With Just A Hint Of Mayhem

Music trivia, useless info, extra added random stuff and the odd rant from me

‘Wrong Way Up’ – Brian Eno/John Cale and ‘Spinner’ – Brian Eno/Jah Wobble (Reissues) August 19, 2020


‘Wrong Way Up’

In an expression of purest irony, the collaborative efforts of two of the most experimental musicians of the 20th century has led to some of the most accessible & radio friendly music of either artist’s career. Personally, I was expecting something along the lines of droning noise music of ‘The Weight Of History/Only Once Away My Son’, Eno’s recent collaboration with My Bloody Valentine mastermind Kevin Shields. All ambient soundscapes and abrasive, distorted violas. Instead, ‘Wrong Way Up’ is a collection of upbeat, optimistically melodic Synth Pop music.

Eno and Cale had collaborated previously (Eno had produced Cale’s 1974 album ‘Fear’ and Cale played Viola on a couple of tunes on Eno’s 1975 album ‘Another Green World’) but ‘Wrong Way Up’ was the first album they recorded as a collaboration. Recorded in the dying days of the Soviet Union, the dawning of what Francis Fukuyama called ‘the end of history,’ there are certainly elements of nostalgia and retrophilia in the futuristic sonic landscapes. “I scramble in the dust of a failing nation,” Eno sings on opening track “Lay My Love”. Eno said they expected the album to turn out “quite stark and sort of, industrial.” In light of the upbeat, almost optimistic nature of this album, this contributes to the sense of irony I mention above.

In the most part, the songs are built around looping synthesised chord sequences and arpeggios, but there’s something organic and jam-like about many of the compositions. This is likely due to the array of interesting instruments used (Shinto Bell, Little Nigerian Organ) and an impressive array of guest musicians involved. Are there ghostly slivers of Eastern European folk melody embedded in the lush soundscapes of arpeggiated synths and drum machine loops? The ensemble of “non-standard” (for Rock and Pop music) percussion instruments like dumbeks, tablas and Indian Drums probably contributes to this atmosphere. These heavily processed acoustic instruments mix with the looped soundscapes and drum machine loops fantastically.

The bonus tracks added to the new rerelease, “Grandfather’s House” and “Palanquin”, are much more organic and traditional sounding than the parent album. “Grandfather’s House” is a mournful ballad sung over a folkish drone. Bursts of noisy viola, warm synth pads and reverb soaked piano notes create a cinematic soundscape for John Cale’s solemn, hymn like vocal. “Palanquin” is similarly downbeat but way more minimal. A simple Piano composition, instrumental, played with a huge amount of reverb, creating ghostly swirls of warm, immersive sound.

‘Spinner’

Like ‘Wrong Way Up’, ‘Spinner’ was a collaboration with a key member of a pioneering and genre-defining band. Jah Wobble famously the original bass player in John Lydon’s post-Pistols, Post Punk group Public Image Ltd. However, this is probably not a useful starting point when approaching ‘Spinner’. Originally conceived as the soundtrack to Derek Jarman’s film ‘Glitterbug’. As such, ‘Spinner’ is a much more experimental and instrumental album than ‘Wrong Way Up’, consisting of immersive dronescapes, hypnotic rhythms and discrete background noise.

Another major way in which ‘Spinner’ differs from ‘Wrong Way Up’ is in its production methods. Whereas the former album was a controlled, in-studio endeavour with both John Cale and Brian Eno working together to write and record everything, the latter was produced as a result of Eno passing partial tracks to Jah Wobble and allowing him to embellish upon them as he saw fit. This would have been quite unusual in the mid-‘90’s but is fairly commonplace today. The democratisation of music production, the ease of digital communication and the standardisation of digital audio file formats allow this kind of “file swapping” collaboration to prosper. This is just another way in which Brian Eno set the templates for the way the music industry works today.

Much of ‘Spinner’ is built around the kinds of Ambient minimalism we’ve come to expect from Eno over the years, the twinkling arpeggiation and glitched out machine noises of “Space Diary 1” or the droning synths of “Where We Lived” are one side of this unique album, but not the whole picture. The expressive bass playing in tracks like “Like Organza” lift the soundscaping up into a completely different place and, when coupled with the excellent drumming of Jaki Liebezeit (of Krautrock pioneers Can) we get to hear some of the most immersive and hypnotic music on the album. “Steam” is all sampled strings, swirling synths, dub-influenced bass riffs and the kind of motorik drums that define Krautrock. There’s a sense of building atmosphere which is truly engaging. “Marine Radio” is the place where Post-Punk and Dub collide, creating a kind of maritime Trip Hop sound. The menacing syncopation and digital vibrations of the title track create a sinister, action-packed centrepiece of the album, preparing us for the 8-minute epic, “Transmitter And Trumpet”. Marimbas and excellent drumming form a backdrop to some of the most Dub-like bass lines on the album, submerged in the Eno Wall of Sound. The effect is trancelike, hypnotic in the extreme and later on it descends into swirling swathes of noise, swooping around the stereo-field like a dive bomber.

Of the two bonus tracks added to the release, one is an original Brian Eno piece (from the ‘Glitterbug’ soundtrack) while the other is an original Jah Wobble piece. Eno’s “Stravinsky” is a classical inspired exercise in looping, improvisational orchestral sounds. High register violins duelling over lower tones reminiscent of oboes and cellos. Knowing Eno, they could be either live recorded and heavily processed or synthesised/sampled. They’d sound equally as good, either way. Wobble’s “Lockdown” is a semi-funky bass workout over sampled brass and motorik drum machine rhythms. It’s moody and atmospheric like the best material on ‘Spinner’. Pitchshifted vocals echo spectrally around the soundscape.

‘Wrong Way Up’ and ‘Spinner’ are released on 21st August on All Saints Records. It will be the first time physical media of the two albums have been available in fifteen years.

Written by Tom Ray.

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“Flying like an autumn wind, lady did you lose a friend?” February 21, 2013


kevinayers1974

I first heard Kevin Ayers back in the early 70s and ‘Joy Of A Toy’ remains a favourite album of mine. So it is with sadness that I am posting about his demise. He passed away in his sleep aged 68 on February 18th at his home in France. Ayers was a pioneer of the British psychedelic scene and first found fame with Soft Machine. John Peel once said this of him; “Kevin Ayers’ talent is so acute you could perform major eye surgery with it”. Click here to read the BBC report of Kevin’s death.

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Kevin has worked with many people, including Syd Barrett, Brian Eno, Mike Oldfield and John Cale. He was there for the formation of Soft Machine in the mid 60s. The band was named after the William S Burroughs novel ‘The Soft Machine’. Kevin once sold his Fender jazz bass to Noel Redding from Jimi Hendrix’ band. This was after an extensive US tour. He grew up in Canterbury and lived for some time in Ibiza and France.

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Interestingly he wasn’t the only one in the family with such a pioneering spirit. His father Rowan Ayers was a BBC Producer and was responsible for kicking off the classic BBC music show ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test‘. If you have never listened to Kevin Ayers then I suggest you rectify that right now! I have included a few of my favourite Ayers songs at the end of this post. My thoughts go to Kevin’s family, friends and fans. RIP Kevin Ayers – a true British Rock legend!

 

“From feudal serf to spender, this wonderful world of purchase power” September 15, 2009


Me and my helmet :-)

Me and my helmet 🙂

Here we go again folks and I have some brilliant news, well it was brilliant for me anyway. On Saturday I spent the day at the Riders Edge Harley Davidson centre in Wales. This was a gift experience which was given to me as a birthday present by the wonderful and beautiful Catwoman for my 50th birthday back in January. You have to bear in mind that I have never been on a motorbike in my life. So to say I was a little apprehensive at first would be a major understatement. Let’s just say that I made sure I packed a clean pair of under crackers…….just in case!

Anyway being a complete novice I spent the morning, around three hours riding a 500cc machine around the private roads within the Royal Welsh Showground at Builth Wells. Whilst I never fell off once I came close a couple of times! I guess I pictured in my head having to lean right over when taking corners, but that’s for the speed freaks, at the speeds I was doing taking a corner upright was easy. Incidentally while it felt much, much faster I don’t think I got above 40 mph. For me the coordination required to change gear with your left foot while not looking down at all was very difficult. But when you think about it it really shouldn’t be. I mean I don’t look down when I change gear in the car so why should I need to when riding a motorbike? Well perhaps because I’m not using a gear stick with my hand but trying to change it with my foot. But by the end of the morning session I had reached the dizzy heights of 5th gear twice and stalled less than ten times in total and as I said earlier, I never fell off or crashed once! The last part was a great result for me as I fully expected to take a few spills.

Me on a Harley

Me on a Harley

So after just three hours on the saddle they sadly weren’t going to let me loose on a fabulous Harley on my own. However I did get a pillion ride on a gorgeous Harley Davidson machine under the control of one of the Rider’s Edge expert instructors, Ian. Having never even ridden pillion before that too was also a great experience for me. Cruising around some wonderful Welsh countryside. Great weather, great views and remarkably attractive sheep, well at least I would imagine they are attractive if you’re perhaps Welsh or a Kiwi.

Uneasy Rider perhaps?

Uneasy Rider perhaps?

I would like to take this opportunity to say a big, big thank you to all the folks at Riders Edge. Especially Clive, who was my instructor in the morning and also Ian with whom I rode pillion in the afternoon.

In the meantime and as this is really a music related blog let’s steer it back in that direction! Can you guess what today’s theme might be? Well it’s a bit obvious really isn’t it? Today’s theme is Motorbikes! Here are a few motorbike or motorbike related songs with a morsel of trivia about each of the artists or songs

“Motorcycle Emptiness” – Manic Street Preachers. This was the fifth single to be taken from the band’s Generation Terrorists album in 1992. The lyrics are inspired by a book about biker gang culture called Rumble Fish which was written by S E Hinton

“Motorbikin’”– Chris Spedding. This 1975 Top 20 hit was Spedding’s biggest and he is perhaps best known as a sought after session guitarist. He has played with many artists including; Bryan Ferry, Roxy Music, Elton John, Brian Eno, Jack Bruce, Nick Mason, John Cale, Katie Melua, Harry Nilsson, Tom Waits, Paul McCartney, Jeff Wayne and even the Wombles! He also famously played on and produced three demos for the Sex Pistols in 1976. The three songs were “No Feelings”, “Problems” and “Pretty Vacant”

“Funky Moped” – Jasper Carrot. This was a surprise hit for Mr Carrot in 1975. The single was backed with a risque monologue based around the 60s TV series the “Magic Roundabout“, which at the time I thought was bloody hilarious! he also has a thespian daughter; Lucy Davis who played Dawn in the Office. She was excellent in that series don’t you think?

“Silver Dream Machine”– David Essex. At the age of 23 in 1971 David took the lead role in the musical Godspell on the London Stage. I actually went to see that show as part of a school trip in 1972 when he was still in it. Our coach was delayed because all the girls on the trip had gathered outside the stage door to scream and get his autograph. It was around the time he released his first major single “Rock On”. My first serious girlfriend; Gay Topsom, was a big David Essex fan and I remember buying her each of his singles as soon as they were released. I never had enough money to stretch to an album. But we were together for two years from 1975 to 1977 so I guess that’s a fair amount of singles. She left me for a guy who was slightly older and more importantly had a car! But you know what I’m over that now and if you’re reading this Gay, I forgive you 🙂

“Bat Out Of Hell”– Meatloaf. Meat was born Marvin Lee Aday on 27th September 1947 so he will turn 62 in a couple of weeks. get your cards written and sent now folks. Jim Steinman the producer and I suppose you could say creator of Meat’s landmark Bat Out Of Hell album was apparently trying to get something that sounded like a cross between Wagner, Phil Spector and Bruce Springsteen. Well I for one reckon he succeeded. What do you think?

“Born To Be Wild”– Steppenwolf. This band hailed from Toronto and many credit their recording of the iconic “Born To Be Wild” as the first Heavy Metal record, although just as many disagree. It has had a long association with motorbikes, very likely due to its inclusion on the soundtrack to the movie Easy Rider which starred Peter Fonda

I used to have this poster on my wall as a teenager :-)

I used to have this poster on my wall as a teenager 🙂

I am sure that you can think of plenty more so fire away folks!

This is the poster I really wanted on my wall as a teenager ;-)

This is the poster I really wanted on my wall as a teenager 😉

 

 
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