This Just In… The Decline of NME deplored

Spot the difference…

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When Ozymandias were a lad, back in the ’70s, he could take his pick of three “quality” music weeklies. New Musical Express, authoritative and sarcastic, was the market leader. Melody Maker, which it had supplanted in that role, stumbled along in its wake like an embarrassing uncle dancing drunkenly at the party, clumsily jumping on band wagons that were about to run out of steam. Sounds flung itself headlong into whatever fad was flavour of the month, revamping itself to look like a primitive fanzine (even though it was being published by United Newspapers) at the height of the p*nk craze. All of them punked out in their turn, pretending that the music industry’s latest profit maximisation wheeze was some kind of radical grass roots movement and playing along with the facile “Year Zero” narrative. Musical merit became less important than the ability to sport stupid haircuts and spout swear words on TV. And the new music got the new journalism it deserved. I stopped reading these comics when one of them (Sounds, I seem to remember) told me I was personally responsible for the suicide of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis (oh, just go and fuck yourself!) Predictably, Sounds and Melody Maker folded in their turn. I was recently reunited with NME, decades after having bought my last issue, by a guy handing out free copies in the street. It’s now a glossy, skimpy tip-sheet informing  trendy-bearded, skinny-jeaned hipsters from Spunkbridge Unversity exactly what they are expected to consume this week in the fields of fashion, movies, video games… oh and there’s even a bit of music, or what currently passes for it, too. You get unfunny cartoon strips, an unfunny column from “comedienne” Katherine Ryan, “features” such as the one in which random vegetables plucked from the streets reveal what they’re listening to on their i-Pods… and page after page of adverts. They’re charging too much for this thing by giving it away free! So far, so pitiful… but the bit that will really set Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray and co spinning in their graves is their former mouthpiece’s recommendation that we all rush out and purchase the new Justin Bieber record on account of “his shift from bubble-gum teen-pop to ass-shaking EDM” (whatever that is) and insistence that we “need (said platter) in our life” because “we’re all Beliebers now.” Hand me the Boot Room bucket… I think I’m going to be sick!

This rant previously appeared on the now defunct Bootroom Of Ozymandias blog.

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Categories: Random Rantings | 2 Comments

Go Focus Yourself… The THIJS VAN LEER Interview

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The initial plan was to post an interview with Thijs Van Leer (or part of it) that originally appeared in #136 of Record Collector magazine but then, incredibly, a previously unpublished interview from November 2008 came to light in the Boot Room archives… and here it is. The occasion was 27.11.07 and Focus’s gig at The Picturedome in Holmfirth, the breath-takingly beautiful chunk of Yorkshire where they film The Last Of The Summer Wine. Birdman, my boon companion and I, were honoured to be received by Thijs in his hotel room and as dusk settled over the dales (a truly magical setting) he discoursed freely on all things Focus. First on the agenda was wunderkind guitarist Niels Van Der Steenhoven, who had recently replaced Jan Dumee in the line-up.

So, Thijs… how is Niels settling into the band?

Too good… it’s not just that he’s learned it, it’s that he totally understands our thing. We already knew that he was a virtuoso, but it’s really amazing that he’s glued in so well.

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You’ve had young guitarists like Jan Dumee, Menno Gootjes and Eef Albers in the band before… were all these guys really steeped in the history of Focus?

I must say that a lot of them took Focus as their model of how to approach music and the reason we could find so many beautiful young guitarists was that they all agreed that Focus compositions are timeless. That’s not what I say, that’s what they say and why they take it so seriously.

I agree. I listen to a track like Anonymous 2 all the time and it’s still revealing fresh things to me…

Yep…

It doesn’t age at all and in that sense it’s more like classical music than “pop” music. It’s more like jazz, too. I mean, something like Anonymous 2 makes much more sense when listened to with Bitches Brew as a reference point rather than the more usual comparisons that are made with Genesis, Yes…

Of course… what it’s got is a very horizontal form of improvisation, chord wise… a lot of Anonymous 2 is only one chord. Maybe also the intensity of it, which people didn’t perhaps expected from these cold musicians (laughs)… the alertness, the tension, everyone being completely there, this is what I saw in all of Miles’ groups, not only the Bitches Brew period but also with Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley and also the beautiful quintet with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, they all adhered to that law of total concentration, total devotion… yeah, let’s call it devotion…but also as a group member to be able to listen to the others, to make space for them.

People criticised the Mother Focus album for allegedly taking this abrupt jazz turn, but in fact…

… the jazz was always there, yes, although we don’t use the triplet of mainstream jazz, but there’s always that 16-to-the-bar thing. That’s what all the jazz rock guys also did… Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, everybody. Actually, I think rather than Miles Davis it was Larry Coryell who really started jazz-rock…

… with Eleventh House…

… yeah. I don’t actually like the compositions all that much, but I do think he’s the godfather of the whole jazz-rock thing. I was very influenced by Weather Report for a while there, I even exchanged my Hammond organ for a Fender Rhodes at one point but now I’m back playing the Hammond.

What happened with Jan Dumee… did he just want to go and do his own thing?

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Jan was a good friend, I was very pleased with his musicality, his compositions were pretty good (we still play one of them, Tamara’s Move) but I really wanted more of a challenge on stage. I said to him we’re an instrumental group, there’s no lead singer and certainly no sex symbol to please the eye of the audience, so we need something else. I wanted more of a challenge from him on stage, for him to really put some fire under my butt, so that there is battle whose resolution is the music and the audience becoming united as one thing. Jan said: “ Yes, I’m gonna work on that”, but it just didn’t happen so six months later I asked him one last time…

There always has been a lot of physical interactivity between the members of Focus on stage…

Yes, I need contact with my fellow musicians. I have it with Pierre. just one little look and we’re off. Sometimes we don’t even have to look…

Pierre is such a great drummer, but it’s said that his crisis of confidence was a big part of the band’s decline in the 1970s…

He didn’t doubt himself. He doubted that he was getting the credit he deserved. He had a very long working relationship with Jan, going back to when he was 13…

… in Johnny &  His Cellar Rockers…

brainbox-net copyYes, so they had a very long and pure relationship, then suddenly their was this  friendship between Jan and me which was probably a difficult thing for Pierre to swallow. We shared a sense of humour, including dirty jokes which is something Pierre doesn’t care for, so that was it… I was always laughing my ass off when Jan was telling jokes and Pierre would be silent so maybe I was the disturbing factor in their friendship, I don’t know… then Pierre was the first to leave. Later on I asked Jan to leave the band because he didn’t want to play my music anymore, but that was much later…

That was on the eve of Focus’s 1976 UK tour… you had Philip Catherine joining the band with two days notice and you suffered a dope bust as soon as you arrived in the country… turbulent times!

Yeah (laughs)… that was terrible. I really didn’t know that I had these two tiny pieces of hash in my bag, and it was discovered by a guy who must have had a third eye…

… or good sniffer dogs…

No, no dogs, just the guy!

Maybe somebody tipped him off..

I had a very quick trial, I had to stay at the police station and somebody from the record company bailed me out. I kept saying that I did not know it was in my bag… and I really didn’t know… otherwise they wouldn’t have let me enter the country anymore.

We can’t have that! There’s an apocryphal story that ran in the music papers, saying that before one college gig you were huddled around a juke box in the bar, playing Hocus Pocus over and over so that Philip could learn it…

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No, that’s not true. What happened was that the day before we arrived in the UK I wrote down all the guitar parts, 14 pages, and he played on stage at Cardiff, reading all these parts that were glued to a chair… note perfect! The tour was very successful but when it ended I didn’t want to continue with that band. I asked Akkerman to come back, three times, but three times he refused. His no was no… OK, I can understand that.

But you made an album together in 1985…

The blue one,  just called Focus

Presumably you were getting on better then?

Yes, we thought we would do it as just a duet, no hassle anymore with the rhythm section people and we just had a Linn Drum behind us… the record company was initially very enthusiastic about that record but when they heard the results they though there was no hit single, so every penny of promotional money was withdrawn… the project was killed.

But if something like House Of The King can be a hit, why not King Kong from that album?

I thought so… I like that, also.

Speaking of rhythm sections, as we were, Jan Akkerman told me that original Focus bassist Martijn Dresden was a very eccentric guy… is that how you remember him?

He was a guy with vision. He was the son of the guy who was conducting an orchestra in which my father was the first flute player and I was the piccolo player. Martijn’s father had an inferiority complex because his own father was the self made man behind the Amsterdam Conservatory and he was always putting down Martijn’s father, who was a beautiful cello player. So what did Martijn’s father do to him? Exactly the same, always putting him down. So Martijn had many problems, he was already on hard drugs when he was 15 or 16 and we didn’t know, it was a total secret.

He sang the song Happy Nightmare (Mescaline) on your first album…

Yes, I asked him to sing it because I thought he had more experience of that kind of thing than the rest of us. He sang it very well, also Black Beauty, which we now do as an instrumental… but not tonight.

What about Anonymous, which is one of the really signature Focus pieces?

We rehearsed it but we’re not playing it on this tour, I don’t know why… probably because it’s too long. We’re leaving it out again…. but we will be playing Round Goes The Gossip, which we always avoided before because it’s a very difficult tune to play, totally uncommercial and that’s the first song off a double album that went gold in America… how is that possible?!? Those were different days!

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Focus appeared out of the blue in the early ‘70s and just took the world by storm… any memories of those times, e.g. the legendary Whistle Test appearances and your memorable turn at the Reading Festival?

You must remember that there were two factors that were already helping us a lot. One is that we were signed to Radio Luxembourg, the only legal pirate station in Europe, and they had English language programmes presented by people like Kid Jensen. They were playing us already every hour at least once, so the English audience was already familiar with some of our tunes… you could then talk about a red carpet kind of situation. The other thing was that the first time we came to England there was a big power strike and no band could play  for lack of electricity… even the traffic lights in London were out! We were afraid to go, we thought in England they have so many stars already in pop and rock… they’re chauvinistic also, so what do they care about a Dutch band? You know… but our management had the idea to send us over here with our own generator. So we performed and the very fact that we played got the audience on our side from the off, not even the music… it was like we were pioneers, you know? That made it for us. And then I must say the skill… the band consisted of musicians with a certain kind of virtuosity and originality. We were not afraid of using classical elements… not just quoting them, like some of the other “Prog” bands did, but of composing our own in a manner reminiscent of Brahms or Bach or Mozart. We made a big impression with such things as the timing of Jan Akkerman and Pierre Van Der Linden together, a very black feel, don’t forget that, another things was we were also open to… all kinds of folk music from all over the world, so it was like a total amalgamation of styles and I must say I’m very happy that people accepted what we were doing and that we could even make a name for ourselves and get a lot of coverage. We also wanted to spread the news that there was a possibility of making that tasteful kind of mixture of styles, while retaining a unique sound that could be recognised as that of Focus.

A totally new sound…

Yes, like what Mendelssohn called “songs without words”, that was the principle of it.

The Shadows set the precedent for this in popular music, with Hank Marvin’s guitar taking the vocal line…

Ah, he was a big influence, of course. He covered Sylvia, have you heard it?

No (I have now – Oz).

It’s beautiful, well done Hank. A little different from the way that Akkerman did it, but really nice. But in the early ‘70s we were the only instrumental band having hits…

… and from an “unfashionable” country…

Mariska 3Well some Dutch bands did have hits… Golden Earring with Radar Love, Maggie McNeil with Hello, How Do You Do? We had Tea Set and of course, Shocking Blue (above) … she just died, the girl who sang on Venus… Mariska Veres… I went to her funeral and I played the flute as the coffin went down, just a flute solo. I was just about to do an album of Hungarian songs with her…

Another missed opportunity… Focus is a band that’s never recorded two consecutive studio albums with the same line up. Have you sought constant change with the idea of keeping everybody on their mettle, or is there a version of the band that you would really like to have held together?

I was very satisfied at the time when we had Bert, Jan and Pierre in the band. It’s not me who wanted to change that at all. Now, finally, after all these years, I can say again that I do not want to change the current line-up. Niels isn’t just great, he’s absolutely amazing and Bobby is not only the bottom, he’s also a good writer and a very good producer. He co-produced the album. And of course Pierre… forget about it, he’s phenomenal! And we now have three generations in the band, with Niels who’s 28, Bobby is 42 and Pierre’s even older than I am, though he looks much younger. It’s music that makes this possible, age doesn’t come into it.

When I spoke to Jan Akkerman he was really quite dismissive of Bert Ruiter as a player…

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Sic…

Really? Burt brought a lot of r’n’b to the band because he came out of that kind of group, having played in Full House in Utrecht, he played with jazz people, he came out of a very warm bed, you know. He was playing very basic, like the tuba part, but with Jan Akkerman and me playing so many notes it was very welcome to have somebody who wasn’t playing busily, high  on the neck like Stanley Clarke does…

Noel Redding filled exactly the same role in the Jimi Hendrix Experience… is it true that you considered Mitch Mitchell for the drum stool when Pierre left the band, before you decided on Colin Allen?

Oh yeah, he’s a guy I’ve still got a lot of admiration for, he’s inspired me a lot. You could maybe compare him also a little bit to Pierre.

Focus and Jan Akkerman are both touring constantly these days… is there any sense in which you’re checking each other out, spurring each other on to top each other?

No, I’m flattered and honoured that he still plays my material but that’s it, and I’m not checking anything. Sometimes I meet people who attend his concerts and ours and some comparisons are made, but that’s just a pleasure for me.

When I saw the reformed Focus you played Hocus Pocus and I thought that’s pretty hot, then I saw Akkerman and he played it better, then I saw you again and you topped his version…

It’s different, he plays it with no yodelling, in fact I think he even calls it “Hocus Pocus: No Yodel”. Vanessa Mae recorded a cover version with her violin taking the yodelling part… did you hear it?

Yeah, it’s pretty good.

I like it a lot. I met her once and I proposed to her… ha ha, proposed to her that we collaborate on a version of Hocus Pocus to be released as a single. She was very keen to do it too, but when I spoke to her management, it was: “We’ll let you know”, you know…

As you get older is it harder to do these amazing vocalisations that the fans have come to expect?

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No, only the high voice has gone. My falsetto – in fact it used to be a castrato – went round about the time I turned 50, but I gained an extra register below… it grew downwards (laughs.) But now in the hall it’s the public who yodel the high bits for me…

It’s nice that you’ve had Akkerman, this guitar god in the band, but the fans still accept new, younger people like Jan Dumee and Niels and don’t give them a hard time.

You know why they accept them? Because they’re so good!

I know, but in other bands no matter how good the new guy is, the fans will never forgive him for not being the old guy.

I can imagine. You know, what Akkerman did in Focus was unprecedented, but I do think that he needs a good composer next to him. It doesn’t have to be me, but you know when Akkerman has a counterpart, I think he’s at his best. I’m not saying that he’s a bad composer, but when he had another composer to work with, it gave him another thing. I’ve always said as much to him and it’s always made him angry.

You set him up beautifully, for instance, at some points on the Hamburger Concerto album and he steps up to the plate and delivers these beautiful guitar solos…

We always complimented each other very well. I listen to this stuff now and, for instance, Focus II from the album Moving Waves always brings me to tears, not only what Jan was playing but what Pierre was doing as well.

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He always complains: “Ah, but the drums are too soft on that track” and I reply: “I’m just listening to what you were playing there”, it was so far ahead of its time, so symphonic, and the timing… you’ll hear it tonight, we play Focus II and it only grew. It’s better now so it’s unbelievable for me and I’m so thankful. The thing is, all the years that I didn’t do Focus material it was because of what people in the business, people like Mike Vernon and Seymour Stein, said to me. I met Mike in London and I met Seymour in Cannes and showed them some material and they said they were only interested in it if Jan was on board again, then they would put some backing into it, and that kind of influenced me to believe that I couldn’t do it by myself. I was not interested in doing Focus anymore because I thought, of course, I have to believe the people who made a lot more money than we did ourselves. Seymour Stein made his first million dollars on Focus… we didn’t, he did! I don’t regret that, but it’s true.

People like that saying they were only interested in that partnership, this influenced me for years… it was only young people like Bobby Jacobs, Jan Dumee and Ruben Van Roon, those three started to rehearse the old material just because they thought it was timeless music and then they asked me to join the group, I didn’t know what they were rehearsing. Bobby phoned me on a rainy day and said: “Please come 120 kilometres, bringing your Hammond organ” and I said no. I was having one of my very rare moments of down time and I was in the house just surfing channels on the TV but no, he said: “You’ve gotta come now” and he kept on phoning so finally I went there with the Hammond organ, drove there and through the closed door I heard some of the old material (gestures signifying an upsurge of emotion) and it was not just the material, but the way they were playing it, as a guitar trio. I immediately unpacked my Hammond and there it was. We started off as a band called ‘Hocus Pocus – A Tribute To Focus” and we wanted to play in cafes and little clubs and then this mad manager came along called Willem Hubers and he said: “What I’m hearing is Focus. If you want me to manage you you have to re-baptise yourselves into Focus again” then we had a gathering with the four for two and a half minutes and said yes, then we went immediately to Brazil and now we are very big there and in Mexico… we never went there in the old days because it was too dangerous, in the sense that you wouldn’t get paid but nowadays you can do better deals. So now we do go there and in places like Rio, San Paolo, we are hot and again we’ve been asked to headline a massive rock festival in Mexico….

House Of The King has always been used a lot on British TV… but everybody still thinks it’s Jethro Tull!

They always do…

What happened during the Hamburger Concerto period? The music changed a  bit, you had Colin Allen in the band…

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Many people regard that as their favourite Focus album… it’s very Spanish. Much more Spanish than Eruption. I think the title track, the Concerto itself, is maybe too much a replica of Eruption but it was heavily influenced, especially what Jan Akkerman contributed, by Joe Walsh. We played nine gigs co-headlining with Joe in Texas and he was playing major chords (Thijs vocalises the riff to “Rocky Mountain Way”). We had been playing only minor chords, doric scales… what they call “jazzy”, but it’s just a minor bluesy scale. Suddenly Jan said: “I think the new thing is major chords” and he admitted that this was the influence of Joe. And so Hamburger Concerto started – the introduction is by Hayden you know, the Hayden variations on Brahms. That’s very major, but in the middle parts again it’s very Spanish. But Hocus Pocus is also very Spanish… it’s all very Spanish!

Jan will do a solo album were he’s trying to sound like Z Z Top, then he’ll do another one where he wants to sound like Django… he seems to go through this succession of phases where he’s enthusing about something or other.

I cannot judge. I know that he idolised Z Z Top and I can understand that because it’s a real r’n’b thing, a real rock’n’roll feel that we all like. I agree with Jan that it’s smoking… sulphurous… this indefinable swing that starts to suddenly swell up.

So, where did it start to go wrong with Colin?

You know he was playing some of the places we just played, I think he started Stone The Crows again (in fact at this time Colin was playing in the British Blues Quintet with Maggie Bell, Zoot Money, Colin Hodgkinson and Miller Anderson – Oz). That’s where he came from. You know Maggie Bell lost her husband Les Harvey, he was electrocuted on stage, Colin left the band and then he was free to join Focus… but it’s not true that Focus deteriorated because Colin joined the band. Listen to his playing on something like Harem Scarem… it really cooks!

Colin seemed to have integrated into the band really well but then there seemed to be an abrupt parting of the ways…

Jan took him out, he sacked him from the band.

Jan told me that you sacked Colin Allen.

Fuck him! No, no, it’s not true… no, Jan was really fed up with Colin, there was some kind of personal thing going on between them.

Jan told me that he only recently realised what a good drummer Colin was because when he was in the band, he (Jan) was obsessed with getting Pierre back.

I don’t know, it’s possible, I can’t make a judgement for him, you know? Colin’s a lovely man, great character and he knows a lot about rock and roll history as well. I’d love to see your interview with him. I would like to see him again. The only guys I’ve seen recently, being in London very briefly, were Chick Corea and John McLaughlin. It was a Chick Corea concert together with his banjo player and one of the people in the audience was John McLaughlin… I’m very good friends with Chick, he’s stayed at my home and Chick wanted to produce my Latin mass, which I wrote and called Dona Nobis Pacem. Chick wanted to do that in his home studio in LA but I had already done that with two Chilean guys. Even Chi Coltrane wanted to do that with me, she wanted to sing some English over the Latin words. That is, I think, my best work.

Everybody says that, but it’s really hard to track down… (I’ve got a copy now and it’s frickin’ sublime – Oz.)

It was never going to sell well, something like that, but it is definitely my best work.

What happened with the short lived Focus line-up of the late ‘90s, which included Bert, Hans Cleuver and the young guitarist Menno Gootjes? (Menno pictured above… he would replace Niels Van Der Steenhoven in the Focus line up shortly after this interview – Oz.)

We played just one gig and that was it. That came about because Bert said to me, I’m going to go with you to my attic to record 23 songs… most of them were my compositions, because Bert said that I was the soul of the band, the composer and so on. I felt flattered so I went to his house and we worked for months on a concept with what I thought was strong material and Hans Cleuver, the original Focus drummer, was interested to join with us… he has a drum school in Den Haag that is flourishing but he was keen to play again, so we auditioned for guitarists and we found Menno…

Wasn’t he a schoolmate of Bobby’s?

He was the teacher of Niels! He played a very good part. In the end there was already posters made and everything and we were on the verge of going on tour and making a record… suddenly Bert Ruiter himself said we are not mature enough to do it, it needs at least half a year more. So I said: “Sorry, fuck you!” and that was the end of our friendship. We were real friends, but that was the end of it…

He had stuck with you through many line-ups…

Burt was so positive about doing it and suddenly he pulled out. Was he afraid? I don’t know… he didn’t want to go to America, he didn’t feel we were strong enough, the material and the way we were playing it. Maybe he was right… anyway, this band died very quickly.

Did any of that material appear on your comeback albums Focus 8 or New Skin?

Yeah, the title song from Focus 8 was totally prepared by Bert and me and I still like the song very much, though we’re not going to play it here tonight.

Do you have any contact details for Bert?

His wife was the singer in the band Earth & Fire and now she’s the head of the big cultural assembly in Holland, she’s a very important person and also on the jury of Holland’s Pop Idol show… hey, you should give some credit to our tour manager Geert Scheijgrond, whom I always introduce as a non-playing member of the band… in fact he plays guitar like Jeff Beck and he’s the only one of us who looks “rock’n’roll”…

Thijs, I don’t believe you could go anywhere in the world and not be regarded as “rock’n’roll”… anyway, is Introspection still the biggest selling album in Holland?

In the days of LPs it was, but I think there are now a few classical CDs that have outsold it. I sold about two and half million LPs in Holland, which is a lot.

Finally, any amusing anecdotes about Focus’s time as the house band for the original Amsterdam production of the musical Hair? That must have been pretty wild…

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The wild thing was that there were naked people on stage very night we played, which was unheard of… girls… there were boys too, but we were only interested in the girls. The thing was for us it was the first reason to live, the first money we made, being the nucleus of a nine piece orchestra and it also gave us the opportunity to rehearse our own stuff every afternoon because we didn’t have to pay rent and the gear was there in this big circus tent where the production took place in Amsterdam. And Victor Spinnetti was there as producer, the dead guy, he did Magical Mystery Tour with The Beatles. We had so much fun…

At this point Thijs was called to the soundcheck and took us along. Round Goes The Gossip… Sheer Prog Heaven! And then there was the gig…

http://www.focustheband.com

This piece previously appeared on the now defunct Bootroom Of Ozymandias blog.

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Profondo Simonetti… The Goblins’ CLAUDIO SIMONETTI Interviewed

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For those of us fixated on the twin ’70s worlds of Prog Rock and Italian Horror cinema there are two points on the graph at which our obsessions meet and snuggle up. Firstly, there’s the recently deceased and sadly missed Keith Emerson, of The Nice and ELP notoriety, who also scored movies for Dario Argento (Inferno, The Church) and Lucio Fulci (Murder Rock). Alongside Emmo’s flirtation with Pasta Paura, there’s been an ongoing contribution from one band. That band is, of course, The Goblins… or just plain old Goblin, depending on which record cover or film credit you believe. To mark what now seems to be a never-ending world tour by this legendary combo (which currently constitutes keyboard whizz Claudio Simonetti plus whoever else he’s managed to round up in time to rehearse), we’re reviving a Simonetti interview from the fabled Freudstein vaults. Since it was taped, the Goblin saga has mutated into something approaching the Julio-Claudian family tree in terms of complexity, with more personnel changes than Spinal Tap and more competing rival line-ups than Bucks Fizz. Simonetti has also toured the Goblin repertoire with a more Goth / Death Metal-orientated band, Daemonia. Over to you, Pete Frame…
Half Brazilian (like future collaborator Dario Argento), Claudio Simonetti was born (19/02/52) in Sao Paolo, the scion of an eminent musical family, his father Enrico being a noted pianist and conductor. By the time the Simonettis had relocated back to Italy, Claudio was an accomplished keyboard player. During his national service he befriended guitarist Massimo Morante, who shared Simonetti’s passion for such heavyweight British Proggers as ELP, The Nice, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and Gentle Giant. “Yes, I started playing in bands covering the material of those guys”, remembers Simonetti: “I think everybody in the world was influenced by that music. It was obviously the big influence on the band I formed with Massimo, though subsequently we found our own voice.”

Demobbed in the early 70’s, Simonetti and Morante began recording demos with a mob of collaborators from which Fabio Pignatelli (bass) and Walter Martino (drums) emerged as fully paid-up band members. Martino had given way to Carlo Bordini and American vocalist Clive Haynes was recruited before the band (initially named Picture Of Dorian Gray, later The Oliver) travelled to London in 1974 in a misfiring attempt to hook up with Yes producer Eddie Offord.”Eddie had expressed an interest in working with us and we brought over some demos to play to him, but he was very busy at this time, he was on a world tour with The Yes, so we never get together with him” sighs Simonetti: “We stayed in London for about two months, played a few gigs and recorded some more demos, then it was back to Italy and we resumed recording in Rome.” Returning, deflated, to home soil, these Olivers – like their Dickensian namesake – were hungry for more.

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Their fortunes took an upward swing when the Cinevox label signed them to record an album, on condition that they change their name to Cherry Five, possibly to avoid confusion with the execrable soundtrack outpourings of Oliver Onions, i.e. the De Angelis brothers. Cherry Five’s 1975 self-titled debut album (on which Tony Tartarini had replaced Haynes as front man and Martino returned to replace Bordini on skins) has now been issued as a Cinevox CD and emerges as a surprisingly confident outing, albeit instantly recognisable as the work of a bunch of Yes obsessives (the harmonies, the tricky time signatures, Pignatelli’s pastiche of Chris Squire’s trebly bass sound … )

Cinevox, of course, were a label chiefly concerned with releasing soundtracks, and it was through this connection that the boys encountered Dario Argento, who was having problems scoring his giallo masterpiece Profondo Rosso / Deep Red (1975). Claudio remembers it like this … “Giorgio Gaslini had written the music but Dario wanted it played by a rock band and was searching for one which would be up to the job. He signed us after hearing the Cherry 5 album. After ten days of recording it was decided that we should come up with more of the music ourselves. Dario and Gaslini had been having disagreements about the music, also Gaslini had a very heavy schedule of concert work … he was a very famous jazz player… so Dario said: ‘OK guys, you’re on your own’. That was our big break, we did the main title music and other themes in the picture. The A-
side of the soundtrack album is the music that we composed, the B-side is Gaslini stuff arranged and played by Goblin” (as the band, minus Tartarini and concentrating on instrumental material, would now be known.)

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“We were glad to have been granted this great opportunity, we were very young and very full of ourselves …. ” So, to Gaslini’s famous lullaby theme The Goblins added (among other bits of business) the equally celebrated, much re-released and remixed title piece, a stunning interplay between acoustic guitar-picking and church organ grandiloquence which makes me suspect that, while in London, The Goblins must have been tuning into classic Granada TV documentary series World In Action. During the Deep Red sessions drummer Martino left yet again to be replaced by Agostino Marangolo, whose brother Antonio also contributed additional keyboard parts. On the soundtrack to Mauro Macario’s 1976 picture Perche Si Uccidono, attributed to II Reale Impero Britannico, four of the eleven tracks are The Goblins’ interpretation of music written by Fabio Frizzi, no less… the guy who went on to score most of Lucio Fulci’s zombie epics. Antonio Marangolo gave way to Maurizio Guarini for the band’s other 1976 effort Roller, whose title track continues the big organ (ooh-er, missus!) sound of Profondo Rosso, though here in tandem with Morante’s soaring electric lead. Elsewhere those Prog influences are very much in evidence. Dr Frankestein (sic) emulates ELP and the eponymous Goblin runs the gamut from Genesis to jazz-rock, while Snip Snap hints at the funky shape of things to come.

Roller remains one of only two non-soundtrack albums that were ever put out under the Goblin banner, though cuts from it were subsequently pillaged for the soundtracks of other films, notably Wampir (the 1979 Italian release of George Romero’s Martin), Luigi Cozzi’s colourised re-issue of the original Godzilla and Argento’s tenor tour-deforce Suspiria (1977 … Aquaman and Dr Frankestein appear on the original soundtrack album though not in the film itself). Goblin did however deliver plenty of original material for Suspiria, their dissonant cacophony of whispers, screams, strangulated synthesiser and found percussion providing the perfect accompaniment to Argento’s all-out visual, visceral assault. Just as the witches’ murderous daggers are wielded in close up by the director’s own skinny hands, so it is Simonetti’s voice that can be heard throughout the picture, muttering lines from the folk poem “Three Witches Sitting In A Tree.” It has gone down in fear-film folklore that Goblin completed the scoring of Suspiria before a frame of film was shot, and that the actors rehearsed and played their parts while listening to it. The truth is that this provisional score was completely revamped in postproduction. Another persistent rumour has it that the band Libra, whose relentless, percussion-driven score accompanies Dario Nicolodi’s accelerating mental disintegration in Mario Bava’s final feature Shock (1977), are actually The Goblins, working incognito for contractual reasons. In fact the connection was a very tenuous one, Libra comprising original Goblin drummer Walter Martino and transient members / fringe figures Maurizio Guarini, Alessandro Centofanti, Carlo Pennisi and Dino Cappa.

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In the same year the genuine Goblins scored Enzo Castellari’s cop saga La Via Della Droga.There was no doubt about who scored George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead aka Zombie, coproduced by Argento in 1978. With Antonio Marangolo contributing sax parts, Goblin turned in what is undoubtedly their strongest soundtrack album. The others invariably boast a strong title theme but also a certain amount of straight filler and tend to peter out into lots of “creeping around corridors” stuff that doesn’t necessarily do much for the listener without its accompanying visuals. The band came up with several compelling themes for Dawn, and their characteristic staccato unison riffing, a la King Crimson / Mahavishnu Orchestra, has never been this tight and telling. Argento wisely beefed up the band’s soundtrack presence on his punchier cut of the movie, released in Italy.

Like any self-respecting Prog band, Goblin were obliged to release the dreaded “concept album,” which also appeared in 1978 with the Kafka-esque title II Fantastico Viaggio Del Bagarozzo Mark (“The Fantastic Voyage Of Mark The Bug”). This was full-on Prog with a distinctly Italian flavour, the vocals (courtesy of Morante ) delivered at times in the hectoring tone of a Roman market trader. “It’s a story about this beetle called Mark and his travels through the insect world, but it’s like … how to say? It’s a human story, but told in the insect world … an allegory!” An autobiographical allegory of certain members’ drug problems, it was later confessed! Perhaps those problems contributed to the band’s split later in 1978, apparently at the height of their powers. It’s also possible that there was friction with Argento, who has had well-recorded spats with Ennio Morricone, Giorgio Gaslini and Keith Emerson. Simonetti, however, offers a more prosaic explanation …” I think at that point, after all those years of collaborations, that we had nothing more to say. A lot of other bands from that era were also calling it a day round about this time … Prog Rock was finished, the new era of dance music was arriving.”

Indeed, when sundry Goblins reconvened four years later to record the soundtrack of Argento’s Tenebrae, the results were distinctly disco-flavoured, with vocoder heavily to the fore on the main theme’s infernal toccata-and-frug, and drum machine throughout, complimenting the musicianly efforts of Pignatelli-Simonetti-Morante. Thus they were billed, as by now Cinevox owned all rights to the name Goblin, under which Zappa looky-likey Pignatelli was simultaneously recording Volo, an album of TV themes, utilising a rotating crew of collaborators, either with or without Simonetti and / or Morante. Pignatelli had taken on scoring duties for a succession of Italian genre pictures which generally lack the zip and zing of golden age Goblinry, their sequenced keyboard progressions coming across as leaden and predictable. Among the better ones are those for Joe D’ Amato’s 1979 outrage Blue Holocaust, with its pulsating main theme, and Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980), whose genuinely epic title piece contains some of the niftiest mellotron work ever executed outside The Court Of The Crimson King. The rest of the album features several cuts filched from D’ Amato’s picture. The weirdest is undoubtedly that for Bruno Corbucci’s Squadra Antigangster (1979), a comedic crime-slime vehicle for Tomas Milian’s ever popular “Monnezza” character. This one boasts Chinese disco, the S/M droolings of demented dominatrix Asha Puthly on a track entitled The Whip and, bizarrest of all, the funk fiasco Welcome To The Boogie, in which guest vocalist “Charlie Cannon” not only welcomes us to said boogie but also invites the bemused listener to “wiggle his woogie” before delivering further astonishing non sequitur lines about, among other things, “funky” (or are they “spunky”?) donkeys!

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Meanwhile Simonetti’s solo scores were often the most entertaining features of exploitation pictures such as Enzo Castellari’s The New Barbarians (1982), Lucio Fu1ci’s Conquest (1983) and several Ruggero Deodato efforts. In collaboration with ethereal vocalist Pina Magri, he also contributed the pulse-pounding title piece for Argento’s much-panned Phenomena (1984, also collaborating on some tracks with Pignatelli) and the rather more lyrical main theme for Opera (1987), book-ending his Herbie Hancockesque electro contributions to Argento and Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985) and gothy dabblings on its inevitable sequel, Demons 2 (1986). Simonetti’s contributions to all of these nestled cheek-by-jowl with a grab bag of contemporary rock tracks, Argento’s magpie “now that’s what I call hit-and-miss” scoring system an ill-advised attempt to drum up extra soundtrack album sales. When it came to Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989), producer Argento was ready for something more refined, dividing scoring duties between Keith Emerson and the axis of Pignatelli, Simonetti and Morante, who performed the looping cadences of Philip Glass’s compositions for the film.

Argento’s directorial career marked time during the ’90s as the Spag Horror legend turned in a succession of misconceived mediocrities. 2001’s Non Ho Sonno aka Sleepless was a return to the giallo genre and a partial return to former glories. To stoke up expectations that he was back on track, Argento asked Simonetti to reform the classic Profondo Rosso / Suspiria line-up of Goblin for its soundtrack. “I met him in Barcelona at a festival in the late ’90s … ” remembers the keyboard wizard ” … and he said why not reform the band for my next film. So I contacted my friends and they agreed.” Although Goblin / Argento enthusiasts raved over the results (the predictably lush title piece has more than a suggestion of Profondo Rosso about it), ” .. .it was very hard to work together again,” confesses Simonetti, ” … because we hadn’t played for 22 years and we are now so different from each other. Every one of us likes different types of music. I think we were not ready to play together again.” Indeed, Non Ho Sonno could well prove to be the final hurrah. “That will probably be the last collaboration of that classic line-up of Goblin …. ” sighs Simonetti: ” … it’s not easy to play together and stay together.”

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“A marriage is easier to keep together than a band” drummer Marangolo muses during an MPEG that appears on certain video-enhanced Cinevox editions of the band’s CDs. The company has diligently kept all of the band’s work available since the early 80s, and released an ongoing series of “greatest hits” and “rarities” packages including such oddities as Chi? (the band’s 1976 performance of a popular TV programme’s theme tune), Yell (Pignatelli and the Marangolo brothers’ 1978 theme for another TV series, which was resurrected for The Goblins’ re-scoring of Richard Franklin’s Patrick) and Pignatelli, Marangolo and Pennisi’s contributions to the score of Armenia Balducci’s 1979 effort, Amo Non Amo. The proliferation of Cinevox “Best Of” compilations and bonus “tracks / alternate” takes on their new editions of original albums made for a certain degree of duplication, but in 2000 the company excelled themselves with The Fantastic Journey Of Goblin, Volume 1 (no sign of Volume 2 at the time of writing). This collection serves up the expected Argento collaborations, but with a bonus disc comprising material that had recently been discovered in the Cinevox vaults, a concert recording of the band (Simonetti, Morante, Pignatelli and the Marangolo brothers) delivering live renditions of tracks from Roller and Bagarozzo Mark, together with the inevitable Profondo Rosso theme. “I can’t imagine where they discovered that material” confesses Simonetti: “”We were a really good live band, it’s a great shame there are not a lot of concert recordings and absolutely no video” (in fact a bootleg DVD exists, documenting Goblin’s appearance at the San Remo Festival in 1978. I might even get round to reviewing that one in a future posting – Oz.) Cinevox have also released Volume 1 of a remixes collection and Simonetti himself has continued to tinker… on his Simonetti Horror Project video there’s a dance version of the Profondo Rosso theme, with a black DJ rapping over the top to startling effect. The Goblin legacy continues to thrive, much to the delight of Simonetti: “Prog Rock was very popular in the’ 70s. Now it is completely out of fashion, yet there is still such strong support for the music of Goblin over so many years. We couldn’t have imagined that this would happen. It makes us very surprised … and very, very happy!”

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http://www.simonetti.org

http://www.goblinofficial.com

This feature previously appeared on the now defunct Bootroom Of Ozymandias blog, also on houseoffreudstein.wordpress.com … the world’s greatest Horror and Exploitation Cinema blog!

Categories: Interviews | 1 Comment

In And Out Of Focus… COLIN ALLEN Interviewed in December 2008

While delving though the Boot Room archives in search of something to amuse and inform you, Ozymandias has unearthed some material intended for an unrealised Focus project. Firstly, it’s our great pleasure to present this 2008 interview with Colin Allen…

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Colin Eric Allen (born 09.05.38, Bournemouth) has drummed for Dylan, Donovan, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Georgie Fame, Stone The Crows, Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band and, more recently, The British Blues Quintet. In his youth he took drum lessons from legendary jazzer Philly Joe Jones and has backed such luminaries as John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, Memphis Slim and Solomon Burke. He’s written songs for Wings (a band not exactly bereft of quality song writers!), Fleetwood Mac, Mick Ronson and Lulu, as well as several Swedish acts. Most pertinently for the purposes of this blog, of course, he joined Focus after the acrimonious departure of Pierre Van Der Linden, playing on and touring their Hamburger Concerto (1974) album. It was this line-up of the band that Ozymandias saw at the Liverpool Empire on 22.05.74.

So Colin, how did you got the Focus gig?

That one come right out of the blue. Mike  Vernon called me one day & the rest is history. Fortuitous, to say the  least… I didn’t have a gig at the time & didn’t know what I was gonna do, but that’s the music biz. I had know Mike for some time. He produced the John Mayall album Blues From Laurel Canyon,  which I played on. So I said yes, I was  interested. Shortly after that I flew to Holland to meet the guys and eventually I got the thumbs up. It all happened pretty quickly.

Were you aware of the band before joining them?

Yes, I was aware of them. I had seen them play at The Speakeasy, and thought they were good but what really got my attention was Jan’s guitar playing. I had also done a gig with Stone The Crows, I think it was maybe Exeter University, where Focus were also on the bill.

It’s said that they were also looking at Mitch Mitchell and Aynsley Dunbar…

The subject of other candidates for the job was not  mentioned. I was very good friends with both Mitch & Aynsley…I still consider Aynsley to be just about the best British drummer from that period.

So the audition must have gone well…

I don’t remember too much about the audition, but I know it was at this kind of country manor (Dutch style) that the band often used for rehearsals. It was just down the road from Queen Juliana’s castle. I do remember lots of very attractive hippy-type birds ligging  about. Basically I just jammed around with the guys. I remember Bert saying he had always wanted to play with the drummer who was on the Mayall  track (I’ve Been Living With) The Bear… so I made at least one dream come true.

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Did they have any ideas about how they wanted the drum sound to change after the departure of Pierre Van Der Linden?

I really had no idea what Jan & Thijs were  looking for. I just said: “I’m an R & B drummer who has also played a little jazz as a semi-pro – if you like it, fine.” There was no  mention of how they wanted the music to progress. I don’t think they sat around pondering that kind of thing, they just wrote musical  pieces that developed into whatever, once the other players  became involved. The guys in Focus were … and still are … really  fine musicians. Thijs couldn’t fail to be so, because his father was a  music teacher. Jan was just blessed with this great talent. I wasn’t at all surprised when he stole Clapton’s crown in the Melody Maker poll. Bert was a very  good bass player. I really liked Bert as a person. Most of the time it was he and I hanging out while the dramas between Jan and Thijs were being resolved. They were the creative forces in the band.

You must have some great memories of playing with them…

Yeah, I fitted in pretty quickly and I kinda liked the idea that I was in what was, essentially, a pop band. They were a brave band – I remember one time we opened the show with… I think it’s called Focus or Focus 1, a slow melodic piece  in 3/4 time… I often think of  that. Most bands would go on stage & hit the audience  between the eyes with some ballsy, up-tempo piece. I also remember when we went  to Japan, coming out into the reception area – it was full of kids with Focus placards. We then did a press reception, it was just like the old stuff you see of the  Beatles – four guys each with his own mic. We played some great gigs in some  wonderful locations. I saw Jan sit in with Sam & Dave’s backing band in a small club somewhere in The States. I remember playing a gig somewhere when the metal rod that goes down through the centre tube of the drum stool and supports the seat had come loose & slid down and hit the floor – thud! Oh Jeez, now what? I don’t know how I did it but I managed to stay balanced on the seat and get through  the number. The show must go on! Another incident that sticks in my mind… If I  remember rightly, it was in Berlin. For some reason Akkerman threw a wobbler and walked off stage, leaving the rest of us to carry on. I don’t remember which number we were doing but the three of us just kept playing –  anything – and after about 10 or 15 minutes, Jan decided to  reappear & I guess we just took up again where we had left off. I don’t remember what that was all about, but it happened.

One gathers that the atmosphere inside the band was generally pretty fraught…

The writing was on the wall, for the  demise of the band. As I said before, there was always underlying stuff going on between Jan and Thijs, and that was sure to continue… it’s  just the way it was between those two, a clash of personalities that was  both positive & negative.  About a year after I got kicked out, they split the band. It was inevitable, really. I believe the previous drummer, Van Der Linden, had left due to the constant strain of dealing with two divas.

How did Bert deal with it?

I don’t know what Bert had to do with the  politics of the band. I would imagine he had quickly learnt to accept the situation, not get involved & just look after  himself. I did like Bert, be sure to say Hi to him from me. (Note – Bert Ruiter rebuffed all my attempts to contact him. Apparently he can’t bear to talk about his experiences in Focus! Oz.)

When Mother Focus, the lack-lustre follow-up to Hamburger Concerto came out, you were only on one track… Bert’s distinctly odd number, I Need A Bathroom…

Mother Focus… that must have been the last sessions I did, in Brussels. I remember very well the whole situation that led to my exit. I know for sure that Jan had gone off to his country place in Friesland for a day and I’m pretty sure Thijs was also absent. Bert and I started recording the bass and drums for the, as you say, peculiar I Need A Bathroom. I was even thinking about some new lyrics for that track, but it stayed as it was. In the absence of the other players we were using a drum machine to keep things really steady. Obviously tales of our little experiment had been relayed to Jan and for some reason he was pissed off, ‘cos the next day he walked into the studio, directed some kind off angry statement at me, relating to drum machines or metronomes and tossed a drum machine onto, I think it was a couch. From then on, it was all downhill for me. I think the American engineer we were using thought they could do better than me and the guy who took my place was a friend of his, a guy who had played with Sly Stone. Not sure whether Thijs or Jan took the decision to kick me out… the latter, I suspect but the bottom line is only they know. One should bear in mind also, that Jan used to joke about  his 13 personalities, so any one of those could have been active at the  time. (Personality mode #13, below… Oz.)

Jan Akkerman... personality #13

 

 

 

 

 

 I don’t hold anything against them whatsoever, it’s just the way it was. Within a short time I was off on the road with Donovan, opening for Yes all over Europe and The States. Focus was history for me, but would always remain a memorable part of my musical life. Financially though, it was a bit of a joke. I used to  get the odd cash advance while on tour, a couple of hundred quid here and there, but one didn’t really need too much money because everything  was paid for, apart from meals and some of those were provided by the promoters after the gig. We also got the odd present from them now and again. You flew around, got limo’d to the hotel, did the gig and then same again the next day.When I finished with the band and met with the powers that be, imagine my surprise when I was told I owed them between ten and fifteen thousand pounds! I don’t remember quite how much but most of the royalties due me went to paying off this debt. It was a few years before I received any royalties but they never amounted to very much. I’m sure it was an expensive proposition transporting us around, plus eleven Leslie cabinets, two tympani and a huge gong (none of which I actually wanted), plus all the other usual stuff…  roadies, managers, etc. I think it’s possible that a lot of money went on  keeping Jan and Thijs happy on the road and I guess I paid for some of that. Anyway, I didn’t get into the business to get  rich, I just liked being a muso. That’s about it.

What are you up to now, Colin?

Just now I’m a member of The British  Blues Quintet which was more or less born out of the fact that my Stone the Crows bandmate Maggie Bell had returned to the UK from Holland after living there for about  20 years and basically needed to earn a  living. I suggested the line-up and a few months later we were doing  our first gig in Wolverhampton… that’s just over 18 months ago now. We’ll continue to work, as and when the various members are available. We recently released a  CD, Live in Glasgow, which has received really good reviews, likewise the gigs. Even now, when I’m touring with The BBQ, I get asked to sign Focus album covers. I enjoyed  playing with those guys and will always remain proud to have been a member of Focus. I couldn’t forget Bert, Jan and Thijs, even if I wanted to…CA _ STC.jpg

Shortly after this interview I had a brief conversation with Jan Akkerman, who offered this perspective on Colin’s ousting: “Colin got sacked by Van Leer in his eternal wisdom, because the band needed a more American approach in his opinion. Actually, I recently saw a show from those days, the Don Kirschner show or something, where Colin Allen played the drums on Hamburger Concerto and I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard, there was some really heavy, balls-to-the-wall drumming… great! I never complimented him because I was still so heavily into Pierre’s playing but now I realise that was Mickey Mouse’s balls compared with what I heard Colin playing there. So, I know this is a little late, but Colin… thanks, mate!”

Special Boot Room thanks to Dantalion himself, the immortal Zoot Money for facilitating this interview. Colin quit active service in 2012. Here’s wishing him a long and happy retirement in Stockholm, where he’s lived with his Swedish wife since 1985.

 

The Colin Allen interview previously appeared on the now defunct Bootroom Of Ozymandias blog.

 

Categories: Interviews | 1 Comment

An Old Person’s Guide To King Crimson: KING CRIMSON @ BIRMINGHAM’S SYMPHONY HALL Reviewed

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One of the cardinal rules by which life is lived in The Boot Room – prompted in equal parts by agoraphobia, poverty, middle aged inertia, sheer laziness and an all-encompassing aversion to modern life is… NEVER LEAVE THE BOOT ROOM! How else could we ensure the prolific and up-to-date delivery of postings for which this blog is famed? The downside is that Ozymandias doesn’t get to attend many gigs these days, most recently Focus at the MK Stables, May 2014 (verdict? Menno Gootjes’ solos were too drawn out, bumping a bunch of classic repertoire from the set.) But King Crimson at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, 15.09.15? Tempting… especially so, given Robert Fripp’s admonition that, as the Crims’ previous UK tour took place in 1982, it might prove unwise to wait another 33 years to see them in action on these shores. That and the unexpectedly retrospective nature of the material being played could reasonably be construed as a heavy hint that this could be the last time. This could be the last time. May be the last time…

… but I dunno. Fripp’s pronouncements always have an authoritative air to them (it’s the way he tells them) yet are often contradicted by the subsequent facts. Remember how Crimson, the band and way of doing things, “ceased to exist” in 1974? Remember how he was never going to revisit ‘60s / ‘70s repertoire? Remember his recent and short-lived retirement from music to concentrate (successfully, as it happened) on pursuing monies owed? The second and third of these rethinks are, methinks, possibly not unconnected… presumably once Fripp had been ensured of his due from subsequent sales of the back catalogue, he felt happier about promoting such sales via live performance. Anyway, that’s pure conjecture on my part. Here are the facts…

Birmingham’s much-maligned city centre has been through a major overhaul since I last set foot in it, 15 years previously. The official unveiling of New Street’s £multi-million revamp was still five days away but it was already apparent that the Station has been transformed from some sunless circuit of subterranean dungeons into… something really rather spiffy. As for the closely clustered civic set pieces of the Town Hall, Repertory Theatre, International Convention Centre, Library (possibly designed by the people who did the Tyrell Corporate HQ in Blade Runner) and The Symphony Hall itself… bostin’!

This gig was scheduled after the previous night’s had sold out and the joint is about half full of Crim fanciers of all ages… there’s even a fair smattering of the fairer sex propping up the bar and milling around the merch stall. I think David Singleton was doing one of his Q&A sessions somewhere in the building, but train time tables meant I missed that. Instead I contented myself with celeb spotting, or attempted celeb spotting… no sign of Toyah… I would have thought that tonight might have been a natural for Lenny Henry… but is that Lee Pomeroy, from Steve Hackett’s band? Should have gone over and asked him but I was too shy (hush hush, eye to eye…)

Into the auditorium, whose splendour matches that of the building’s carapace, to be confronted by the much talked about massed ranks of drum-kits, soon to be occupied by (l-r) Pat Mastelotto, Bill Rieflin and Gavin Harrison. Behind them, places are set for (l-r) Mel Collins, Tony Levin, Jakko Jakszyk and yer man Fripp. Before they take the stage the boys deliver a taped plea to audients to refrain from photographing and filming the gig on their phones. “We know we can’t make an audience do or not do something…”  acknowledges an obviously mellowing Fripp, “… but what’s the point of watching the gig on a tiny screen with crappy sound later when you have the opportunity to enjoy the immersive experience here and now?” continues Jakszyk (all quotes approximate.) What indeed, would be the point? And couching the argument in such reasonable terms seemed to do the trick as I witnessed no flash or phone transgressions through the course of the evening. Tonight’s bespoke soundscape fades out and the assembled Crims make their entry. The Burton’s window dress code is starting to relax a bit, Collins’ and Mastelotto’s ties being conspicuously absent. Fripp shields his eyes against the house lights to calculate the turnout and test the air before the band start pummelling it with Larks Tongues In Aspic Part 1. Dynamic, much? As counter-intuitive as the seven piece, drum heavy formation might have seemed when announced, it immediately begins to make sense in the flesh… or should I say skin? You suspect that Fripp wishes he’d had this ensemble at his disposal in 1972, that this is what he was groping towards with the misfiring mid-90s “double trio” formation… even the heavy metal bebop of 21st Century Schizoid Man could have been written for this KC big band treatment. But wait, I’ve already got to the final number… see how time flies when you’re enjoying yourself?

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There’s so much to take in with this band, e.g. how the drummers divide up their work (initially Mastelotto is doing the Jamie Muir schtick while Rieflin holds the beat and Harrison flexes his fusion chops… then Harrison and Mastelotto mesh while Rieflin adds mellotron adornments to some of the earlier material, before the percussive kaleidoscope shifts again…) How Fripp and Jakszyk weave guitar patterns between them. How the band leader allocates solos (mostly to Jakszyk and Collins, as it turns out, though he steps out himself on Level Five and sets his guitar to laser sustain stun for Easy Money.) Collins beefs up riffs that suddenly seem to have been crying out for his participation all along… and Levin merits serious study at all times, playing as he does like five mere mortal bassists who are simultaneously pushing at the limits of their capabilities. Then you realise that in trying to track all these interactions, you’re making the same mistake as the guys with their cell phones. Better to let the immersive experience wash over you. For the same reason I stopped trying to note down the set list, unable as I was to recognise new numbers (or even, in the case of several drum interludes, to work out whether I was listening to a fully-fledged number or just a linking piece.) By a supreme piece of deductive reasoning, I did manage to establish that the one in which Jakko kept singing about a meltdown was probably… Meltdown.

While we’re on the subject of Jakko’s singing, you might be wondering how he measured up to the standards previously set by Greg Lake and John Wetton. He manfully attempted Wetton’s scatting in an Easy Money that featured the album (i.e. marginally less lubricious) version of its lyrics. He’s certainly no Greg Lake but then again, how many people can sing that beautifully? Jakszyk acquits himself well enough on a stunning Epitaph, a song whose lyrics ring even truer now than they did almost half a Century ago (purple pixie Peter Sinfield getting the last laugh.. though I fear tomorrow we’ll be crying.)

This band is probably too mathematical to really swing but it swaggers all over the likes of Level Five and Pictures Of A City, later loosening up for one of the finest Talking Drums I’ve yet heard (complete with drunken bees and funk fingers), segueing into the inevitable Larks’ Tongues Part 2 (which contained the only apparent slight stumbles of the evening) before the crimson lights (nudge, nudge) dim over a magisterial closing Starless. Fripp, looking kinda goofily happy, scans the crowd again on their return for In The Court Of The Crimson King and 21st Century Schizoid Man, the latter featuring a wire wristed Harrison solo. I think they’d probably have come back for another encore if the crowd had persisted, but the fact that they didn’t meant I was able to make an earlier train and get back to The Boot Room at a reasonable hour and without too much extra expense.

42 years prior to all of this I sat on the last bus out of Skelhorne St bus station (now lost) on my way home from the first gig I ever attended, King Crimson at the Liverpool Empire. The general consensus on the top deck was disappointment at the fact that they hadn’t played 21stCSM that night. In 2015 we got that but on the tram home I found myself in conversation with a Crim-loving couple who’d also been to the previous night’s show, which had apparently featured heavy doses of Islands and Red. While sorry to miss the title track of the latter, One More Red Nightmare and The Sailor’s Tale, I was delighted to have been treated to the majority of both ITCOTKC and Larks’ Tongues In Aspic. In an ideal world I’d have gone both nights but there was no chance of that at £65 for a half decent seat… one (D7) in which, by the way, the placing of one of Harrison’s cymbals (the really gongy sounding one) seemed to have been specifically placed to obscure my view of Robert when he was sat down playing. I imagine “Chuckles” Fripp would get quite a laugh out of that…

Looking forward to doing it all again again in 2048. In the meantime, a nice DVD / Blu-ray record of this tour would be very welcome… if only to get a glimpse of the elusive Fripp, doing what he does best in his natural habitat.

courtdeepAnd here IS the set list for the gig under review, subsequently confirmed at dgmlive.com

Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (Part I)

Pictures Of A City 

Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind)

Meltdown

Hell Hounds Of Krim

The ConstruKction Of Light 

Level Five

Epitaph 

Banshee Legs Bell Hassle

Easy Money 

Interlude

The Talking Drum 

Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (Part II)

Starless

Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row

Court Of The Crimson King 

21st Century Schizoid Man

http://www.dgmlive.com

This review previously appeared on the now defunct Bootroom Of Ozymandias blog.

Categories: Gig Reviews | Leave a comment

” ‘Owzabout That Then, Guys & Gals?”… THE UK PROG CHART Unveiled

CM record 2.jpg

Hoop-de-frickin-doo… the Official Charts Company (OCC) has finally awarded the Prog genre its own (album) Hit Parade. See

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-34127025

The bad news (is there any good news?) is that the first chart shows efforts by Tame Impala (who?) and those wasters Muse outselling Roger Waters’ Amused To Death re-release… offerings from acts called Public Service Broadcasting and Symphony X, Joe Satriani  (sure, he can play but is he Prog?) and Faith No More (Prog, my arse!) are currently clocking up more sales than The Pink Floyd’s (admittedly a bit rubbish) Endless River.

OCC have also thoughtfully provided us with a cumulative Prog album chart for the 21st Century, which shows M*se’s Black Holes And Revelations shifting more units than Dark Side Of The Moon and Radiohead’s pitiful OK Computer outperforming Tubular Bells and Selling England By The Pound. Bear in mind though, that DSOTM, Tubular Bells and SEBT£ all did most of their (spectacular, in the case of the first two) cumulative business during the last Century.

Guys, you’ve cOCCked it up… Prog’s last stand was in 1977, when Yes released their last truly great album and Bill Buford quit the shit-hot touring line-up of Genesis, prior to Steve Hackett’s departure and that band’s decline into a slick pop act. Everybody who came after that were wasters and wannabes. Ozymandias has spoken…

This random rant previously appeared on the now defunct Bootroom Of Ozymandias blog.

Categories: Random Rantings | 1 Comment

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