Soft Machine Kendal Brewery Arts Centre 19 March 2016
When I was a teenager I would listen intently to “In Concert” on the radio. There are three broadcasts that I recall very strongly. The first was by Led Zeppelin, recorded at the Albert Hall; the second Fleetwood Mac; and the other was Soft Machine. It will have been 1970 or 1971. Of the three, the Soft Machine concert was, for me, the most memorable. I still remember the impact it had. The strange sounds coming out of my radio intrigued me; I immediately became a fan. The music was so different to that of other bands, and to anything else I was listening to at the time. If I remember correctly, the concert was introduced by John Peel, who championed Soft Machine at the time. Their “songs’ sounded like long improvisations; however I now realise that was the nature of the band’s music and the songs were probably more planned than I thought. I think they may have played “Moon in June”, “Facelift” and a few other tracks from “Soft Machine 3”.
I only got to see Soft Machine live twice. Both occasions were in the mid-70s; by which time Soft Machine had completed its transformation from psychedelia to jazz-rock. The first time I saw the band was at the Reading Festival, and the second at Newcastle Guildhall as part of the Newcastle Jazz Festival. Last night I took up on the chance of seeing Soft Machine again; when the latest line-up performed at Kendal Brewery Arts Centre.
The current line-up of Soft Machine was launched (initially as Soft Machine Legacy) in 2004. The line-up consisted of Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, John Etheridge and John Marshall: four long-time members from different eras of the legendary group. In 2006 Elton Dean sadly passed away and his place on sax and flute was taken by Theo Travis, who has an association with Gong and David Gilmour and is a long time fan of Soft Machine’s music. Hugh Hopper sadly passed away in 2008. His place was taken by veteran bass player Roy Babbington, who first joined the group in 1970. This reunited 3/5ths of the 1975-77 Soft Machine line-up. Since 2010 the band has recorded a new, and highly acclaimed album “Burden of Proof” and they continue to tour. “Burden of Proof” is (from the venue website): “a collection of songs that basically has something for everyone; challenging jazz-fusion, adventurous prog-rock, bits of chaotic free-jazz, atmospheric instrumental pop-jazz, and even a little hard rock. Extraordinary!”
I had an uneventful drive over to Kendal, and took my seat in the Malt Room of the Brewery Arts Centre. Last time I was here was to see Marianne Faithful; which was some years ago. It’s a great venue and regularly features some classic acts. I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from Soft Machine; I guess I thought I might find the jazzy instrumental nature of the songs a little hard going. But I also knew that it was going to be worth the effort in order to reacquaint myself with the music of Soft Machine.
The band came onstage just before 8.30pm and launched straight into “The Steamer” from the 2006 Soft Machine Legacy album “Steam”. The sound was clear, crisp. The music a mix of jazz and prog. Guitarist John Etheridge introduced the songs and seemed to be taking the lead. He explained how the last incarnation of Soft Machine had seen former members put old disputes behind them, and how time had allowed that to happen. He also explained that veteran Soft’s drummer John Marshall was unwell, suffering from a bad back and unable to make this tour. The guy standing in did an excellent job.
The concert comprised two sets and drew from Soft Machine’s extensive back catalogue, going back to 1970 and “3” for “Facelift” and to “4” for “Kings and Queens”. The music was much more varied than I had imagined, and ranged from guitar-riff-driven hard rock, through jazz (with mucho sax) to atmospheric flute-led prog; the latter songs being my own favourites. The musicianship was excellent, and Etheridge joked and talked to the audience a lot more than I had anticipated. In fact, he explained that “back in the day” the members of Soft Machine would never speak to, or acknowledge, the audience. The evening passed quickly, and I realised that I had after all enjoyed it; actually a lot. It was very much a concert; rather than a rock gig; but hey that’s just fine for me these days.
The concert finished shortly after 10.30pm; I was back home around 12.30am. I’ve spent this morning playing my vinyl copies of Soft Machine “3” and “4”. Happy days.
Set 1: The Steamer; Hazard Profile; Chloe and the Pirates; Voyage beyond Seven; Song of Aeolus; Grape Hound
Set 2: Burden of Proof; Facelift / the Last Day; Kings and Queens; Relegation of Pluto / Transit
Soft Machine Kendal Brewery Arts Centre 19 March 2016
They Might Be Giants Newcastle Riverside 28 Jan 2016
The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha (frequently shortened to Don Quixote), is a book written by Spanish author Cervantes in the seventeenth century, and often considered to be the first modern novel. The main character, Don Quixote, is an insane man who thinks that windmills are evil giants, often tilting his lance at them. At one point Don Quixote’s trusted servant Sanch Panza asks the Don why he is preparing to attack several windmills with his lance. Don Quixote replies “Why, because they might be giants.” This inspired the name of a 1971 film, They Might Be Giants, and then of the quirky new wave alternative pop/rock band who Laura and I recently saw.
Now They Might Be Giants are pretty difficult to categorise. Their songs are all very different; however they also all share a few common factors: they have great hooks, they are catchy pop tunes, and they are super FUN. A Riverside packed with hipsters in the know was treated to an evening full of their top ditties, causing mucho bopping, dancing and singingalonging. The biggest bop was, of course, reserved for the wondrous Birdhouse in Your Soul (to my shame the only song I really knew). Super crazy cool; man.
Setlist: Walk On Water; Can’t Keep Johnny Down; They Might Be Giants; Music Jail; Why Does the Sun Shine?; Answer; The Statue Got Me High; Meet James Ensor; The Famous Polka; Doctor Worm; Alphabet of Nations; Rhythm Section Want Ad; Your Racist Friend; Bills, Bills, Bills (Destiny’s Child’s cover); Turn Around; I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar (Jonathan Richman cover); Cloisonné; Older; Let Me Tell You About My Operation; Birdhouse in Your Soul; Trouble Awful Devil Evil; Man, It’s So Loud In Here; Fingertips; Memo to Human Resources; Don’t Let’s Start; Damn Good Times
Encores: Particle Man; Robot Parade (Adult Version); James K. Polk; Twisting; Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here's an excerpt:
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 100,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.
Dave Davies (and Ray!) Islington Assembly Hall London 18 Dec 2015
My early Christmas present to myself was to go and see Kinks guitar riff hero Dave Davies in London last night. And what a Christmas present it was. Dave Davies played a blinding set to his home crowd. Still recovering from flu, Dave bounded on stage, greeting us “Hello London! It’s good to be back in town!” He ran through a set of Kinks classics, album tracks and solo songs. Dave’s guitar was loud and fuzzy and his band’s versions of Kinks hits “Dead End Street” and (my favourite) “See My Friends” were raw and heavy. Dave’s own “Death of a Clown” started pretty ramshackle but finished as a great singalong. But the best was yet to come. Sometimes miracles do happen at Christmas.
For the last song, Dave introduced a “surprise for Christmas” and on walked brother Ray!!! The two brothers played “You Really Got Me” and the place went completely berserk. I was sitting upstairs and everyone leapt to their feet; singing, clapping, shouting and going generally nuts. The next few minutes became an unbelievable almost surreal dream. Ray and Dave shook hands as they left the stage. As I walked out of the venue onto the street everyone faces me were looking at each other; grinning, not quite believing what we had all just witnessed.
You can find a video here
This was the Davies brothers first time on stage together for 19 years, and it was an amazing event to witness; musically, historically and emotionally. Two brothers, in their home town, back together on stage where they belong, singing the song that started so much. It really doesn’t get any better; I am going to be on a high for ages. Best Christmas present since I opened my Johnny Seven in 1966.
Setlist: Ripping Up; All Day and All of the Night; She’s got everything; Creeping Jean; Tired of Waiting; See My Friends; In You I Believe; Strangers; Flowers in the Rain (Dave solo track, not the Move song); Young and Innocent Days; The Man He Weeps Tonight; Death of a Clown; Living on a Thin Line; Dead End Street; Where have all the Good Times Gone?; I’m Not Like Everybody Else; You Really Got Me (with Ray Davies)
Ronnie Spector The Sage Gateshead 30 Nov 2015
Now there are those that we call legends, and those who really are legends. Ronnie Spector is definitely in the latter category. The self-styled wild child of rock and roll, the rose of Spanish Harlem, one of “the” voices and faces of the ’60s, is still going strong, voice and beehive intact.
I’d waited some years for this. I recall reading a review of one of Ronnie’s comebacks in the ’70s and vowing then to see her. I finally kept my promise to myself, event if it has taken me 40 or so years to do so. I had a ticket for a gig in Edinburgh a few years ago and it was sadly cancelled, so when this time round Ronnie came over for a full tour, calling at the Sage, I was determined to catch her while I can.
I went along wondering whether she would still be able to do it. I needn’t have worried. I am delighted to report that Ronnie Spector can perform, sing and hold an audience in the palm of her hand for an entire evening.
The concert was a run through Ronnie’s life. Between each song she sat down and told a little story, illustrated by some great images and videos shown on a big screen above the stage. The balance between stories and songs was just right, as was the way in which Ronnie told the stories. Sometimes these shows sound like name dropping. This one didn’t; it worked really well. Her band consisted of three girls (who could be the young Ronettes) in red taffeta dresses, and a drum/ guitar/ bass/ organ/ sax combo. Perfect. She looked great, sporting the biggest hairdo you can imagine.
First up was the Ronettes classic “Baby I Love You”. Ronnie explained how the young girls were just desperate to sing and dance, telling a story of how they lined up at the door of the Peppermint Lounge, were mistaken for the dancers, were invited in and then bravely took to the stage with no rehearsal. Of course, they knocked the crowd out and it everything started. Cue “Keep on Dancing” followed by “What’d I Say”. Next Ronnie told us how she loved DooWop, which led into “I’m so Young” by early DooWop group the Students. We then moved to the UK and the Ronettes first tour of this country, on which they were supported by the Rolling Stones. “Time is on My Side” was sung in front of a picture of herself with Brian Jones and Keith Richards. Pure magic. The next couple of songs showcased great songwriters: “Is that what I get for Loving You?” by Goffin and King and “Paradise” by Harry Nilsson. Ronnie next celebrated another major milestone in the lady’s career: a video of the Ronettes first US TV appearance on American bandstand followed by the song they sang on the show all those years ago: “Do I Love You”, followed by “You Baby” and “Chapel of Love”. For the next two songs Ronnie paid tribute to one great lady singer who was a friend; and another who was her sister and a great influence. For “Walking in the Rain”, Ronnie talked about Dusty Springfield who she shared a dressing room with in the late ’60s. And for “(the best part of) Breakin’ Up” she told us about her sister Estelle who lived the Ronettes journey with her.
Ronnie explained how she left showbiz in the late ’60s to return in the ’70s. “I wish I never saw the sunshine” was followed by “You can’t put your arms around a Memory” which was written for her by Johnny Thunders, andrecorded with Joey Ramone. “Back to Black” paid tribute to Amy Winehouse who was, undoubtedly, influenced by Ronnie.
Next was the song I had been waiting for all night. “Be My Baby” sounded just great; still powerful; not at all cheesy. For encores we got an early Christmas in the form of “Frosty the Snowman” and the Ronettes last single, the Beach Boys “I Can Hear Music”.
A class act. It was great to witness a legend who for once truly lived up to expectations, and much more.