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Terry Riley (live at Station to Station)

The Barbican, London 18 July 2015

“My name’s Terry Riley, I’ll be here all week”. It would be nice to think that at some stage over the previous weekend, America’s great composer actually expressed his forthcoming residency in exactly this way. For in order to celebrate his eightieth birthday, El Tel (as doubtless everyone calls him), has spent the last seven days encamped here as part of the Barbican’s Station to Station: A 30 Day Happening event.

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AC/DC (live at Wembley Stadium)

London 4 July 2015

And did those feet, in ancient times, walk upon England’s mountain green? And was the holy Lamb of God on England’s pleasant pastures seen?

Whilst my marginally less ancient feet are walking up Olympic Way once more (a mere ten after having last done so), the one man who might be able to answer those questions is doing a decidedly poor show of proving his right to do so. As the sweet summer sun is beating down upon the flagstones of Wembley and the massed battalions of heavy rock are march raucously towards the stadium with all the fervour of Napoleon’s Grand Armée entering Moscow, a lonely Christian preacher on a nearby overpass reads scripture through his loudhailer: “And, as we learn in John 14: 19, ‘Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you

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ZZ Top (live at Wembley Arena)

London 24 June 2015

I’m shuffling through the Wembley sand, but my head’s in Mississippi.

It’s been a long time since I was last at Wembley Arena. Twenty-two years ago this month, in fact, lured like a Hamelin rat by the strange and, ultimately, ill-fated second coming of The Velvet Underground (Reed and Cale needing to spend more time together in order to remember exactly why it was they stopped spending time together in first place). So on this hot London summer night, a startling crescent moon already faintly visible overhead, I’m once again walking up Olympic Way.

Counter-intuitively, Fiona and I are heading straight for the venue that I used to dread the most. I’d walked away unsatisfied from almost every gig I’d ever seen here, its vast hangar-like structure exercising a seemingly occult power in squashing the life out of any performer hubristic enough to take to its

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HJ Irmler and Jaki Liebezeit (live at Café OTO)

London 16 June 2015

HJ Irmler and Jaki Liebezeit posterThere is a German proverb which reads, “Jede Leiter fängt mit der untersten Sprosse an und nach der obersten kommt nur noch freier Fall.” We might possibly translate this as, ‘Every ladder begins at the lowest rung, but after the highest the only way is down’. Tonight, the capacity audience packed into a summer-heated Cafe Oto are treated to evidence that miraculously both confirms, and at the same time, gloriously disproves this pithy aphorism of folk wisdom.

It’s like a sardine packers’ outing in here. The only time I’ve ever seen OTO this full before – and with such a palpable sense of fevered anticipation – is awaiting the entry of the Sun Ra Arkestra. And the reason for tonight’s sense of breathless

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Fairport Convention (live at The Borderline)

London 22 May 2015

Fortis Green, north London. A place of fertile musical soil. Back at the turn of the Sixties, Fortis Green was the manor of brothers Ray and Dave Davies, whose combination of gifted lyricism, overdriven Vox amplifiers and almost unrivalled songwriting ability saw them take the output of their ground-breaking – although never less than highly combustible – band, The Kinks, to the pinnacle of the decade’s musical achievements. No compilation or documentary on the decade is now complete without a playback of the band’s performance on Shindig in 1965 (Ray purring out the words to “You Really Got Me” whilst Dave conjures the spirit of metal from his freshly-razored speaker cabs like Dr John Dee wrestling with a semi-acoustic) or grainy colour footage of the beautiful people rifling through racks of guardsmen’s jackets and groovy A-line skirts in Carnaby Street, all to the strains of “Dedicated

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Gnaw Their Tongues – Collected Atrocities 2005-2008

Crucial Blast

Gnaw Their Tongues - Collected Atrocities 2005-2008This is the record that you put on when you are lying entwined with your loved one, the both of you perhaps shimmering in a post-coital afterglow, the bedroom window open, a warm breeze blowing in the faint sounds of summer. Hang on. Actually, no. Sorry. That’s by The Isley Brothers.

Rather, this is the record that you put on when a small selection of your closest friends are gathered in your living room, the wine flowing, the conversation convivial and animated, as you open another bottle and stand in the doorway, filled with joie de vivre and deep sense of connection to your fellow man. Oh no, sorry, it’s not that one either. That one’s by Miles Davis.

What’s

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Williams S Burroughs – Nothing Here Now But The Recordings

Dais

Williams S Burroughs - Nothing Here Now But the RecordingsTowards the end of his long and picaresque life, Billy Burroughs had become such an in-demand photographic accessory for the rock star du jour that the astounding body of work that had made him so notable in the first place was starting to slip dangerously into the shadow of his alternative celebrity status.

Musicians quite literally seemed to be queuing up to be snapped standing next to him, all lined, grim-set visage, grey felt hat and optional firearm (him, not them). Christ, it’s like some demented vision of Stars on 45: David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Frank Zappa, Patti Smith, Joe Strummer, Jimmy Page, Husker Dü, Debbie Harry, Kurt Cobain, The Police, Tom Waits, Sonic Youth, Madonna; the list goes on and on and on.

In some ways it’s just as well that

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Silver Apples / Tomaga (live at Baba Yaga’s Hut)

Corsica Studios, London 3 December 2014

One of the bonuses of the gig being at Corsica Studios is that I can have a wander around inside the Elephant and Castle shopping centre beforehand. It’s a truly gargantuan space, way too large to justify its enormous real estate footprint in these slavering Neoliberal times, but somehow it manages to persist, its small-flecked 1970s flooring and wooden handrails clinging on in 2014, as anachronistic as pair of brown flares and a pint of Watneys Red Barrel. It’s not pink any more, and sadly no longer has wonderfully alliterative pairings of its purchasable wares written around the top of the facade (“Shoes / Sandwiches”!), but damn it, it’s still there.

Even its original architects later admitted that “the site is really saying no with a big NO to almost any poor pedestrian who wants to creep into the building.” but after many years

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David Stubbs – Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany

Faber & Faber

David Stubbs - Future DaysBack in 1986, some real waves were made by the publication of The Audit of War, a bitter and excoriating account of Britain’s strategic socio-economic decision-making during the first ten years after World War Two. The work was written by revisionist (military) historian Correlli Barnett, who critiqued – unfavourably and controversially – the ethos that guided Britain through its immediate decade of post-war reconstruction.

Barnett’s narrative unflinchingly took apart many of the myths that the UK wrapped around itself in the aftermath of its victoryi, and which subsequently became a blindfold that prevented it from seeing itself as it truly was in the mirror and doing something about the more urgent and unattractive parts of the reflection. The book itself was a polarising affair, a real

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Kate Bush – Before the Dawn (live at Hammersmith Apollo)

LondonKB-bird 16 September 2014

Listen, For in each tiny sound, In the movement of the air, And in the song of the birds, Shall the voice of God Speak unto you, If only you chose to hear it.

Johannes Dieterich, Prorsus Inventa, 1573

In his book Prorsus Inventa, musician, author, scientist and inventor (a true baroque polymath) Johannes Dieterich describes the compositional method “stylus fantasticus” as:

… the most free and unrestrained method of composing, it is bound to nothing, neither to any words nor to a melodic subject, it was instituted to display genius and to teach the hidden design of harmony and the ingenious composition of harmonic phrases and fugues.

Allegedly, when at the age of 93, Dieterich was asked why he continued to practice

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Camera – Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide

Bureau B

Camera - Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide

I confess, I was in two minds about this one. When Freq’s esteemed editor suggested that I review the second album by Camera (their debut Radiate appeared in 2012), my internal braking system engaged almost at once. Reading the accompanying blurb, it was pushing the band’s Berlin-based, Krautrock-legacy-authenticated brand of guerrilla Kosmische to the hilt, their endorsement and live performances alongside (*cue angelic choir*) Michael Rother and Dieter Moebius lending an air of gravitas to the proceedings way over and above repeated use of the hated M-word.

Do I have anything against such things? Far from it. Faaaaarrr from it. In some things (although sadly not in my terrible trumpet playing) I like to take my cue

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Thurston Moore and Caspar Brötzmann (live at Café Oto)

London 7 August 2014

Probably the best way to imagine this gig is to picture the Newtonian Laws of Motion resolving themselves inside a packed Turkish sauna. If Car A is driving down a road at 100mph, whilst Car B is driving at 100mph in the opposite direction, if they collide, they will crash at 200mph. You get where I’m about to go with this, right?

So, translated into sonic terms, if Car A is not a car at all, but in fact a battered Fender Jaguar, and the man behind the wheel is Thurston Moore – alternative guitar god, mainspring of avant garde culture, and latterly resident of these parts – thrashing, trashing, grinding and mashing its six strings to within an inch of their lives, what we have here is a seriously speedy vehicle. However, if heading into a full frontal collision is Car B, in this case

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James Blackshaw – Fantômas: Le Faux Magistrat

Tompkins Square

James Blackshaw – FantômasRight from its first publication in February 1911, the novel Fantômas was a phenomenon. In the words of post-modern New York über-poet John Ashberry it was “a work of fiction whose popularity cut across all social and cultural strata. Countesses and concierges; poets and proletarians; cubists, nascent Dadaists, soon-to-be Surrealists: Everyone who could read, and even those who could not, shivered at posters of a masked man in impeccable evening clothes, dagger in hand, looming over Paris like a sombre Gulliver, contemplating hideous misdeeds from which no citizen was safe.”

As Ashberry here makes explicit, the singular success of the novel – put together by two hack journalists Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre in response to a commission by publisher Arthème Fayard – was characterised

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Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band – Live From Harpo’s 1980

Gonzo Multimedia

Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band – Live From Harpo’s 1980F Scott Fitzgerald famously once declared that American lives had no second act. Thankfully, Don van Vliet, throughout his career an exception in so many ways, was one exempted from this rule. For, following the musical big bang of 1976, Beefheart – truculent, dissonant, and decidedly not a member of the flaccid hippie ranks against which Punk rock had raged – gradually began to assume something of the role of elder statesman. Openly cited as an influence by John Lydon (née Rotten), the refreshed palate of the Punk and Post-Punk eras, more open to the abrasive, the obtuse and the unconventional, saw the Captain as someone who had represented Punk avant la lettre, and whose influence could been seen and heard shot through the angular guitars and stuttering non-linear rhythms

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Chrome (live at Baba Yaga’s Hut)

Electrowerkz, London 21 June 2014

This was something I never dreamt I would ever see. I stare at the ticket in my hand and still can’t quite believe what the lettering says: “Chrome – doors open 7pm.” I would have been less surprised to have found myself standing atop the cliffs at Beachy Head with Chris Marker’s cat Guillaume-en-Egypt, looking out to sea whilst the Kraken rose from the watery depths to wreck terrible vengeance on the south coast of East Sussex: “You know Guillaume, I half expected that this would happen one day.”

Despite the last two and half decades having provided the opportunity to witness the reanimated antics of everyone from The Velvet Underground and Iggy and the Stooges to The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Black Sabbath, I was still utterly wrong-footed by this one. Chrome? CHROME? Really? You must be joking. This can only be

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