Thursday, May 09, 2013

Review: Keith Tippett at the Cafe Oto, April 30th, 2013...






























Filling up pretty quickly, there was an expectant buzz in the room – whatever the reason(s), Keith Tippett rarely plays in town so this was a special occasion. For myself, I'd made the haul from God's Little Acre to City Road Travelodge (grab the bus over the road to Dalston and back at last knockings, an easy move) and was looking forward to seeing one of my alltime favourite musicians up close in a sympatico joint like the Cafe Oto.  Especially one equipped with a good piano. (My favourite club in the UK, anyway, puts on the stuff I like, wish I could get there more often).

Tippett, 66 years old and looking in good nick, a stocky man with a fine head of hair and still flaunting mutton-chop sidewhiskers that give him the air of a country squire, took his seat at the piano. Commenced with short bass runs, probing opening gambits, the piano lid raised and illuminated to mirror the interior, the objects he uses to augment/distort the acoustics clearly seen, bouncing and vibrating on/off the strings, offering a fascinating visual counterpoint to the music for those with a good sight line. A couple of high treble splashes for accent, some scampers through the middle, a wodge of thickly voiced chords, muffled as if emerging from a dense fog. Already, a wide variety of colours being laid out.
The performance unfolds... using various objects to damp and mess with the strings, he sets up repeating figures that slowly evolve, informed by strong rhythms, one moment a flickering pattern high up, like a stick rattled across a bicycle wheel, then a roaring low register storm. The pounding bass he is famous for is oddly reminiscent of Erroll Garner's left hand take on strumming guitar chording, cranked up high, savage treatments that fire off long resonating waves of overtones to overwhelm the air under the low ceiling. At one point this became a mournful lament that seemed to dip into 'Danny Boy' but maybe I misheard – although there is a waggish side to Mr Tippett. Who gave one unbroken piece in the first half (as he did in the second) that unfolded and spun out into many areas of sonics and genres, quietly coming to rest – to rapturous applause. The pianist looked pleasantly surprised at this affectionate response, a man with no side to him, as the old saying goes.

Second half started out with rattles and clunks, a toy being flicked across the open strings to give odd, dry little notes. Speculations at the high end of the joanna. Four square march rhythms, a thump thump to flick syncopations across, melodies refracted through the mechanical interference to give strange timbres, hints of East-European (or further East) folk melodies almost, Balkans to Gamelan and back. A couple of sudden left turns with sharp funky soul jazz phrases that would not have been out of place in a Bobby Timmons solo circa 1960. Longer cascades of notes that refer back to the complex linearities of the modern jazz traditions but keep on going through the remapped territory to spaces beyond. Tippett has evolved a seamless integration of classic and extended techniques, conventional keyboard yoked to internal disruptions. Added to the inclusive nature of his musical vision, this helps to create a new opened field where ghosts of boogie woogie in some of those loping bass figures tread towards complex note clusters and shifting timbres, spinning off into simple triadic movements, evolving and folding into denser complications. The scrapings, pluckings and distortions offering a ground on which he can pivot at will, where melodic/harmonic/rhythmic developments, however abrupt in their sudden occurrence, can occur without too clunky a transition, offering a dynamic, flexible but subtle binding of the whole. He creates an improvisational area where historical genre time is collapsed into the now, each discrete unit resolving quickly into that wider, deeper flow where foreground is background and the reverse and the distinctions probably irrelevant anyway.
Towards the end he produced a music box, tinkling out what sounded like 'The Godfather' theme - something he used on his Purcell Room concert a couple of years back, a fragile, almost plaintive counterpoint to the slowly ebbing close.  And funny, too...

Over the years, he has built up his techniques to offer a staggering diversity of sounds and surprises (to riff obliquely off Whitney Balliett ). He has always been musically ambitious and open-eared: on the train back I wrote and underlined, somewhat cryptically, 'Generosity' and that may well have been the word to describe the night. The audience, generous in their enthusiasm for a unique talent gave up a long and warm burst of applause, the artist having displayed his generosity of imagination and technique for that audience to savour. A superb gig. Hopefully he will return soon... (And a request to the Oto: what about Mike Westbrook, another great musician, spotted rarely these days?).

Here's a very brief vid of him in solo action a few years ago...  And a couple of reviews, here and here, Financial Times and London Jazz News, respectively.

Keith takes a bow through the murk of a crap photo from my phone...


Monday, May 06, 2013

Been a while...

They say that blogs have a natural lifespan... certainly I have neglected mine, due to being involved with other stuff, excuses, excuses.  But reluctant to nix it yet - So:

I was in London a few days ago for Keith Tippett's gig at the Cafe Oto and have more or less finished a review.  Based on the Wordsworthian definition of poetry, except at a lower aesthetic level (!) - 'emotion recollected in tranquility' - as took no notes and just scribbled down some reactions/observations the following day on the reasonably tranquil train back to God's Little Acre.  Tippett is one of my favourite musicians of all down the years so it was a great joy to see him up close - the last time I was in such proximity being a gig in Nottingham years ago, the gig at the Purcell Rooms with his wife Julie a more formal concert affair.  And was mind-sizzlingly brilliant, it has to be said.  But the combo of the Oto - my favourite venue - and their new grand piano offered a night of Tippettian solo splendour.  More later...

Monday, January 21, 2013

'Buskers - from the streets to the Royal Albert Hall 1968-9' - out at last!










It's been a slog, for a variety of reasons, but finally it's here.  Happy to announce that Pat Keene's photobook 'Buskers - from the streets to the Royal Albert Hall 1968-9' has been published.  An A4 glossy remix of the black and white photos Pat took years ago of old and young buskers on the streets of London's West End and at Don Partridge's Albert Hall Buskers' Concert in early 1969.  New material included: colour photos from the Albert Hall gig that Pat only found recently!  A couple of which I will preview soon...
More info: here...


Sunday, January 06, 2013

Too long...

I could offer excuses... but it has been too long since I blogged here... busy with a book/music/ and ping-ponging off illness/fatigue (there go the excuses).  But it's 2013, I have a new music label to promote very soon, plus a book - the sequel, as it were to 'Don Partridge And Company,' 'Buskers' - a glossy photobook featuring Pat Keene's material from the aforesaid tome plus some added colour photos that he only found recently (!) - and I have to decide what to do with this blog.  I think I'll keep it rolling for a while.
Happy New Year... Back very soon...

Saturday, July 07, 2012

John Ware R.I.P.





















You get older and by the nature of the game, people fall around you, go before. It doesn't mitigate the shock and the loss, of course. Given my rackety health (no doubt mainly a consequence of: 'Drinking and gambling, night-sporting and rambling,' to quote the words of one of my favourite songs, 'The Banks of the Bann,'), it is an ongoing source of amazement that I have out-lived so many friends, bloodbrothers and sisters. But it still hits hard when another close one goes, very close, almost the same age and as far as I knew a damn site fitter than this old boy. But we are taken... this is the nature of things and we deal with it according to our various beliefs. I was in Liverpool a few days ago, having booked a very cheap hotel deal way back when I saw that the Tate were putting on their triple wham: 'Turner, Monet and Twombly.'  Late paintings by these three, the latter of whom is a big favourite so I had decided to go up north for a gander. Liverpool is a place I don't know very well but had good times in on a previous trek to see the mighty fire jazz saxophonist Charles Gayle a couple of years back. The exhibition was very good and I could see how they yoked it all together to grab late works by these three painters into the frame, as it were. But another story. 

Later, I was in a pub checking my emails and flicked onto Facebook, saw some odd posts about my old friend John, caught a message from his eldest son to put up my phone number. Rang my daughter for her to check what I suspected. Which was that he had died the day before. Later I spoke to his youngest son and then his wife who was obviously distraught. The rest is private stuff. But it was a fucking shock.

John Ware and I go back, as they say. I met him over forty years ago, early 70s, when I was ensconced busking in London and he arrived in town.  We met and got talking - he was stuck for a kip so Barbara and I put him up. Oddly, we hit it off straight away, as it has to be said that in those days John could rile people, because of his speed of thought, his intensity and his manner. Interesting people have grit which can rub the wrong way for the unwary (no pun intended). We started playing together and at this distance of years, after all the many musicians I have worked with, I can still say that there was something very special between us. I loved playing with him, really enjoyed his music and we managed to pull together an act very quickly. By that time, the London busking scene was getting overcrowded and many of us had already developed other circuits. So we played in the declining years of that phase – which I would measure from Don Partridge's Busker's Concert in 1969 as the high watermark – everything started to fall off after that. A few months after the Albert Hall gig, for example, I was travelling around Europe, in 1970 I went to Dublin for the first time and subsequently visited it frequently, at some point taking John over with me, a year or so after we met. He moved there eventually and even though he travelled extensively on the continent as all buskers did, Dublin became his base. Mine too for a few years but when I moved on at the end of the 70s John was happy to stay, especially as he had met his wife to be by then. They stayed together through all the vicissitudes and craziness that will come down on relationships with musicians and buskers especially. The road can be merciless and John had his demons, as did many of us. His courage in facing them down a long time ago now and choosing a life with a family - three boys, now men, a strong and beautiful wife - over cheap and easy thrills, has always impressed not just me but all who had the fortune to know him.

In later years, after finely honing his musical craft, he took a sudden turn and started painting. This was a man with talent and an urge for expression that now came out in exquisite and unusual watercolours. Some people have a special gift. He was one of them, whether playing and writing music (he was an underrated songwriter), or exploring this latest passion, art. He even founded his own gallery to flog his work – ever a busker!

The last time I saw him was at our mutual friend Don Partridge's funeral a couple of years back. I had been planning on visits over to Dublin to see him and Anne but never made it due to illness and circumstance. That's the way of it. I am still coming to terms with the fact that this brilliant, annoying, sparky and sparkling man is not around on this plane of existence anymore. He was always vibrant, alive. Now he has moved on.

And in writing this: I cannot alleviate any of the grief his family will be feeling. But I can bear witness to someone whom I knew very well and a friendship that lasted from the first day we met and is still strong in my heart. A small remembrance is the least I can offer up... My daughter Amelia and I offer our condolences to Annie and the boys, to all the family.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

New Design etc...

Started playing around with the template and knackered all the links so these may take a day or so to re-up...

Rising...
















Blimey - this blog has really been neglected. Part of the problem being that I have been buried working on a new book plus not been going out much hence nothing to review. This might be rectified tomorrow when I will be in London. Hoping to catch the evening sesh of the annual Freedom of the Festival eisteddfod at Cecil Sharp House if I can get across town in time... more later... maybe...

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Review: Pete Morton (with Gren Bartley support), Swan in the Rushes, Loughborough, Friday, February 3d, 2012...















Minus five here when I got back... but warmed by the musics that I almost avoided through inertia and the onset of a cold. And a surprisingly good turnout for the TappedButSettling gig at the Swan in the Rushes, Loughborough (God's Little Acre), given the weather. But PeteMorton will usually pull a crowd and with support from Gren Bartley it was always going to be never less than a good night. I knew I would have regretted it if I had stayed at home – because both these musicians are always moving relentlessly forwards and it would be a shame to miss bearing witness to their latest endeavours. Gren started the gig with mainly new material, abetted at the end by his friend on harmonies. Reining back slightly on his complex guitar playing and leaning more on the songs gave a different balance to a fascinating set. Then Pete came out of the blocks at terrible speed – his new material, jamming massive clusters of words into his lines like a rap artist, then whipping round to bring in a chorus on the old warhorse 'To be a farmer's boy,' his tirade against the falseness of so much contemporary life cutting a furrow back to simpler days, linking family and wider community. Blew me away, it has to be said. I don't entirely subscribe to his ideas but he certainly makes me think and Pete gets away with it because he isn't some ideologue, rather a deeply thoughtful musician with a line back to the English radical/Romantic tradition that is buttressed with much humour. His tack over the last couple of years seems to be word-crammed songs plus his new variants on the talking blues that roll out in fast streams (the rap adoption) then land suddenly on an apposite 'folk' chorus to provide a link backwards and also to bring in the audience, wrap them in the surge of his muse. A lot of resonations here – the cheekiest being that dreadful old McColl song 'Manchester Rambler' in the only version I've ever heard that I could take seriously. (My opinion – so, shoot me... ).You have to admire the chutzpah... saying 'Back at ya!' to the 'Revival/Tradition!'

Second half gave an opportunity for requests – 'Seven Billion Eccentrics,' 'Shepherd's Song,' 'Battle of Trafalgar,' 'Further,' and of course 'Another Train.' All of them celebrate people in the raw – one of the lines from 'Battle of Trafalgar,' written about a lock-in at a Leicester pub mentions the punters: 'You couldn't clone people like this in a million years,' and that is the common humanity in the best sense that he stands up for. Also rooted deep in an almost mystical 'England,' yet Pete is far from being a petty nationalist. 'Shepherd's Song,' his homage to John Clare reaches to a point where rural England was in the throes of the Industrial Revolution and the coming modern age, eyed with trepidation by the poet who achieved brief fame in London before his collapse into madness, but who was also a musician skilled in the folk musics of his time. This double link with musical and literary traditions goes further with his recent forays as a stand up artist in the character of 'Geoff Chaucer' and Pete skilfully plays off the literary heritage with the folk music tradition that he comes out of at a diagonal, (via the initial energies of punk rock and street busking) and helps to transform and continue. The sharp vignettes of people in crowded day to day settings yet each unique goes back to the bustle and vibrancy of Chaucer's time and work. But far from any maddening academic stiflings and ignobled strifes, Pete is a man drunk on words and their permutations and resonances, jammed into the grittiness and possibilities of NOW. He just gets better... 

Grab a taste here...



All hail to Mr Marmion via TappedButSettling for setting up the gig... More, please...