a mysterious fog over the entire proceedings.   And quite possibly, over my state of mind.

Sports Arena - Seating Chart

San Diego Sports Arena – Seating Chart

People playing, talking excitedly, yelling – cheering – bouncing giant beach balls back and forth, mixed in with the endless frisbees…and all the other fun stuff that people do to pass the time while they wait for their favourite band to come on.  This is one of those experiences that you look back on, and you can quite clearly recall the real sense of excitement that was in that place on that day – this wasn’t just any concert – it was Led Zeppelin – all the way from Britain – to play for San Diego!

 

During the show, I saw a few MORE things I had never seen before – like an attractive girl sat on her boyfriend’s shoulders, proudly displaying both of her bare breasts so that Led Zeppelin, presumably, could have a look at them – along with the other 35,000 people in the audience, of course.  This was a girl – who was NOT shy.  Another first for me.

 

For a 15 year old boy, a boy who was already a guitarist, already trying to be the “NEXT Jimmy Page“, already learning Zeppelin songs and riffs – many of which, I still play to this date – 45 years later – I kept trying to “be” Jimmy Page for a number of years, when I finally decided it might be better to try to be myself on the guitar rather than copy someone else – even someone as talented as Jimmy Page.

 

But as a formative influence – along with Eric Clapton, Robert Fripp, and others – you can’t beat a bit of Mr. Page – a very interesting and very capable guitarist, musician and writer.  If you think too, about the development of Led Zeppelin, just as one example, from the relatively simple chord patterns of  the songs from Led Zeppelin I, say, something like “Communication Breakdown” to the incredibly complex guitar parts that make up the opening track on the band’s fifth album “Houses of the Holy” – the truly remarkable “The Song Remains The Same” – still a personal favourite of mine even after all of those years.

Meanwhile…back in 1973 – there was the long build-up to the show, the endless waiting outside which, eventually and suddenly, became a mad sprint to try to get as close to the stage as possible before everyone else did – once let into the Arena (reserved seating at rock concerts being more a thing of the future, back in 1973) – and then, finally settled in your “spot” inside, the noise and the tension, the sound of the crowd mounting with each passing moment…

 

HousesOfTheHoly-AlbumCoverIt was all incredibly exciting…and finally, when the band did hit the stage – it was another first for me – the first time I had ever heard a real rock band, a PROPER rock band, mind you – the mighty Led Zeppelin no less, in their prime, in the year 1973, touring behind their just-in-the-shops fifth album “Houses Of The Holy” – I’d never heard a proper rock band play rock music AT VOLUME.  And it was…LOUD.  To this day, 45 years later exactly…I am not sure I’ve heard a louder band.

 

Except perhaps – for Led Zeppelin themselves when I saw them again – twice – in 1975!!

Each year, the PA stacks at the Sports Arena seemed to grow ever larger. the number of and the size and power of the speakers increasing each time, the power behind the systems getting to be more and more each year – so it seemed to me, that if anything, that bands got LOUDER as the 70s went on – until the PA systems sort of began to plateau as Super Huge Size – where they all pretty much sound the same – from a distance, anyway.

 

Led Zeppelin IV-Album Cover

But – intense volume aside – I was hooked.  Seeing this show – set me up for a lifetime of concert going – and what a way to start!  Seeing my favourite band, playing amazing live versions of the songs that I loved – was such a positive experience for me – and after seeing Zep, I embarked on a journey that now, when I look back on it over the long, long span of time – 45 years ago today – when it all began – I just feel so, so thankful, fortunate – even lucky – to have had those concert experiences.

 

 

This series of blogs then, of which this is the first – will attempt to document my concert-going experiences decade by decade, until such time as I reach the present day.  Having the analytical and basic set list / concert listing tools available via setlist.fm has been so incredibly useful when it comes to bringing these memories alive, I would encourage you to go and have a look at the list of my attended concerts at setlist.fm to see the full list of concerts attended not only in the 1970s, but from 1973 to the present day – an invaluable resource to me throughout the process of preparing and formulating this series of music blogs.

Earlier this year, I had my 60th birthday, and for some unknown reason, during that week, I started looking into just what concerts I HAD been to, and what they were, when they were and where they were.  I had no idea that this vague thought I had had – “I wonder how many concerts I’ve actually been to over the years…” would lead to the experience that it has – which has been extremely eye-opening for me in so many ways.  This “thought” eventually culminated in the completion of my list of my attended concerts at setlist.fm as well as the completion of cataloguing and photographing my quite substantial collection of concert ticket stubs, which will be presented photographically along with these live concert experience blogs.

So while it started in 1973 – it still hasn’t ended, and later this year (2018), it will be more shows from the incredibly powerful King Crimson live, one of the most remarkable progressive rock groups spawned originally during the 1960s – when Led Zeppelin was also born (1968 was a good year to start a band).   I am very much looking forward to seeing and hearing Crimson again – each year, they come up with more and more “unlikely early repertoire”,  not to mention some pretty credible new repertoire – to absolutely amaze and delight me and the other long time fans of the band.

So – the act of listening has moved forward through time with me, I continue to engage with artists old and new whose music I respect or revere even, and I am all the richer for it – there is nothing on earth, for me, as exhilarating as a quality live performance by musicians who are committed fully to their craft.

I simply love live music, and really, there can never be enough good concerts each year – there is always someone that I missed out seeing “back in the day” or newer artists that I want to check out live – there is always something going on.  I feel very fortunate indeed that I have been able to see so many great concerts.  Moving to Britain was also a hugely fortunate thing in terms of me being able to see bands performing live that did not regularly play in far-off San Diego, California (where I lived for the first half of my life) and so many bands that I never got the chance to see when I lived in California, I have not only seen but in some cases, I have been able to see performing live several times.

This includes bands or artists such as:

…and the like – all bands or artists that I never did see when I lived in the United States – and I spent the majority of my adult live, utterly convinced that I would never, ever get the chance to see some of these remarkable musicians and performers – and yet, somehow – it has happened!  Much to my ever-lasting astonishment and delight.  So I’ve managed to make up for a lot of gaps in my musical education just by merit of living in Central Scotland!

Building Up The List Of Concerts Attended

Thanks to some modern / technological innovations, even the act of “figuring out” what shows I have attended over the years, is supported and made possible – in the main instance, I began, that same week of my 60th birthday, to use a tool with which many of you may be familiar – the website known as “setlist.fm”.

setlist.fm is, simply put, a remarkable web site dedicated to preserving the memory of musical performances, but doing so in such a way that each user – that’s you and me – anyone – everyone – can easily find the concerts they attended, and “add them” to the list of shows that they have personally attended.  It also allows for setlists to be built, too, so that the songs that were played at each gig, if they are known – can be input, stored, and then viewed by subsequent users.

It also gives us the opportunity to rectify errors that have been made historically, or clarify points about a performance or performances or artists or any number of details about an event.  So with this kind of capability, I find that setlist.fm is really the ideal tool for building up your own personal history of concert-going, which is also then of course. possible to share with others, too – since each profile is public.

It also gives you a lot of insight into your own experiences of concert-going, that you would not have been aware of.  For example – this blog, is focusing on the 1970s – when I first began attending live concerts – and in the seven years of the 1970s that I was actively going to concerts (1973 – 1979), I am able to determine from setlist.fm that I attended at least 55 concerts in that first seven year period (I only began going to live concerts in 1973, so of course I have zero concerts for the years 1970, 71, and 72).  You can also view programmed statistics that can tell you a lot about your own experiences – and, the experiences of others, too.

The featured image (see below) for this blog is a photograph of the surviving concert ticket stubs – my own personal collection – of at least some of the ticket stubs that I managed to save out of the approximately 55 shows I attended during the 1970s.   I wish now that I had kept all 55, but if you think about it – it’s a small miracle that even the handful of survivors DID make it across 45 years, a continent, and an ocean – to be then collected and photographed as part of the preparation of this series of blogs.  Each decade brings a different set of bands, and a different set of ticket stubs from my own personal collection to accompany the blog for each specific decade.

As one example of how that can turn out to be interesting – when I was busy working on my own list of attended concerts at setlist.fm I began to notice something – that a certain other user, with an initially unfamiliar username – seemed to always be shown as someone who had attended many, many – an unnaturally large number of – the exact same San Diego and surrounding area concerts that I had attended.  I mean – this person was ALWAYS in the list.

I began to wonder if this was someone I knew, perhaps someone who I had gone to school with or even had been in a band with, perhaps – or any number of possibilities. After about a week or so of continually seeing this person’s username, every single time I entered another concert I had attended in or near San Diego, California – that I sent them a message, explaining who I was and asking them whether I knew them, since they had so obviously been at so very many of the same live shows that I had been to.  Curiously, a day or so after I wrote to them, I found that they had actually written to me a day or two before I contacted them – but I had not noticed the email for some unknown reason.

UK-TrioAs it turned out, I didn’t previously know this person, but as we corresponded, and started talking about some of our shared concert experiences via email – including some truly and memorable events, such as the day we were both at Licorice Pizza records in San Diego, where we met the band U.K. – on one of those “in-store” appearances, on the day of their concert that night – where they were actually opening for the mighty Jethro Tull.

 

For people like my new friend (who still lives in the San Diego area to this day) and myself – it was a rare chance to meet and interact with some of the musicians who we admired.  And it did seem strange to me, to have shared so many extraordinary experiences with someone that I have never “met” – but in fact, I pretty much feel like we’ve been friends for years – possibly because of those vintage, shared memories – who can say?

JohnWetton

For me personally, getting the chance to meet a former member of King Crimson, the late John Wetton – certainly one of the most innovative and remarkable musicians of our time,  an amazing bass player with a unique and very beautiful voice – speaking with John Wetton was a very interesting and enlightening experience for a young, hopeful musician such as myself.

 

 

So one of the stranger “side-effects” of the setlist.fm experience, in my case was the strange but rather interesting fact that I had spent time with my new pal, in the same room, talking to the same people – even, in the same conversations – and yet, we did not know each other!  And to meet someone now, anyone, who attended some of these same unique gigs that I had been to, after a forty-five year period where there was no such person with whom I shared these experiences to speak to about them – it’s truly remarkable.

 

Unique Musical Events In The 1970s – and at no other time

We have gone on to discuss the long-forgotten details of events such as Robert Fripp‘s amazing appearance at a small Tower Records store (on El Cajon Blvd – now long gone – but – another strange memory – it was right next to the North Star Motel – which is not in itself remarkable, but, “North Star” is one of the standout songs from Fripp’s album of that time, “Exposure” – and that amazing live introduction to Frippertronics, is what set me on a long journey to become a looper, and later, a looping ambient guitarist – I fell in love with the process of looping electric guitar that day – a truly memorable event – and now, I have a new friend with whom I can share the detailed memories of these very special events.

So from a list of concerts on a special web page – you can learn and experience a lot more than what you would think a list of concerts might do.  It was an immensely satisfying task, and I probably did the bulk of the list over a three to four week period, after that, I continued to add just the odd show here or there – ones newly remembered, or ones where I had been missing details – until I finally reached my current total – and it has stayed somewhere around that total (currently as of May 28, 2018 – 209 concerts by 129 different artists!).  That in itself was a surprisingly large number – I had really not expected it to be that large.

 

TheBeatlesIn this blog, I want to touch briefly then, on some of the highlights of the 54 or 55 shows that I attended during the 1970s, which were mostly a mix of rock and progressive rock – I was heavily into and heavily influenced by prog, as it is known, and I was so, so fortunate to live in the times that I have lived – I was born at the end of the 50s, and grew up in the 1960s with the music of the Beatles as the soundtrack to both my childhood and my adolescence.  As the 1970s approached, I broadened my previously-held view that the Beatles were the only band worth listening to, and I began to hear other kinds of music being made, by a whole new kind of musicians – many of whom, were extremely was too young to go and see the Beatles live,influenced by the Beatles themselves !!!

 

 

 

HendrixI was too young to go and see the Beatles live,and just a bit too young to go and see Jimi Hendrix, both of whom played San Diego back in the day, those two bands being my very favourite two bands of the 1960s/70s – a real shame, but – I could NOT have been more perfectly placed on the timeline of my life, to experience fully and enjoy thoroughly, the music of the next generation of rock – the Led Zeppelins, the earliest and best of the proggers, Yes and Genesis, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant and the like.

 

 

That unique gathering of incredibly diverse and powerful progressive rock titans, was a once in a century event, and I was the perfect age (15) to begin enjoying these amazing rock and progressive rock as they made their way around the world, stopping at San Diego often, and therefore entertaining me with often, repeat performances year after year.  Starting out with Yes, then moving rapidly upwards and onwards through Genesis (with and later, without Peter Gabriel), Peter Gabriel, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, Strawbs, Roxy Music, E.L.P., U.K. , and Utopia.

What an incredible time to be young and to be able to go and see these amazing progressive rock acts performing – all in the same seven year period – and then, also, onwards through time in the 80s and 90s, too – adding King Crimson to the mix in 1981 – 1984, and again, in the 1990s; and then finally, fast forward to the present day where I was able to see Van Der Graaf Generator multiple times (in both quartet, and in trio format) as well as the absolutely astonishing Thijs Van Leer performing with his band Focus – a band I loved dearly in the 1970s, but did not get to see until much, much later.

I did in fact, manage to almost make up for not seeing the Beatles, by embarking on a side plan of trying to see all four Beatles playing solo concerts – so at least I could hear my biggest musical heroes of all time, singing and playing their instruments live.  I was not disappointed, starting out with my first ever trip to Los Angeles (first time I drove to LA myself) to see the great George Harrison, who put on an absolutely amazing show, that began with the Ravi Shankar Orchestra (my introduction to live Indian music – another great love of mine that I have continued to pursue whenever it was possible) and continued with getting to see and hear George playing a fantastic selection of both his own solo records and songs previously played by the Beatles.

Then, next up, in 1976, I was able to catch Mr. McCartney, on the famed “Wings Over America” tour – which was another totally memorable experience, and the selection of solo numbers and Beatles songs that Paul chose to play, were unique; quite different to George’s choices, and wonderful to experience.

Then followed a long, long gap until I did eventually manage to see my third and final Beatle – the remarkable Ringo Starr.  Again – a performance of solo songs and selected Beatles songs – but truly enjoyable, and the concept of the “All-Starr Band” worked brilliantly – Zak Starkey was the main drummer, with Ringo sometimes joining him on double-drums when the singing duties allowed him to – and with a guitarist of the calibre of Todd Rundgren on hand, no less – well, it was a great night of fun, exciting Ringo and Beatle music.  I will cover these events more specifically when I reach their performing decades (which turns out to be from 1989 thru 2018 – as the “All Starr band”) – but with the sad, sad exception of John Lennon – when in 1980, events took away everyone’s chance of seeing John play live – forever – I did, in time, get to experience first hand, the music of three fourths of the greatest rock band of all time – the boys from Liverpool – the amazing Beatles!

 

The Journey Continues…

However – returning to my journey through the featured decade of the 1970s – I truly feel now that I was indeed, very, very fortunate, the whole decade was so perfectly timed for me – in hindsight, I would not change a thing about it – and although I have always regretted not seeing the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix on the live stage – in another sense, I don’t regret it – because by being too young to go and see those bands – that made me land at the perfect age for that absolutely unique and wonderful decade of true Progressive Rock – from 1967 to 1976.  That was the golden era, the sweet spot, where the impossible-to-exist thing that Prog was, existed in spite of that truth – and I landed nicely near the tail end of that era – beginning my own “concert journey” in May 1973 – exactly 45 years ago today.

Now – at the beginning of this episode, I spoke a bit about my experience at my very first concert, the Led Zeppelin show at the San Diego Sports Arena held on May 28, 1973.  That was however, only the first in a long, long string of shows that I went to – all of them in San Diego I think with one exception which was the George Harrison concert I mentioned earlier – held at the Forum in Los Angeles.

But it was not just limited to Rock bands like Led Zeppelin or Prog bands like Yes and Genesis – there were other experiences, and right off the mark, I went to see one of the finest “southern rock” bands that ever existed – the absolutely brilliant “Allman Brothers“.  Little did I realise, that just a few years later, I would be performing one of their best songs, the lovely “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” with my own band, Slipstream – and that was one of the songs that the Allmans played that night at the Sports Arena.

 

Diversity In 70s Rock:

Actually, when I look at the full list of concerts attended, I actually started out with an incredibly diverse set of bands – they were NOT all of the same genre at all – and I think that is a contributing factor to me liking so many different kinds of music over time.  Those first few shows looked like this:

May 73 – Led Zeppelin (what can I say – it ROCKED!)

September 73 – Boz Scaggs / The Allman Brothers (white soul followed by the precision jamming of the remarkable Allmans – sadly, sans Duane – but they were still incredibly powerful live at this point in time)

March 74 – Yes (Tales From Topographic Oceans tour – quadraphonic sound – classic line up Rick Wakeman still in the band)

June 74 – Steely Dan (with, weirdly, Kiki Dee opening – what a strange combination) – this remains, to date, one of the most astonishing musical performances I have ever seen or am ever likely to see – the sheer musicality of this gig was absolutely mind boggling – including two amazing guitarists in Denny Dias and Jeff Skunk Baxter – not to mention the insanely talented Donald Fagen on grand piano and – gasp – a synthesizer!

November 74 – Ravi Shankar / George Harrison – please see my comments above.  A mind blowing introduction to live Indian music, followed by my favourite Beatle on lead guitar, slide guitar, and beautifully hoarse vocals – which did not bother me a bit – because I was hearing my favourite Beatle playing slide guitar – and I feel that in some ways – George was the master of the slide – in his own style and in his own way – not in the “Duane Allman” super technical slide playing way – but in a beautiful, careful, lovely way that set George apart from all other slide players.  I loved seeing George and I loved seeing Ravi – a brilliant day!)

January 75 – Genesis (The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway Tour with Peter Gabriel) – Part of me still can hardly believe that I got to witness this unique musical event – a full four album sides performed without a break – and this then-brand new work was stunning both musically and visually – I had thought that Yes were amazing live, but Genesis were very diverse in their approach to songwriting and quite different – Yes does not have any tunes quite like “Broadway Melody of 1974” or “The Waiting Room” or “Anyway” or “The Light Dies Down On Broadway” – and it was an eye-opening experience for me – realising that there was more to Prog than just the music of the mighty Yes – much, much more, I found out later on…

So from this half-dozen standout shows that I saw in the first couple years of concert going, when I was 15, 16, maybe 17 years old – absorbing musical ideas like a giant sponge – I learned an awful lot from watching rock and prog guitarists play – and solo extensively sometimes – and it was the best possible “music school” I could have gone to – of these half dozen first shows, the diversity of type of music is nothing short of remarkable:

Heavy Rock (Zeppelin)

White Soul (Scaggs) / Southern Rock (Allmans)

Progressive Rock (Yes)

Intelligent Pop (Steely Dan)

Classic Rock (George Harrison)

Progressive Rock / Unusual (Genesis with Peter Gabriel)

Then, if you continue on looking at how my 1970s concert experiences progressed, the musical diversity just goes off scale – taking in many different and unique artists; witnessing live concerts by the amazing Frank Zappa (with Captain Beefheart opening)  or the amazing German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk (with British folk-rock legends Strawbs opening – and that was actually, who I was there to see!) or progressive rock giant Todd Rundgren‘s Utopia (the RA tour) or from Britain, Be-Bop Deluxe (featuring guitarist Bill Nelson) or 10cc (featuring guitarist Eric Stewart) or Peter Gabriel (formerly of Genesis) or 60s classic rock greats The Kinks or new wave artists Blondie or the art-rock genius of Roxy Music (featuring guitarist Phil Manzanera) and onto the truly unique musical events such as the aforementioned Robert Fripp at Tower Records “Frippertronics” demonstration – Robert Fripp of King Crimson, playing his guitar through a pedalboard, into two Revox reel-to-reel tape decks, and demonstrating the tape-loop technique introduced to him by Brian Eno back in the UK.

You want diversity – musical diversity – genre diversity – then the experience of those seven years, from 1973 through 1979 – included enough eye-opening musical, technical and performance diversity that for me, well, I do not believe that I could have HAD a better musical education, and as you may notice, the single recurring theme in the artists mentioned in this blog, in particular, in the set of bullet points just above, and in the previous paragraph – and that is – bands with amazing, technically and musically proficient guitarists.

 

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, contained just in the bullets above and that paragraph of diverse artists – is staggering in itself:

It’s interesting to consider what an effect seeing that many astonishingly talented and brilliant musicians, witnessing the different musical approaches and technical prowess of these amazing players – had on me, as a guitarist – I think that I absorbed a lot, and it was only years later that the eventual effect of this was felt – I became an amalgam of my own influences, when I listen to myself play guitar now, I can hear the influence of many of the guitarists in the list above – and those influences will stay with me forever, because I absorbed them, mostly, during my teenage years (I turned 20 in 1978 – near the end of my 7-year 1970s concert experiences) when my brain was still pliable enough to do so.

But even years later, I will recall things that I witnessed certain guitarists doing back in the 70s or really, at any time I’ve seen a great guitarist – and I will bring back whatever I can from that memory, into my current performance.  It’s extremely beneficial to have these particular experiences – because seeing these guitarists, in these intensely creative bands – has had a profound effect on both me personally (in terms of the awe and respect in which I hold many of these artists) as well as on my guitar playing – I aspired for many years, to learn and adapt and modify these incredibly diverse guitar influences, into my own playing – and eventually – my own style began to emerge – but, it’s still based on those early experiences.

If I had not spent many, many hours wearing out the vinyl of my copy of Led Zeppelin III, or any other classic 70s album that I loved, studied and tried to learn to play – including songs from “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic” by King Crimson – and over on the piano, too, I was learning and absorbing music by Van Der Graaf Generator, Peter Hammill, Todd Rundgren, Peter Gabriel – so there was an entire second side of influence, through piano-based songs – I even learned Tony Banks songs (such as “Anyway” for example) – with the help of my best friend Ted Holding, may he rest in peace – songs and bits of Keith Emerson and so on – anything to enrich the pool of musical ideas that I could then draw from for the rest of my life.  Mostly on the guitar, but – a significant amount of time was invested in learning piano and keyboard based songs – which I think helps to round me out as a musician – I am not “just” a guitarist (thankfully!!).

I had an absolute blast in the 70s, and if there is anything to regret, it would simply be that I did not go to MORE concerts during the 70s (and 80s and 90s for that matter) – my experiences would then just be all the richer for it.   I am not complaining by any means – I could not ask for a richer experience than this one – I am just greedy, I loved seeing these bands and artists playing their music, and I simply want more – there can never be enough good music in one’s life.  Never!

 

Forward…into the future!

So in conclusion – for me, the 70s were an absolutely unique and utterly amazing time, when I got to see some of my very, very favourite players and bands – from the mighty Led Zeppelin to the amazing Steve Howe of Yes (the man who could jump from guitar-to-guitar-to-pedal-steel-guitar-and-back-to-guitar-again mid-song, mind you – mid-song!) to having my mind permanently opened by the power and mystery of Steve Hackett‘s amazing guitar parts for Genesis“The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” to seeing Frank Zappa play in his unique, groundbreaking guitar style – there is nothing on earth like Frank Zappa, there was only one, they absolutely broke the mould that time.

Moving from the classic rock of Led Zeppelin, on up eventually, to the end of the 70s with Blondie and the emergence of New Wave, it was an amazing musical journey – I learned a lot, but I also had an enormous amount of fun – and I realise now that for me, that my idea of “fun” is quite different from that of most people – I have a lot more fun when I am watching and listening to an incredibly talented lead guitarist, playing as part of an incredibly talented band that has worked out an amazing repertoire of impossibly beautiful, and possibly technically demanding songs – now – that’s MY idea of fun!

Until next time then –

 

 

Dave Stafford

May 28, 2018 – 45 years to the day from the day of my very first concert experience of seeing Led Zeppelin live at the San Diego Sports Arena – it now seems, that in some ways, that it all just happened yesterday…

 

 

Next time on Decade By Decade – The Live Concert Experience / Overview:

The Dreaded 80s – Not as bad as we remember

 

1970s Concert Ticket Stub Collection (courtesy Dave Stafford)
Dave Stafford - Concert Ticket Stubs - 1970s

Concert Ticket Stubs – 1970s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having A Friend Like Michael Dawson…

I met my friend Michael, in a thing called a “record store” called “off the record” which was located on El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego, California, when I was about 20 years old – I am guessing – it was a long time ago, I can tell you that!
I don’t know what year it was, I really don’t – perhaps Michael knows.  But it was a long, long time ago, and Michael is one of the very, very few people that I have known continuously during that entire timespan.  For the record then, (not, off the record lol) that’s at least 35 years, probably a bit more.
I was buying, or re-buying rather, a few records that I was hoping would have less surface noise, and fewer clicks and pops, than the copies of them that I already had at home – I was trying to get a better sounding version by re-buying LPs that I already owned – sometimes, had owned more than once already.  This was one of the problems with vinyl – it was scratchy!  Surface noise, clicks and pops and other soul-destroying sounds damaging the precious music, which should be pure and pristine – it was still a long way to the age of compact discs.
Anyway, among other newer releases, I was holding prog rock classics by Genesis and I am not sure who else – and this tall, very skinny person, with a short, tidy beard and distinctly reddish hair, who was standing nearby as I was checking out, who spoke with an unforgettable, deep voice full of character “those (he said, nodding towards the albums that I was holding) “are  three of my favourite albums of all time”.
So that started a conversation, that has been going on, off and on, on and off, ever since – and a friendship that just grew organically out of that first meeting.  I’d seen Michael in the store before, it was a favourite haunt of both of ours, but this was the first time he’d ever spoken to me, and it turned out, we did share a lot of artists in common that we both really, really loved – and he just couldn’t help himself saying so when he saw some of HIS favourite records in my sweaty grip 🙂
It started out then, first by sharing our love of music, I can remember many a trip over to Michael’s, to listen to records (and he had a LOT of records back then, I mean – a lot of records!) and he introduced me to a lot of things with which I was then unfamiliar – for example, Marillion, who I had never heard of, who were actually playing prog in the middle of the very un-prog-friendly 1980s – so that must have been in about 1985 that he played me parts of “Script For A Jester’s Tear” and “Fugazi” – which I found to be quite remarkable, and of course, I started collecting Marillion albums myself then.
The story gets a bit blurry here, but since I’d found out that Michael was a fellow musician, it only followed that we should at some point, sit down and play some music together.  Michael was (at that time) primarily a bassist, which suited me perfectly as I was, as always, a lead guitarist; but he also played a lot of other instruments, including flute and saxophone, to name but two.  I can remember inviting Michael over to my place, and also, visiting him where he lived, and we did start a band, whose name I cannot recall – it was a trio, of myself on guitar, Michael on bass, and a friend of Michael’s whose name I do not remember (I am definitely getting old lol!!), on drums.
What did we play?  I can remember a couple of the titles:
Roxy Music “Love Is The Drug”
Talking Heads “Psycho Killer”
and an original piece in 5 that I couldn’t really master (composed by Michael, I believe).
At that time, pre-Fripp, I was strictly a 4/4 kind of rock and roll wannabe prog guitarist, and playing in anything but 4 was mostly, beyond me.  It wasn’t until I started going to Guitar Craft, starting just a few years later, that I actually was able to play in the odd meters – 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 etc.
I think we also wanted to learn “Crying Wolf” by Peter Hammill, but we didn’t get far with that one.  We were trying to play music that we loved, rather than resort to playing the popular music of the day – we wanted to play GOOD music, hence the selections we made.  I don’t really know why, but this band never really amounted to anything – we rehearsed, and then I think the drummer lost interest and left, and we couldn’t replace him – so I moved on, and that was the end of our attempt at being in a band together.  We never played even one gig, which always makes me a bit sad – a lot of good rehearsals, a huge potential – and then, for whatever  the reasons – it just never comes to fruition.
But – I am proud to say, to this day, that I was in a band with Michael Dawson !  It was great fun, because it was one of the first times that I got to play music I really loved in a band, instead of the dreaded “covers” – so that was fantastic.  I can remember really enjoying playing Phil Manzanera‘s chord sequence on “Love Is The Drug” – it’s a really nice piece of guitaring.
Michael is a very good bassist, and he had a quality bass, a Rickenbacker, which I wasn’t used to – most of the bassists I had played with up till then, had played Fenders or other basses like Music Man or whatever – but he had a real Rickenbacker, and it sounded amazing. That was really a great selling point for me, having a truly prog “bass” in the band – that’s the way it should be.  There wasn’t much else “prog” about us, we didn’t have a lead singer or a keyboard player, although I seem to remember that I did sing the songs off mike just as a reference (not the first time, or the last time, I was called upon to become the de facto lead vocalist in a band – I will say that!).  But that is another story for another time…
After that band broke up, life went on – I still saw Michael down at Off The Record, and we remained friends – to this day.  Not too many years after this, Michael moved up north, to Northern California, where he got the day job that I believe, he still works at to this day.
I remained in Southern California, but, we still occasionally got together – most often, to go see live concerts together, I can remember giving him a lift to some concert in the back of my pickup truck, which was not a good experience for Michael – but at least we got to the concert.  Not sure who we were going to see – it could have been just about anyone.
One of the nicest things about Michael is his incredible kindness and his infallible generosity, of which I will speak in a moment.  He is a remarkably kind and gentle person, and I was glad to have such an intelligent and well-read friend – he had, and has, far more culture and education than I ever did!  He was also an artist, I remember he was always painting, which was something I did not even approach until I was much, much older.
He has often “turned me on” to new artists that I knew little or nothing about; one of those would be the indomitable Richard Thompson – I remember that Michael was the one who first played Richard Thompson albums for me, and got me hooked on his amazing guitar playing – to the point where, alongside collecting his many solo albums, I then went to see him play multiple times at multiple gigs, including one very, very small, intimate acoustic gig (in a restaurant, no less) and once, I managed to see him with full electric band – and that was amazing.    I became a big, big fan for quite a number of years, and I still love and respect his music to this day.
I would have done none of those things – if it weren’t for Michael P. Dawson.  I would have no Marillion, and no Richard Thompson in my musical life.   He also introduced me to Gryphon, based on our shared love of Gentle Giant – so that added yet another brilliant branch of prog to my ever-expanding experience of progressive rock music.  He also introduced me to the music of Bi Kyo Ran, remarkable King-Crimson-cover-band-turned-professional-prog-band from Japan.
So even for adding those four amazing musicians / groups to my musical repertoire and experience (and it was many, many more than just those four!), just for that, I am forever in Michael’s debt.  He always knew the kind of thing that I would like, and he was always, forever saying “listen to THIS, listen to this guitar solo, here…” and I would be hooked once again, on a new musician that up until I’d met Michael, I knew nothing about.  He was a great friend in that way, he genuinely did not want me to miss out on these incredible listening experiences that he was having, he wanted to share the music, not keep it to himself – and for that, I am very grateful indeed – indebted!
I mentioned that Michael was generous.  One day, about 20 years ago, I was sitting at my day job, when a VERY large cardboard box arrived for me – and I was not expecting anything that I had ordered, so it was completely out of the blue – and upon opening it, I discovered that is was a Washburn Bass guitar – that Michael had just SENT to me, gratis – he was going to get rid of it, and rather than sell it; he’d remembered me saying that I wished I owned a bass – so he thought of me, and he very, very generously gave me his old bass!  I could not BELIEVE that – I had never had a friend, or known anyone as generous as that – he could have made money off of it, he could have sold it for cash – but instead, he remembered his old friend Dave – and Dave not ever having a bass guitar of any kind – and he just mailed it to me one day.
I didn’t expect it, and I had no way to reciprocate, all I could do was send an astonished THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU note to Michael, and try to express what it meant to me to have a real bass to record with and play.  Many years later, when I was recording multi-track progressive rock tracks, I actually used “Michael’s Old Bass” as I call it, in the recording of several tracks – one of which is “Wettonizer” (a tribute to the late, great John Wetton) which was recorded back in about 2008 or 2009).  It’s actually, a really nice bass to play, and it’s short scale and easy to play neck really inspired me when it came to do the distorted bass solos in”Wettonizer” – and really, that song and the others that included the bass, possibly would not have been made, if it weren’t for the fact that Michael provided me with a bass to use and play. when he knew I did not have one.
That was such an incredibly surprising and generous act, which I never, ever forgot, and to this day, I have to smile when I look at that bass sitting in the corner of my studio – I do tend to use sampled basses now just for the speed and convenience, and also so I can get classic Fender or Rickenbacker tones – but if I wanted to do any real bass tracks – I would still absolutely, happily record them on “Michael’s Old Bass” – I mean, can you believe it – he just put it in a box, and sent it to me, from San Jose, California, to San Diego, where I lived back then.  And it then traveled with me, all the way to Scotland – where it lives now.
How often in your life, do you get a Bass Guitar in the mail?  If you have a friend like Michael Dawson, then the answer is, surprisingly – once.
[Meanwhile, back in the present day for a moment:]  Imagine my total surprise then, when, just a few days ago, a parcel arrived for me at home – and I recognised the handwriting on it immediately, and said to my wife – “that’s from Michael Dawson” and wondered aloud, what on earth has he sent me?? (even while, my brain was telling me “effects pedal, effects pedal…”) and in fact, what it was, indeed, was and is, an effects pedal – a lovely, mint condition, Earthquaker Devices Organizer pedal.
A week previously, on a Sunday, I had published my recent blog about watching guitar effect pedal demonstration videos.  In California, Michael read that blog of mine on a Sunday, and on the following Monday, packed up and shipped this effect pedal to me, and on the following Saturday, five days later – it arrived with the mail here in Scotland.
Now, I was utterly blown away when he gave me the Washburn bass, and no one else has ever just given me a musical instrument before.  But to receive what is basically, a brand new effects pedal (which when queried, he said he wasn’t using it, and he wanted someone to own it who would make good use of it – me) which is just the nicest thing – but it absolutely blows me away, that he would read an article about me lusting after these effects, and just to make me happy, just so I could then own an Earthquaker Devices-manufactured pedal – he pulls one out of thin air and ships it half-way around the world to me!!  That is so thoughtful, so good – I wish I were that generous and that thoughtful!
Unbelievable generosity, and an unbelievable kindness in the thought that “Dave would like this pedal – he could do something good with this” – that just blows me away, and, it’s not like we have been close of recent years, we exchange emails only occasionally, and as happens, we have led pretty separate lives – although we have always remained friends, and we have never fallen out – we’ve always been friends.  I would say, it had probably been a year or more since we had emailed, when this EQD pedal appeared again, totally out of the blue – which absolutely shocked me to the core – what a nice thing to do, what an amazing friend – what a great and kind act – to indulge my desire for endless effects pedals – wow, that is truly amazing.
But I don’t have any other friends that are that astonishingly generous, Michael is the only one who has consistently blown me away with his kindness, thoughtfulness, and his good, good heart – he’s just a good man, a nice chap, and I am proud to know him, proud to call him my friend, proud of him as a fellow musician – he’s a brilliant player – and I would also say, you should absolutely check out some of his music – he’s been sharing his own albums with me from early on, and he makes the most incredible music you have ever heard – you really must try it – it’s amazingly cool.  It’s mostly beyond my comprehension, Michael is a serious composer when compared to me, I just mess about with songs, and improvs, but Michael writes real music, serious music, and I have a huge respect for that.
A few years back, I released a live improv on the internet, which I believe featured energy bow guitar and music created with Brian Eno’s “Scape” application for the ipad. A few days after I released it, Michael released a video of himself, overdubbing a live flute solo and flute part, onto, on top of, my improv !!!
I was then able to share this with people as a collaborative effort (our first, since that attempt at a band – way, way back when) and I was and am, incredibly proud of that little improvised number – and to be honest, I absolutely prefer Michael’s version – to my own. The flute parts and solos that he plays, are just perfect for the improv, and I was so surprised and really pleased that Michael had done this.
That was yet another very kind thing, that he has done – the ultimate compliment, he must have liked the piece quite well if it inspired him to play the flute along with it, so by adding his live flute overdub, he was taking a decent piece of mine, and elevating it to a much, much higher level – I think it succeeds far better with his parts added, than it ever did by itself.  That is the power of Michael Dawson – adaptable, and very adept with a multitude of instruments – I wish I could play half as many different instruments as he does.
I would say that like so many musicians, that Michael is a “musician’s musician” – and I would encourage any of you that are musicians (or not, artists, or anyone, really!), to have a listen to any of Michael’s existing published works – he is a brilliant and intelligent composer, and he creates albums celebrating creatures and features of the natural world that have to be heard to be believed – he excels when it comes to synthesizers, which he often employs in his compositions, but he plays all manner of instruments, bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, flute, saxophone (in at least two different flavours) and a multitude of others too numerous to mention.
He is a remarkable and talented musician – and I believe, you can also hear him play live on the sort of “jam night” scene near where he lives – I believe he now sits in on saxophone or flute at these live, impromptu musical events.  I envy him that – I am currently not performing – so he is really fortunate to have that musical outlet available to him.
He is also a very creative person, I remember he played one of his new songs (and by that, I mean, what was a “new song”, thirty years ago 🙂 ) for me, and it had a most unusual sounding lead instrument, it sounded slightly Indian or eastern in some way, but I just could not place it, so I said “Michael, what is that instrument that you are playing the main melody with?” and he then revealed what it was – it was his flute – but played through extreme distortion – he’d played it through a fuzz box and it sounded truly out of this world.  So there is really no limit to the creativity that he employs when he creates his solo works, they are full of surprises and I don’t think you can find a more original, progressive, modern composer around – and if that isn’t enough, his love of the music of the late, great Frank Zappa is more than apparent when you hear many of Michael’s pieces – Zappa being the only artist that I could really comfortably compare Michael’s work too – he sounds like he listens to a lot of Zappa.
And that is probably, because he does.  I have always loved the music of Frank Zappa, but I have only ever put my toe into the water, whereas Michael jumped headfirst into the Zappa pool many, many years ago.  And that has paid off, and rubbed off, on the styles of music that he has created over the years – and you couldn’t really ask for a better influence – I’d love to be compared to, or even audibly / heavily influenced by,  Frank Zappa !
Michael turned me on to a whole world of new music, and that changed my life in a good way, and we shared a lot of musical experiences together, everything from just chilling and listening to records, or later, compact discs, to going to the occasional concert together.  His influence on me musically, over the last 35 years or so, has been immense, and I am grateful to him for enriching my musical life by sharing so openly from his vast library of recorded music.  In so very many ways, Michael is a really, really good friend to have – and good friends, they say, are hard to find, and I would imagine – even harder to keep, which is why I feel so blessed and fortunate to have a friend like Michael Dawson – he is one of a kind, a true gentleman, and I am proud to be able to say once again, “my good friend Michael Dawson” as I so often seem to find myself saying whenever I sit down to write about music.
I felt it was high time that he got the recognition he deserves, and this blog is a very public “thank you” to a true gentleman and musical scholar, Mr. Michael P. Dawson. Long may he reign over the flute solo in “Girl From Ipanema”; and any other pieces that he attempts, live or studio, on any instrument – just keep on jamming, Michael !!!

From Gong’s Guitarist to Blu-Ray Music Extraction Processes to the NewestOld ios Application for IDevices…

I am becoming acquainted with the first five albums by Steve Hillage, beginning with his band “Uriel” and their album “Arzachel” in 1969 and moving up to 1976’s BBC Radio 1 In Concert – which is playing now in my headphones – the announcer letting us know that only 8 percent of BBC listeners are currently listening in stereo – and they’d like to get that number up as soon as possible!

On almost a whim, I decided that if I was ever going to get caught up on what I had missed in the solo canon of Steve Hillage, outside of his work in Gong, with which I am very familiar, would be to shell out for the remarkable new 22 disc box set, “Searching For The Spark”.  It arrived a few weeks ago, I then spent a few days ripping discs, and I’ve since spent a very, very enjoyable morning indeed, listening to all five of the discs currently on my IPod – and – Hillage is a remarkable person – and, along with his life partner Miquette, he fronts a band with ever-growing confidence – especially when we get to “that” guitar solo.

I was quite amazed at the jump in guitar playing quality between the first two albums that feature Hillage, the above mentioned Arzachel from 1969, and then, 1972 brought us “Khan” with their album “Sea Shanty” – and in the three years that had passed, Hillage’s guitar prowess had increased by a significant amount – but nothing like what was about to come – in the form of his first two solo records, the first that bore the name “Steve Hillage” – “Fish Rising”, followed by what is probably his best-known work (and, produced with Todd Rundgren, using Todd’s new Utopia – Roger Powell, Kasim Sulton, and Willie Wilcox – as Hillage’s backing band on the record) “L” – these two releases are where you can really hear the confidence and power of his playing – and I would heartily recommend them to anyone!

I did own a cassette with “L” on it, years ago, so I was familiar with that one album, but never had a chance – until today – to hear Fish Rising, the two early albums, and the first of many, many live CDs that are in the box – this wonderful BBC Radio 1 In Concert 1976 that is playing – in glorious stereo, I might add (after a lovely across the kit drum roll – which just went across my brain in lovely carefully-drum-miked stereo).

I think I will leave the task of a full review to someone who knows more about this, for me, this was just a “way in”, a way to hear the development of this incredibly talented guitarist – who I was really, really fortunate to see both the Steve Hillage Band and Gong, during a very brief UK tour in 2008 – and he was remarkable in both bands – the perfect musical foil for the late Daevid Allen – and it was a unique opportunity, to first hear Steve and Miquette play solo Hillage material (which was unfortunately at the time, besides the obvious cover of “Hurdy Gurdy Man”, unknown to me) as well as, play as an integral part of Gong – this was a remarkable performance featuring most of the main figures in Gong history, including his long time partner Miquette Giraudy, Hillage and Mike Howlett as well.

So that is my most recent listening, previous to that, however, I’ve been revisiting my catalogue of XTC releases, trying to get caught up with capturing all of the additional music hidden away on the Blu-Ray discs included in each of these amazing “Steven Wilson” re-masters – and I guess I can say that I definitely am collecting Steven Wilson re-masters – starting with the King Crimson re-masters – the ultimate – King Crimson in 5.1 sounds absolutely astonishing – it’s so worth it just for that alone – but, there is always a lot of additional music buried on the DVD or Blu-Ray portion, and I’ve developed a unique way to capture this additional material

In assessing my XTC discs, I now have four Steven Wilson XTC re-masters:  Drums & Wires, Skylarking, Oranges & Lemons, and Nonsuch.  I realised that I had only partially done the work on capturing the extra tracks from three of them, so I set out to “right” this wrong.

I also have the same issue with my Gentle Giant, and Yes “Steven Wilson” re-masters – again, I have ripped the ordinary CDs, which contain some of the additional material – but, the additional music on the Blu-Ray has remained accessible only on the 5.1 system – which I can’t take out with me on my iPods.

So – I have developed a process, which includes templates of blank folders, and a template in SONAR Platinum for capturing the music from the discs.  I was wondering if anyone else uses a similar process to this:

 

ACQUIRE BLU-RAY AUDIO CONTENT WITH HIGHEST QUALITY POSSIBLE:

  • Set up your blank folders using the template, which prepares you to “receive” WAV files of the tracks you are capturing, and then later, converting them into MP3 files for your portable device.
  • Those folders look something like this (after conversion from the dummy template folders):

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc01-SWMix-MP3

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc01-SWMix-WAV   (Note:  These are from the CD, which is just ripped normally – not related to this Blu-Ray process)

 

Sometimes there might be two, or even three, CDs (which of course, are all ripped normally)  in which case, those would eat up the Disc01, 02 and 03 slots, and your Blu-Ray material would then start with “Disc04” rather than “Disc02” – you just have to adjust as necessary depending on the contents of the set.  Then, follows your DVD or Blu-Ray ONLY Content:

 

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc02-OriginalMasterMix-MP3

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc02-OriginalMasterMix-WAV

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc03-AlbumInDemo&WorkTapeForm-MP3

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc03-AlbumInDemo&WorkTapeForm-WAV

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc04-ExtraDemos&WorkTapes-MP3

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc04-ExtraDemos&WorkTapes-WAV

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc05-RehearsalsAtLeedsStudiosLA-MP3

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc05-RehearsalsAtLeedsStudiosLA-WAV

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc06-Videos-Mono-MP3

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc06-Videos-Mono-WAV

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc07-StereoInstrumental-MP3

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc07-StereoInstrumental-WAV

 

These folders are only one arrangement, of course, the folder set I come up with, ultimately, just reflects what music is available to me to extract from the Blu-Ray in question.  The set of folders above, is probably suitable, with possible minor alterations, for any XTC album.  Of course, something like “Drums & Wires” has many, many more folders that this example, because there are several different Rehearsal sections on that disc – hence, many more folders (12 in total I believe, or 24 if you count the WAV versions).

 

For King Crimson or Yes, it would be similar, but perhaps, instead of “Videos-Mono” you would probably get “OriginalVinylUK” and “OriginalVinylUS” and so on – so basically – anything that needs captured, you build a folder for.

  • Then, you take a copy of your SONAR Template session (.cwp file) (or equivalent in whatever DAW you use), which is set up with many, many Audio channels – one of my recent efforts ended up at 98 channels – and these are pre-set to use the special S-PDIF “pure digital” input of my sound card – so the S-PDIF outputs of my Blu-Ray player are fed to a pair of inputs on the Sound Card – and all Blu-Ray recording is done via this “pure digital” route – directly from the disc, to the sound card, to SONAR – where I capture them as 48K 24 bit WAV files – the best I can do. The SONAR CWP should be in the root of your work folder, so you can view it and work with it, AND see the folder set shown above.
  • Arm for recording, a single track, which will have a title such as

XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc02-OriginalMasterMix-UNTOUCHEDORIGINAL

  • Put the Blu-Ray into the machine, and queue up the Original Master Mix (the Flat Transfer of the original CD with the original Mix) from the EXTRAS section of the Blu-Ray.
  • Press RECORD on the armed channel in SONAR, and once you see the transport moving, then start the Blu-Ray playing.

 

  • Leave that entire disk worth of music to play, while of course, SONAR is recording it in the highest quality possible – Input = S-PDIF and SONAR = 48K 24 Bit.

 

  • Normally, I do not have to adjust the levels at all – for S-PDIF, they seem to be pre-set, and they always make a clean, but never too “hot” recording – it’s ideal. They just approach 0 db, but never surpass it – so, loud and clean.

 

  • Once the Blu-Ray has ended, and you have your recording of the entire CD captured as a SINGLE large WAV file, you can now move onto the next piece of music, and repeat the above process on the next target disc (in this case, it’s Disc03, “Album In Demo & Work Tape Form”).

 

  • When completed, you then move onto the PROCESSING part of the process, which is probably the most time-consuming and patience-testing.

 

PROCESSING THE FILES:

 

  • In your SONAR .cwp file, you now have a series of large wav files, each one representing a disk full of music. Using the back of the box set or it’s booklet as a guide, I then create a single AUDIO track just below the main, large WAV.  That is set up quite simply, you won’t be recording on it, but you need to set it up so it is playing to Master, and thence out to your headphones or speakers, as you need to monitor this process (I use headphones to be the most precise possible).  Once you are happy with your new empty, Audio track, before we work on any music processing – count the individual tracks that are in this large WAV file, and use TRACK CLONE to make the appropriate number of copies of your new, empty Audio track.  If it’s a 15 track album, then I would create 14 more of these, by adjusting the Count of Clones in the Cloning Window.  Push the button, and SONAR (or your DAW) adds 14 empty audio tracks – and now you have 15 empty spaces for tracks.  Which already have their name template ready for a track number at the end – then, go back – and put in your track number and names:

 

  • Return now to your single large wav track, and before you do anything, take a COPY of it, and PASTE it into your new first audio track – TRACK 01 – which will be labelled something like XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc02-01-GardenOfEarthlyDelights-OriginalMasterMix, and first, clean up the lead in – there will be extra space there, so you want to reduce that to a very short lead in, and make sure it starts fairly quickly – usually in under a second, so it starts like a normal CD would – immediately.

 

  • Then, find the end of Track 1. Determine the best spot to SPLIT the tracks, so that Track 1 has a proper ending, and that Track 2 will end up with the SPLIT quite close to its first sound.  Once you are happy with this transition point, go ahead and SPLIT the track (leaving the first long recording UNTOUCHED – as the name implies!) always do your first splitting, on the SECOND one – the COPY!!!

 

  • Once split, REMOVE the large chunk of remaining audio, which contains tracks 2 through 15, and MOVE them into the next track.

 

  • Repeat the split, each time, leaving the remainder (of your large wav file copy, which gets smaller and smaller each time you split and move it down) and moving it into the next track.

 

  • Once done, you need to clean up the end of the final track, just to make sure there are no surprises.

 

  • At this point, you should be done with PROCESSING, and ready for OUTPUT.

 

OUTPUTTING THE FILES:

 

  • Ensure that all tracks except your Track 01, “Garden Of Earthly Delights” are MUTED. This is crucial, if you leave anything with sound on it unmuted except for the ONE TRACK you are outputting, it’s sound WILL MIX with your track – thus, ruining it.

 

  • Select the track with your mouse, then, EXPORT – and point the output to your pre-made WAV folder:

 

OUTPUT FOLDER:      XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc02-OriginalMasterMix-WAV

 

  • Once the output has completed, check the folder for the presence of the file, make sure it’s there, and, named to your satisfaction.

 

  • Repeat with each track, making sure that you MUTE the previous track, and unmute the one you are working on (or you get a SILENT output file!) – and that ALL tracks except the one you are currently working on, are always MUTED.

 

  • Once the WAV files have all been output, for each Disc – save and back up the .cwp file, save and back up all Audio files created during the session (your large WAV files).

 

  • At this point, you have the best quality, 48K, 24 bit WAV files of the individual tracks, SPLIT out perfectly in the steps above, ready to now transform into MP3 files so you can load them onto your iPod or other portable device.

 

 

FINAL PROCESSING:

 

  • Using DVDSoft tool “Audio Converter” (or any decent utility that Converts WAV files to high quality MP3 files), set the type to your desired quality (I use “Lame Insane Quality 320 kbps Frauhofen MP3” myself) and point the output to the root folder above your WAV and MP3 folders:

 

OUTPUT FOLDER:      XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-WAV&MP3 (or whatever YOUR project folder is called – the idea being, we want the tool to output ALL of the MP3s, from ALL of the WAVs, back into the root of your Project, so you can then assign their internal names BEFORE they are finally split up, by you dragging them into their individual, pre-made “MP3” folders.

 

  • Once your type and target folder are set in the Audio Converter tool, you can now drag the files you want to have converted, into the area at the top of the application where it says “DRAG AUDIO FILES HERE” or similar.

 

  • Open your XTC-1989-1-Oranges&Lemons-Remaster-Expanded-Disc02-OriginalMasterMix-WAV folder, and select all 15 / however many you have of your WAV files with your mouse by using SHIFT-mouse, and then DRAG them across into the top part of the DVDSoft Audio Converter Application. I usually just do all of the WAV files as one giant conversion, so after I drag over the Disc02-OriginalMasterMix files, I then carry on, opening each WAV file folder next would be Disc03, then 04, etc., and dragging their contents into the DVDSoft Audio Conversion tool.

 

  • Once you have the entire set of WAV files in place in the Audio Converter, re-check that your output type is correct (for me, that’s always highest quality, 320 kbps MP3), and that your target folder is just the root folder you are working in – and then press “Convert”. The tool starts working, taking each WAV file, and converting it into an MP3 file.   This can take quite some time, depending on how many hours’ worth of WAV files you have loaded into the tool – be patient, it will eventually tell you that the Process Is Complete. NOTE:  When it converts, it adds a “Comment” into each MP3 file – in the field “Comments” it puts its little advert “DVDSoft.com”.

 

  • It’s harmless, but I don’t want it in my file, so the first thing I do, is select all items, while they are all still in the main folder, and I DELETE this “comment”, leaving the Comments field empty as it should be.

 

 

  • While the MP3s are still in the main, root directory of your project, you should go ahead and add in your “Internal File Data” – I start out, by doing a few bulk updates – I select ALL of the MP3s, right click and select “Properties”, select the Details tab, and then, under “Album Artist” and “Contributing Artists”, I add in the band’s name (unless it’s already there). I also do a bulk update on any other fields that are the same for ALL of the files, such as “Genre” IF they are all the same Genre.

 

  • After that, you can highlight each album, or each file, and make whatever adjustments you need to make the INNER NAMES meet your own personal Standards – I have very particular standards, which includes an Album Name that is preceded by a Year and Counter, so, “Oranges & Lemons” is actually called

 

“1989-1 Oranges & Lemons – Remaster – Expanded – Disc 02 – Original Master Mix – The Surround Sound Series” in my collection.

 

…or something like that – by dating these (using this YYYY-Counter template), I can force them to sort into Chronological order, based on the Album title – it works pretty well, but I did start out with that Standard some 9 years ago, so it would take anyone else a long time to institute – but a very good percentage of my existing MP3 collection does contain these dates.  I have even recently, been converting posthumous live CDs back to their performance date, rather than their more current release date – because let’s face it, there were not that many Gentle Giant live shows in 2006 or 2012.  But there are a LOT of shows from 1975, released in the last 30 years – well, I have managed to get them into chronological order with just a few exceptions where no data exists for the date of a concert.  Oh well – it’s the best I could do.

 

  • From here, you would then rename each MP3 folder to match your MP3 collection – to whatever Standard you use there – and then copy them to your individual folders on your drive or drives. I am currently keeping seven copies of the MP3 on seven separate hard drives, and four copies of the WAV masters (because I sweated blood and time extracting these tracks!) on four separate drives – that’s my backup at the moment.   Because I am always short on disc space, I am going to reduce the MP3s down to four soon, to recover a lot of space – but, it was set up as seven and that’s how it was for the longest time…a lot of redundancy!

 

  • Finally, once the MP3s are added to your collection – you can add them to ITunes and sync your device, or, put them on your non-ios device by drag and drop or whatever methodology you use – your MP3 files of rare Blu-Ray content, are NOW FINALLY READY for your listening pleasure – ENJOY!

 

 

So – back to reality – how’s THAT for a Process?  Since I had to do the content of Skylarking and  Oranges & Lemons during the last week or so, I used those experiences to build the Templates and work out exactly how the process should work, getting it down to a science – but not a quick one.  I recently used the new process on XTC “Nonsuch” – and it worked beautifully – it’s much better to have a consistent process for this, because it is pretty complex – as well as three of my four Steven Wilson Yes albums that still need the process done to them.  And one or two of my Steven Wilson Gentle Giant albums.  And ALL of my Steven Wilson Jethro Tull albums…including the brand new Stand Up – The Elevated Edition which sounds awesome, I might add!

 

I’ve got it down from days to hours now, but it can still eat up most of a day, just doing one “album” – because they usually pack a LOT of amazing music onto those Blu-Rays.  It’s quite amazing, to have a 20 disc version of “Drums and Wires” by XTC !!! Lots of choice there…

 

 

The only catalogue that is actually done – is King Crimson – that was my first Steven Wilson remix, the giant DVD release of In The Court of The Crimson King in about 2008 – hard to believe it (my obsession with the quality recordings that are any and all “Steven Wilson Mixes”) goes back that far, six years!

 

The problem is, to do this PROPERLY, takes a huge amount of time.  OK, ripping the music off of the disc, you can just start it and walk away, and do other work while it’s copying the content to that WAV file.  Repeat as necessary.   Sometimes, I just let three or four discs worth play into a HUGE WAV file, then, split it by album, and move them to their appropriate channel.  But once that easy step of transferring the music over is gone – well, then you are back to that horrible processing section, and cutting up different versions of the same album, or, massive quantities of Andy Partridge demos – it is very, very time consuming – and, I am a perfectionist, so if it isn’t perfect – I do it again – but, I am getting better at it…slowly.  It took me two full days to process all of the content on Yes’ “Tales From Topographic Oceans” – 2 whole days!  That seems to be what it takes, although maybe I could do one in a single day under the right circumstances.

 

I do want to get on with the Yes and Gentle Giant in particular, because both of those sport Stereo Instrumentals, which I absolutely love.  I’ve been listening to the Instrumental versions of Yes’ “Tales From Topographic Oceans” and they are fascinating and beautiful – you hear all kinds of things that the vocals hide – and I played “Ritual – Stereo Instrumental” yesterday on the 5.1 system – wow – it sounded fantastic!  Weird without any vocals – but, fascinating, especially hearing what Steve, Rick and in the case of Ritual, Chris are really doing – how it sounded before any vocals arrived – it’s just astonishing.

 

Now that I have finished XTC “Nonsuch”, so that’s all four of my SW XTC Discs  done – and then, eventually, to Yes and Gentle Giant – as for the Steve Hillage CDs that I just ripped – thank GOD it’s just all audio CDs in this set – no DVD or Blu-Ray content – so, that makes it so easy!

 

Until just now, I’ve never written down this process, and now that I see it in black and white, it just seems like going to extraordinary lengths to be able to hear rare music on your portable device – but, I have it streamlined now, so it does go a LOT faster using the templates, and my experience and skill at cutting up tracks, has gotten much, much better lately, so – it’s not quite as bad as it was.  But it is a LONG process by gumbo!

 

OK then, onto pastures new, now that you have learned one way, probably NOT the fastest way (I just know someone will come back to me with a tool that rips all audio from a Blu-ray or DVD with one button push) and it can even split up your tracks for you while cooking you a delicious breakfast – but I don’t know, mine does guarantee consistent, high quality, MP3s, built from the best possible, super high quality WAV file – for the level of technology that I have, it’s not too bad – it could be a lot worse!

 

For me, it’s just for the chance to hear this remarkable music, these musicological gems that Steven Wilson finds on these master tapes, and brings to us all – some amazing music has been unearthed just by his standard processes of “re-mixing” classic prog and pop albums.

 

Speaking of music, well, despite spending SOME time on Blu-Ray content – I have actually also been working on new music – in the studio, I have a new track, which I started a couple of weeks ago, called “On The Cusp Of Yesterday” which I am currently having a titanic struggle with.  The basic track has been done for some time, and, for some weird reason, the last one-minute guitar solo is also done.  So I needed to add guitars, from the beginning to the beginning of this existing solo, which is a bit challenging.

 

I spent an entire day (a few weeks ago on a Sunday, I think) adding some new parts, using a lot of truly beautiful H9 patches, a nice, ordinary clean delay into a hall reverb, not too ostentatious, but just nice – and then some other more strident patches – doing guitar over dubs.  All day, and, I wasn’t happy with the last…two or three overdubs.  Maybe the first one was OK, or maybe it’s just the second one…

 

I was so dissatisfied, because it just had not come out how I heard it in my head, which I didn’t even bother to make a rough mix of it with these new hard-fought overdubs, which were technically ok, but weren’t doing the job for me.

 

So the next time I got some free time to work on it, “On The Cusp Of Yesterday” got a new makeover – I actually decided to go ALL THE WAY BACK to the backing track, hiding all of my previous guitar bits, including the good ones – and I would try again, with that lovely clean delay to start – but this time, a clean delay into a beautiful SpaceTime patch.

 

I did several takes, some involving harmonics, others, strange chords, others, melodies and lead guitar.  Saved everything, but listened to nothing.  Now, I am waiting for another chance to go back and hear what I did – and I know that some certain bits – like the very end – came out REALLY well, there is some viable music there, and possibly, enough to flesh out part of the track, perhaps leaving some spaces for me to populate.

 

At the moment, I am just avoiding it, I am not sure where it’s going, the backing track is exceptional – drums, odd bass, really odd “keyboards” courtesy of “REV”, and a lovely violin.  A good solid track, and I really like it – but, for some inexplicable reason, I am not sure what belongs on top of it.  I am tending towards something quite ambient at the moment, rather than “normal” guitar parts (which is what I did the first time around, where I REALLY didn’t like the outcome) – I am liking ambient guitar parts at the moment, so that might be the way – time will tell.

 

Update: another session, I was able to take the recordings made the second time around, and produce a nice mix of “on the cusp of yesterday” from those – it’s come out really well.  Probably ready to be uploaded…which I still haven’t done, because I still haven’t decided about it…

 

Next – is something a bit unexpected, I am now at this very moment, revealing my plans for my next new “Eternal Album” which has turned out to be something I really did not expect AT ALL:  “Garage Band” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

How did that start? I had read somewhere on the Interweb, that Garage Band had had a really good makeover, and was a really cool way to make music now – and I can remember seeing Garage Band years ago on a friends Mac – and I myself have used it, I have a few songs made with it on an old Ipad, that I’ve never published – and possibly won’t, they were very early experiments, before I really had working with Apps down to a Science.

 

I decided to try out this new, improved Garage band, and wow – I was very, very surprised indeed!  It really has a lot of great features, and I think it could become my go-to place for working with samples – and that is what sets it apart, is the “Apple Loops” which are professionally-recorded bits of music, 2 bars of this, 4 bars of that, 8 bars of something really strange.  A lot of grooves, drum grooves, bass grooves, a lot of it is rhythmic in nature, including ethnic sounds from India, Afghanistan and even Egypt – and, a nice batch of African sounds, mostly drums – I have to admit, they have supplied a LOT of great, ready-made content, that you can fit together into tracks in a very easy, intuitive way.

 

I have thoroughly enjoy my Garage Band Renaissance or GBR, and I immediately started producing strange and wonderful hybrid piece of music beginning in mid-September and continuing to the present day.  And I finally did upload the first five complete tracks, to the new album, a few days ago.  I am also nearly finished with a sixth track, working title “preponderance”.  So the Garage Band Renaissance has been a real hit with me – here are the tracks:

 

Start Date            Title                                                       Containing

 

20160919             Hare Rama Buys A Llama               Drum Samples, Manually Played Bass, Grand Piano, Synth, Raucous Rhythm and Lead Guitars, Bizarre Guitar FX, and Bass Samples, Strings Samples

 

20160926             Opposites Attract                            Wonderful Pastiches of African Drum Samples, Ever Changing,

Manually Played Bass, Cello Samples, Afghanistani Melodic Instrument Samples, Sub-Bass Samples, Dub-Step Bass Samples, Bass Synth, Melody Synth, Reversed Melody Synth, Drum Kit Samples, String Section Samples.

 

20160926             Metal Crisis                                        (Altered version of abandoned track “Cuban Crises”) Drum Kit

(Metal) Sample, Metal Chug Rhythm Guitar Sample, Metal

(Metal) Sample, Metal Chug /Blues Lead Guitar Sample, Funky Clean Wah-Wah Guitar Sample, Beautiful Female Voice Singing “Oohs & Aahs” Vocal Sample, Funky Fender Rhodes Electric Piano Sample, Synth Sample, Additional Drum Kit Sample, Manually Played Bass.

 

20161014             Nambutamba Rain Shower         African Drum Samples (Many Different Ones), African Percussion

Samples, Mysterious Electric Piano Riff Sample, Mysterious Guitar Riff Sample, Mysterious Synth Chords, Additional Conga Sample, Rock Bass Guitar Sample, Drum Break Sample, Crash Cymbal Sample (Note: In the end, I actually did not play a single actual note on this, it’s entirely composed of samples – and also, it’s probably the first ever Ambient African piece of music ever made!)

 

20161017             Ten Seventeen (Aka “Nine Nine”)        Drum Kit Samples (Three Different Funked Out Drum Kit Samples, Manually Played Bass Guitar, Sarod Sample, Indian Drum Samples (Khol and Pakawaj Drums), Transport Stop Synth Sample, Voyager 1 Synth Sample, Vocalised Synth Bass Sample, Boogie Right Vox Synth Sample, Vigilante All Sample (String Section & Timpani Samples).

Update: after several more sessions, I FINALLY got the manually played bass guitar part how I wanted it.

 

I am very excited about working with Garage Band again, now that it has had such a brilliant face-lift, and I love how very simple it is to create very intriguing and interesting music, using mainly samples – something I’ve not done much of outside of Komplete – but that’s a very different world of sampling – the Native Instruments world – and I am afraid that Garage Band is not quite up to that standard yet :-).  But – it’s not bad for Apple!

I had a blast recording these tracks, the first where I used an IPhone instead of an Ipad – it’s not bad at all – I found it easy enough to do.  I do like the samples that Apple has provided, and the temptation to just sit and create, is overwhelming – they have a lot of great-sounding samples (and, some terribly bad or terribly cheesy ones, too) which make composing a dream – they even “theme” them together, so for example, you can put a bass guitar, rhythm guitar, and lead guitar “together” and they play back a chunk of an imaginary song by an imaginary band.  Of course, I like to manually force them to match up with the wrong track, cross-breeding them rather than putting them all together as intended – intentionally misusing the pre-matched loops…but that’s just me.

 

 

I have already used that technique twice during the last five weeks of Garage Band work, myself; once on “Hare Rama Buys A Llama” and again on “Metal Crisis” – it works well, and I like it. For the latter track, though, I brought in additional bluesy lead guitars, and purposely “mismatched” those over the other, patterned rhythm guitars – and it worked fine, because the musicianship of this unknown guitarist, was of a high calibre, and his beautiful blues riffs could have “fit” almost anywhere….by purposefully mis-placing them, I created some impossible and very musical moments in this metal / beautiful vocals track – a strange experience, but well worth it – I like this track!

So really, I am right back where I started, with music on an Ipad, often, Garage Band is the first thing you learn, and in my case, I am no exception, I did work with it for quite a while, until ambient apps came along and distracted me – once I had Scape, and Mixtikl, and Drone FX – that was me, away from “normal” apps like Garage Band, and when I did use normal apps, I favoured Nanostudio (and I still do!) as well as learning how to sample from the Fairlight, and so on – I began a long journey of discovery, that has now, in 2016…led me right back to the beginning, to where I started in 2011 – back to Garage Band.  Who would have thought?

Not me.

 

Now that the new Garage Band Eternal Album is loaded up at last, I am off to work on the guitar system which is undergoing yet another massive upgrade…as usual.  A game-changing upgrade I hope, including Pedalboard Mark 68, I can’t wait till it’s all sorted out…

 

 

Happy listening!

 

 

Dave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studio Diary – September 17, 2016

Aka   Eventide Heaven for ambient guitarists…

September 2016: mad flurrying to Aylesbury on the train for the Return Of The Crimson King (please see my previous three blogs – 3/9, 4/9, 5/9) …a day at the truly remarkable Bletchley Park, taking in an evening play at the Old Globe, and the guilty pleasure of a Warner Brothers tour of the Harry Potter sound stages…then, chaotic problems with trains over-packed with frustrated commuters, only, we were just trying to get home to Scotland from Aylesbury…

Then – finally, back home again, later than anticipated but intact – and trying to assess what already recorded music needed to be dealt with – and the answer, as always, was “quite a lot”.

A spur of the moment decision to attend the live Eight Days A Week screening at the Vue Theatre, a very enjoyable three hour plus evening of Beatles music – absolutely fab. The boys were playing their hearts out, George played some excellent solos, and I really enjoyed seeing “The Touring Years” – and as Giles Martin did the music, this meant that murky bits of Beatle history such as the now ancient-looking “Beatles At Shea Stadium” suddenly now rock hard, you can HEAR the music now and what Giles did here, and throughout the project, is nothing short of amazing. I am sure George M. is smiling, grinning actually, somewhere…

Meanwhile, I’ve been quietly working on a number of new pieces, or new pieces a number of I’ve worked quietly on meanwhile, I am not quite sure which.

Most of the past year and a half, has been filled with the large amount of work required to complete just three lengthy pieces of (progressive rock) work: “the complete unknown”, “planet obelisk” and more recently, “day seventeen”. 

These creations required a lot of painstaking work, and since they are all built from scratch as I went…it takes time. I think the first one took the longest, “the complete unknown” but by the time I got to “day seventeen” something had affected me, and it took me far, far too long to create this most difficult of pieces.  I struggled, which is unusual, normally, I just move along apace, it takes time, but I keep going.  But this time, I had to re-play guitar parts multiple times, some of the parts just wouldn’t reconcile…it took weeks, maybe months, longer than it should have, and I was so, so pleased when it was finally done!  A huge sigh of relief.

In the end, though, I managed to complete all three, and have since decided that I will be taking a break from progressive rock and very long songs, and will be revisiting my first love: the electric guitar.

To that end, I recently created one of a very few new “eternal albums” planned for this year: “electric guitars – an eternal album”. Which then meant that I could begin to work on shorter, live pieces and use some of the great new guitar tones I have available as well.  

Thus began a couple of different work streams, one looking back and the other, looking forward. It also meant that the relatively “new” eternal album has suddenly grown to about 50 tracks – or rather, it will once I upload the outputs of the past one week of work on mixing and mastering.

Beginning with the “looking back”; sometimes, in the middle of a project say, when I might be feeling frustrated by a lack of progress or frustrated by simply not knowing what sounds to make next in a piece in progress, I will “take a break” and just play some guitar for fun.  

June 15, 2016 was one such day, smack dab in the middle of the sessions for “planet obelisk”, one afternoon or evening, I sat down, plugged my guitar in, and played for some 60 minutes plus, doing an extraordinary, non-stop 26 takes in a row, using various sounds from the (then brand new) Eventide “SpaceTime” algorithm..

If you haven’t yet heard what SpaceTime can do – you should! It’s a remarkable amalgam of echo, delay, reverb, shimmer, reverse and I don’t know what else, and I had only just received the update when I decided to embark on a sort of “SpaceTime Jam 1” exploration of the sounds that the H9 pedal could make with this brand new algorithm..

Over the past few week, I reviewed and assessed these tracks, and a remarkable 25 of the 26 takes from the 20160615 session, were viable. So I decided I would do a sort of arbitrary “grouping” of these very live takes, into short song cycles of 3 or 4 takes per “song” (and in one case, just 2 takes making up the final song of the cycle).

So I ended up then, with eight quite interesting songs, mixed and mastered – and as I was working on them I thought…I could add some drums to these, and then release them, explaining that they were sort of made up of the same musical DNA as “planet obelisk” is. In some cases, in many cases in fact, I used drums leftover from the “planet obelisk” sessions.

In other cases, I would create new bespoke drum parts, or adapt existing parts to fit the improvised electric guitars. Adding the drum parts in ended up taking quite a bit of time, off and on, but when all eight tracks were complete, I was glad I’d made the effort. I also did one bespoke tabla part, which utilised Native Instruments “India” and that was a blast – I played one take, live, along with the three guitar tracks, including not playing in between the takes…and coming in at the right time. I managed to hit it all on take one, and “playing” the tabla is an absolute blast – I love this instrument (India).

The guitar takes are all improvised, on the spot, and in almost every case, the natural spaces between them, as it happened, have been preserved – because the session was rapid-fire, and the 26 pieces were played in surprisingly quick succession, with very little time between takes – in some cases just a few seconds, long enough for me to change the patch, and then dive into the unknown again.

Every take used the same basic preamp sound, which is my >Frippy patch from the new Sculpt algorithm – that’s the constant. A plate reverb was also used, and I then changed SpaceTime patches on one device as I played. Being able to use the H9 Control application on my tablet really was a life saver, I could change the patches manually with almost no effort, so you do get to hear a broad, broad variety of the SpaceTime algorithm’s many amazing patches.

More than the sum of songs, because in some cases, i would change the patch mid-song, sometimes multiple times within one song. Also, where I was able and it felt appropriate, I also used expression pedal on some of the patches, which then gives you deep and wild control over many variable aspects of any SpaceTime patch you are using.

The expression pedal implementation in the Eventide H9 is remarkable right out of the box, and every one of the patches features a range of possible expression pedal values, carefully chosen for the best effect – for rotary sounds, obviously, it’s the speed that the pedal controls, but the range of expressions possible with the H9 is simply staggering – what a brilliantly designed device.

I was mesmerised by the beautiful sounds that SpaceTime gave me, and I play a fairly joyous hour of happy and heavy lead and rhythm guitar. And that hour of music, took me 65 minutes to do – so no faffing about between the takes – I really just got on with it, trialling dozens of SpaceTime patches and taking many, many expression pedal excursions too. A wonderful session that I really enjoyed, which does contain quite a lot of “planet obelisk” DNA – without really sounding anything like it.

The 25 viable tracks then, were edited into these eight new “songs”; which vary in length from perhaps, five and a half minutes long, to over ten minutes in length in one instance. The total running time actually becoming about 55 minutes of music in total, mostly because of the fact that take one was unusable, it was a great take, but the levels were far too hot, and it suffered from multiple wounds of digital distortion, and nothing I could do would have saved it – a sad loss, but I was very happy that I turned everything DOWN after that and captured nice clean versions of the remaining 25 tracks.

The resulting eight tracks are:

building the obelisk

all good children go to heaven

beautiful metallic noise

the occasional chord (to remind us)

it’s echo soup in here

the heavens unfold

since the dawn of time

reaching catharsis (bridge)

A possible ninth track may be uploaded:

the road to obelisk – 55 minute track compiled from the above listed eight tracks – this recreates the continuous nature of the original session – if successful, it will be added to the upload list as well.

It is my hope to upload the above eight (or nine) tracks over the coming week if all goes well. Along with the appropriate outputs from the forward-looking project, which came from a session that I had somewhat arbitrarily named “brief session” – and it was, if compared to the “planet obelisk” 25 takes – the new “brief session” contained just 10 takes, although take 7 was an extended take with something like six individual parts on it.

The first six takes are very, very ambient, indeed, and are really a highlight of the session – the remaining four, used distorted guitars instead of clean, and although interesting, they did not come out nearly as well as the first six, which used clean guitars and more Eventide H9 wizardry.

I am very, very excited about these six tracks, which represent the bulk of the session time-wise, because for the first time in my memory, I was able to play ambient guitar, without the use of either a looper or of an ebow (energy bow) – I can now create very, very ambient guitar, just using the stock algorithms from the Eventide H9.

That is an incredibly freeing experience – yes, you do still have to play the guitar, but, the beautiful sounds that come out, whether produced by SpaceTime, Resonator, or MultiTap (such as “UltraTap”….heavenly patch) it matters not – there is not just one ambient sound available, but in fact, droves of them, and I can see myself playing a lot of clean, careful guitar into an H9 (or two) that can translate that input directly into the kind of soundscape I’ve always wished I could produce.

My best method of creating that atmosphere has always previously been, running an ebow guitar into a looper and then into a good reverb unit. And of course, I will always, always still do that, because I love to do it – but, the H9 gives me an alternative to that, where I don’t need to rely on the ebow or the looper (however, I have retained and have used the ebow on several of the eight tracks above), because that made them sound even better, so ebow + SpaceTime is a winning combination for me. Ambient guitar made…a little bit easier than it used to be.

For the six tracks below however, I did not use the ebow – I didn’t need to, the pure ambient output from the H9 was all I needed.  What a brilliant device!

The resulting six tracks are:

exogenesis

exoskeletal

exospheric

exothermal

exocyclic

exonumia

I cannot express how wonderful it was to be able to create these pieces, and I sat there in awe of the sound design that has gone into the Eventide algorithms – especially those that I would call “totally ambient” – and there are many, many of these sprinkled here and there within the algorithms.

I see this then, this set of six songs, to be very future oriented, very forward-looking, and I will very probably be exploring much, much more along these lines, in hopefully some longer-form improvs, just what I can achieve for ambient guitar, without resorting to ebow + looper + good reverb – although, that is still a great formula for ambient music!

I feel like a man who has been given the actual sound of heaven, and by gosh, I am going to use that sound – those sounds – as often as I can, because they are truly remarkable. Even one of the oldest of Eventide’s algorithms, “Space” – their do-all reverb magic box – is an incredible tool, and contains reverbs that can also act as ambient guitar creators – it’s all in there, in that little white box…

“exogenesis” was the starting point for me, I could just close my eyes and hear those ethereal sounds, and realising that I was just playing clean guitar notes, slowly, carefully – and this river or ocean of beautiful, ethereal, reverberant sound just flowed all around me – as it should do. I could really get used to this – I really could.

The six super ambient tracks from the “exo” series will also be uploaded in the near future – as soon as possible.  

So, I haven’t been absent at all – I’ve been busy!

love peace and order

🙂  dave

King Crimson – September 5th, 2016,  Friar’s / Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, UK

Monday night, and it is the last of three (in a row, no less!) King Crimson concerts for us, and for the band, the last show on British soil for a while, after tonight; it’s off to Europe for the rest of the tour. But before they go, there is the remaining matter of the last of the three Aylesbury gigs, on a cool, cloudy Monday night at the Riverside Theatre.

Being the third show in as many nights, the kinks in the performances are starting to work out now, and the band is settling in to the routine of playing, the dealing with of cues and counts and stops and starts, pedals and programs, guitars and basses; allowing the players to relax just that little bit more, which made it possible for some interesting improvements and a bit more improvisation when compared to the previous two concerts.

Speaking of basses, we observed something last night that was interesting: Tony Levin has too many instruments! Mel Collins has no choice but to bring several instruments, for example, he plays baritone, tenor and soprano saxophones, so that’s three right there that he has no choice over – he has to have those, to be able to replicate all those very different sax parts from those early albums in particular. A selection of flutes is inevitable too, and I would not say a word if Mel turned up wth seventeen instruments…because each one would have a specific purpose for a specific song or songs.

Tony I think, could actually get by with fewer instruments, because his function nominally, is bass player. Robert has one or possibly two, guitars. Jakko gets by with just one guitar, his beautifully painted PRS electric. But Tony has a veritable arsenal of bass-related weaponry:

Stand-up fretless

Chapman Stick

Yellow Three Of A Perfect Pair 5-String Bass

Pink 6-String Bass

…and maybe a fifth bass

Note too that except for the fretless,they all have more than four strings!! This makes me believe that over time, Tony has become more of a frustrated guitarist to some degree (as you would do in the company of Jakko and Robert) than an ordinary “bassist”. He’s now graduated from 5-string to 6-string basses, which sound great, but aren’t actually “basses” by strict definition.

It may be more a matter of orchestrating the changes to minimise the number of changes required, but sometimes it seems like every time I look towards the centre of the stage, I see Tony Levin changing basses yet again, and again. It’s a tiny bit distracting if I am honest. OK, to be fair, Mel is changing instruments multiple times during many songs, but he has no choice, he can’t play a flute line with a baritone sax. And when he changes instruments, it’s subtle, quiet, you barely notice that he is doing it.

Tony, being Very Tall and also, standing basically at Centre Stage – cannot in any way disguise or downplay the swapping of one bass for another….over and over again.

Tony however, can get bass notes out of any of the basses in my slightly incomplete list of his basses, so why all the fuss and constant back and forth from Stick to Fretless to Yellow to Pink and back to Stick again? I get that songs that require Stick, require Stick, but songs that require bass, do they require 5- and 6- string basses? Not really, in my humble opinion. I love Tony and the way he plays, I just wonder if he can minimise the visually distracting bass changeovers by reducing the number of instruments. If he has any spare basses, I could sure use a good bass 🙂

But that is just an observation made over three days and an observation that first started really gelling on night two, last night, and tonight I’m happy to report that the bass-changing has settled down a bit, thanks in part to changes in the set list, but overall, I didn’t seem to notice it as much – so that is a win.

Also noted on the previous two nights, were instances where it appeared that Robert was playing something, but zero sound came out, so we could see him playing but not hear it, and in one case we got complete silence for a moment before the sound kicked back in and the audio then supported the visual, instead of RF strumming away with no sound emerging until he got things under control.

But these observations really just prove that this band of superhuman players, are really human after all, and in the main, the sound you hear from those seven instruments, whatever combination they are in, is 99.8 percent perfect if you compare it to just about any other band.  

Each player knows their space, knows what has to be played, while still leaving open what might be played…and it’s in those moments, when one or more of the players just grab the bull by the horns and move out into previously uncharted territory, that’s when the live “Crimson magic” begins.  

It happens with Mel in almost every song, sure, he plays his parts, but then, he loses himself in the moment and is soon soaring on a high-flying improv that proves that he was and still is, the most innovative horn player in rock music (and you can’t forget his history either, of working with the Stones and being in Camel and of course, being in King Crimson for albums two, three, four and five), if you count “Earthbound” as the fifth album (I do). Mel has been around the block in terms of playing experience.

It happens to all the players in the band at some point, although the better the improviser they are, the better their ability to transcend an ordinary “part” and play something truly extraordinary instead. Mel and Robert do this almost constantly, while Tony and Jakko must stick to the script more, so opportunities to improvise are fewer, and for the drummers, probably only they themselves or the members of the band are aware when they do something amazing, although I feel that the drum section have produced both rehearsed and slightly improvised music each and every night – they are so well co-ordinated, but each also has his own style and their own series of wildly improvised and very astonishing percussion moments.  

What a trio they are, and when you combine that three-man percussive prowess with Mssrs. Fripp, Collins, Jakszyk and Levin…you get the “Crimson magic” – and every night, you will hear this, to a greater or lesser degree, if you listen with your ears open. Sure, they are “playing” the songs; but there is also opportunity for the occasional amazing riff or chord or entire solo or other Amazing Accidental Musical Moment In Time (AAMMIT).

By the way – in one of the silences someone shouted out “Happy Birthday Mel!!” which got an enormous cheer from the whole audience as well as a huge grin and sweeping wave of thanks from the man himself.

Before I go any further, here is the full set list:

Soundscapes

The Battle Of Glass Tears

Unknown / New Song (Instrumental – featuring two guitars) 

Pictures Of A City

Cirkus

Fracture

Hellhounds Of Krim or Devil Dogs Of Tesselation Row (Drum Trio)

Easy Money

Meltdown

Epitaph

Red

[INTERMISSION]

Devil Dogs Of Tesselation Row or Hellhounds Of Krim (Drum Trio) 

Level Five

Suitable Grounds For The Blues

The ConstruKction Of Light

Vrooom

The Letters

Sailor’s Tale

One More Red Nightmare

Starless

[ENCORE]

Banshee Legs Bell Hassle

Heroes

21st Century Schizoid Man

The only band I’ve seen recently that can even come close to King Crimson 2016, was King Crimson 2015 – who we were fortunate enough to see three times in three different cities last year – and those shows were brilliant.

This time around, after a little time, I would say that the first of the three shows was overall winner, because the band was more relaxed, and the setlist was amazing – and despite some technical teething problems, it was a superb performance that I will not soon forget.

The second night was sort of in the middle for me, it was nice to have “The Talking Drum / Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part 2” back in the set, but not really at the expense of “Sailor’s Tale” which made a very welcome return tonight.

Tonight, the band opened with the eerie and beautiful “Battle of Glass Tears” my personal favourite new / old track, which was just sublime, so atmospheric, and you could hear a pin drop at this point – followed immediately by that new song, minus it’s 2 chord intro, and of course, the audience had NO idea what was going on at this point…  That came to a slightly uncertain stop, and finally they launched into “Pictures Of A City” and all was well again.

While I have awarded the “Friends & Family” show as my personal favourite, there are of course, one or two exceptions I should note. Tonight’s show got off to a bit of a shaky start in that, the audience didn’t know whether to applaud or not after the second piece – so out of politeness, they didn’t applaud, so it wasn’t until the end of “Pictures Of A City” that they could let their hair down and scream and shout for the return of the Crimson King. The show only got better from there, and some particular highlights for me were, in no particular order:

“Fracture”, which was fantastic, and in my opinion, by far the best version over the three nights (so, as far as this song is concerned, THIS was the best version – even better than night one’s version). Robert and Mel were right on form, Jakko’s “mock violin” was incredible to watch and listen to – and the rhythm section simply smashed it along with Tony – a rocking version, and really tight – I loved it. Out of all of the new / old songs, I welcome “Fracture” back into the setlist with the most joy – it’s been a long time since KC tackled this twelve minute musical monstrosity – what a great tune, and the new arrangement is fantastical – really beautifully done.

It was great to hear “Cirkus” for the third time, it was consistently good each night, and in some ways, Mel’s solo in this is probably one of the best solos he has ever done, so to get to hear and see him play that beautiful, beautiful horn solo, for three nights running, is an incredible privilege – and, the saxes on “Cirkus” are amongst the most beautiful I have ever, ever heard, in any context or in any song – it’s an absolutely sublime, lovely solo – and I got to hear it three times in a row – so beautiful!

“One More Red Nightmare” – “Red” was great, every night, but this was better, and another “welcome return” to the setlist. A brilliant vocal from Jakko, indescribable ensemble work from the drum team, and just a blast of fun, all about a cool riff, with sinister saxophones and Jakko’s distorted auto-Wah sounded absolutely astonishing at the end – a great guitar sound! This track totally rocked tonight…in fact, the whole second half of the show was really exciting, and the section containing “Vrooom”, “The Letters”, “Sailor’s Tale” and finally “One More Red Nightmare” very nearly changed my mind about which concert was my favourite. Very nearly, but not quite 🙂

A stunningly beautiful “Starless” followed, which did bring the temperature down quite a bit – but then, we get to that amazing end section, with the fabulous guitars sliding up and down and the bass ripping a la John Wetton (Tony did really well on this version of “Starless”, I have to say – and it’s not an easy bass part to play!).

“Heroes” was pretty much a carbon copy each of the three nights, I still think night one has the edge, although tonight’s version got a very very good reaction from the audience, as did the final number, “21st Century Schizoid Man” including the aforementioned New Standard Tuning tasty jazz chords from Mr. Robert Fripp.

I noticed that sometimes during one of Mel’s longer tenor or soprano sax solos (and since we are talking about this song already, one prime example of this tonight was the final encore, “21st Century Schizoid Man”, which is possibly Mel’s longest solo of the night); that as soon as Mel settling into his solo, wherein he will absolutely be screaming away at speed – that Robert starts comping along to the solo, playing what he might call “particularly tasty inversions” of jazz chords, and that’s been an interesting thing to hear – Mel is soloing his heart out, and Robert starts slipping these fantastically lovely “jazz chords” into the tiny spaces that Mel leaves open in his solo – and how RF can select and play a series of interesting, jazzy chords to comp along to Mel’s insanely good sax solos is actually, beyond my musical understanding.

I wish I even knew those chords, and then I would worry about when to play them. And of course, they are all now in the new standard tuning, so over time Robert has relearned his 11th and 13th and 9th/b5th chords, and knows them well enough in NST now, to confidently insert them into the spaces left by one of rock’s master musicians, the extraordinary Mel Collins.  

The resulting sound, with the whole band in full on jazz swing mode, is nothing short of extraordinary. Mel is the not-so-secret weapon, who can be called upon almost on demand to produce a honking or screaming or deadly smooth slinky sleazy sax solo, with Rock’s best jazz guitarist Robert Fripp comping along with the tastiest of chords. What a sound that is. He may also have been doing this during Mel’s soloing in “Pictures Of A City” – but I am not sure about that, I can’t actually remember if “Schizoid Man” was the only time Fripp did this astonishing, clean jazz chord work – it blew me away.

Prior to Mel’s selfsame long solo in “Schizoid Man”, Robert took his solo, but it was different this time, to any of the previous shows – including the three shows we saw last year – I’ve only seen / heard this happen one time out of six shows, and that was during this guitar solo – he started it out with one of those impossible high-speed three-note trills (a la “St. Elmo’s Fire” by Brian Eno, where Fripp plays impossibly fast three-note trills over and over again) and also, the solo was quite a bit longer than on the other nights, and it included some more brief “exhibitions of reckless speed” in the lead guitar arena – he was really going at it, and it was a great little solo – and then, he handed it over to Mel as he always does – who then proceeded to attempt to out-do what Robert did – and that is when Robert changed over to a lovely clean sounding guitar, and did the chord comping I described previously.  

What a great, great version of “Schizoid Man” – I loved it, if only just for the little extra bits of stunning Fripp guitar – that really added a lot to the experience for me – so again, of the three nights, that’s my favourite version of this particular song – but overall, I still think I preferred the first show out of the three – except for “Fracture” and “21st Century Schizoid Man” which were both definitely better tonight – they were absolutely brilliant, and along with the two tracks from “Islands” plus the two tracks from “Red” – there was a lot of very hot music going on this evening!

Here and now, in September 2016, for us, having the absolutely unique experience of seeing King Crimson play three gigs over three nights in the same elegant, beautiful theatre – and, each of those shows had its own individual “feel”, while at the same time, the three taken as a whole, gets you a really good overview of just exactly what this band is capable of…all I can say about that, is:

Europe, be ready – the great Crimson Beast is lumbering towards you (in an odd time signature, of course) so I hope you are ready, this band is going to change the way you see (and hear) live music forever, with its amazing “front line” of three incredible drummers, and it’s impossibly talented and experienced “back line” full of virtuoso strings and horns – and just 30 seconds worth of “Level Five” will melt you right into your seat! 🙂

Thanks for listening!

Dave

King Crimson Live – September 3rd, 2016, Friar’s / Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, UK

King Crimson, “Friends & Family” Event,  Friar’s, Waterside Theatre

Aylesbury, UK – September 3rd, 2016

The first unofficial show by the “new” King Crimson ended just a few short hours ago, and with the sound of the final selection of the night, “21st Century Schizoid Man” (complete with the original introduction mind you!) still ringing in my ears, I want to very quickly give my impressions of the show.

First of all, it was a “secret” show, a warm-up gig to the warm-up gigs tomorrow and Monday night (both at the same venue, on the 4th and 5th of September respectively). Attendance was by invitation only.

Second, I would very briefly mention that it really *was* friends and families, while we were waiting for the show to begin; in the foyer, and then later, in our seats – I kept seeing familiar faces and I kept getting greeted by many Crafty friends who had travelled from far and wide to see this special concert. I spoke to a couple of Crafties that had flown from the United States, and I was told that one Crafty had even travelled from Australia to see the show- now that made our own 7 hour journey from Scotland, by train and taxi, seem pretty tame – but it was a lovely, low-key way to travel, I can tell you for free. So I must have known 20 or 30 people in the audience, and spoke with a handful of them, or shook hands as I went by…it was very unusual and very nice to see and speak with a lot of people you know – mostly fellow Crafty guitarists.

But I digress…I return now, to the performance itself.

When I said the “new” King Crimson, I did mean King Crimson, 2016 version as compared to King Crimson, 2015 – the difference being, a swap of drummers – Bill Rieflin departing the band in March, 2016 and then being promptly replaced by new member Jeremy Stacey. So this “warm-up” gig would have been his first ever live performance with the band.  

I’ll take just a moment to say what a welcome and capable replacement Jeremy is: he sits in the same position (centre) of the three “front line” drummers, and like Rieflin before him, plays lots of piano, Mellotron and synthesizer parts as well as being an ace drummer. It’s a very, very seamless integration, and in fact, I would say that due to some excellent changes to the band’s repertoire, that Stacey actually played quite a bit more Mellotron especially, than Bill R. ever did. And he played it with complete confidence, as if he’d been doing it all along. He is a fully integrated member of the drum front line, and then by extension, since the drum front line works so well – of the band, too, the more string and horn oriented “back line”.

In short, Jeremy is an excellent, almost fit for fit / fit for purpose replacement for the departed Rieflin – and excellent choice, and his playing, both on the drums as well as on the keyboards, was basically flawless. A brilliant night for the front line, then.
In the back line – there were some opening night issues. Robert’s guitar was sometimes too low in the mix, as was Jakko’s, and there was a fairly disastrous tuning issue in the slow “relentless” section of “Starless” – which after about two minutes, was finally corrected by Jakko, which then put the song back on track.  Mel’s soprano sax on this song was sublime,  Beautiful playing.

Robert’s solo in “Easy Money” for me, was at first, so overly-reverbed, that I couldn’t distinguish the notes he was obviously playing, those notes, literally lost in space by a slightly too ambient patch on his effects unit. Then, as the solo progressed, he switched to the treble pickup, and finally I could start to hear the solo. It was almost inaudible for almost a minute – I could see him playing, but I couldn’t hear him playing. A few minor adjustments on the fly, and the solo finally took wing and flew – consummate professionalism every time.

Beyond those issues, there wasn’t much I could really find fault with, as we found with the 2015 band, the performances were well-rehearsed, well-polished, and the songs were filled with virtuoso moments from every player on the stage, from Tony Levin’s incredibly delicate fretless electric string bass solo on “Vrooom” to Robert Fripp’s impossible ascending / descending moving scales on “Fracture” (yes, I said “Fracture”!!!) this is a band of seasoned professionals, and the band’s collective ability to create virtually perfect renderings of material old or new is simply astonishing.

For me, having the incredibly capable Mel Collins back in the band, who then gets to re-create a series of basically impossible horn and flute solos, that he ad-libbed (probably) in the studio on albums made in 1970 (Lizard) and 1971 (Islands) and Red (1974)…

He also got to play horn parts originally performed by original King Crimson horn man Ian McDonald, and he got to replace Adrian Belew vocal parts with amazing flute solos or baritone saxes or soprano sax – and he is constantly switching between the flute and one of those saxes, and it’s fantastic, too, to hear him playing along with Fripp on pieces like “Starless”. The two sounded good together in 1970, 71 and 72, but they sound absolutely amazing together in King Crimson 2016.

I can’t of course, not say something about the redoubtable trio of drummers, Pat Mastelotto, new man Jeremy Stacey, and now-veteran (almost) Gavin Harrison – who is the “leader” of the drum team. Their unique approach to re-arranging some of the Crimson repertoire, for example, the song “Red” gets a whole new treatment from the trio, with a strange but wonderful slipping / synchronised tribal beat, that takes the song to a completely new place – it’s brilliant.

They also take quite a few solos, and have a couple of their own pieces which I can never keep straight, which one is which, so Crimson-drum-aficionados must forgive me if I guess the name of one of their drum numbers wrong. I probably WILL get it wrong…

Now – before I forget, I want to give you the set list, and I might then say one or two things about some of my personal favourite moments. As the 2015 band brought back and re-vitalised two tracks from the fourth Crimson studio album, 1971’s “Islands” in the form of “The Letters” and “Sailor’s Tale”, the decision was apparently taken that the oft-maligned third Crimson album, 1970’s “Lizard, now deserved some air time as well, so as I sat there tonight, I got a couple of real shocks to my system in terms of, ‘oh my God, I know what THIS is…’   …in fact, that happened three times: twice for two tracks taken from 1970’s “Lizard” and probably the most surprising of all – a track from “Starless And Bible Black” (1974) entitled “Fracture”.  

I was startled when Robert started playing this familiar riff, and his guitar was giving him a little bit of trouble during the first couple of bars, but he managed to straighten out whatever was wrong, and then dived into a nearly-faultless version of “Fracture” which of course contains long passages of his patented “perpetual vertical and horizontal picking” which to hear and see live, was absolutely amazing – he somehow managed to work out this entire, extremely complex piece of music in the New Standard Tuning, and with ace violin-emulation from Jakko Jakszyk – the band pulled off a pretty ripping version of the tune.

But I am getting ahead of myself here – here is the set list:

Soundscapes

Hellhound Of Krim or Devil Dogs Of Tesselation Row (Drum Trio)

Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part 1

Pictures Of A City

Cirkus

Fracture

The Battle Of Glass Tears

Meltdown

Red

The Letters

Sailor’s Tale

Epitaph

[INTERMISSION]

Devil Dogs Of Tesselation Row or Hellhounds Of Krim (Drum Trio) 

The ConstruKction Of Light

Level Five

Suitable Grounds For The Blues

Unknown / New Song (Instrumental – featuring two guitars)

Vrooom

Easy Money

Starless

[ENCORE]

Banshee Legs Bell Hassle

Heroes

21st Century Schizoid Man

Finally, some very memorable moments for me…during the last section of “Pictures Of A City” Robert suddenly played an incredibly beautiful, long jazzy lick on his guitar that just shocked me – it was that good, and it just sounded so, so perfect in that moment, it really blew me away – brilliant!

When “Cirkus” started, I knew I was going to be bowled over by it, and it did not disappoint in any way. A powerful vocal from Jakko, and Mel had clearly spent many hours studying the original recording, has taken his already impossible, sleazy, beautiful, jazzy sax riffs and he’s gone and IMPROVED on them – meanwhile, new member Jeremy Stacey was playing the ominous Mellotron riff, as well as the piano introduction, switching between piano and Mellotron and drums effortlessly – an amazing performance, while Robert played the same riff on guitar, and would occasionally add additional Mellotrons to parts that required more than one – and in “Cirkus” you get this requirement.

Mel was absolutely spot on, and to hear this song performed live is a dream I never dared dream – and a few hours ago – I watched and listened to King Crimson playing one of my favourite tracks from “Lizard” – the dramatic and strange “Cirkus” with perfect Gordon Haskell bass lines from Tony Levin and a great Jakko vocal (not to mention, Jakko playing the famous very rapid classical sounding acoustic guitar parts that occur twice in the song – at an incredible tempo) – brilliant!

But strangely enough, what really, really blew my socks away, was a near perfect rendition of “The Battle Of Glass Tears” (which was originally the third section of the side long so-called “Lizard Suite” which originally ran as):

1. Prince Rupert Awakes

2. Bolero

3. The Battle Of Glass Tears

4. Big Top

So removing it from the context of that, and playing it as a single, live piece of music, was an inspired move, the lyrics are absolutely beautiful, and Jakko did a fantastic job of rendering original singer Gordon Haskell’s somewhat strange melodic vocal – and in doing so, made it into an even better vocal performance than the original – and the band, were in complete jazz stealth mode, all playing super quietly while Jakko sang this strange tale of a sort of dream battle with it’s amazing Peter Sinfield lyrics – it was the most surprising of all – and I had just heard both “Cirkus” followed by “Fracture” – both of which had blown me away,,,but when new member Jeremy Stacey started playing the eerie, strange mellotrons from “The Battle Of Glass Tears” I knew what it was instantly, or rather, where it came from, I knew every word, and I actually sang along quietly because it’s such a beautiful lyric.

The whole band just excelled on this short, very odd piece of music, which was literally snatched out of the middle of a much larger work, but, for me, it draws attention to a single song that I always felt was one of the best moments on the whole album – it’s certainly my favourite lyric on the album, and it’s also the first time you hear singer Gordon Haskell’s voice after the sort of fairy-tale voice of guest singer Jon Anderson on the first part, “Prince Rupert Awakes”. Haskell’s voice is an acquired taste, but I absolutely love his bass playing (perfectly emulated thanks to the good Mr. Levin) and his singing on “Lizard” – I think he is top notch, especially at interpreting the rather tricky Peter Sinfield lyrics.

“Lizard” has taken a lot of abuse over the years, sort of the unwanted jazz child of “In The Court” and “In The Wake” but I love all four of those earliest records, each in their own way – the fourth one being “Islands” of course – and I was SO very happy that they have retained the two tracks from “Islands” in the setlist, the show wouldn’t have been the same without them!

I know this won’t be a popular opinion, but I really tend to enjoy the tracks from “Lizard” and “Islands” more than the tracks from “In The Court” or “In The Wake”. That’s just me. Don’t get me wrong; I love “Epitaph” and “Schizoid Man” and “Pictures Of A City” but I just prefer hearing the rarer (and somewhat more eccentric) tracks from “Lizard” and “Islands”.

They introduced then, new for this tour, three “old” King Crimson songs, that King Crimson 2015 did NOT play – and those three songs, two from “Lizard” and one from “Starless And Bible Black” we’re probably my favourite moments of this concert. 
They also played what I believe was a new song, a sort of menacing two guitars piece that was quite short, but quite enjoyable, it had a slightly strange beginning featuring Robert Fripp playing a major chord up a half step, so something like F sharp major to G major, not unlike the beginning of “Jailhouse Rock” but then it immediately mutated into twin guitar Krimson territory – I don’t know what the name of it was, but it was pleasant enough.

Just prior to a roaring final encore of “21st Century Schizoid Man” (which was firing on all cylinders tonight my friends!) they did something else a bit unexpected – they played David Bowie’s song “Heroes”, with Jakko doing his best David Bowie vocal imitation, while Robert Fripp reprised his beautiful, soaring long guitar riff that has made the song so famous, that he originally recorded on the original version of the song from the David Bowie album of the same name, way back in 1980 – when it was Eno, Bowie and Fripp all working together in Berlin.

So that felt like a really nice send-off for David – Robert Fripp reminding us that it was his guitar on that song, but also offering up a really bright, poppy almost, version of the song with an excellent vocal and great supporting guitar from Jakko – while the rhythm section and Tony were just having the time of their lives – it sounded (and looked) really fun to play, and hearing Robert keeping that one note sustained for so long, over and over again, you forget that he is the absolute master of the long, sustained guitar note – and he doesn’t depend on a gadget (like the energy bows that I favour so much) – he just keeps that note going, somehow.

It was an impressive performance, when it ended, the familiar steam organ type sounds that are the recorded “prelude” or short intro piece that precedes “21st Century Schizoid Man” were playing through the speakers, and with a huge crashing chord sequence, we were off on the final track of the evening – it simply couldn’t be anything else, could it?

I loved every minute of this show, the skill and the musicianship and the professionalism on show, the virtuoso playing on show, is almost too much to take. I was alternately fascinated by the interplay between Jakko and Robert, and sometimes absolutely gobsmacked by riffs or ideas or techniques that both would employ, and some amazing guitar tones were also to be heard during this concert – great guitar sounds, including acoustic emulation from Jakko during Epitaph, the only other number we got tonight from the classic first album, “In the Court Of The Crimson King”.

But I am willing to give up the title track of that album, in exchange for “Cirkus”, “Fracture” and “The Battle Of Glass Tears” – especially the last one, whose lyrics are still rattling around my brain…

Burnt with dream and taut with fear

Dawn’s misty shawl upon them.

Three hills apart great armies stir

Spit oath and curse as day breaks.

Forming lines of horse and steel

By even yards, march forward.

I could not have dreamed in a billion years, that one day I would see and hear King Crimson play “The Battle Of Glass Tears” – It’s simply not possible. But – earlier this evening – I did just that – and it was gorgeous, too!

By all accounts, besides a very few technical issues, an excellent first foray for King Crimson 2016!

Now I can sleep happy!!

Peace and love

Somewhere near Aylesbury, waiting for night 2
Dave & Dawn