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
Posts Tagged ‘jazz’
Soft Machine Kendal Brewery Arts Centre 19 March 2016
Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express Gateshead Old Town Hall 6th November 2015
I’ve always wanted to see Brian Auger. I am a big fan of that classic ’60s swirling Hammond organ sound and you don’t get much better an exponent of that groove than Mr Auger. Brian Auger has played or toured with many of the greats of classic rock including Rod Stewart, Julie Driscoll; Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, Led Zeppelin, and Eric Burdon. Those crazy stylish videos of the Brian Auger Trinity and Julie Driscoll playing “Wheels on Fire” will remain etched within my memory for ever. But today Brian Auger is once again fronting his jazz rock combo the Oblivion Express. Accompanying Brian in this incarnation of Oblivion Express are his son Karma Auger on drums, Mike Clairmont on bass and Alex Ligertwood on vocals, guitar and percussion. Alex Ligertwood hails from north of the border, and is best known as being the lead vocalist of Santana on several occasions during the period 1979 to 1994. He also performed with The Jeff Beck Group (1970) and was a member of Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express in the early 1970s.
The concert took place in the beautiful and historic Gateshead Old Town Hall building. A respectable number of evening hipsters turned up on a cold Friday evening to groove away to the Oblivion Express’ jazz rock fusion extravanganza. Auger’s music is enjoying renewed interest and the audience reflected this, consisting of young and old; all keen to experience the sound of a band of excellent musicians. The material was unfamiliar to me, drawing from jazz greats including Jimmy Smith, Miles Davis abd Art Blakely, but nonetheless enjoyable. Auger’s Hammond organ playing has lost none of its style and Alex Ligertwood’s vocals were excellent. An enjoyable evening, spent experiencing some music which is a little different from the gigs I usually attend.
King Crimson The Usher Hall Edinburgh 17th September 2015
“When music appears which only King Crimson can play then, sooner or later, King Crimson appears to play the music.” Robert Fripp
It is more than 40 years since my last King Crimson live experience.
7.30pm sharp. Seven guys in three piece suits, looking like they could be attending a bank managers’ conference, walk onto the Usher Hall stage. This is the 8th incarnation of King Crimson and features Gavin Harrison, Bill Rieflin and Pat Mastelotto (three drummers), Tony Levin (stick bass), Mel Collins (sax, flute), Jakko Jakszyk (guitar, vocals) and (of course) Robert Fripp (guitar). The house lights are still on. Our Crimson musos take their places without saying anything. The three drummers sit at the front of stage, one to the left, one centre and one to the right. Each drum sports the rather disconcerting image of an Edwardian-looking boy with one eye in the centre of his forehead, which features in the publicity for the tour. Jakko’s guitar is adorned with the red face from the cover of the first Crimson album. The lights go down and the music starts. The sound is crisp, clear. The songs are largely unfamiliar to me, but I gather that they are drawn from across the suite of King Crimson albums. Fripp describes the new band thus:”King Crimson VIII moved to its next stage of actualization. This is a very different reformation to what has gone before: seven players, four English and three American, with three drummers. The Point Of Crim-Seeing was of a conventional Back Line reconfigured as the Front Line, The Seven-Headed Beast of Crim is in Go! mode.”
The music is a mix of dark, heavy foreboding guitar, mucho drums, very jazzy at times, almost classical at others. The tempo drifts from heavy metal through prog through folk. Robert Fripp sits stage right, wearing headphones, alternating between squeezing strange riffs from his guitar and observing and quietly leading his musicians. I am reminded how unique and ground breaking Crimson were, and are. “Epitaph” takes us back to that classic prog-defining first lp. Wonderful. I am transported back to days of my youth so many years ago, when I sat with friends; we listened to that album in total awe; we discussed it endlessly and took it to school, proudly holding that red cover for all to see. They close with “Starless”. It is 9.30pm. The lights go on. We stand and clap, and cheer, and clap some more. The seven Crimson guys return. They still have not spoken. “Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row” gives the drummers the opportunity to show their skills. Then Crimson are transformed once again into prog-gods who tell us the exquisite tale of “The Court of the Crimson King”. Finally, the dark fear of the “21st Century Schizoid Man” takes us through a wall of screaming discordant terror to a crashing squealing climatic end. Mind blowing stuff.
A note about my drive home. Are there roadworks and diversions every night across the entire country? I always seem to hit them. I have a detour through Scottish villages just north of the border; the A1 is closed near Dunbar. Home at 1am.
Setlist: Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One; Red; Suitable Grounds for the Blues; Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind); Meltdown; The ConstruKction of Light; Level Five; Banshee Legs Bell Hassle; Pictures of a City; Epitaph; Hell Hounds of Krim; Easy Money; The Letters; Sailor’s Tale; Starless
Encore: Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row; The Court of the Crimson King; 21st Century Schizoid Man
Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames Newcastle City Hall 30 May 2015
Georgie Fame walked onto the stage of Newcastle City Hall, sat at his Hammond organ and started to reflect on his first visit to Newcastle. That was apparently in 1960, and a young Georgie Fame was playing piano on the Eddie Cochran /Gene Vincent tour. Georgie couldn’t quite remember the name of the venue, but a couple of members of the audience helped him out. “The Empire” shouted one, while another kept insisting (No, it was the Odeon”. I checked it out (isn’t Google wonderful) and it was indeed the Empire, in Newgate Street.
Georgie was soon accompanied by his sons on drums and guitar, and the trio performed Booker T’s “Green Onions”. Before too long the bass, vibraphone, trumpet and sax players all joined in. A wonderful start to the evening.
A sparse, but enthusiastic, crowd had gathered for this concert which was the final night of Fame’s tour. “Get on the Right Track Baby” and “Cool Cat Blues” (dedicated to Mose Alison) kept the groove going. We were then treated to Georgie’s 1965 No 1 hit single “Yeh Yeh”. This was preceded by a great story of how Fame and his band arrived in Stockholm 50 years ago, to find hundreds of girls waiting and waving at the airport. Sadly they soon discovered that the crowd was, in fact, actually waiting for “the Saint” Roger Moore; who also happened to be on the same flight. The next song was a version of Bob Dylan’s “Everything is Broken” to which Fame had added the line “Its all F**ked Up Maann” and which we all had to sing 🙂 The first half of the show closed with Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away”, after which Georgie introduced each of the band members before they all left the stage for a short break.
The second set started with Carole King’s “Point of No Return” which features on one of Fame’s early lps. The next song, which Fame dedicated to his friend Spike Milligan, was Louis Jordan’s “Don’t Send me Flowers when I’m in the Graveyard”, followed by (I think) “Love is going to take me away” and “Listen Here”. Then we were treated to an excellent version of the Bobby Hebb classic “Sunny”, which was also a hit for Fame. The concert closed (at 9.45 wow; I love early finishes) with Mose Alison’s “Was” (“When I become was and we become were ….”). A great concert by one ’60s music greats who remains the coolest of the cool.
Georgie Fame’s modern Blue Flames are: Guy Barker (trumpet), Alan Skidmore (tenor), Anthony Kerr (vibes), Tristan Powell (guitar), Alec Dankworth (double bass) and James Powell (drums). Tristan and James are Georgie’s sons (his real name is Clive Powell).
Julie Tippetts (Julie Driscoll) The Argus Butterfly Peterlee March 1976
I’m going to start my meander through acts beginning with the letter “T” with a gig that was strange, musically scary, and unique. And it is also one that I am so glad I attended. But first I’ll think back to when I was a kid in the ’60s.
The image of Julie Driscoll on TV, with her wide made-up eyes and scary hair, singing “Wheels on Fire”, remains forever etched in my memory. I would have loved to see her perform during that period; her work with Brian Auger is simply incredible, and I watch her quite often on YouTube. The first chance that I got to see her live was when she came, with her band Butterfly, to perform at the Argus Butterfly pub in Peterlee. By then she had married, become Julie Tippetts, and had undergone a radical change in vocal style and musical direction. The Argus was, of course, a legendary venue (see below for a picture of the pub) having hosted many bands in the late 60s, when it was the home of the Peterlee Jazz and Folk Club, including an early show by Led Zeppelin, and gigs by Family, Jethro Tull, Free, Deep Purple, Man and others. It was a sparse crowd that gathered to see Tippetts that night in 1976, which was a shame, because what we witnessed was something simply astounding. Tippetts had released the album “Sunset Glow” the year before.
Miles explained in the NME (1975): “In 1970 Julie Driscoll married Keith Tippett, the modern composer, and entered the mysterious other world of contemporary music….She began training her voice and got more involved with experimental work”. All Music Guide says: “After her soul, pop, and R&B beginnings, Tippetts redeveloped her voice… began to extend its reach in improvisation, breath control, and uncommon phrasing. She is one of the most compelling and original singers in recorded music’s history. Sunset Glow is a curious recording, one that walks the razor’s edge of composition and improvisation….strange song structures, varying dynamics”.
Her performance that night was truly way out there in left field. This was vocal improvisation and strange curious songs, and timings. Unlike anything I had heard before. Her band was Brian Godding (guitar), Harry Miller (bass), Mark Charig (cornet) all of who were with Julie in Centipede in 1973, and a “new” guy John Mitchell (percussion) who used to be with Arthur Brown. Julie accompanied herself on piano. One song ‘Mongezi Feza’ consisted entirely of Julie singing the name over and over again, improvising and playing with the sounds. To call the music avant garde jazz does it a disservice; this was experiments in sound, using the voice as an instrument and seeing how far she could take it. It was mind blowing stuff. Sometimes so strange I wanted to laugh, yet compelling and so challenging and moving. Marie and I sat near the front, wondering what on earth we were experiencing.
The gig sticks in my mind today, and I keep promising myself that one day I will go and see Julie perform again. She performs rarely these days, usually with her husband on piano, and in London or the south-west. I really must try and see her again.
Soft Machine Live 1974 and 1975
I saw Soft Machine twice; once at a concert at Newcastle Guildhall on 29 June 1974, and again at Reading Festival on August bank holiday weekend 1975. But my first recollections of Soft Machine are much earlier. I recall listening to a Radio 1 in concert by the band in the late 60s or early 70s, and was totally blown away by the experimental free-form improvisation, which was, to a young teenager, simply mind-blowing and unlike anything I had heard; very different from the rock and pop that I was listening to at the time. I held that concert in my mind, but it was a few years until I finally got to see the band. By then they had transformed from the early psych band of the late 60s to a much more jazz-oriented outfit playing purely instrumental concerts, featuring long numbers with extended improvisation. Allan Holdsworth had joined the band and they had become a much more guitar-oriented band. They were promoting their album ‘Bundles’ at the time and the line up at the time was Mike Ratledge – keyboards; John Marshall – drums, percussion; Karl Jenkins – oboe, saxophone, keyboards, synthesisers; Roy Babbington – bass and Allan Holdsworth – guitar. By the time I saw them at Reading Holdsworth had been replaced by John Etheridge.
The 1974 concert that I attended was part of the Newcastle Jazz Festival. I found a review of that concert in Melody Maker, posted on the website of support act the Steve Brown Band: “The Softs began to project their intricate, fluent music to a packed house. Each solo was performed to perfection, especially some stunningly complex drumming from John Marshall. They blended their inborn jazz origin with the essential urgency of rock to full effect and produced a generally rich all-round sound. Allan Holdsworth emerged as one of the all-round stars of the evening with some really fine guitar playing on “Hazard Profile”, “Floating World” and the exceptional “The Man Who Waved At Trains”. If I remember correctly this was a late night concert with doors at 9pm, and Soft Machine coming on stage very late, and sadly we had to leave before the end to catch our train home.
Neil commented on one of my earlier posts on a 1975 City Hall concert by Soft Machine, which I missed: “Soft Machine came on and didn’t speak a word all night to a third full City Hall. Incredible gig – can still picture Mike Ratledge doing a solo bit – as the band were walking off he just played one note that went on forever. Marshall did a lengthy drum solo and Karl Jenkins showed us he had something special and he’s proved it lately with his popular classical works.” (Thanks Neil).
A bootleg exists of the Reading performance I witnessed which records the set as: The Floating World; Ban Ban Caliban; Out of Season; Bundles; Land of Bag Snake; The Man Who Waved At Trains; Peff. Mind-blowing stuff.
An amazing and much missed act, who successfully blended rock, jazz and prog to produce a unique, challenging sound. I notice that John Marshall and John Etheridge sometimes perform these days as Soft Machine Legacy and have been meaning to go and see them.
Jeff Beck Manchester Bridgewater Hall 19th May 2014
Went to see Jeff Beck in Manchester last night in the beautiful Bridgewater Hall. After an uneventful drive down the A1 and across a surprising unjammed M62, I arrived just in time to catch support act Mike Sanchez who opened the show with a fine set of boogie woogie piano which made him some new friends.
Jeff Beck came on stage at 8.30pm dressed in a black jacket, waistcoat and trousers, and a white t-shirt, emerging from the wings playing a bright white Telecaster. The Telecaster was soon swapped for a white strat which remained his instrument for the remainder of the evening. For this tour Jeff Beck’s band are: Rhonda Smith bass; Jonathan Joseph drums and Nicolas Meier guitar. They are individually and collectively excellent, provided an accompaniment which blended jazz and classic rock. This time around Beck’s set drew from across his back catalogue, with over-all a heavier rock feel than on previous occasions I have seen him. I am becoming more and more of the opinion that Beck is the greatest living guitarist; he truly understands his instrument and can switch in an instant from the heaviest and raunchiest of rock riffs to the sweetest, most gentle tunes. The set had similar changes of style, from thundering rock reminding of his 70s days with Beck, Bogert and Appice, to Hawaian style, and to his treatment of ballads, such as Danny Boy, where he makes incredible use of tone and moving the volume control up and down. You can hear the influences, Hendrix of course, Santo and Johnny, Les Paul, John McLaughlin; all there somewhere in Beck’s playing, and yet he is also very much his own man with his own way of playing. The set was almost totally instrumental with bass player Rhonda Smith taking vocals on a couple of songs. But he held the attention of the crowd throughout. He hardly said a word all night, he comes over as a quiet guy who concentrates on his music, and is aware of his own stature and place in the history of rock. The guy is simply amazing and a genius. The crowd gave him a standing ovation at the end of the show.
The setlist consisted of some of (although not in this order, and I can’t pretend to know all of Beck’s material so have probably got some of this wrong): Loaded; Nine; Little Wing; You Know You Know; Hammerhead; Angel (Footsteps); Stratus; Yemin; Where Were You; Egyptian; Goodbye Pork Pie Hat; Brush with the Blues; You Never Know; Danny Boy; Why Give It Away ; Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ; Choral; Big Block; Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers; Declan ; A Day in the Life.
Jeff Beck finished at 10.10pm. I was home around 12.45am. I decided to come up the A19, as the signs above me on the motorway threatened a diversion on the A1, but that didn’t really help as the A19 was closed up at Peterlee, and I had to make a detour through Shotton Colliery; the joys of driving late at night.
While driving back I was creating my dream Jeff Beck setlist. Imagine if he put together a set that included (with a guest singer or two): Shape of Things, Morning Dew, Beck’s Boogie, Beck’s Bolero, Greensleeves. Love is Blue, Hi Ho Silver Lining, Keep Me Hanging On, A Day in the Life, Moon River, Jerusalem or Danny Boy, Little Wing, Over Under Sideways Down, You Shook Me. Not that would be something. Ain’t ever going to happen I guess, Jeff Beck is very much his own man, and plays what he feels is right. And that’s, I guess, how it should be.