Category Archives: Music

Gigs in Sheffield, 26th April and 1st May

Yes, I’m putting down my camera again and picking up my bass. Here’s an update of future gigs I will be playing:

The Tajalli Vortex

On 26th April (next Thursday) I’m playing with free-improv Psychedelia group The Tajalli Vortex at the Nether Edge Club, 2 Moncrieffe Road, S7

This is a bit of a special one as we will be joined by singer Damo Suzuki, former frontman with krautrock legends Can, and also 14-piece band The Gated Community.

We play music outside the comfort zone. It’s not instantly accessible, but well worth the effort – see my essay A Troublesome Noise for my thoughts on challenging music.

The venue’s a small one, and with 20 musicans playing, there’s not much space left for the audience, so book your tickets now – available from Freenoise and Rare & Racy.

The Tajalli Vortex are also playing in Warrington on Saturday 12th May, and we will have more gigs in Sheffield and London this June/July.

The Tajalli Vortex website
The Tajalli Vortex myspace

Karen Mulcahey

If free-improv psychedelia is too much for you to hack, I also perform with Karen Mulcahey and the 7% Solution, a more mainstream mix of folk, blues and rock with searingly strong female vocals from singer-songwriter Karen.

We will be at the Runaway Girl in Sheffield on 1st May, onstage around 9pm.

More Karen Mulcahey gigs: 26th May headling Wath Rocks at Montgomery Hall, Wath-on-Dearne. Accoustic gigs (guitar & vocals only) 24th June at the George & Dragon and 16th August at The Black Bull.

Karen Mulcahey website
Karen Mulcahey myspace

Jan and Emma’s Leaving Do

I had many plans last night – and ended up following very few of them. But, a wonderful night nonetheless.

First off, I made a fairly quick stop off at the Cremorne to see the Montgomery Follicles play at Jen’s birthday party. I had been asked to act as official photographer, although I didn’t really feel up to it: I needed some warming up after a two week break from photography.

At the pub I bumped into Mark and Claire from Corp – such lovely people – and then I spotted former Sandman magazine editor Jan and his wife Emma. Turns out Jan and Emma are emigrating to Vancouver in three days! Jan invited me to their leaving do, just around the corner at G2 Studios. Although I was desperate to get down to Modern Romance in time for Paddy Orange‘s set, I really didn’t want to miss the opportunity to say goodbye (and I was interested to see what kind of party one of the most musically well-connected people in Sheffield would throw).

On arriving, I discovered that Baby Long Legs were about to play. This bunch are probably my favourite band in Sheffield right now, so it was an extra-special treat to see them (again). Stuart from the Barnacles (and, previously Pink Grease) was also there, with a couple of other members of his band, and he asked if they could do a quick four-song set before Baby Long Legs played. “Dan, you know our songs, come and join the band” said Stuart, and so I found myself in my third new band in as many months, with barely a minute’s notice before going onstage.

By “know”, Stuart meant that I had seen the Barnacles play once before, and hence ought to have a vague memory of some of their sea-shanty choruses. I absolutely love Stuart’s approach to music: too often I have played in bands who feel they must spend months, if not years, locked away in a rehearsal room before they feel ready to stand up in front of the public; Stuart’s philosophy is “just do it!” – I don’t think the Barnacles have ever had a full rehearsal; they just get up, give their best, and have a lot of fun in the process. The result, musically, is as rough as a barnacle-encrusted ship’s keel, but enthusiasm and audacity carries the performance and the audience response is always hugely positive (something which can’t always be said of the more polished acts I’ve played with).

I was also very moved to be thanked by Stuart for putting my Razor Stiletto photo gallery online. I had felt a bit indulgent putting so many (very similar) Barnacles photos in the set, but Stuart was especially grateful because their guitarist (aged 21) had a brain haemorrhage recenty, and is now in a coma, and his mum was very grateful to be able to see these recent photos of her son doing what he loved. I was, needless to say, shocked and quite choked-up when he told me this.

So anyway… I got up there on stage with Stuart & co and belted out “Go down, you blood red roses”, “Haul away for Rosie” etc. And I loved every second of it. I have to say that recently, I’m much more attracted to the idea of singing than that of playing the bass (I may have to find another vehicle for my voice soon…). Partway through the set, at my request Stuart launched into a scurvy sea-dog version of his Black Lace Superman act from the performance art karaoke night.

After our short set, Baby Long Legs got up and did their thing, as wonderful and joyful as ever even though their lead guitarist Hannah was absent and Jim had abandoned his double-bass for a bass guitar “for the first time since 1962”.

Next up was David Ward MacLean, a busker based in York and a special favourite of Jan and Emma’s (he played at their wedding). He played accoustic guitar (6 and 12-string) and sang. Alcohol has clouded my memory of this part of evening, but if I remember one thing it’s that David’s set was a thing of wonder: beautiful and beautifully played songs, with a good dash of dark humour and some great banter in between.

Then Charlie & Lyn did a DJ set and the dancing started. I went outside where I congratulated David on his set. In the courtyard, Tegi Roberts was singing shockingly beautiful folk harmonies with two friends. Tegi’s name was very familiar, but I’d never heard her sing and, in fact, I had half-assumed that she was a he. I was taken aback by the purity of her voice, and the beauty and accuracy of the harmonies (which rather put our Barnacles performance to shame). Being drunk, and emboldened by my recent singing experience, I was desperate to join in although I wasn’t familiar with most of the songs being sung. I sang along with the few parts that I did know, filling in the missing bass part, and again it was a joyful experience. Soon I was singing, humming, la-ing and (at Mark’s prompting) whistling along to everything, whether I knew it or not. I’ve no idea how I sounded to everyone else, but inside my head I made a damned good baritone. A real moment to cherish.

I had many wonderful conversations over the course of the night. It was especially nice to chat to Andy Brown, who can sometimes seem a bit… I dunno, aloof perhaps… but who seems more approachable the more I get to know him (last night he even hunted me down before he left, so that he could give me his last can of beer! [I hadn’t thought to bring any drinks with me, hadn’t expected to stay long anyway, so I was on the scrounge all night]). When I showed Andy and Chris my improvised flash set up – and explained my next invention: the “umbrella glove” – Andy called me “the Thomas Truax of photography”. High praise indeed, I felt very flattered.

Eventually, people started to drift off home. At 5am I walked back around the corner to the Cremorne, just on the off chance that there would be one or two people left there. Turns out Jen’s party was in full swing, and there were actually more like 30 or 40 people left. I joined the party, although the over-the-top debauchery seemed a bit gratuitous in comparison to Jan and Emma’s incredibly special little do. Everyone in the pub was a lot more drunk than me and most of them, it seems, on something else as well, so I couldn’t quite fit in with the mood. Still, I did have (more) fun, and hung around there until 7.30am. Then I walked all the way from London Road, around the ring-road, to Walkley, in the hope of finding a cab on the way; instead, A bus came along just as I was heading up Crookes Valley Road, so I jumped on board for the last two stops to home, and got to bed just as I should have been getting up. Sorry Gill, Rowan and Lola!

A Troublesome Noise

I’ve just experienced a most wonderful, most unlikely coincidence.

My mind is on fire at the moment. These last couple of nights, I’ve only managed to grab a couple of hours sleep, not – for once – because I’ve been out partying & photographing, but because my brain has been so active that after an initial hour or two’s deep sleep I find myself jolted awake, not tired in the slightest, and unable to sleep again.

So, I just walked Gizmo, and as I did so my brain was awash with ideas, plans, debates, internal conversations. One of these internal debates concerned free-improv music. During the debate, I was thinking of the Last Exit album, The Noise of Trouble. I thought how much I would like to listen to it today, but realised that would be impossible as it’s “one of those albums” which Gill would hate to listen to, and it really demands to be listened to loud through the stereo in the living room.

I thought no more of it, but when I got home, unexpectedly, Gill told me she was going out for a couple of hours. I sat down to breakfast and thought I would stick some music on. I fired up my Squeezebox and put it on “Random album” mode, as I usually do when I’m not sure what I want to listen to. Blow me down, of all the 5000+ albums in my collection, which one do you think it plumped for? That’s right, The Noise of Trouble. Suddenly my whole train of thought came back to me like a blast from Peter Brötzmann’s saxophone as I luxuriated in the joyful noise.

So… what was the train of thought that led me to think of this album? It grew out of thoughts about a comment I posted on Flickr last night. I love free-improv music (when in the right frame of mind), but I’m well aware that most people don’t share this love. Most people are either baffled by it or incredulous that anyone might want to submit themselves to the torture of listening to such rot. And, of course, most people will claim that “that’s not music!” And for this reason, I’m sometimes wary of even telling people about my band, The Tajalli Vortex, because at heart I’m a coward, afraid of the negative reactions, and I can’t even be bothered to engage in a bit of debate about something I love.

So why do I love it? And why should anyone love it? Well, it’s probably most instructive to explain how I discovered this music and grew to love it myself.

In my early 20s, I was a huge fan of the bassist Bill Laswell. It came about because I was a fan of Gong in my teens: Laswell played on the 1979 album New York Gong / About Time, and I was instantly hooked on his unique but incredibly funky style. I started buying every Laswell record I could lay my hands on (and there are a hell of a lot of them!)

Then one day I came home with a new Laswell acquisition, The Noise of Trouble. I put it on the record player… and wondered what had hit me. It was half-an-hour of meaningless noise, no discernable funky basslines, just… noise, ugly, horrible, headache-inducing noise. I was really disappointed, but also really, really puzzled. I knew this guy was an incredible musician, I had a huge amount of respect for everything else I’d heard from him… so why did he feel it necessary to put out a whole record of useless crap? Fascinated, I put the record on again. Over the next few weeks, I would listen to it intently, but without any pleasure, almost every day, sometimes two or three times in a row, trying to discern some nugget of redeeming music within its harsh melée of sound.

Then one day, something strange happened. I guess I was onto about my 20th or 25th listen, and suddenly it just clicked! And it was more beautiful, more complex, more rewarding than anything I’d ever heard before. And I’ve never looked back.

That experience taught me a very valuable lesson – that which is worthwhile is not necessarily easy. To paraphrase a famous advertising slogan, good things come to those who put some effort in. Many people believe that the most important redeeming quality for a piece of music is that it be “catchy”: if it doesn’t have an instant hook to pull you in and make you love it, then it’s somehow second-rate. Although there is an element of this prejudice in all branches of the arts, it seems to be strongest in music: few people would expect you to fall in love with a James Joyce novel or a Jackson Pollock painting without putting in a little effort, and many people recognise that the rewards that come from considering Joyce or Pollock are greater than those that come from considering Barbara Taylor Bradford or Jack Vettriano.

Free-improv is challenging music, it is music that demands your full attention in order to be appreciated, but again I think that this is a good thing. We live in an age when music is increasingly expected to serve as a backdrop to all aspects of life. Whether you’re shopping, having a bath, doing the washing up, reading a book, operating heavy machinery… people increasingly feel a need to have a stream of music babbling in the background, somewhere on the borders of consciousness. I admit to being as guilty as anyone on this charge, but I also strongly believe that it devalues music and makes us less capable of appreciating both complex music and, just as importantly, silence. Free-improv bucks the trend. Free-improv is not elevator music! It demands the devotion of 100% of your mind, and if you are able to give that (and it’s not always easy – there are still many times when I don’t have the mental strength to cope with such demanding music) then the results are incredibly beneficial for the soul.

I’ll just recount here one other fruitful experience I once had defending free-improv and noise music. The guitarist Pat Metheny is generally thought of as a purveyor of rather middle-of-the-road, easy-listening jazz guitar music. However, underneath that cuddly exterior he has an affinity for the wilder side of jazz, in particular the music of Ornette Coleman. As well as some fairly out-there collaborations with the likes of Coleman and Sheffield-born free-improv prime mover Derek Bailey, in 1994 Metheny released an album called Zero Tolerance for Silence which polarised (read: with very few exceptions, disgusted) his fans. At the time, I had recently got online and, although yet to hook up to the Internet, I was very active on CompuServe, in particular on their jazz forum. On the forum, there was an outpouring of outrage that Metheny had the temerity to insult his many fans by releasing an album of such unlistenable dross. I was one of, I think, only two people willing to defend the album, and as a result suffered ridicule and flaming from other members. But I did get probably the best imaginable reward for my forthright comments: a beautifully sweet email from Pat Metheny’s mum, thanking me for standing up for her son!

Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello…

Delving through the archives, I unearthed a recording of an old jam session from (fuck me!) 17 years ago which I think I started putting online about 5 years ago but never finished. Here, then, in all its glory, is “Hello” by Some Adavasi, a joyful piece of psychedelic stoned freeform dub-techno noise music. I’m rather please with the tape cover I made all those years back too, makes me think I should abandon the computer for things like that and return to more homespun methods.

Ones to Watch – Baby Long Legs

Published in this month’s Sandman Magazine:

For some thirty years now, the phrase “prog rock” has been a dirty term, uttered only in whispers or among clandestine groups. And while the sombre musical odysseys of Yes are still beyond the pale for most sane-thinking people, increasing cross-pollination of musical genres means that elements of prog have started to creep in through the back door. And about time too.

Enter Baby Long Legs. This band aren’t afraid to chuck the occasional obscure time-signature into their folk-tinged pop songs, but they always do so gently, and with a sense of humour: more reminiscent of Caravan and other Canterbury-scene bands than of more pompous and po-faced practitioners of “symphonic rock”. You couldn’t imagine Baby Long Legs ever composing hour-long paeans to imaginary oceans; instead they stick to three-minute pop songs with oodles of added quirkiness (“stick it where you like, it’s made of felt so it’ll stay there”), like a slightly crusty version of Ooberman.

Seeing Baby Long Legs live is always a treat. The whirling tunes and driving rhythms, the hotchpotch of instruments (it’s a given that, at some point in the evening, a trombone and a penny whistle will put in an appearance), the da-riddle-me-dee sing-alongs, the angelic clarity of the lead guitar-lines, the mullets (ahem), and the mischievous grins which show that the band are enjoying themselves every bit as much as their audience. Seasoned Sheffield gig goers will no-doubt spot a few familiar faces, among them past and present members of Chicken Legs Weaver, Rumpus and Monkey Swallows the Universe. Baby Long Legs has already acquired a devoted following in Sheffield, and truly deserves recognition on a wider scale.

Photos of Baby Long Legs, The Scaramanga Six and Atoness

A couple of weeks ago I went to an excellent gig featuring Baby Long Legs, The Scaramanga Six and Atoness. Took lots of photos, as ever; this time, for the first time, I’ve saved a few of them in black & white, to get away from that “everything’s gone red” effect. Much though I always claim to hate black & white photography, I have to say I’m quite pleased with the results (certainly much nicer than having everything in red). All of the photos were very quick & dirty edits, because there were so many I liked and I had so little time to play with them. Nevertheless, here is my latest selection of photos, plus a slightly more detailed write-up of the gig.

The Scaramanga Six