Soften the Glare (featuring Bon Lozaga) – ‘Making Faces’

One of the real perks of running Facelift Magazine back in the Nineties was having carte blanche to follow the paths of various bands and their musicians and often ending up somewhere entirely unexpected. Judging by social media posts in today’s fangroups, a decent percentage of Canterbury purists might well have been appalled by this divergence as the fanzine consequently gave column inches to the free jazz noodlings of the likes of Keith Tippett’s Mujician or the ambient/techno wigouts of the Orb. Really for me it was mainly taking the opportunity to appropriate some very fine music into the magazine whilst sharing the joy of following those links.


soften the glare.jpg

Somewhere along this route, I was privileged enough to get on the mailing list of LoLo records, a label set up by Bon Lozaga and Jim Loretangeli over in the States. As any Gong student will know, after Daevid Allen left the mother ship in 1975, the leadership, personnel and ultimately direction of the Gong band metamorphosed through various instrumental phases via Steve Hillage and Didier Malherbe’s stewardship, before ending up as a ‘Strasbourgeois’ orgy of tuned percussion led by Pierre Moerlen, the last one standing from the ‘Trilogy’ line-ups. The Pierre Moerlen strand continued until around 1981, adding his name as a prefix to the Gong name and under this monicker he continued to release sporadic albums over the next couple of decades until his untimely death in 2004.

Pierre Moerlen’s accomplices during this period varied, but certain key personnel kept popping up: principally bassist Hansford Rowe, but also brother Benoit (also on tuned percussion) and Mireille Bauer.  Allan Holdsworth too added his signature soloing, not least on ‘Expresso’ from ‘Gazeuse’ and ‘Soli’ from ‘Expresso II’. With Mike Oldfield and the Stones’ Mick Taylor also cropping up on PMG albums, one could perhaps be excused in not seeing beyond the guitar of these stellar turns. So it was probably not until a brief flurry of albums on the LoLo label between 1993 and 1996 that I began to fully appreciate the work of Lozaga, who in terms of Gong appeared as early as ‘Expresso II’ but also appears as an integral part of ‘Live’, ‘Time is the Key’ and ‘Leave It Open’, primarily on rhythm guitar.

If you’ve come across any of the LoLo records, they’re most likely to be the ones which came out under the name Gongzilla, in particular ‘Suffer’ and ‘Thrive’. Both were percussive-heavy, heroically guitar-riffed and very fine indeed, reuniting the likes of Lozaga, Rowe, Holdsworth, and Benoit Moerlen. For me, however, I probably spent even more time listening to the two ‘solo’ Bon albums ‘Full Circle – Coming Home’ and ‘To the Bone’ – two highly polished guitar trio albums (with Rowe and drummer Vic Stevens)  showing subtlety and expression alongside the expected driving rhythms. Both served to show what a very fine composer and soloist Lozaga is. I remember noting at the time in Facelift 16 that often Lozaga “takes Allan Holdsworth’s style, slows it down and manufactures it into something (even) more eloquent” – bold words indeed in retrospect! He also had an equal hand in the much more reflective ‘Project Lo’ (with label co-founder Jim Loretangeli) – an album which also never strayed too far from the CD player in around 1994.

bon lozaga                     Bon Lozaga

And so a gap for me (in so many ways) through the Noughties, until, picking up on some old threads, or more likely revisiting those 2 Bon albums, I came across and sourced a third (or possibly fourth) solo album ‘Traces of Chaos’ in early 2017 (it had been released in 2016). This album possibly even trumped the other two, from the superb Hendrix-inspired pastiche “Gypsy King” (featuring credible Hendrixesque sounds, sampled spoken word recordings and a most unexpected flute solo outro), to the Mahavishnu cover ‘Can’t Stand the Funk’, to many sublime originals, most notably ‘Say What You Mean’, with its utterly beautiful melody closing the album out in a stately manner. However, nestled in amongst what is essentially an album which is easy on the ears (in a positive way) are a couple of almost incongruously brutal numbers called ‘Controlled Chaos’ and ‘Schoulars Bend’. Both of these took some of the thunderous drive of Gongzilla and metalled it out even more, in a high-powered trio format incorporating bassist Ryan Martinie and drummer Mitch Hull.

Which brings us to Soften the Glare. ‘Controlled Chaos’ in particular turns out to have been a spoiler for ‘Making Faces’, the debut album by the band, On the face of it Soften the Glare could be seen as being predominantly a vehicle for the rather talented Martinie – it’s him doing the press interviews, stripping down to a pair of shorts for most of a burgeoning video archive, and generally strutting his stuff in both sonically and visually. Whilst it’s true that Lozaga definitely solos for the band less than for albums under his own name, that shouldn’t belittle his impact.  The band’s calling card is the rolling out of his consistently filthy riffs, delivered nonetheless in a pristine manner which should not be a surprise to anyone who heard the superbly production values of the Gongzilla albums.

stg trio pic.jpgTrue, it’s Martinie’s hammerblow bass which provides the intros and driving forces to 2 of the showpieces of the album ‘Mission Possible’ and ‘What Chandra Sees’, but elsewhere there are some quite ridiculously complex compositions – ‘Turn Around’ or ‘March of the Cephalopods’, in particular. The latter is videoed here and is mighty impressive, grin-inducing in its sheer bloody-mindedness and might win you over straight away, but if not, head for ‘Segue’. ‘Segue’ appears to be a cover of sorts of ‘Into The Sun’, from Bon’s first solo album ‘Full Circle – Coming Home’ but if you are expecting the beautiful central guitar melody, one of that album’s highlights, prepare to see it obliterated by an equally memorable but quite unseemly riff. This shows the band’s other side – gorgeous lush sounds, subtle moments, just waiting to be ripped apart by those killer guitar chords. Bon even pulls out one of his meticulously crafted solos here.

I’m still working through this album and appreciating its many virtues – the funked down and discordant rhythms of ‘Happy Weird’; ‘or Conscious  Sense of the Present’, with tuned percussion effects – this should probably have been given the name of the next track ‘All Mixed Up’ as it jumps through a variety of different grooves, including some quite cheese-curling Casiotone melodies. But on the whole this album is a tremendous, powerpacked romp which I’m happy to say was my first purchase of 2018. I hope the rest of the year is as much fun…


You are Here – an accelerating history of Canterbury… by Matthew Watkins

I got hold of this remarkable book at the Canterbury sound event back in October (as well as meeting its author, Matt Watkins). Having finally had chance to sit down and read through ‘You Are Here’ I should say that it’s every bit as mind-blowing and informative as I had hoped.

you are here 2.jpg

The premise of the book is both unique and bizarre but at the same time guaranteed to draw in any regular readers of this blog. Matt Watkins is, as readers should already know, a champion of Canterbury scene music, as evidenced through monthly podcasts Canterbury sans Frontieres and Canterbury Soundwaves. I also got the impression at the Canterbury Sound event, when he (reluctantly) delivered his talk at the end of the day regarding the development of an interactive ‘Canterbury scene’ Google Map, that he could well be the glue which binds together a modern-day Canterbury music scene within the city. But even that doesn’t really tell the whole story – he is at the same time both a doctor in mathematics and simultaneously immersed in counter-culture throughout the city (and I expect, beyond). He somehow manages to blend the two  – for example whilst searching on Youtube late one night for a Lapis Lazuli live performance of their wonderful opus ‘Alien’ online a month or so ago, I happened across a most unexpected 30 minute presentation of Matt delivering a talk, in a club, about, ermm…. aliens – this started from the point of view of examining historical media perceptions of aliens right and continued at some pace through to alternative perceptions of reality, Terence McKenna et al (at which point I beat a retreat to bed, my mind fried).

Anyway, I digress. ‘You are Here’ is essentially a study of Canterbury from the year dot to a specified date and time in August 2014. True to his mathematical roots, Matt constructs a perfect spiral timeline (the book’s byline is  ‘an accelerating history’), with segments devoted to each time frame varying from two-page spreads down to graphic-novel-type panels, several per page. Initially this means that the timeframes are large (the first being 14 billion to 11 billion BC), but then incrementally shrink (e.g. 1109 to 1292 in medieval times, 1867 – 1897 in the 19th century), to segments of hours, then minutes, then seconds as the book reaches its rather frenzied conclusion.

you are here.jpg

What this means for the reader is that what starts out as essentially a superb historical document from the Roman era forward, setting out the premise for Canterbury being a totally critical centrepoint for religious and political machinations within England, inevitably becomes something else, as time ‘speeds up’ . From a purely ‘sceneist’ point of view, the segment of time devoted to seminal Canterbury musical activity, let’s say between 1960 and 1972, is condensed to a mere 3 pages. The accelerating nature of the timeframes means that roughly half of the book is devoted to Canterbury in the new millennium, which by extension means that it’s an autobiographical account of life in the city. Matt’s own personal interests and perspectives become relevant here. There’s a fair amount of commentary, or at least noting, of counter-culture,  streetlife, local politics, corporate machinations, and their impact on the local environment, alongside the prevailing themes of history and religion, and in that regard the latter half of the book put me in mind of CJ Stone’s excellent ‘Fierce Dancing’ book, another example of where an account of (counter) culture was to some extent overtaken by the process itself. For those of you who are students of ‘modern’ Canterbury music, the likes of Syd Arthur, Lapis Lazuli and other of the many innovative musicians that are carrying the torch forward in such an inspired fashion, the extended sections afforded to the era from 2010 onwards allows for many references and a myriad of information regarding their activities – all good news…

you are here ayers and hillage.jpg

And so, what until, let’s say the 1990s, is largely a fascinating historical document, is overtaken by an exploration of the minutiae of one community’s day to day life, and then to being a progression to one person’s conscious thoughts, before ending up as an extremely scientific description of how the sound of a church bell is transmitted across milliseconds of time.

Baffled? Well, all I can say is the piece is a remarkably cogent project that manages to tick many diverse boxes: meticulously researched ancient to mediaeval history, an account of social development through the 19th and 20th centuries, cultural changes in the 21st and latterly a chronicle of one person’s inner thoughts as the reader is hurtled in a rather panicked fashion towards an uncertain conclusion. There’s even a Daevid Allen-like vision at the book’s denouement, which although somewhat incongruous in amongst the general scientific dissection of the closing chapters, adds a further unexpected twist.

Utterly unique, this book is also embellished throughout by beautiful line drawings of many of the key historical events described in the book, some the recreations of artists’ impressions and photographs, as well as, I think some completely original material. Some of these (the musically related ones of the likes of Steve Hillage, Kevin Ayers, Caravan and the Wilde Flowers) you might have seen reproduced already as part of the sparse publicity surrounding the book launch (it’s not officially out until February). The illustrations are largely from Carol J Watkins, who also happens to be Matt’s mother. There are also a series of appendices giving a key date timeline, maps charting the changing topography of the city, and a list of important musical events and releases.


Details of how to get the book (pre-release copies) are at – dive in before the official launch date in February!

Soft Machine – Band on the Wall, Manchester – 23 November 2017

Even though this band has been touring for a number of years as ‘Soft Machine Legacy’ there’s an undeniable frisson in going along to see a band called simply Soft Machine for the first time in your life, having pored over their various incarnations from a distance only, for much of the last 30 years.


softsSoft Machine, who dropped the ‘Legacy’ part of their name a couple of years back, these days consist of 3 Seventies veterans (John Etheridge, Roy Babbington and John Marshall) as well as Theo Travis, Legacy member for a decade but also Gong’s post-Didier saxophonist in the Nineties. Understandably the setlist takes as its starting point the mid-Seventies jazz crossover material, most particularly the ‘Softs’ album, but liberally samples music from the Soft Machine discography from  ‘Third’ onwards, as well as showcasing strong newer material from the Legacy albums.

The band played two extensive sets, the first interrupted by a brief (and thankfully not serious) medical emergency in amongst the crowd , and worked their way through ‘Bundles’ (the track), and a lovely ‘Song of Aeolus’ from ‘Softs’, interspersed with tracks from more recent Legacy material from ‘Steam’, the superb ‘Voyage Beyond Seven’ from the ‘Burden of Proof’ album, and a very fine set-closer from ‘Live Adventures’.

John Etheridge looked surprisingly youthful, grinning toothfully through an unruly mop of hair, and constantly engaging in languid banter with the crowd and other band members. John Marshall, hidden behind his compact drum kit was mesmerisingly tight, a master technician. Roy Babbington grooved away in acres of space over on the right hand side of the stage, and Theo Travis, alternating between tenor and soprano saxes, flute and keyboards, provided much of the texture for the band one way or another. He has an almost chameleon-like quality to meld into whatever genre he’s doing – stepping into pseudo-Ratledge keyboard meanderings in places, taking up keyboard lines on his flute on others, or brassing out on tenor sax. It’s hard to equate this sometimes with his existence as a mainstay in the somewhat more frivolous Gong all those years ago – he’s just a consummate performer all-round.


Theo Travis – photo Simon Kerry

The main focal point, however, was undoubtedly Etheridge, his fluidity undiminished through the years, and whilst ‘Aeolus’, to these ears’ might have benefitted from him sustaining his notes a little more on this anthemic guitar track, some of his unfettered soloing elsewhere was truly mindboggling. He even threw in an observation about Karl Jenkins’ tunes requiring him to replace upper parts of his fretboard on a couple of the pieces performed tonight.

If the first half of the set perhaps saw the band continuing to assert its new identity, the second half unashamedly played to its legacy. Starting with another ‘Softs’ album anthem ‘The Tale of Taliesin’ and continuing later with ‘Out of Season’, the band also tackled Bundles’ ‘The Man Who Waved At Trains’, with Travis operating solely on keyboards, before screaming into the highlight of the night – ‘Gesolreut’. Introduced through an outraged and dissonant guitar line, this was a highly funked up version punctuated by saxophone squawks. It brought the house down.


John Marshall – photo Simon Kerry

I never thought I’d get to see ‘Outbloodyrageous’ from the iconic ‘Third’ album performed live. It’s surely part of the Crown Jewels of the Canterbury scene, and if nothing for me would quite match the rendition on ‘Third’ or the recently unveiled video here,  this version was mighty fine, the Dobson/Dean duo line tackled dextrously on soprano sax and guitar. The only problem that this version, introduced via sampled keyboard loops from Theo Travis, ended far too soon! Would love to hear a full rendition…

The finale was a medley of material from various sources (including ‘Seven’), featuring solos from John Marshall and Roy Babbington and ridiculously prodigious call and response lines from guitar and sax to end the gig on a high. Except that a half-hearted attempt to leave the stage prior to an encore proved fruitless, and soon the band were kicking into ‘Hazard Profile’. The instantly recognisable main theme (let us not forget based around the riff from the Nucleus track ‘Song For The Bearded Lady’ featuring John Marshall and in later incarnations Roy Babbington) morphed into the guitar solo section – with a twist. Allan Holdsworth’s original guitar lines were swiftly forgotten as thunderous, dirty bass lines from Babbington underpinned a most unEtheridge atonal guitar solo – as Theo Travis struggled to rein the piece back in with keyboards. A marvellous conclusion to a fine gig.

One last thought: there’s been a lot of heated debate on music forums about whether this band should go out under the name Soft Machine – for me it’s all a bit too precious. Soft Machine’s music has always been a broad church, taking a route no doubt unintended at its inception, but no less worthy for that. For the many of us unlucky enough not to see the genesis of the band (or indeed any live incarnation until now) our views don’t have to be coloured by chronology: my own personal listening was started by the albums of ‘Third’ ‘5’, ‘Seven’, ‘Bundles’ and ‘Softs’, and I love pretty much all of them, even though the latter 3 are streets apart from Volumes 1, 2  or ‘Jet Propelled Photographs’. Who am I or anyone else to tell 3 Soft Machine stalwarts from the early Seventies that they shouldn’t perform as a band called Soft Machine playing Soft Machine tracks that they in many cases wrote or performed as Soft Machine members 40 years ago! And if the use of the name adds a few extra bums on seats (tonight was sold out), supports the musicians we love, and incentivises them to carry on, then why should any of us be complaining?





Caravan – Bury Met Arts Centre – 18 November 2017

Despite it being only 20 or so miles down the road, it’s been a good couple of decades since I’ve been to the Met Arts Centre at Bury, or come to that, Bury itself. The last time was to see and interview Didier Malherbe on his second visit to the town with guitarist Pierre Bensusan. At least that’s my excuse in failing to find the venue easily, despite the fact that in the early 90s I delivered there every other week, and saw numerous gigs there too. It took a while to realise that the various bouncers, taxi drivers and other unsuspects who we’d asked for guidance were very kindly all directing us towards the ‘Metro’ – the tram system that takes everyone OUT of Bury. The penny finally dropped  when we made our final wrong turn and descended an escalator towards the tram platform itself.

caravan met

Caravan: Geoffrey Richardson, Mark Walker, Pye Hastings, Jim Leverton, Jan Schelhaas

Meanwhile over the other side of the bus terminus Caravan were starting a set which would last almost 2 hours. I’d also not seen them for over 20 years, lost a little track of what they’re up to, but was intrigued to find that they were not only embarking on an 8-date tour of England, but had comfortably sold out the gig in Met, a beautiful old municipal building split into elevated seating and a large standing area in front of it.

This band features sole original member Pye Hastings; multi-instrumentalist Geoffrey Richardson, (who pointed out that he had been with the band a mere 46 years, on and off); keyboard player Jan Schelhaas, stalwart of late Seventies line-ups; Jim Leverton, ever present on bass since the mid-Nineties; and Mark Walker, filling the drummer’s seat since the death of Richard Coughlan.

As we were catching our breath, the band raced through a few old standards including ‘Land of Grey and Pink’ and ‘Golf Girl’ but for me really found their feet when starting to stretch out instrumentally – their version of ‘Love in Your Eye’ from ‘Waterloo Lily’ was quite inspired, the first time I’ve heard it live, and segued into the groove from ‘For Richard’, the first to really get the crowd moving.  The Caravan crowd is an interesting one: whilst I expect to see more earnest jazzheads at the Soft Machine on Thursday, and Gong attract a patent collection of tripped out bohos (myself included), Caravan audiences occupy a safer middle ground: middle aged couples, old rockers sporting a range of band T-shirts encompassing everything from the Stranglers to AC/DC, and small groups just out for a good night out (and providing an annoyingly noisy backdrop over the quieter numbers).

And so this set the tone for the night: a real mix of old and new tunes, ballads and extended grooves. I’d never seen Geoffrey Richardson perform before with the band – my Caravan education, like many, started with listening to the classic first three albums on LP, but for me also continued with then seeing that same quartet of Sinclair/Sinclair/Hastings/Coughlan reform in the early 90s for live gigs. So forgive me for not previously having a first-hand appreciation how Geoffrey became the focal point for the band both sonically and visually in the mid-Seventies. Tonight he was impossible to take one’s eyes off: effortlessly switching from viola, to lead guitar, to flute, to penny whistle, to mandolin – always beautiful understated interjections before moving on fluidly to the next passage. Even that doesn’t tell the whole story – amongst the most memorable moments for me were his viola picking on, I think, ‘Nightmare’, a solo on the spoons, or providing extra percussion elsewhere on a cowbell!


I’d been so mesmerised by the prowess shown by Geoffrey that I was almost oblivious to the talents of bass and keyboards, but increasingly as the night wore on their talents came to the fore: Schelhaas moving beyond the expected recreation of Dave Sinclair’s sublime solo lines on the ‘classics’ to a real honky-tonk vibe, whilst Leverton, solid as a rock, produced a lovely rounded bass tone to provide the ballast on the extended numbers in particular. Drummer Mark Walker provided a vibrant presence behind the sticks with added backing vocals – here was a man clearly enjoying himself!

I reckon on reflection that the band performed a total of 5 tracks from the new album ‘Paradise Filter’ – best for me was the surprising menace of ‘Dead Man Walking’, whilst ‘Farewell My Old Friend’, written in memory of Richard Coughlan, felt personally poignant in a week when I found out about the sudden death of a friend. Other tracks returned to the band’s apparently perennial financial bad-luck (‘Fingers in the Till’) and, perhaps more flippantly, medical tribulations (‘Trust Me I’m A Doctor’). But probably the best was saved to (almost) last with a superb and unexpected version of the aforementioned ‘Nightmare’ plus the rousing finale ‘9ft Underground’ – as good as ever.

It was mentioned that Caravan are a mere 6 months away from collectively celebrating their 50th birthday – it all started at the Beehive in Canterbury, the location of which was pointed out to me in my trip down there last month. Plans are afoot for a celebration – watch this space (or more accurately – but in the meantime try to catch one of their remaining gigs this tour.


(Thanks to Geoffrey Richardson for enabling me to get to this gig after a bout of personal incompetence!)

God Song – a Phil Miller tribute by Henk Weltevreden – as read at Phil’s funeral (27 October 2017)

(Musician, author and good friend of Phil Miller, Henk Weltevreden read out this lovely touching tribute at Phil’s funeral on 27th of October 2017. It’s reproduced here with the kind permission of Henk, and Phil’s widow Herm)

God Song – After Life

phil miller funeralHere’s a fairytale, for you Phil, a little creative act from my side, as a Thank you So Much, for all you gave me, in my life, your sounds, and for a warm, a very warm friendship. Here are some words. For you only.

We met when I was 16, that’s 50 years ago. You’re my number 1 longterm friend, for ever. We played Gary Burton music, one of your favourites at that time. Some years later I gave a Hatfield record to Gary Burton personally, in Boston. He smiled. Quite often life shows a cycle. Sometimes life is linear because I’m convinced that the biggest luck for you is Herm.

Some years later, we shared a room, staying at Daevid Allen’s home in Sens, during an early Hatfield tour of France. Over hours of conversation, you analysed the creation of your songs Calyx and Underdub, how it came about. We agreed, for a big part, it is by coincidence.

Tomorrow, at the end of the afternoon, you will be walking in a heavenly atmosphere, strolling on a beautiful road, flowers, perfume, left and right a country side full of weed, free bags of it, all over the place. You’re holding your guitar, it’s a country without carnet papers, no work for Benj here, no passport needed, no wifi, no income tax. But, you’re a bit nervous, because you have to hold and show a stamped certificate proving it was you Philip Paul Brisco Miller who wrote God Song.

 What on Earth are you doing, God?

Is this some sort of joke you’re playing?

Is it ‘cos we didn’t pray?

Are you just hot air, breathing over us and over all?

Is it fun watching us all?

Where’s your son? We want him again!

Dear Phil, I know you wonder, you doubt, will He, the Big Man be furious?

And then, all of a sudden, you see a bar. Right there, along that road.

There’s Pip, waving at you, cheerful, holding a triple times five Belgium beer. Also Hugh is there, mister Hopper, and Elton, Lindsay Cooper, brother Steve, Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers, Alan Gowen, and of course Lol.

Pip is yelling ‘hurray! Phil! Here! Where is Benji?’

‘Oh well,’ Phil says, ‘he is still too busy, maybe next year, or another ten-twenty years from now. Who knows. God knows. Chance mate. It’s all chance.’

Pip is smiling, having a great time, free drinks.

Pip’s thinking God Song:

‘And next time, you send your boy down there
Give him a wife and a sexy daughter

Someone we can understand.’

Hugh Hopper points at the counter. ‘There Phil, that’s where they check your documents. This here, it’s only a waystation. And, more important, if you want to get on, along the road, you have to choose only the single happiest memory of your life, all other memories will be gone, forgotten. And then you vanish to whatever unknown state of existence…’

Phil is doubting, he likes this bar here.

Elton looks a bit angry. Too much memories.

‘I don’t wanna enter that door,’ he mumurs, ‘stupid  Brexit. It’s also boring here, bloody Heaven,  I want a Hexit, out of here.’

Phil is hiding his certificate about God Song, slighty nervous. All of a sudden he regrets he has no carnet papers. Where is Benj?!

Pip takes a gulp, smiles and points at his selfmade poster behind the bar. It says:

God is dead, but just to be sure, I hate him.

Dear Phil

It does matter anyway

We’ll meet again some other day

The time has come to leave you

There’ll will be a way to reach you.


Henk Weltevreden (27th of October 2017)

Canterbury Sound: Place, Music and Myth, Christ Church University, Canterbury, 28 October 2017

It’s taken nearly a week to post something up about this amazing event, but then it’s taken nearly a week to surface from quite a whirlwind few days down south.

After around 25 years of correspondence, I finally got to meet Aymeric Leroy, author of the Calyx website, Big Bang progressive fanzines, moderator of the What’s Rattlin’ Newsgroup, and more recently author of the ‘L’Ecole de Canterbury’ biography. We met at Phil Miller’s funeral in Plaistow on Friday, chatted at the wake, where he kindly introduced me to many of my heroes, and shared a car down to Canterbury later that evening where he was kind enough not to comment too harshly on my lack of nous about directions! Aymeric’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Canterbury music (and beyond…) is not just confined to carefully filed reams of information – it is matched by instant recall of dates, places and anecdotes which sometimes make me feel like a half-arsed amateur!

lapis lazuli

Lapis Lazuli – photo: Asya Draganova

We’d been brought together as fellow speakers at the Canterbury Sound event, an event hosted by Christ Church University in the city, and curated by leading university academics Dr Asya Draganova and Professor Shane Blackman. The whole-day event consisted of a series of talks, including ones from Aymeric about Calyx and his book, my own about the genesis and development of Facelift, and other more academic perspectives from speakers jetting in from places as far flung as the US and Australia. My favourite slots were the insights provided by musicians Geoff Richardson (who came to settle in Canterbury in 1972) and Brian Hopper (who was already there!) and guitarist Jack Hues (a current practitioner). Talks and general discussion (all speakers also contributed to an ongoing ‘panel’ fielding questions from the floor) centred about what exactly the Canterbury scene/sound was, whether it had occurred as a result of local and cultural factors, and how it matched other geographically-based scenes. I’m not sure that the panel really came to any firm conclusions, but maybe that wasn’t the point. Personally, I liked most Geoff’s perspective that he was a ‘moth drawn to the flame’ of Canterbury, a phenomenon that I have observed so many times both in terms of musicians relocating geographically, but perhaps even more so metaphorically its many fans.

canterbury soundAny doubt that the flame is being kept alive was dispersed by the utterly memorable music which punctuated the day, initially with Jack Hues and the quartet, augmented for the most part by lengthy spoken word sections. The music was alternately sparse, atmospheric and driven, backed by the rhythm section of the very fine Led Bib. I would love to hear more of this. Koloto, a local composer followed in the afternoon with a set of electronic soundscapes, before the conference venue was cleared for the evening’s main performances.

With their unfathomable name, freakish promo photo and the eloquence of drummer Adam Brodigan who provided an insight into the local music scene in one of the later talks, a sense of anticipation built up for local band Lapis Lazuli, who for me were the revelation of the entire day. Extended but extremely tightly-knit compositions (‘Reich’ and ‘School’) from their superb ‘Wrong Meeting’ album, bought on the spot, revealed a power-driven quartet consisting of two guitars, bass and drums, producing intricate, funky compositions. The great thing about bands that you’re often instantly sold on is that you can’t accurately compare them to anyone else, because, they’re … um… unique. That’s how I felt about Syd Arthur when I first heard their folk-infused early stuff – but Lapis Lazuli are spikier, grungier and rarely staying in one spot long enough for the audience to settle in their groove, before they move on to the next meticulously scored passage. During Adam’s earlier words, he described the evolution of gig venues and clubs in recent years from smoke-filled dens of iniquity to a much cleaner environment where psychedelic stimulation had to come from the music alone, and how Lapis Lazuli aimed to take you there. Such was the mind-bending nature of the music that they certainly got (me) there tonight.

Headliners and equally anticipated were Soup Songs, the jazzy outfit performing the songs of (and thoroughly approved of by) Robert Wyatt. I’d never seen this much-vaunted band before and quite aside from the sheer privilege of hearing for the first time, live performances of iconic tracks such as ‘Sea Song’, (possibly my all-time favourite track, complete with the heart-rending coda played out by Annie Whitehead’s trombone), and ‘O Caroline’, here was a band that genuinely grooved. Backed by an all-star rhythm section of Tim Harries and Liam Genockey, names familiar to most Canterburyfiles in different contexts, and an all-female frontline of Whitehead, Sarah Jane Morris and singer/guitarist Jennifer Maidman, this was a classy, gutsy performance. Whilst the main soloists were Steve Lodder on keyboards and Mark Lockhart (sax); Geoff Richardson was invited on stage for several memorable viola interventions, whilst Brian Hopper stole the night with an extended sax solo on ‘Soup Song’ itself. A fitting way to end a memorable day from one of the founders of it all…

matt watkins

Postscript: The event provided an opportunity to display some of my old newspaper clipping archives which Aymeric had brought back from France, alongside no less than 7 different Canterbury family trees. Last thoughts regard the publication of ‘You Are Here’ by Matt Watkins, author of the Canterbury sans Frontieres soundblog. A full review to follow when this whirlwind week stops and I can start to dive properly into his unique and beautifully illustrated book. Matt gave a short talk starting to plot the geographically significant points of Canterbury mythdom through an interactive Google Map – this was the part of the day that perhaps unwittingly drew the most audience participation, and was presented with a wryness which added to the delivery. More on the book soon…

The funeral of Phil Miller, 27 October 2017

Posting publicly about a funeral feels  slightly odd, but it seems remiss not  to mark the passing of Phil Miller, a giant of the Canterbury scene, with as many respectful words  as this forum will allow.

phil miller funeral

Whilst hardly claiming to know Phil well personally, I was lucky enough to meet him enough times to feel that I could at least pay my respects, and so my travel plans to get down to Canterbury for the Sound event the day after were hastily re-arranged on hearing that Phil’s funeral would be held in Plaistow last Friday.

The crematorium service was a simple one, presented by a neighbour (and apologies for not catching the name) with both a sensitivity for Phil’s qualities both personally and as a musician. Whilst the service was topped and tailed with extracts from Phil and Fred Baker’s beautifully gentle album ‘Double Up’, the centrepiece of the ceremony was a series of speeches, including an opening from Aymeric Leroy, providing something of a tribute to Phil’s musical pedigree. A series of more personal thoughts and reminiscences followed from many of Phil’s friends and collaborators such as Hatfieldist Alex McGuire, Caravan guitarist Doug Boyle, bassist Jack Monck (who accompanied Phil at the start and end of his musical career with Delivery and the Relatives); and musical soulmate Fred Baker. Mark Hewins gave a very moving off the cuff speech, whilst musician and author Henk Weltewreden read his own bitter-sweet and very funny piece based around the lyrics to Phil’s ‘God Song’. The prevailing themes of the speeches were Phil’s loving gift of music; the meticulous nature of his playing and composing, his striving for the perfectly fine-tuned arrangement in both him and others; his fierce loyalty; and  his enduring love with Herm.

The wake was a beautifully informal affair at St Barnabas Hall in Dalston, with fine food downstairs and a succession of musicians playing the best of Phil’s music upstairs, such as ‘Underdub’, ‘God Song’, ‘Above and Below’ and ‘It Didn’t Matter Anyway’. I lost some of the detail of the particular denominations who played whilst chatting to various guests including the likes of Bill MacCormick, Yumi Hara, Geoff Leigh and Rick Biddulph, but there were combinations of In Cahoots musicians including Jim Dvorak and Pete Lemer; a fabulous reprise of a Miller/Baker duo number with Fred taking Phil Miller’s guitar line whilst Jack Monck played bass; Phil’s most recent collaborator Marc Hadley on  sax; Theo Travis on flute; Mark Hewins on guitar and many many more. I felt very privileged to have been there – the mood was sombre but Phil’s spirit prevailed….