Kozfest 2017

Friday 28 July – Sunday 30 July, Bobby’s Farm, Uffculme, Devon

kozfest timings

For the unitiated, Kozfest is a unique festival set in the rolling hills of the Devon countryside. In the big picture of festivaldom, it’s a tiny speck, limited to 500 punters but blessed by up to 300 performers, many of whom have direct or indirect links to musicians covered by Facelift magazine over the years, particularly at the psychedelic end of the scene.  Unlike last year’s sun-drenched bake-out, this was a muddy affair, not quite Glastonbury but enough to dampen the campers’ spirits a little, if not deterring musically from another feast.

The festival is almost like a private party, except that firstly you can invite yourself (if you get hold of tickets in time) and secondly that you might not know anyone – (at least at first). It’s unique because at any set time you can look to either side of you realise that you’re surrounded by people you’ve spoken to around your tent or at the various stalls, or musicians you’ve been watching. There’s no distinguishing between punters and performers in terms of egos at least, it’s all one happy colourful family. The place is festooned with memorably coiffeured, dressed or chisel-featured characters – it’s almost inevitable that the bloke in the cape and goggles in front of you in the pizza queue is going to pop up on a stage at some point – it’s just a question of when. Kozmic Ken, who gives the name to the festival, bumbles around the festival amiably, presenting the bands on the main stage and dispensing good vibes to all.spiral navigators

Spiral Navigators – photo Annie Roberts

With Here and Now, System 7 (Steve Hillage/Miquette Giraudy) and Soft Machine headlining the 3 nights respectively, it seems strange to report that I only saw Here and Now, but I was visiting the festival, as one does, very much in punter rather than band bucketlist mode. Plus with two young children in tow, energies were flagging when the final band came on each evening at 10.30pm. More about those three headlining bands later.

For all the undoubted kudos for Kozfest of attracting the headliners, which ensures a steady build up of anticipation throughout the day, much of the vibe of the festival is exploring a few musical connections, delving into something entirely new, or witnessing a spontaneous happening. The musical onslaught is relentless – it’s possible but probably not advisable to see every band on the main billings through drifting sheeplike from one stage to another. The festival layout is inspired: within its tiny acreage, the entire event is spread over only two fields – a flat one at the bottom for motorhomes, cars and a few tents, and a sloping one above leading to a flat platform at the top in which is contained the entire gamut of facilities: 4 or 5 food stalls, the Tat for Tibet quartermasters stores, Gong’s GAS merchandise tent, and various other small arts/crafts/clothes concerns. At either end of the platform is a marquee – the Daevid Allen stage a larger, more functional, white-sided marquees with official merchandise at the back; and the Judge Trev stage – smaller, more atmospheric with its red interior setting a more atmospheric feel for the bands within. DSC04922The scheduling is pure genius – bands play their 1 hour sets in one tent whilst the following band in the other tent do their soundcheck. There’s a 10 minute overlap where two bands will be playing simultaneously, which also means that most bands start off with a very small audience only for half the festival to drift in to populate the tent after 10 minutes or so. Browse the photos on the Kozfest Facebook pages and you could be forgiven for thinking that the festival is populated by a load of untogether stoner types – and in terms of us punters that might have a ring of truth, but in terms of organisation this is as tightly scheduled as anything I’ve seen – bands arrived and left the stage on the dot, and not just to meet the midnight curfew. At the Judge Trev stage the meticulous nature of the timings was particularly evident with soundchecks punctuated with shouts of “5 minutes”, “2 minutes” barked out in the preamble to a band coming on. One band (Magic Bus) were hauled off stage for starting 4 minutes too early! It’s possible to spend 12 hours meandering between each stage without a break and have constant music piped into your ears – and we certainly dipped into this mode of operation at times, but at the same time with two small children to entertain we also managed to engineer a weird parallel universe:  a sort of soundcheck crawl where we arrived in an empty marquee as bands finished to allow the kids to run free in the open spaces as the rain beat down outside. I now know lots about how sound engineers set up their rig, as well as being the proud patentor of a new children’s game where the participants attempt to throw soggy rolled up socks into a pair of open wellington boots.

If Kozfest 2016, was for me at least, savouring not just the new Gong incarnation, but finding Gong emigrees such as Steffe, Mike Howlett and Graham Clark popping up in a variety of new contexts, then 2017 was very much about the wider Ozric Tentacles family.

Whilst I managed to miss the Oroonies and Zub Zub, (both with Ozrics connections), I’d identified that the band I really wanted to see at Kozfest was the Ullulators, a band led by original Ozrics guitarist Gavin Griffiths. Familiar with their early cassette tape (Share a Clam), the superb official release Flaming Khaos LP and having streamed their recent comeback album, their highly polished blend of reggae beats, electronica and Ozricsesque guitar work was an undoubted highlight of the festival – slick, spacey and utterly compelling. Added spice was given by the fact that we’d already spotted Ed Wynne, the Ozrics main man and guitarist around site – anticipation grew as he moved towards  side stage and was then seen twiddling with an amp ready to come on. Outstanding versions of ‘Gunk Rock’ and ‘Special Brew’ preceded him appearing on stage for the last two numbers: with Gavin and Ed on guitars Tig on drums, Joie Hinton on synths and I think Paul Hankin on congas, this was pretty close to an original Ozrics line up. The icing on the cake was the announcement at the end of the set that Ed and associated musicians would be appearing on the final morning at midday for ‘an hour long jam’. Given that we’d also seen ‘Jumping’ John the flute player also on site, could this be a bona fide Ozrics reunion?

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Ullulators with guest Ed Wynne – photo – Annie Roberts

Anyway, in the meantime other matters: lots to report on the Here and Now axis. The band have just altered their lineup twice over with a new guitarist (Andy ) and drummer replacing Slim and Woody who were nevertheless on site with Beastfish (more later). First time since the late 80s/early 90s that I’ve seen the band without guitarist Steffe, and I’d probably not appreciated before quite how the (for now dormant) axis between him and Keith Missile works in terms of songs. That early 90s lineup was quite ska-based in sound, and worthy as it was, I do seem to regularly remember hanging on in there for the rollout of ‘Floating Anarchy’ or ‘Opium For the People’. Tonight’s session was a mixture of those old 80s/90s tunes on the one hand, and more spaced out stuff on the other. No prizes for guessing which I preferred, and it was admittedly excellent – Keith is such an outstanding purveyor of bass grooves. This lineup has two keyboards, with Mark Robson joined by the other Andy, both also sing. The sound suffered a bit live, which meant that the clear talents of the lead guitarist were somewhat unheard – a shame.

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Beastfish

The Here and Now set was the finale of a Friday which also saw two of its members also perform in the Music of the Andys (!), joined on stage by Mark Robson’s didgeridoo. Much more memorable for me was the aforementioned Beastfish. I’d heard about this lot because fellow Hebdenite and multi-instrumentalist Mick West plays keyboards with them, and they also feature recent Here and Now members Slim Verhoef (guitar) and Woody (drums). A few Youtube videos had revealed some polished  instrumental work and off-the-wall vocals, but that doesn’t tell the half of it – Beastfish are a quite extraordinary outfit  – tight and extremely intricate compositions forming the backdrop to a quite mesmerising spoken word performance. A quick chat with the frontman afterwards revealed that the tracks are individual poems performed with considerable charisma and stage presence.  Shades of the punk poets of the 80s or the Fall here (although their music was never so finely honed), others suggested Robert Calvert or the Stranglers – it was that good.

Graham Clark (Gong Maison violinist and Magick Brother) was on site but we managed to miss him performing – Andy Bole too, one of our highlights from last year – his excellent Rainbow Crow (looped bouzouki layers) album must be heard – he was performing an improvised backdrop to Nosferatu in the Wally Hope stage (actually a tipi no bigger than our own tent! – ‘bands’ popped up there all weekend). The Glissando Guitar Orchestra, a collection of 8 or 10 purveyors of the art, performed a series of Daevid Allen’s mediational drones – quite a spectacle, but also missed by us this time. What we did see and enjoyed were Red Sun, an Italian power trio of guitar/bass/drums pounding out riffs with a hint of Violeta de Outono (Fabio Golfetti’s Brazilian band), the slightly warped (post-rock) sounds of the Sendelica Drone orchestra; a shit hot young guitarist with the Cream-like Deltanauts. The Deviant Amps, another trio somewhat more  unconstructed than Red Sun, and led by festival co-organiser Paul Woodwright (bass player Subs appears on the Sentient live album) were as usual, tremendous value – check out some fine videos here; Magic Bus headlined on the Judge Trev stage on one night and were a gently complex treat – proggy vibes with more than a hint of Caravan. Shom were, as last year, excellent. Lots more lost somewhere in the festival mix and so many bands missed who I heard were excellent.

Glissando Guitar Orchestra/Sendelica Drone Band- photos – Annie Roberts

Now, returning to the two other big headliners, heard from a distance back at the tent. System 7, Steve Hillage & Miquette Giraudy’s dancebeat act pumped out the rhythms at the back end of Saturday night. I’ve seen this duo numerous times over the years, less so recently, but you know what you’re going to be getting. Saw them memorably at the Trades Club in Hebden a few years back for one of the their Sunday ‘chillout’ sessions, where Steve ran through a number of trademark Gong/solo sounds/riffs from the 70s, explaining their origins, before then breaking into Mirror System, the ‘ambient’ alterego of System 7. Even on a Sunday lunchtime that inevitably morphed into a techno wigout, and from our fireside pitch in the lower field at Kozfest this was very much the order of the evening. Good fun inside the tent, one assumes.

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System 7 (Steve Hillage/Miquette Giraudy) – photo – Annie Roberts

The Soft Machine have recently finally dropped their ‘Legacy’ monicker, but essentially are the same settled lineup of ex Softs members (John Marshall, Roy Babbington, John Etheridge) plus ex Gong sax player Theo Travis. It’s actually quite weird seeing the name Soft Machine on a gig line-up and I did wonder when the last time a band under that name played a festival – mid 70s? When I found out that Soft Machine were headlining Kozfest, I did wonder how they’d go down – their sound is almost incongruous in the mix of grungy, spacey rock which pervades 90% of Kozfest’s lineup, consisting as it does of a jazz-rock pastiche of tracks from the 70s. Again from our firepit I could hear ‘Facelift’, stuff from ‘Softs’, probably material from ‘Six’ and ‘Seven’ that I’m less familiar with, and a brief medley involving the riff from ‘Hazard Profile’ as an endpoint. Good reception, clearly audible exceptional musicianship from 4 master craftsman and although I was a bit gutted not to see them, asking around the site, few people had them as their festival highlights, due to the nature of the music, I reckon.

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Ed Wynne

Finally, back to that Ed Wynne appearance – midday on Sunday saw the larger Daevid Allen tent packed out for an impromptu gig. Joie Hinton was this year’s Mike Howlett, popping up on stage for his umpteenth performance on keyboards, Ed’s son Silas was also on keyboards, and the band alternated between 2 bassists both of whom we’d seen in other bands, the more dubby sounds coming from the Ullulators’ rhythm man, the more funky grooves from quite an extraordinary young man called Tom (I think). Unlike last year’s improvised sets by PsiGong (Mike Howlett) and Sentient (Steffe), highly adventurous but occasionally patchy fusion, the music here by Ed and co was supremely polished – the archetypal space jam – for a scratch outfit there was barely a bum note or wasted chord. Christened ‘Ozfest’ by Kozmic Ken, this was wonderful stuff which hopefully has been captured by somebody, and maybe a portend of Ozrics and Kozfests to come…

Syd Arthur on tour! – 3 June 2017, Deaf Institute, Manchester

Third time seeing Syd Arthur in Manchester for me last night, but after a blinding gig at the Band on the Wall a few years back, followed by a less memorable low key gig at the Night and Day a few months later, it’s clear that things have changed. Back then, they were trying out new tunes to be heard next on the “Sound Mirror” album, now they are promoting ‘Apricity’, 8 months or so after its release.

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Liam Magill

A few obvious differences first – Josh Magill is now the drummer, replacing Fred Rother, apparently now out of music completely due to tinnitus, and last heard of carving out a living cultivating mushrooms. A shame, as Fred brought a texture and sensitivity to the sound fully in line with those early folk and jazz-flecked albums. Josh joins his brothers Joel and Liam in the band, alongside the multi-talented Raven Bush.

The second obvious difference is that Raven appears to have downed his violin completely, alternating between a heavily treated electric mandolin and a bank of keyboards. At times, marvellously wild-haired as he is and cranking up various effects on his soundboard, he generates a convincing mad scientist vibe. The story appears to be that he was struggling for a decent sound with his violin in some of the stadium gigs Syd Arthur did in the States, particularly whilst supporting Yes. Us lesser mortals who scratch, scrape or blow our way unconvincingly for years on end on one instrument can barely comprehend a virtuoso abandoning an instrument he was so proficient in, but Raven softens the blow a little by being a highly convincing pianist.

The third difference, no doubt influenced by the first two, is a new ‘sound’. It’s more straight ahead, more overtly poppy, more electronic and one would hope, for the band’s sake at least, capable of widening their audience. That said, the Deaf Institute was far from sold out, even though this was a double header with stablemates Morgan Delt.

The band’s strengths are not just an ever expanding repertoire of short sweet tunes with a twist, but their incredible tightness as a unit, honed without doubt by repeated tours in the States, and strengthened by those familial links. Liam Magill, stick-insect-thin and stooped over his microphone is very much the focal point, despite the obvious talents of the rest of the band  – as a presence he puts me most in mind of Richard Sinclair. This is less for the pitch of his voice (he can switch into a falsetto at the drop of a hat) but just as a naturally gifted, understated musician who should have the world at his feet. This was a truncated set, clocking in at around an hour and mainly featuring tracks from ‘Apricity’ and whilst this album is very much their most straight-ahead album in terms of composition, there’s still an overall hint of deviance, almost menace in their live set, particularly some of the token olden numbers – witness the noodling, tempting intro to ‘Hometown Blues’, or the sonic assault of the wigged out ‘Singularity’ as it breaks out from the anthemic ‘Chariots’ – a very fine set-ender. Good to hear also that tracks like ‘Seraphim’ and the single ‘SunRays’ have a bit more impact live than on the album. Highlights for me apart from the above was the classic new pop tune ‘No Peace’ and the encore ‘Apricity’. I’m still hoping that at some point Syd Arthur will return, or at least give more reference points to, their folky roots, but their songwriting talents are so apparent they could still plough whatever furrow they wish and still have me wanting more. Roll on the new material the band mentioned during a brief chat afterwards, and here’s hoping for a few last minute festival bookings over the summer…

Allan Holdsworth

issue 12 cover 2Really sad news about the passing of Allan Holdsworth a couple of weeks back. Latterly an emigre in the US, he nevertheless retained an accent of sorts of the type heard around these parts in West Yorkshire. I saw him several times in the 90s, always as the bandleader he became from the 1980s onwards.

Perhaps his undoubted genius was fuelled by his perfectionism – to many he was a guitar god but when I interviewed him in 1994 he was often fiercely self-critical, not just in terms of how he played live (when we spoke he was grumpily complaining about his gig the night before – other tutored ears reckoned he’d played a belter) but also some of his recorded output (he dismissed the extraordinary Igginbottom’s Wrench album as a ‘horrendous experience’, disowned his first solo album ‘Velvet Darkness’ as a ‘terrible disaster’, and dismissed John Stevens’ ‘Re-Touch’ albums as ‘outtakes’ and therefore worthless.!)

Allan Holdsworth always seemed to cut a fairly enigmatic figure within the Canterbury scene, probably because he may not even have recognised the term, never mind felt he was a part of it. And that was probably what intrigued me enough to publish no less than 3 articles about him in Facelift Magazine, the other 2 of which survive on the web in the Other Facelift stuff menu further up this page.

What really intrigued me about him I suppose was him yo-yoing around any number of seminal 70s projects adding blistering solos here and there to diverse projects before moving on, apparently blind to the trainspotterish links between the bands readers of this forum might pore over. Latterly,  the ‘Blues For Tony’ album with Alan Pasqua, Chad Wackerman and Jimmy Haslip appeared to show him relishing the freedom once more of not being a sole bandleader whilst still pumping out those wonderfully crafted solos.

So, in deference to that, I’ll give you my Allan Holdsworth Desert Island Disc 70s solo compilation:

Gordon Beck – The Gathering (from Sunbird)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcmH3ZSw3DE

Gong – Expresso  (from Gazeuse!) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuMEhD4P8PY

Uk – In the Dead of Night – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMu7XUc9OcI

Bruford – Beelzebub (from Feels Good to Me) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRl-IIPezn4

Bruford – Back to the Beginning – (from Feels Good to Me)-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJQrlHUGZlo

Gong – Sleepy (from Expresso II) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07UUCXZwpnw

Soft Machine – Hazard Profile (from Bundles)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zSZBAcQ-5M

Nucleus – Hector’s House – (from Belladonna) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jG20EvOyFg

Allan Holdsworth RIP.

Kozfest 2017!

Just an excuse really to post – tickets are on sale for Kozfest for this July. Procuring a handful of returned tickets at the last moment last year proved to be an inspired gamble and indirectly inspired this blog…

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Some words I posted up on the What’s Rattlin’ forum after the event last year which sum up my thoughts pretty well:

“Those of you who look at the Planet Gong website might have seen this festival popping up numerous times on their gig listings not just over the years, but multiple times for each festival, due to the number of related bands who play.

 I’d been intrigued for years, but as we’ve run a campsite up here in Hebden Bridge for the last few years, doing summer festivals has been a bit difficult. Then this spring I had a serious illness so we missed out on getting tickets. Luckily a couple of returns turned up on Facebook (this ain’t Glastonbury – you make an enquiry to ‘admin’ on the website, and the festival’s organiser, who also turns out to be the lead singer of one of the acts, the Deviant Amps, points you in the right direction) and so we took ourselves and the kids down to Devon on Thursday to see what it was all about.

 Kozfest is an intimate ‘psychedelic dream’ festival (the Koz is short for Kozmic, as in the host Kozmic Ken) and is a 3 day, 2-stage festival for only 500 punters on a small working farm in the rolling West Country. Between 30-40 bands play, all pretty much spin offs, offshoots or influenced by Gong and to a lesser degree Hawkwind. There’s lots of cross-pollination between bands. Headliners on the 3 nights were Gong, Hawklords and Astralasia, but the line-up overall was like Gong 25 or Uncon revisited (or presumably a Hawkfest).

 The music side of things is really well organised – the two music tents are separated by 100 yards or so, whilst one tent soundchecks/sets-up, the other is in full swing, so you spend your days ambling between a permafest of pounding bass and skysaw guitar with little down time (unless you want it).

 Bands included Sentient (Steffe Sharpstrings, Mike Howlett, Joie from Ozric Tentacles), PsiGong (Mike Howlett’s funky improv outfit), Magick Brothers (Mark Robson/Graham Clark), the Inspiral Trio (three of the current members of Gong), the Glissando Guitar Orchestra, Invisible Opera Company of Tibet – previous lineups have included Steve Hillage (both System 7 and his own guitar band) and Here and Now. But it was so much more than this – I saw so many bands that I want to investigate further (Shom, Deviant Amps, Sendelica) and there are as many musicians milling around as punters, and you’d find yourselves dancing in a tent next to the bass player from a previous band, or memorably being served at the ‘tat’ store by Steffe.

 My 5dsc03185-year old took it upon herself to point out every ‘Camembert Electrique’ T-shirt she saw, and she had her work cut out – there was a tug on my sleeve every few minutes. Apart from one incident in a tent on the last night, this was a safe, gentle, non-ravey event with a freefest vibe – full of Gong afficionados.

 Highlights (for me) were finally meeting Fabio Golfetti (Violeta de Outono, IOCOT and now Gong) after 20 years of correspondence; Andy Bole’s extraordinary bouzouki set where he looped around stringed rhythms, backed by partner Sally on exquisite electric violin and Mark Robson on Didg; the Glissando Guitar Orchestra – 8 guitarists sawing away in a meditative series of drones, envelopping everyone in the most reflective moment of the festival; Mandragora; IOCOT – a welcome more feminine interpretation of the Gong vibe including stuff from ‘Camembert’ and ‘2032’- then the more ‘known’ stuff – PsiGong with freely improvised Howlett-fuelled funkery; a remarkable performance from Steffe with Sentient – he was ever visible around the festival as a humble, unassuming punter, amazingly transformed into a man possessed on stage – I’ve seen him many times with his head thrown back as a freewheeling Hillage-style soloist, but never in such open-throated vocalist mode as tonight as he reprised the old H&N ’77 number ‘Near and How’. Sentient, like PsiGong are a band who appear to dip in and out of improvised numbers – some of it works, some doesn’t, but when it hits the spot, it’s oh-so-sweet…”

As for this year, not only have tickets just gone on sale here but the line-up, which has been building up over the past few week, has been finalised too – today, the three headliners were confirmed as Here and Now, System 7 and Soft Machine (the legacy band who in the last year have been gigging under the original band name – I think current line-up is John Etheridge, John Marshall, Roy Babbington and Theo Travis). The Softs’ gig will be particularly interesting as the music is probably somewhat out of kilter with the free-festie vibe of your typical Kozfest band roster. Other bands of note for this blog are the Magick Brothers (Mark Robson and Graham Clark), Glissando Guitar Orchestra, Andy Bole, various Ozrics/Here and Now spin offs plus some fantastic bands we saw last year (Shom, Sendelica, Deviant Amps etc.)

Tickets apparently go fast, nice and cheap as these things go (£85 for an adult ticket), decent food, beautiful countryside. Best to  get on to this ASAP and hope to see you there!

10 things I learnt from the Gong tour – thoughts from Manchester and Allendale, November 2016

1. Steve Davis is an unexpectedly diverse DJ

Or maybe it’s not so unexpected so when you start to scratch the surface. He was taking as much adulation up in his podium above the stage prior to Gong’s set in Manchester as when the main act themselves played. For those of us who grew up in the Eighties when he was at his height of fame as a snooker player it was hard to shake off a sense of surreality grooving along to his tunes in a grimy Manchester venue, which included a particularly fine and obscure track from Magma offshoot Weidorje, reviewed years ago back in Facelift. But if you check out the various videos he’s done to help promote ‘Rejoice’ he clearly knows his stuff and combines knowledge with a matey risqué bonhomie : “Tim Blake’s strapping one on”, anyone?

2. The guitar solo on the track ‘Rejoice!’ is not just the work of Kavus Torabi.

When I reviewed the new Gong album in this blog, the highlight of the entire album for me was the guttural, heart-wrenching solo eked out early on in the 10 minute title track. I had this down as Gong’s new lead singer alone crafting out a theme, pausing, then going again. In fact, live the equally fine second part is played live by Fabio Golfetti, and an interview here (with Steve Davis) reveals that this part is played on the album by Steve Hillage, which becomes blindingly obvious on second hearing.

3. The new Gong signature sound is four part vocal harmonies!

Or at least whilst Kavus Torabi sings all the lead lines, backing vocals can come from any angle, often simultaneously. Even Ian East occasionally hangs down his sax to join in.

4. The sound at a Gong gig varies enormously from venue to venue.

I remember practically writing off the Steve Hillage lineup in the Noughties after seeing them both in London and at Manchester Academy, only to be totally blown away days later in Edinburgh – same line-up, same tunes, I suspect equally good performances but worlds apart in terms of what you could hear. This time around, a muddy Manchester sound at the Gorilla where Kavus Torabi’s guitar was practically inaudible, was replaced by glorious clarity, warts and all, at Allendale, a provincial village hall so far into Cumbria it’s actually in Northumbria. This despite the fact that presumably there was a much smaller budget for a decent sound system.

5. Gong sets are long long long….!

The band came on at 9pm at both venues, disappeared off briefly around 10.30pm then reappeared for a 2 set encore. They played practically all of Camembert Electrique, 6 songs from the new album, and one each from ‘Angel’s Egg’ and ‘You’. Not just that, but versions of ‘Master Builder’, ‘Selene’ and the new classic ‘The Unspeakable…’ clock in individually as probably their longest ever versions.

6. Kavus Torabi is a strikingly charismatic frontman.

It’s a big ask replacing Daevid Allen as a visual presence, but it’s difficult to take your eyes off him, even when others are doing their thing.

7. It might be time to drop ‘I’ve Been Stoned Before’

I’ve always thought this was a bit of a one-joke song, even when performed by Daevid. Whilst it’s great to hear great swathes of ‘Camembert Electrique’ and no complaints in particular about hearing ‘Selene’ and ‘You Can’t Kill Me’ ad nauseam, surely ‘Dynamite’ would suit this band much more?

8. Fabio Golfetti is a very humble bloke

I’ve been writing to him since the early days of Facelift in the 90s, ended up providing the sleevenotes for the CD release of ‘Glissando Spirit’ from the Brazilian version of the Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, and finally got to meet him during the summer. He’s a fantastic glissando guitar player, an admirable foil for the more zany antics of Kavus Torabi and along with Dave Sturt is currently the glue which binds…

9. Cheb Nettles might be the most innovative singer of the lot

Not only an extraordinary drummer, but the wild falsetto scat singing at the end of ‘Insert Your Prophecy’ in unison with the other instrument lines could well be the vocal highlight of the album.

10. Maybe Ian East and Fabio Golfetti would like to jazz out a little.

The current set is dominated by thrashy guitar numbers (understandably given the guitar-heavy lineup) but there was a palpable sense of release on ‘The Unspeakable Stands’ and ‘Eat That Phone Book’ for the sax in particular when given the chance to noodle…

Andy Bole

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Andy Bole photo: Hairy Collision

I was sitting down earlier on today to write up my thoughts on the recent UK Gong tour, and got a bit side-tracked by a bandcamp release https://andybole.bandcamp.com/track/blind-cat-live which I didn’t think I could move on from without passing comment on.

A bit of context: amongst many notable performances at Kozfest 2016, including the new Gong dispensation as well as projects (Sentient, PsiGong) from a few current emigrees (Steffe Sharpstrings, Graham Clark, Mark Robson, Mike Howlett), was a quite extraordinary performance from a guitarist/bouzouki player called Andy Bole. Familiar with the name only from the Planet Gong Bazaar http://www.planetgong.co.uk/bazaar/releases/recent.shtml, this turned out to be probably the highlight of the festival for me, low-key as it undoubtedly was.

Kozfest is such an intimate gathering that it should be no surprise that not only are you likely to bump into musicians around the festival, but that you might be actually camped next to them! And so it proved in this case, as gentle violin strains from Sally Minchin, Andy’s partner, drifted across the morning breeze on the Saturday morning over breakfast. Like us, they had a young family on site, and as the kids played together I put a name to a face and vowed to check out the live performance on the Saturday afternoon.

Andy Bole on this occasion was backed not only by Sally, but also the drones of Mark Robson (Kangaroo Moon)’s didg. From memory there were a couple of bouzouki-led shorter pieces, before Andy, to some amusement, checked how much time his set had left to run (it was about forty minutes) and then debated as to whether they could ‘squeeze’ the next track in – this was most certainly the Kozfest equivalent of the 25 minute bandcamp track above. Bouzouki and later guitar sounds are sampled, fed back into the mix and slowly build up layers upon layer of sound which virtuoso electric violin, lead guitar and glissando then use as their base for some really uplifting soloing.

On the bandcamp version (recorded at the Blind Cat festival, Kozfest’s sister gathering, 2 weeks or so later) a synthesiser is added, creating a slightly different but equally mesmerising vibe. Fabulous stuff – you can check out the sounds via the link above or download for a measly couple of quid (proceeds to the Warchild charity). Andy’s website is at http://www.andybole.co.uk/

New Syd Arthur album – Apricity

syd-arthurIt’s not an exaggeration to say that in the last 5 years, I’ve spent more time listening to Syd Arthur than any other artist. The initial link might have been a geographical one to Canterbury, plus the fact that their music in the past has doffed its cap to the likes of Caravan et al, but they have been such a tight, innovative, folky/jazzy entity in their own right that they  quickly generated a identity in their own which made any pigeonholed comparisons irrelevant.

On ‘Apricity’, their third full album (after ‘Sound Mirror’, ‘On and On’ and a couple of stunning earlier folk-based EPs ‘Moving World’ and ‘Kingdoms of Experience), it’s clear that something fairly major has happened: maybe it’s the departure of original drummer Fred Rother (apparently through tinnitus), the fact that maybe the band have become tired with trawling around low-key venues to little acclaim,  possibly something to do with their regular touring the States as a support act, who knows?

Anyway, prefaced by their recent singles ‘Apricity‘ and ‘Sunrays’, Syd Arthur appear to be morphing into a keyboard-based, somewhat funkier outfit than their folky roots: still peddling extremely catchy tunes, but with a couple of key changes: Raven Bush, a superb violinist who also did much to create the trademark Syd Arthur sound through his blistering electric mandolin solos, now appears to spend most of his time resident behind the aforementioned keyboard, whilst the arrival of a third Magill brother, Josh, on drums, appears to have had the effect of straightening out the rhythms – this despite plenty of live videos on Youtube of him thrashing around dervish style on tracks from ‘Sound Mirror’, or even the subtlety I’ve heard in him backing more jazzy Canterbury outfits.

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And so, at this stage, a day or so into listening to ‘Apricity’, for me the jury is still out. The album appears to have lost a lot of the intricacy of previous excursions, and that’s a real pity – the Syd Arthur of old appeared to routinely pack in the diversity of a 10 minute prog track into 3 or 4 minute popbites. On the other hand, the songs (witness ‘No Peace’, ‘Apricity’ and the hypnotic ‘Evolution’) are  as insanely catchy as ever and will have you waking up in the night with Liam Magill’s melodies going round your head. Syd Arthur are immensely talented – it will be interesting to see what the setlist blend is on their current tour – will they still perform their classics like ‘Ode To The Summer’ and ‘Pulse’? And will the change in direction pay off  – witness them being album of the week in Mojo – (and by the way, I’ve just read their review, and there appear to be lots of common threads with this piece – coincidence, not plagiarism) and bring them the audience they deserve? Let’s hope so…