“Those middle eights man, they fuck with my head” – Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band – Night and Day, Manchester 5th February 2017.

 

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Michael Head gigs are becoming something of a lottery these days because  they are selling out in ridiculously short spaces of time. I’m talking minutes. When the tickets went on sale I was at work, so a good friend managed to secure me one, and a good job too since they went within the space of about 600 seconds. So feeling like Charlie Bucket I headed into the gloom of a Sunday Manchester night in order to find some musical light. I set off early knowing that Roy was opening proceedings. If you haven’t seen him yet, Roy is a very funny raconteur with the soupiest Scouse accent you have ever heard. When I entered the venue it was apparent the usual (Mick) heads were there along with lots of newbies (street) and we were just in time to catch Roy’s performance.  Regaling us with a tale about a man who he met on the train, his  story was full of quick wit and savage humour and ended with a quite hilarious twist that I heard a punter trying to repeat to his mates later that night with only a modicum of success. Given this was a ‘music’ gig in Manchester, Roy went down really well with an audience that you might have expected to be a little more hostile to a fearless invader from just down the M62, but then I guess it helps when the headline act is also from the same neck of the woods. It is always hard to do a comedian justice but Roy’s monologues and style of delivery deserve a wider audience and hopefully more of you will get down to the regular La Violette Societtas that are becoming a beacon for unsung (and sung)talent in the North West and elsewhere, where Roy often features.

Next up was Jo Rose but I am sorry to say I spent most of his set gabbing (quietly, and at the back I hasten to add) with people I had not seen since…well…the last Michael Head  gig in the North.

By the time Mick arrived on stage (a fashionable ten minutes late) the Night and Day was rammed and the first surprise of the evening was that this wasn’t actually a solo gig, but more a stripped down Red Elastic Band with Phil Murphy on drums and Tom Powell on bass. The familiar jazzy flow of Stranger echoed around the venue as a fit and fresh looking Mick took us back to 1995 (although we all know it should have been 1991…studio fires…blah, blah, blah). Mining the same era, Mr. Appointment rocked and Mick’s voice which has been getting better and better lately, sounded fantastic.

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The cover of choice lately has been the pastoral Wild Mountain Thyme and it sounded suitably gorgeous tonight. A new song, Money was aired which along with others later in the set suggest the new album due this year should be something special. As if by contrast one of Shack’s earliest songs resurfaced via a rendition of the fantastic I Know You Well. A trip to Cadiz followed and it is another timeless classic in the Michael Head tradition. Cadiz surfaced about five years ago and every time I hear it I think it could have been written in any decade since the sixties. Mick has tons of these type of songs in the locker as evidenced by What’s the Difference, which is chock full of time signature shifts as if three songs have been rolled into one, each one a beauty. Speaking of classics, the band then performed a triumvirate of perfect songsmithery (if that’s not a word, it is now) and it was a Mick fuck up that saw the crowd really liven up on the first. Byrds Turn to Stone is a tricky number for even its writer to perform and the dreamy bridge proved the case twice, before Mick got it right much to the supportive amusement of both him and the crowd. Other than that it was faultless as is the majestic beauty of Something Like You which followed. We were in Manchester, so it only made sense to name check the Happy Mondays/happy mondays in Waterpistol’s opener Mood of the Morning. At this point Mick caught the request for My Pretty Girl to which he replied with a face of wonder “Imagine!”

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Given Mick’s current healthy state there were times during the gig when it was like watching the Michael Head of the Paleys/early Shack era as he bounced around the stage like someone far younger. Picklock followed and is another song that it can only be hoped will be on the new album given its lilting, reverie like quality. The Streets of Kenny, a song up there with his finest, were explored before Meant to Be saw an explosion of vocal brass for which Mick thanked the crowd at the end. A little glance from him towards Skinny and you knew the set was coming to an end but not before he strummed a few bars of Hazy because a girl in the audience had promised to strip on stage if he did it.

He did. She didn’t.

The perfect summer anthem of Comedy (wot no Black and White 2 at the end?) completed the set. But not really, of course, as a gorgeous version of As Long As I Got You and a bouncing Newby Street encored us out into the cold Manc air with a plethora of tunes in our heads and quality lyrics on our lips.

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Everywhere you turned you could hear excited chatter along the lines of “that was the best gig ever” and “that was legendary” etc. It is certainly a privilege to see Michael Head performing low key gigs in venues like this because by rights he should be packing far bigger gaffs out. On top of the album release this year (someone asked if it would be out by June, “yeah that’ll do” came Mick’s reply) there is also the promise of a full tour. This could well be the year of the Head.

Just before we left, an excited fella from Mick’s homeland,  Kensington in Liverpool, was chatting to a mate, and despite the ‘not meant as an insult’ insult he threw in my direction (“Is that yer Da’?” – cheeky twat – the beard’s now going), he also provided me with the title of this review.

As Mick might say; “Is Right”.

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“I JUST DIG IT” – SCOTT FAGAN INTERVIEW 14th October 2016

Forty eight years on, Scott Fagan tells us about the birth of lost classic South Atlantic Blues; poverty, bad luck, famous children he didn’t know he had, and life’s lessons.

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“First; are you from the police?”

Why are you going to do something illegal?

“No, it just might be my past catching up with me.”

And what a past Scott Fagan has had. Within minutes of sitting down with him, we were hearing some of the most fascinating tales of hardship, missed opportunities and the glories of the musical past that you assume no-one is still around to tell.

However, in the present, Scott Fagan has a majestic lost album to promote and if all goes well, as it should, we might get to hear some of the lost wonders from his back catalogue in the near future as a result.

Scott Fagan is a big man, who not surprisingly is a little slow on his feet these days. Wild wisps of grey hair tumble down his back and over his shoulders, whilst a beaded beard makes you consider that had Keith Richards not been available to play Jack Sparrow’s father in Pirates of the Caribbean (from where Scott hails)Scott Fagan would have been a perfect replacement. The young man who looks mournfully shy on the cover of the 1968 album South Atlantic Blues is no more, but this Scott Fagan is here in Manchester, forty eight years later in order to try to gain his masterpiece the kind of justice it deserves.

Taking Dylan Thomas’ advice, it made sense for us “To begin at the beginning…”

“I was originally born in New York and had a musical family. My grandmother Sally Travis was an orphan girl from Scotland, her family died in the Spanish flu. She went alone to New York at 19 years old; a bar room singer, she got pregnant by a nice Irish fellow who was afraid to tell his wife he’d just gotten a barroom singer pregnant, so he denied the child. Sally died of TB and left my father orphaned. We started the tour in Scotland and it was very powerful for me to be back there. We were in Glasgow which was the centre of the Spanish flu epidemic and so we think she was from there. We know nothing about her apart from her whole family died of the Spanish flu. Then we went to Ireland and my mother’s people are Kellys from Galway.  I have a parcel of relatives who really want to go there and I must, although this time we got on the ferry to Belfast then down the freeway to Dublin. I am Irish, English French, Scotch, Dutch German, Welsh and a little Mohawk so every place we go is like a little homecoming.

I was raised in the Virgin Islands and sailed up to the states as a crew boy/bilge rat on a 50ft ketch.  You know about sailing? Well, a ketch and a sloop are the same boat but they’re rigged differently. We got to Coconut Grove which is South Florida. Sang there and a little fan club of girls formed and came up with $50 to get me to New York. I got to New York with one phone number and eleven cents. I called a phone number which had been given to my mother by a friend of an ex-wife of a cousin’s ex-husband guy that sometimes wrote songs with a professional songwriter. He said “You gotta call him when you get to New York” and I promised him I would, and I did and it was Doc Pomus (Pomus was a legendary blues singer and songwriter who wrote Marie’s the Name of His Latest Flame, Save the Last Dance for Me and Viva Las Vegas amongst others and was responsible for introducing Lou Reed to the music business. Not unlike our own Ian Dury, he also suffered from polio). Pomus said (adopts gruff voice) “Come see me, let’s hear what you got” so I went to the Forrest Hotel which was directly across from the Brill Building (legendary residence of songwriters) on 49th Street and Broadway and I went up to his room and there sitting in the middle of a giant bed; Buddha, bone naked, wrapped in a sheet, was Doc Pomus! He had polio as a child and didn’t walk without braces. He was an enormous fellow with a beard and wild hair and so I sat on the piano bench and played three tunes for him (the three songs that Scott sang for Doc Pomus are on the bonus download card inside the reissue of South Atlantic Blues) and when I had done that he said “I’ll tell you what I am gonna do. I am going to sign you to personal management and I’m gonna sign you to my production company. Now go downstairs and tell the desk clerk to give you a room then come back here and let’s get started”. So I went from being a homeless kid with one cent left after the dime call, to being signed by Doc Pomus. So Doc’s partner of course is Mort Shuman (both he and Doc Pomus have been inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame via the Ahmet Ertegun Award). He got me a deal with Columbia and I loved Columbia but the real label I wanted to be signed to was, y’know…the little doggy? RCA but that would come later. I have been signed to Columbia, Bang, Big Top, Atco, Epic, and RCA. By the time I got to RCA they had changed the logo and it was a bland nothing thing (sighs) I loved that doggy listening to his master’s voice.”

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At this point in the interview Scott asked if we minded being filmed as part of a forthcoming documentary; we told him it was fine since we weren’t wanted by the police either, although we do have great faces for radio.

“So we did a single for Columbia, it was with Wes Farrell (another songwriter who for a while was married to Frank Sinatra’s daughter Tina) You Weren’t Meant To Be True, there’s no trace of it, no trace of it. Then we did a single for Bang that Mort Shuman produced.”

Was Surrender to the Sun (a personal  favourite) around that time?
“No that was later. I did Surrender to the Sun for RCA.  It was for a Canadian film called The Recommendation For Mercy. It wasn’t on my RCA album Many Sunny Places (1975) which has the song Please Be Well on it, which is also the closing song in my rock opera Soon but you know this stuff.

We recorded Many Sunny Places for RCA but then I did it again in St Thomas (Virgin Islands) in 2010. We did a very similar arrangement but we updated the sound of the synthesizer which was dating it, so we updated it. Warren Shatz (Frankie Valli producer) produced that.”

What about the other favourite of mine, Circles. What is the story behind that?

“Circles I recorded in Topanga Canyon. That’s a master that hasn’t be released. My hope, my sincere hope is that because of the South Atlantic Blues reissue and the attention it has generated that we will have a vehicle…brother, I have a lot of material that I’ve tried through the years to keep recording, keep writing, believing that someday, somebody would say “Hey wait a minute, this is worthwhile…”

Why do you think now has been the moment for South Atlantic Blues?

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“Well, for years there was a fellow called Jakarta Jive who was writing in the further recesses of the internet about South Atlantic Blues and he was reviewing it and pretty soon a collection of people came round and they were talking about the album and artist and they were really going at it in an erudite and literate way. I peek in from time to time just to know I am still alive and that the work is affecting some folks. The album had been discovered by Jasper Johns (renowned US artist/painter/sculptor) and he did three lithographs that were slightly different entitled Scott Fagan Record. I used to have one but I had to sell it to help my mother to get an apartment. God bless my mother I love her to bits. She was married eight times and was very alcoholic and loved me and I loved her and she died young in the apartment I got for her in New York. Anyway, so we had done South Atlantic Blues and I was a staff writer for Screen Jams and I was signed at the time to Epic (from where I AM and Kings and Pawns were arranged by David Woods, son of Harry Woods who wrote Try A Little Tenderness).

I then began writing Soon, a rock opera which was the follow up to South Atlantic Blues but we made a little too much fun out of the boys (the music industry) and they weren’t too happy about that.”

Do you regret that in anyway looking back?

“Well the only thing I only regret is that I was never able to provide the kind of life for the women that loved me and their children. I have five children by four different lovers and they all believed in me and I disappointed them all so I am not happy about that. However, for the most part we still love one another and there is good fortune down the road that may be leading to enjoying it together. So that’s what I regret. It was foolish of us to think we could change the music business but this was the late 60s and we were marching to end the war in Vietnam and we were all committed to changing the world and we thought we could change the music business but (wistfully) we were wrong! I don’t regret that though because what we have is a 90 minute piece of music that I am very proud of and God Almighty we might finally get it recorded and released.”

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I have heard the live version from the Broadway show…

“Well, I was fired from the New York production for refusing to make entertainment orientated changes, because we (Scott and Joseph M Kookolis) weren’t writing entertainment we were writing a serious work having to do with the destructive effect of music on art and by extension, society. And that’s not funny so we had thrown in a few laughs here and there and some colourful stuff but it would never be an amusement or light entertainment so we were fired and barred from the theatre and we went out to California and did it in a much smaller scale. There was a guy that smuggled a little cassette into the New York theatre in his winter overcoat. There’s a parallel universe of Broadway collectors of any show, every show and so I would hear from some of these folks some time. This guy got in touch and asked if I had a recording of Soon and I said I don’t have one, there isn’t one and he said “No there is, such and such a fellow had a bootleg Broadway production of Soon and he willed his whole collection to the Library of Congress”. So I called the Library of Congress and we drizzled around a bit and then they realised that I was the author so I was able to get a copy from them. Of course I am not happy to have that represent our work because it reflects the entertainment changes however when we put the cast together we put together a momma jamma of a cast and in that bootleg recording there are five of women, knowing that the show was closing and each having a solo so each of them looking to outdo the next so we’ve got four of five songs in the middle of it that each of these chicks is killing themselves on which is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful… Nell Carter (Tony and Emmy winner), Vicky Sue Robinson (Turn the Beat Around), Marian Ramsey (Laverne Hooks in Police Academy)…terrific so we have to find a way to get it out.”

Are you more proud of Soon or South Atlantic Blues?

“Well, it’s like your children…which one do you love most? You love each for their own reason right? South Atlantic Blues was my first album, we were dead serious boys coming from very hard knocks and I did my God most-best to make it great. Then Soon was like the same stream, it’s the follow up record so they are certainly related in my mind. As a matter of fact, the song In Your Hands from South Atlantic Blues is the opening number for Soon, and Please Be Well which we are playing tonight is the closing song on Soon.”

I’ve always considered South Atlantic Blues opening song, In My Head to have a Serge Gainsbourg feel about it.

“Who?”

A brief explanation of Serge’s place in the pop pantheon ensues, as well as a suggestion that outside of France he is best known for a scurrilous interview with Whitney Houston.

“I don’t know, but Mort Shuman loved Jacques Brel and I imagine Jacques Brel was similar? I’m guessing that’s good though?

It was Herb Gart (manager of Bill Cosby, Tim Hardin, Don Mclean, Mississippi John Hurt amongst others) who discovered me playing at the Café GoGo and he said “Sign with me and in six months you will be bigger than Elvis Presley!” which was pretty unbelievable and then he said “I manage Buffy St Marie!” and that clinched the deal for me. That girl is fantastic looking man, boy, if she and Whitney had been on that same show Serge would have been in double trouble! Herb was the executive producer and he was shopping the album and it was being held by Apple(the Beatles label) as potentially their first release but between South Atlantic Blues and the James Taylor record. Peter Asher was the A&R guy and he was very partial to James Taylor. At the time Verve Forecast was the most successful folk-rock label and Jerry Schoenbaum was the president of the label. Jerry said “Hey, I want the record, I’m going to be the new president of Atlantic Records and I’m taking it with me to be my first release”. That was very good news so I signed with Atco, which is Atlantic but Jerry Schoenbaum and Ahmet Ertegun never came to terms about Jerry’s deal. So Jerry went off to California and there was no deal. So the next guy that becomes President of Atco is guy called Jerry Greenberg and he was not interested in hyping Jerry Schoembaum’s pet project so South Atlantic Blues was essentially buried and was not promoted.

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However, (the aforementioned) Jasper Johns found it in a cut out bin and fell in love with it. So I am at Screen Jams writing Soon when the phone rings. It’s some guy saying “Oh, my friend loves your record” and it this point I had no idea which record he was talking about; I Am, Kings and Pawns…what record is he talking about? “My friend loves your record and he made a lithograph and he’s gonna have an opening and we want you to come, please say you’ll come”. And I am thinking “Jesus God this is some little art gallery down in the East Village and there is going to be a canvas with Day-Glo paint and chicken bones and watermelon seeds and not only will that be the case but if I go there they’re gonna insist I buy the damn thing!” But my mother, God bless her had always taught me to be polite so he asked for my address so he could send an invite. Now, as I had become known I had been getting fan mail and I had gotten some letters that you wouldn’t believe so I was very wary giving my address out. One of them that stays in my mind today and will never go away says “I got your record South Atlantic Blues and see that song In Your Head? See where you are talking about reflections and see between this word and that word? I know what you mean…and I don’t like it!” So I’m leery about giving my address but in the end I do and this wonderful invitation comes and I take my writing partner Joe Kookolis and his wife…Joe’s a real hard luck kid too, shoeshine boy…his mother is an illiterate Venezuelan lady…and my beautiful sweetie from the Isles. We all get into a taxi and I’m still thinking we’re going to an East Village Day-Glo art gallery and it pulls up at MOMA (Museum of Modern Arts) which is extremely prestigious. We get out and go in and God Almighty they’re having a major Jasper Johns exhibition and Scott Fagan Record is the star of the exhibition! It’s on the wall with lights shining on it and here are the most patrician looking group of people standing around. It’s Jasper and John Cage and Merce Cunningham, God Almighty the whole pop art world! And I come in there and Jesus God they couldn’t be more happy to see me and my little honey was suitably impressed which is all that really mattered. And oh we had such a great time with them and we remain friends to this day.”

Releasing more music would become problematic for Scott Fagan mainly as a result of the farrago surrounding Soon.

“I was immediately fired by Screen Gems, was dropped by Epic, I could not get a deal. Finally Warren Schatz, who I knew from Associate Studios because he engineered some demos I did, wanted to do an album and the only place he could get funding was from Love Records in Helsinki, Finland, so Helsinki funded Many Sunny Places and we finally found a distributor via the same guy that had signed me to Columbia Records who was now some part of RCA. I had no management at the time so we weren’t really able to do much to work that record but it’s a nice record although it’s not the same level of intensity as my previous works were but I had been told “Scott, you gotta lighten up, give them some entertainment or something”. We stuck Roll Out The Morning and Please Be Well on there from Soon. I also got a couple of Virgin Island things on there too because, excuse me but I say this with all humility, I’ve been the premiere white calypso singer for over fifty years so we stuck a couple of things on there we hoped would be accessible to off island audiences.”

So following 1975 what happened…

“I couldn’t get a record deal anywhere so I continued to find ways to do recordings, I wrote a children’s Christmas opera called Sandy the Blue Nosed Reindeer which is a wonderful thing, and just continued writing songs and looking for places to record them. Also, I got sober. I come from generations of alcoholism and it was time to get sober. Thank goodness there’s a fellowship of people in place to help you do that, there was no recovery programme for the music business, I had no access to recovery so I went back to St Thomas and started a programme there and then we went to California and got to UCLA and got trained in design and management, chemical dependency counselling and designed a programme for artists, everyone in the business. Our thinking was that all of those folks deserve access to treatment and recovery…recovery is a fantastic thing. It really gives you a new beginning. So the programme I designed evolved into Music To Our Ears which is in place right now providing support for hundreds and thousands of people in the music business. So I was working in the field running a fifty bed co-ed drug and alcoholism sober living programme in Culver City in Los Angeles and that’s when we recorded the Christmas album, Circles, Valeria and a number of other things. Then it was back to the islands and travelling over with a new wife and just writing and writing then suddenly one day, an ex-wife, Annie, called and said “There’s a kid on the radio saying he’s your son, what’s going on here”. I didn’t know what was going on! So anyway we tracked it down and there’s Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields) on National Public Radio saying I’m his father and so we connected with Stephin. In the Islands, before I came up on the sail boat, when I was sixteen/seventeen, I had stowed away twice on airplanes and had gotten to the States to start my career but they had sent me back to the Islands and so at eighteen I was homeless again and singing with my little group The Urchins, we had a terrific group but we had gone as far as we could on the Islands and this very interesting bohemian woman, a little older than I was, took a shine to me and I caught her eye across the room and so we had a torrid, tropical romance and Stephin was planted on a listing house boat, well, a sinking houseboat if the truth be known and she went back to the States so was there a child, wasn’t there a child? I tried to prepare my other children for the possibility that there might be another sibling and not long ago I was in a film about Doc Pomus called AKA Doc Pomus which had a big premiere at the Lincoln Centre and I invited Stephin and his mother to the premiere and that’s when we first met. I’ve just heard from his mom today and as a matter of fact, tonight we are staying in the home of a woman who also had Stephin and Magnetic Fields staying there in the past.

Apparently, Stephin had seen the cover of South Atlantic Blues and was astounded because he looked just like that guy and his mother of course said “That bum is your father!” Nahhhhh! Anyway, he was astounded by the similarities so he has been aware of my work for a while. On the other hand I was in Oxford, Mississippi when the (Magnetic Fields) album 69 Love Songs came out and I guess he was on the radio promoting that when he identified me as the culprit.”

Is this your first tour of Europe or your first visit?
“It’s my first visit and I love it. I love the people, the stone walls, the air…I’d like to rub the dirt all over my face…I mean really…I am a person with heightened emotional responses and fantastic imaginings and I’m telling you I could not dig it more. I just dig it. We are all imperfect but this boy (points at himself) loves all of these places. The band is Scottish so I’m claiming for Glasgow but are we allowed to love Glasgow and Ireland? Are we allowed to love Glasgow, Ireland and Wales? And England…? We are going to London, Liverpool and Paris. My other great grandfather was a sailor from Marseilles who had landed in New Orleans and was working as a gardener in a convent where he caught the eye of a novice nun and by God they ran off together to Hell’s Kitchen in New York City where they had a candy store and eight children, and apparently the French respond very well to my music.”

Did he go to New Orleans because of the language link?

“Maybe he was thrown overboard in New Orleans! Why would he be working as a gardener? Maybe he peeked over the convent wall and saw the giiirrrrls!”

Finally, do you have one lyric you are particularly proud of?

“That’s unanswerable too because every song is the only one when we are doing it and there some that I have semi forgotten but I put heart and soul into everyone and I am delighted that you raised Circles which is a helluva tune but nobody’s heard it. Surrender to the Sun is helluva tune but nobody’s heard it. Vaeleria is a helluva tune but the thing is nobody’s heard these tunes. I am very proud of Surrender to the Sun. Very simply written but I think it is very effective and it’s a very romantic tune. On the other hand I’m very proud of In Your Hands, I’m very proud of Please Be Well, In My Head, Nickels and Dimes , Crystal Ball. I’m very proud of Carnival Is Ended, anyway I could go on. There’s no one tune that is head and shoulders above the others. Please Be Well is a great tune. Soon the theme is a great tune.”

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Scott had given us an hour of his time and it was an illuminating, entertaining and educational sixty minutes as you’d expect from someone who has managed seventy one years on our planet and from the experiences he has crammed into that lifetime. We became aware that it wasn’t too long until show time so said our goodbyes with him saying that “I have to rest mi pipes!”, and the show he put on made it wonderfully clear that his pipes were indeed suitably rested.

 

 SCOTT FAGAN – SOUTH ATLANTIC BLUES LIVE – THE DEAF INSTITUTE

14th October 2016

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The Deaf Institute had gone all seated for the arrival of Scott Fagan, here to deliver his lost masterpiece, South Atlantic Blues in its entirety. There was an appreciative audience filling the seats as the band ambled on to the stage, bass, guitar, drums and keyboards (filling in for brass, strings and piano) followed by Scott moseying up on to his seat front of stage. Beginning with the wonderfully louche In My Head, musically think Je T’Aime by Serge Gainsbourg,  but lyrically it is wrought with spacey emotion. It is a tune firmly placed in the sixties and is a marvellous opening this evening. The psychedelic sounding Nickels and Dimes follows at a brisk pace. A critique of poverty and the alcoholism that was a feature of Scott’s early life, the sprightly tune belies the lyrical darkness therein. Crying is simply stunning tonight. Despite the passing years, Fagan’s delivery imbues the song with all the passion and sadness he exhaustedly emptied into the original recording.  “Lover, look at me, I’m crying…” he wails over a lovely and lonely laidback bassline. The Carnival Is Ended, all steelpan drums and brass on record, is faithfully recreated tonight via keyboards and it is a sprightly response to the emotional overload that was Crying. The album’s title track, South Atlantic Blues is a lovely but sad story of a girl ravaged by poverty whilst  the joyous pomp of Nothing But Love suggests that Fagan’s poverty shouldn’t be a bar to him giving his lover exactly what the title suggests. Tonight the two titles make perfect sense following on from each other making space for the album’s centrepiece to be delivered. Hoodwinkingly beginning like Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill with added honky tonk piano accompaniment, Tenement Hall descends into a psychedelic wig out as Fagan hollers over the top “This is insane, no life at all, the road in the shadows of a tenement hall” to the sound of Day In The Life stringed cacophony and then interminable seconds of silence before the song returns to its Blueberry Hill. The final fading out crescendo of “insane, insane, insane!” brings the song to poignant full stop.

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Inbetween songs, Fagan engagingly regales the audience with some of the history of the songs and makes a faux pas that may have been our fault when interviewing him, in that he mentions one of the city’s football teams but not the other as well as trying to make sense of the difference between Yorkshire and Lancashire.

The beautiful laid back strum and plaintive vocal of In My Hands once more places us back in his neighbourhood’s poverty stricken, faith seeking surrounds. It is a sister song to Crying simply in the pure emotion of the delivery this evening. Crystal Ball meanwhile sounds like a Grease out-take and is something of a relief after the powerful In My Hands and yet still it details a hard luck story. That such a young man could have written these mournful observations on the hardships of life, and that such a mature man can deliver them with such force today is remarkable.

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The final track on South Atlantic Blues, Madam-Moiselle sounds like a cross between Donovan and Arthur Lee in its arrangement. Fagan breathes new life into it here, and it is a wonderful album closer, in that you feel like you have been on a journey, but it is not tonight’s show closer. We are treated to the theme from Soon and the perfect bid you farewell song that is Please Be Well which doesn’t sound too far removed from Dylan’s Forever Young tonight.

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It still seems strange that this album has been struggling to breathe in obscurity whilst lesser lights have flourished in both popularity and at the hand of the critics’ pens. It is also makes one wonder what other great art is out there still to be undiscovered. South Atlantic Blues is a remarkable snapshot of poverty set to song with vocals that sound blistered by emotion. Fagan might not be able to absolutely recreate the original performance here in Manchester, which is no real surprise 48 years on, but he does enough to ensure that the audience leaves rewarded with a reminder of its humble genius. It is heartening that the album and its creator have begun to earn the plaudits it deserves.

Buy it here:

http://lightintheattic.net/releases/2079-south-atlantic-blues

Thanks to:- Chris Campion, Paul Carlin, Jamie Sharrock, Amy McCarron and of course Scott Fagan.

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Common Sense and Doing The Right Thing vs Subservience to God (Spoiler Alert: God loses everytime).

Rules

Some of this will not be new to you, but in light of the continuing debate it still needs to be said. Religion is a cause of more evil than good and historically and factually has been utilised by evil men and women to achieve warped aims.

Everywhere and anywhere our lives are dictated by rules and laws. From the pettiness of how and where to discard a cigarette (£75 fine) to those supposedly set in stone by God, we are constantly told what to do and how to do it.

The late author and journalist Christopher Hitchens suggested that when Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai there didn’t seem to be too much to argue with. Anti-murder, anti-theft, anti-slander and anti-greed all seem pretty reasonable to most people and probably elicited a simple shrug from those in Moses’s orbit at the time, along with a ” Yeah and…?” because common sense had almost certainly already told them that these actions were wrong. Similarly the stuff about honouring your mother and father seems fairly sensible, although I have met plenty of parents who deserve a good kicking rather than honour, but that is beside the point. The acolytes of Moses may well have raised an eyebrow at Moses demand for total and utter subjugation to the big guy but these were superstitious times and so they went along with it. The aforementioned Hitchens argues very well on religion as he does most subjects, but less so on Iraq, more of which later.

You may have guessed from this opening gambit that I am not a God -fearing man, but neither am I a Satanic maniac. I generally live my life to the letter of what I consider to be common sense law; try not to hurt anyone, try to be sensible and just get on with things. But increasingly I am finding that I am contravening laws with regularity, simply because I tend to live my life on the basis of that common sense.

When I sat down at my computer this morning, I wrote the simple sub-title of this piece as a reminder of the subject I wanted to write about. I then pottered; coffee, toast, cigarette. Twenty minutes later, with the sub-title still sitting there in abject solitude, my dog was disturbed by the postman. Among the usual junk that seems to get posted on a daily basis was a letter from the City Council. “This can’t be good news” I thought, and sure enough it detailed an Alleged Bus Lane Contravention in the city centre. I very rarely go into town (probably about three times a year) and so realised that the contravention took place when I was dropping my son off to meet his friends at a restaurant. I had been trying to find a way on to a main road but since I was last in that area the road layout had changed. I found myself somewhere familiar but the usual route I would have taken seemed to be closed off. As most drivers in this situation would, I panicked slightly and took a turn that I thought might lead to my destination. It did. I returned later to pick my son up and thought nothing more of it, until now. My contravention was quite evidently extremely dangerous and was almost certain to cause a hazard to other drivers and maybe potentially the death of innocents. I am being facetious of course.

bus-lane

 

 

As you can see, my car is in splendid isolation causing no issues with other traffic or pedestrians. I conducted a little research and discovered that the bus lane was opened in March 2016 which suggests I had not been in that area since before then, and so was unaware that this particular stretch of road had been turned into the City Council’s latest cash cow. A local lawyer managed to gain access to how much money the Council makes from bus lane fines through the Freedom Of Information Act. This what he discovered;

Bus lane fines charged by the City Council

  • 2014/15: £2,101,556
  • 2013/14: £2,175,632
  • 2012/13: £1,414,998
  • 2011/12; £1,009,266
  • 2010/11: £854,969.

I paid a £30 fine. It is strange that these laws are nearly always punishable by fines, don’t you think? Surely a more appropriate sanction would be to attend an educational course on the position of bus lanes in the city and why it is important to keep them clear. If we use the 2014/15 figures and my £30 payment, this means that around 70,000 motorists in one UK city alone made the same mistake as I. This suggests two possibilities. Either 70,000 of the cities’ motorists show utter contempt for the law, or there is an issue with signposting, which is of course down to the council. Needless to say, the Council would be reluctant to do anything about it when it is raking in so much money as a result of this stupid law. I could appeal but what would be the point? This incident might seem unrelated to the main title but it is indicative of what I was going to write about.

God issued laws to Moses from Mount Sinai, the UK Government issues them from the Houses of Parliament. In modern society we are constantly being bombarded with new rules, new decisions and new regulations purportedly aimed at ‘protecting’ us and making our lives ‘better’. If the more controversial of these laws ever get questioned they can always stick it on God/ the Christian thing to do. Every Prime Minister that I can recall has on their Ministerial duty professed that they are a devout Christian. There have been plenty of those in opposition who weren’t, and there was the anomaly of coalition man Nick Clegg, but Nick Clegg was not the main decision maker, in fact, I’m not sure what he was. Even the Jewish Prime Minister Disraeli was a practicing Anglican. For some, I believe this professed worship of a non-existent force is a badge of convenience, because if those in power can make a decision and refer to the big man’s will and Christian values, a sizable slice of the UK brought up on tales of seas parting and water becoming wine will automatically believe it must therefore be right, wholesome and true. When government policies are causing misery among the poorer sections of of our communities, God is always there to listen them and some poor saps will pray to him or her for a solution, despite thousands of years of evidence that he doesn’t give a flying fuck about them. If people couldn’t pray and gain comfort from religion what would happen? Well, perhaps they might understand the real cause of their suffering is man made, and has nothing to do with a mythical being and everything to do with big business and government. As a result the masses might just decide to question the authority forced down upon them. So it is naturally in the interest of power to maintain the illusion of God.

We might also ask why the National Anthem of England is “God Save the Queen”? Given her vast wealth and the expected lifespan of members of the royal family, it would appear she is the last person in need of God’s intervention when there are over a million people in this country using food banks. Perhaps God should be saving the innocent civilians who have been slaughtered during an illegal crusade perpetrated by God-botherers, and carried out by soldiers who have all sworn an oath asking for his or her help in serving Her Obscenely Privileged Majesty. Or is this further evidence that people believe in someone/something that couldn’t care less about them? Of course it is, because he/she does not exist.

In the atheist USSR, presided over by one of history’s most vicious and evil dictators (who incidentally had once trained to be a priest), religion was outwardly banned save for some relaxation during the Second World War. It wasn’t really banned though, it was replaced. Russia has since recovered and is still a highly religious society. On a visit to Sergiyev Posad (aka Zagorsk) I witnessed humble working class Russians in raptures, openly wailing and weeping over the grave of a dead saint in much the same way they used to hysterically laud ‘Uncle Joe’. Stalin was acutely aware that he could subsume the massive sway of power that God held over the people and  ‘replace’ Christianity as the State religion with something else that allowed him carte blanche to do whatever he wanted. Crucially he needed to build some form of deity that he could refer to in times of trouble, one that would act as a mythical supporter for even the most heinous of his crimes. His choice was the leader of the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Illyich Ulyanov, or Lenin as he is more commonly known (a code-name name taken from the River Lena, fact fans). Stalin, (meaning ‘man of steel’ (that was an understatement) – real name Joseph Vissarionovich) was instrumental in defying the late leader’s desire not to be remembered through statues and memorials, as he was in the construction of the Red Square Mausoleum and placing the embalmed body of Lenin therein. Meanwhile he ordered that the graves of Russian Orthodox/Christian saints be dug up and exposed as the jumble of bones that they now were. The obvious conclusion for the Russian population being that, unlike the saints they had worshiped for centuries, Lenin had not decayed and was therefore God-like and supportive of every one of Stalin’s decisions.

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Once the supposed Communist experiment had fallen apart, religion was immediately encouraged as signaled by the rebuilding of the Cathedral of Christ The Saviour in Moscow which had been destroyed by the Communists. Incidentally, in it’s place Khrushchev had  the Moskva Pool built, the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool, where locals going for a dip would tell others that they were “going to hell”.

In the ‘civilised’ Western world that we continue to blindly believe that we belong to, Western politicians continue to utilise the same mythic being that the Tsarist regime had worshipped, and that Gorbachev/Yeltsin helped restore, which is of course the Christian God. So, for instance, when a case was being made for war in Iraq, both George Bush and Tony Blair suggested that God had told them to invade. Yes, that’s right, the same God that Muslims worship. I wonder what he/she might have been telling the Iraqi people? According to  Nabil Shaath, who at the time was the Palestinian foreign minister, Bush had claimed, not unlike Jake and Elwood from the movie The Blues Brothers, only less eloquently;

“I am driven with a mission from God’. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did.”

Meanwhile John Burton, an ally of Tony Blair for 24 years, has suggested that;

“Tony’s Christian faith is part of him, down to his cotton socks. He believed strongly at the time, that intervention in Kosovo, Sierra Leone – Iraq too – was all part of the Christian battle; good should triumph over evil, making lives better.”

The American academic, psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Thomas Szasz summed up this state of mind in the following manner;

“If you talk to God, you are praying; If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.”

So these two schizophrenics; both hearing voices in their head, pressed their bloody palms together at Crawford in Texas in April 2002, and prayed over the decision to go to war. Bush was ‘born again’ at forty years old, whilst Blair obviously found the Anglican church far too liberal and eventually converted in 2007 to the deviant and crime ridden religion that is Catholicism. I suppose that now he was a war criminal he was seeking similar company, and there’s plenty to choose from.

The two of them brought havoc, anarchy and death to hundreds of thousands in Iraq, but it was all apparently God’s will, so that’s O.K. then. Tony Blair’s continual claims of innocence are no doubt founded on this piece of lunacy.

Samuel Johnson famously suggested that;

Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”.

I think he got it wrong. Religion is.

The aforementioned Christopher Hitchens has strangely, given the justifications from Blair and Bush, argued that the Iraq war was justified in that it brought an end to Saddam Hussein’s barbarity which, in a recent documentary entitled The Hitch was illustrated with images of Saddam, cold eyed, sitting smoking a cigar whilst enjoying the spectacle of the selection of traitors to be executed.

saddam-cigar

The documentary then refers to the case of Mark Daily, an American who joined up to fight partly in response to one of Hitchens’s articles. Daily was unfortunately killed which caused Hitchens some soul-searching but he did gain a modicum of comfort from Daily’s family. Hitchens voice can then be heard over a still photograph of Daily, also smoking a cigar, suggesting that he “doesn’t look like an occupier at all”.

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On the contrary, I think he looks exactly how I would imagine an occupier to look like, especially given the culture of celebrating momentous events with a cigar. Yet the Iraq conflict has left nothing to celebrate. Daily was an unwitting victim of the Iraq War in that he was persuaded, not only through Hitchens writing, but also by the powerful US propaganda machine that was demanding the removal of Saddam (an illegal war aim in itself) whilst claiming the war was legal and a force for good, which has been shown to be utter folly. The Iraq War was simply a crusade which, like the Crusades of the 11th and 15th Centuries included looting, but this time of liquid gold, oil. The coalition forces’ mythical aim of freeing the Iraqi people most certainly was not realised and Hitchens among others failed to foresee the rise of ISIS/ISIL/IS which is a by-product of that illegal incursion.

Different societies develop at different speeds and as such enlightenment arrives at different times for different regions. It is a process of time and it is not possible to force those societies that are somewhat arrogantly presumed to be lagging behind our own supreme and righteous development (ahem), to ‘miss out steps’ on their way. Britain’s crimes are well documented and factual events such as the genocide of Native Americans and the slave trade both killed far more people than Saddam ever did. Both ended once they had served their usefulness and as a result of people pressure. It should be up to the citizens of a sovereign state to arrive at their own hopefully enlightened destiny, and at their own speed, however ugly and vicious the process is. At this juncture some with a different viewpoint might choose to mention the Nazis and World War Two. Well, the Nazis also used God to justify wickedness as evidenced when Hitler proclaimed during a 1936 Reichstag speech;

“I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work.”

The Nazis were also a threat to world peace. Saddam wasn’t. Saddam wanted to build weapons of mass destruction (we were famously lied to and told he already had them). Well wouldn’t you if every day other nations with access to that very murderous capability were threatening your country?

Meanwhile back in the real world these people who claim to believe they are doing God’s work on earth for him/her (if their version of God did exist it seems he/she would be a quite nasty piece of work doesn’t it?) continue to harangue us with laws that really should be choices rather than obligations. For instance, another ‘crime’ I am sad to say I have been a party to involves the seat belt laws. I would always ensure my children wore them because that is common sense. However, I believe I should have a choice. An example would be that whilst at school, a teacher of mine was absent for some months having been involved in a car crash. He was acting ‘criminally’ by not wearing his belt, but had he worn it he would not be alive today. He collided with a bus which toppled and crushed the roof on the drivers side, through to, and beyond the seat. The teacher had the foresight to leap over to the passenger seat and, saving for some rather serious injuries, he was alive to tell us the reason for his absence.  Given the choice I wouldn’t wear one, but we don’t have that choice. Similarly the ‘crime’ of speeding. If a driver is on a stretch of straight motorway road with nothing ahead or behind, why is there a need for his speed to be restricted? It is refreshing to see in Canada that you may turn right on a red light as long as you have come to a complete stop and waited until the way is clear. You can also turn left on a red light if you are moving from a one-way road onto a one-way road, but again you must come to a complete stop first and wait until the way is clear. How refreshing is that? Common sense incorporated into law. Why do we surrender to the law makers who believe they know better than us? Our lives should be just that; ours, and government’s role in them minimal.

 

God’s Big Mistake

One of the most ludicrous man made laws relates to marijuana and it is the one area where the God squad find themselves in something of a pickle. If we suspend reality for a short while and imagine that there is some sort of God-like figure caring over us (but not intervening where evil occurs of course) , his care includes providing us with marijuana, a plant (again, reality suspended) he or she positioned on the planet simply to help with our health and give us something other than ruinous alcohol to have a good time on. Governments around the world then banned it.

So God made a mistake?

There is absolutely no evidence to suggest grounds for marijuana’s prohibition, especially not when compared to the effects of other legal and lucrative drugs. In 2014 (the latest figures I can find, although it is likely to be similar since) there were 8,697 deaths in the UK caused by alcohol, a drug that the Government makes a fortune from. Likewise tobacco, which causes an estimated 96,000 deaths a year in the UK, also serves as a Government cash cow. Yes, there are government initiatives aimed at prevention, but if they were so concerned surely they would advocate a total ban as they do with regard to marijuana. On being asked for information via The Freedom of Information Act regarding the number of deaths marijuana has caused in the UK, the Office of National Statistics directs you to this site;

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/subnational-health3/deaths-related-to-drug-poisoning/2012/stb—deaths-related-to-drug-poisoning-2012.html

which fails to answer the question, because there is no reference to marijuana.  So in answer to the question “how many deaths has marijuana caused in the UK according to the Office of National Statistics, we must assume the answer is none.

Ever.

That said, there was a tragic case in the UK which was reported as a marijuana death, but medical evidence and reputable scientists have brought one doctor’s theory into question. Certainly it would have meant the unfortunate victim would have been the first person anywhere ever to die from the plant.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/06/gemma-moss-marijuana-death_n_4738167.html

So Governments across the globe ban marijuana outright (surely some form of age restriction would be more appropriate) yet unlike alcohol and tobacco, marijuana can help heal a number of illnesses and/or at least make them bearable. Does our Government not want us to get better or ease our suffering? It would seem not.

As people, we all have Cartesian common sense, some more than others, and this should, and on the whole does, prevail, from the largest issues to the smallest in society. We don’t need a man in the sky to tell us, and we certainly don’t need telling by some privileged and be-suited type who thinks making bullying, ill researched and distasteful comments about the opposition leader in the House of Commons whilst discussing the crisis of homelessness in the UK is in some way humourous, never mind where her predecessor chose to place his genitalia, allegedly. One only has to witness the infantile behaviour of that House to question just how far removed from enlightenment we still are.

Holocaust survivor Primo Levi’s view was not changed by his experiences at Auschwitz. His view was that if God existed and he allowed the Holocaust to happen then he is evil. If on the other hand he was unable to prevent it, then he is not God. Seems a logical summary to me, and the ‘free will’ argument that is used to defend religion is as fanciful as the over-arching belief. Of his experience at Auschwitz he wrote;

“I too entered the Lager as a nonbeliever, and as a nonbeliever I was liberated and have lived to this day.”

In most employment we are monitored and assessed on results and achievements. So if we take a look God’s record for ‘caring’, that is after all what we are told he is all about, it doesn’t really make for good reading. Mutilation, murder, genocide and famine all presided over by the greedy, criminal and immoral who claim to have been put there to control his affairs and carry out his work.

Religion is simply a man made construct aimed at justifying the power that the few have over the masses.

When the people of the world realise this fact, and that common sense is enough, then I think we can truly call ourselves enlightened.

Capel Celyn And The Struggle To Be Remembered

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On a recent trip to the land of my fathers I decided to take the opportunity to visit Tryweryn. For anyone under the age of, well… my age, the chances are you will not have heard of it, but for me it has always been a ghost of my nationality; something from the past, something that needed visiting in the present, something that personally needed addressing.

The Tryweryn valley is situated in the heart of Wales, the closest towns of note being Bala and Blaenau Ffestiniog. It is tucked away from tourists beneath the majestic hills and mountains of Snowdonia but a more sinister secret lies buried deeper still; below ground level, a secret I was told to remember, not to forget.

I had carried out some research before leaving home, including looking on Google Maps for a chapel that was meant to be on the lakeside, but there was absolutely no reference to it anywhere. Fortunately, someone had posted pictures of the building on the web so I at least had an idea what it looked like. “I’ll wing it” I thought. I like winging it.

Leaving from Llangollen we (my wife and I) followed the A5 Roman road through Glyndyfrdwy a village that lays claim to Owain Glyndwr proclaiming himself to be Prince of Wales on 16th September 1400 here.(Shakespeare was  a fan writing “not in the roll of common men and a worthy gentleman, exceedingly well read, and profited in strange concealments; valiant as a lion, and wondrous affable; and as bountiful as mines of India [Henry IV, Part I, Act 3, Scene i]).

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The Owain Glyndwr Memorial Hall

Further down the A5 is Corwen where a magnificent statue of Owain Glyndwr stands. We then took a left onto the A494 towards Bala; still no signs for Tryweryn though.

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The Owain Glyndwr Statue. Corwen.

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Just before entering the town of Bala, a right turn onto the A4212 was signposted ‘Trawsfynydd, Ffestiniog, Porthmadog‘. It rang a bell, but still no mention of Tryweryn, as if someone, somewhere was trying to keep it hidden. I had no TomTom; no map, and a wife who is to directions what Bobby Gould was to the Welsh national football team, so I was armed only with a pitiful slice of information gleaned from the unhelpful Google a few days previously. I took the turn but wasn’t entirely sure if I was right to do so. We began a relative climb along the eastern border of the Snowdonia National Park past farmhouses crouched on the road side, as if trying to conceal the secret I was searching to uncover. As we passed through Frongoch there was some sort of memorial on the left hand side made up of Welsh and Irish flags. “Was that it?” If we keep on driving and nothing else appears we can always head back and have a look (as it happens Frongoch was an internment camp initially for German POWs during World War I and then for Irish Republican prisoners from the 1916 Rising).

A little further on and the first (and only) hint that I was on the right road was the sign for ‘Canolfan Tryweryn. National Whitewater Centre‘. Not long afterwards, a lake appeared and I spotted the familiar white straining tower that I had seen on pictures of the reservoir which confirmed that we were close.

tower

But where was the chapel? As we approached another lay-by we saw a huge memorial stone at the far end of the parking space. “Was that it?” I parked up and stepped out. The first line of the memorial stone suggested I was close to discovering what I was looking for.

“Under these waters and near this stone stood Hafod Fadog…” I recognised the name of the farmstead Hafod Fadog but was unaware of it’s Quaker links as shown below.

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Hafod Fadog Memorial Stone

Close but no cigar. I now knew Hafod Fadog was part of what I was looking for but where the hell was the chapel? Back in the car and skirting the lakeside I happened to glance to my left and saw a tiny path leading down to the lake. “Was that it?”. I was pretty sure it was but I had already passed it, so a suitable junction was found to turn the car around and head back. No signs. No roadside history lesson, but this was indeed ‘it’. I was where I wanted to be and so now the story can unfold.

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Tryweryn

Back in the black and white days of the mid 1950s, the powers that be in Liverpool believed that the city was unlikely to be able to provide water for its citizens in the near future and so a commission was undertaken to find a suitable site to create a reservoir. The Lake District and the River Mersey (both in England) were examined as potential sites but the projects were deemed too costly. Attention then turned to Wales and the area around Bala, (including one ludicrous proposal that would have seen Llanfor village and Bala itself drowned) before the authorities settled on the Tryweryn valley, and more worryingly, the village of Capel Celyn.

Capel Celyn was an entirely Welsh speaking village consisting of farms, houses, a post office, a school, a chapel and a cemetery. The lives led there were simple yet culturally rich. but whilst the site was being surveyed and investigated by English authorities with the potential aim of destroying it, the villagers of Capel Celyn were kept entirely in the dark regarding their future. In fact most inhabitants only discovered what was to happen when reading about the project in the Liverpool Daily Post. The plan was to destroy everything within the village and then drown the valley.

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Village life

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Dafydd Roberts from Caefadog summed up his horror at what could be lost when he explained;

This is an area where every soul, a hundred percent, speaks Welsh…and have done their part to keep the culture and religion. Although no Ann Griffiths or Williams Pantycelyn (both hymn writers) were brought up here, we can take pride in our poets, our teachers and writers, people who brought benefit to Wales“.

By Christmas 1955 the English authorities had decided to steamroll the project by presenting a private Bill to Parliament for the right to build a reservoir, thus drowning the area.

As reality set in Dafydd Roberts again voiced the concerns of Capel Celyn‘s inhabitants.

We are not pleased at all that the heritage of our ancestors is being stolen, with their chapel; which they worked so diligently to build, and the cemetery, where their ashes rest“.

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Capel Celyn

A Defence Committee was set up in the early days of 1956 under the leadership of Dafydd Roberts from Caefadog and by September of that year Plaid Cymru (The Party of Wales) led a four thousand strong rally protesting against the decision. Dr. Thomas Parry addressed the crowd claiming;

“One of England’s biggest cities is violating an important part of Wales and through that part, the whole of Wales”.

A proposed meeting between Liverpool City Council and the Defence Committee who were hoping to explain the strength of opposition to the project in Wales, was turned down by the Council. Nevertheless Dr. Gwynfor Evans, Mr Daffyd Roberts and Dr. Tudur Jones infiltrated the meeting via the public gallery. When Evans got up to protest, that indomitable fighter for Liverpool causes,  Mrs Bessie Braddock shouted at the top of her voice and banged the lid of her desk up and down with most other Councillors following suit. On the 21st of November that year, the inhabitants of Capel Celyn marched through Liverpool to protest but got nowhere, and in fact, contrary to their hopes, they were abused. That well known State servant, the media, played their part too, publishing astonishing and appalling letters such as this from a certain S. Barnes in support of Liverpool.

“If cultural grounds are one of the objections then ignore it completely because Welsh culture is mythological. I have lived for ten years in the most Welsh part of Wales, I have heard much about this Welsh culture but no-one has ever seen it. The Welsh language cannot earn anyone a crust of bread. it is purely a domestic language taught for sentimental reasons. The commerce of the country is not done in the language, no business house uses it, there is no short hand adapted to the language. The language does not possess words and terms for the Arts or Medicine etc. It has never possessed either literature or author of international fame, neither does it possess a daily newspaper, yet 28% of the people here speak Welsh alone. They can neither read a morning newspaper nor understand a radio programme. In my opinion this is criminal”.

In 1957 the Bill began to make it’s way through Parliament passing through the House of Commons and House of Lords with the support of English born/Oxford educated Henry Brooke, the Minister for Welsh Affairs. Local M.P. T.W. Jones expressed concern that the water was “wanted by Liverpool for industry, and for resale to industry” but he was not heard as Brooke ignored the voice of the people he was meant to represent. On the 1st August 1957 the Bill was presented to Queen Elizabeth II (the very same) who gave it her ‘seal’ and then it was passed by Parliament.

On the 24th September an appeal was made to the Queen who referred it to the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Minister for Welsh Affairs which was still Henry Brooke, who needless to say advised the Queen of the project’s necessity.

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Work began immediately on the reservoir meaning that everything in the valley had to be destroyed beginning with the railway line. Nevertheless, there were some in Wales who felt direct action might help halt what was occurring. Attacks on the site transformers were carried out by shadowy figures on 22 September 1962, the workshop was attacked on 19 December and the transformers again on 10 February 1963. David Pritchard, David Walters, Owain Williams, Emyr Llewelyn Jones and John Albert Jones were variously fined, put on probation or imprisoned for their actions. Meanwhile the villagers faced up to the inevitable as farmers sold their stock and possessions,whilst the school closed on 28th July 1963 and the Chapel’s dissolution ceremony took place on 28th September of the same year. As the valley was violently emptied, Elizabeth Jones from Boch y Rhaeadr exclaimed;

“We live on the next farm, and on hearing the silence, as quiet as a cemetery at Gwerngenau this morning – none of the usual noises of gathering the cows in, I nearly cried”.

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Meanwhile Elwyn Edwards wrote;

“No sound, walls torn asunder, and the yard

Without children’s laughter, But deep below the water

A tempestuous stillness stirs”.

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By 1965 a reservoir had been created with dimensions of a mile across and approximately 2 and 1/2 miles long, with a depth of 140 feet. On October 21st, the Tryweryn reservoir was officially opened. One person who could not be there was the aforementioned Dafydd Roberts from Caefadog who had also been Chairman of the Defence Committee. He had died ten days before the opening. He was buried on the banks of Bala Lake in Lanycil, some five miles from his now submerged home village. The chapel he should have been buried in was now demolished and below water.

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A protest greeted the Opening Committee who spent three minutes on site before scurrying away. Despite the protest being far too late as the waters covered the village, the fighting spirit of Capel Celyn would be seen once more. During the long hot summer of 1976, the water level ran so low that remnants of the village, including the bridge could be seen once more. This moved Elwyn Edwards to write;

“Of my race I see traces, as ruins

Of drowned homes appear

The drained lake of the summer’s drought

Tore an old scar wide open”.

 

And here I was at that scar.

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As we made our way down an unmarked path, the familiar, but tiny memorial chapel came clearly into view. Built with stones from the original Capel Celyn, it sits quietly and solemnly as if wishing to be left alone in it’s private grief. The door to the Chapel is locked. You can just about see through the dusty, filthy windows despite the scratches of crude graffiti etched into them that attest to the fact that violence is still being done to Capel Celyn. Inside a lectern is visible to the right hand side of the names of the villagers who had lived there. A solitary flower accompanies them.

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Behind the chapel lie the disinterred and no doubt fitful sleepers who were dug up from the village that they had lived in; laughed with and wept about. They were ripped from the place where they surely imagined their remains would stay forever.

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Being here; I felt angry but mainly very, very sad. There is a sense of loss at the Chapel that is difficult to explain. Maybe it’s wrapped up in the whole ‘hiraeth‘ thing. Incidentally, Liverpool did apologise fifty years later, but who was alive to hear it? Driving back on ourselves, we decided to head for a stop just by the straining tower where there is a good overview of the whole reservoir. Stood there, taking pictures, I got chatting to a tourist. He was from the North West of England but said he was a regular visitor to Bala and often came up here to walk his dog. I asked if he knew the history of the site. He didn’t; so I gave him a brief overview of what I knew. My wife later heard him re-telling the group he was with. That’s not my job. I shouldn’t have to do that.

What a shame that this historically important site; a place where culture was deemed secondary to money, where villagers were forced from their homes by a foreign government, where a people felt impotent due to their having no legitimate governmental representation to fight their case, should not be marked in any way by signs or roadside history lessons. The Quakers have done something to mark their own individual strife; what a disgrace that Wales hasn’t for Capel Celyn.

As I was reminiscing, I glanced down and saw some graffiti on the huge rocks that skirt the shore. “FWA” screamed out in thick black letters alongside a strange white symbol. Having read To Dream of Freedom by Roy Clews I knew that the symbol was Eryr Wen, the white eagle of Snowdon which was appropriated by the Free Wales Army (FWA) who initially sprung out of the furore over Tryweryn. On the power station opposite, the same was written with the added legend Cofio Celyn (Remember Celyn). It’s good that someone does.

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The still waters in the distance and the magnificent silence here give life to contemplation. No-one died in Capel Celyn, but something else did. A culture that would still be vibrant and alive today was suffocated and drowned at a time when the rest of the Welsh population (save for a few lone rangers) watched on; as silent and as passive as the waters that hide this dark, sad secret. English dominance and Establishment arrogance rode roughshod over the people of Capel Celyn to a multitudinous shrug from their fellow countrymen, and still it seems Wales does not want visitors to know about this doomed struggle of right over might, yet it is a dark history that needs to be exposed. Sadly, the words of Reservoirs by R.S. Thomas are still entirely relevant today. Surely the Welsh Assembly now has the power to ensure that the memory of Capel Celyn and what happened there is suitably commemorated. The case of Tryweryn could be utilised by Plaid Cymru to show what happens when there is no-one to fight your cause, when you are still beholden to a foreign power. If Wales chooses not to remember, who will?

Reservoirs – R.S. Thomas

There are places in Wales I don’t go:
Reservoirs that are the subconscious
Of a people, troubled far down
With gravestones, chapels, villages even;
The serenity of their expression
Revolts me, it is a pose
For strangers, a watercolour’s appeal
To the mass, instead of the poem’s
Harsher conditions. There are the hills,
Too; gardens gone under the scum
Of the forests; and the smashed faces
Of the farms with the stone trickle
Of their tears down the hills’ side.

Where can I go, then, from the smell
Of decay, from the putrefying of a dead
Nation? I have walked the shore
For an hour and seen the English
Scavenging among the remains
Of our culture, covering the sand
Like the tide and, with the roughness
Of the tide, elbowing our language
Into the grave that we have dug for it.

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References:

Roy Clews: To Dream of Freedom

Einion Thomas : Capel Celyn – Deng Mlynedd o Chwalu 1955 – 1965

Government and culture are two diametrically opposed forces – the one blinds and oppresses, the other uplifts and unites – Chuck D

La Violette Società at the Shipping Forecast, Liverpool – 27th July 2016

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Still in a state of euphoria following the magnificence that was the It’s Liverpool stage on Sunday afternoon – Dave McCabe, Johnny Echols and Love, and Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band all in one gorgeously gratis bundle – I felt that I owed Liverpool something. As a result I found myself back in the city, adrift outside the Shipping Forecast on a barmy/balmy and magnificent (Matt) summers evening. I was here for La Violette Società, one of the city’s regular ‘socials’ aimed at exposing up and coming talent, with a splash of the established act slipped in as a bonus. Or as they put it;

“a small and regular event where invited acts are equally billed, play for the same amount of time and receive an equal share of the proceeds. The event is promoted by our record label and the acts themselves via their social media networks. The audience at the shows will experience the act they know and like and came to see and are hopefully turned on to something new and different as well”.

Socialism and music coming together…who woulda thunk it (McCarthy and Billy ‘big house’ Bragg aside)? Sounds like my kind of thing. La Violette Società isn’t just a Liverpool phenomenon either ,but a touring entity and having already set up a scene in Glasgow, they are all set for Manchester and Paris events in the near future.

But tonight was Liverpool and first up was a fella called Roy. You heard right, just ‘Roy‘. Roy, like Brian Wilson, just wasn’t made for these times, in fact it would appear he wasn’t made for social interaction of any sort. His first entertaining monologue is simply about getting a hair cut. Having not been for years he was unsure what etiquette was involved and, having been placed in front of a mirror for more than five minutes, we hear Roy contemplating his own physiognomy and not being particularly impressed. The stories are told in a classic Scouse soup of a vocal, along with the consequent wordplay that entails. I once read a review of a well known Violette recording artist in NME (when it was good) that began by drawing comparisons between Liverpool and Jamaica. Both are ‘couldn’t give a fuck’ places, that come up with some terrific words themselves. Where would we be today without ‘beaut’, ‘boss’ ‘blert’, ‘skin teet’, ‘siddung’, and ‘stoosh’? There are dark sides too, but Roy gives a further example of the fun links with his clever verbiage tonight. Seen? His second story about the two lads moseying around; interacting with the local shopkeeper, and off their faces, is hilarious. It reminds me a little of Kevin Sampson‘s writing, only funnier and with more poetic rhythm. Roy‘s sketches of local characters, including himself, lend themselves well to the performance as they would a book and/or film. Irvine Welsh. Watch out.

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Oh and he mentioned Bill Hicks so Roy has taste too.

JB Barrington was next up. The Salford poet is well known in Manchester, and thanks to a support slot with Sleaford Mods, across the country. His poems are a no holds barred assaults on the world we have to live in and the language used is x-rated. Topics range from the sort of people who wear sunglasses indoors to the minutiae of living in a strong, working class environment. Barrington‘s delivery can be thoughtful and savage, not unlike his fellow Salfordian wit John Cooper Clarke and an entertaining thirty minutes or so is spent in his company. Seems that JB Barrington‘s star is high at the moment from comments in the press etc and so to get the chance to see him here was a real bonus.

We had been promised the mystery of some Psychological Subterfuge, and it came in the shape of the mundanely named David Smith, but his act was anything but. Taking a cue from the Dynamo/David Blaine school of magic, Smith had his audience gathered around him,  proceeding to blow their mind with some superb card tricks, not the cheesy kind, but the ‘how on earth did he do that’ variety. Audience participation was constant and with us so close you wondered just how the hell he was doing it. Everything was done at a shuddering pace and he ended his set by making a ring disappear and then reappear with fire. And then he disappeared. Not as part of the act…he just seemed to get off. He was brilliant.

Music was proffered to bring the night to a close. Horsebeach are from Manchester and their influences are pretty clear. A Smiths jangle here, a New Order riff there, although the guitarist (from Southampton) was dressed like Geno era Dexys. From my point of view, I thought they were O.K., but I seemed to be in the minority as all around me seem to really enjoy them. Other than my own, I didn’t hear a bad word said about them, so they must have something that I didn’t quite get onto. Sometimes you just have to be in the right mood I guess. Maybe I was beginning to feel the effects of the dodgy burger I bought on Slater St.

Being a pretty heavy smoker, between acts I was going outside for a ciggie and pretty soon I began to wonder if I’d been spiked and was witnessing some sort of pop art instillation attached to La Violette Società (I wasn’t right anyway. On the way down I had witnessed a perfectly square patch of rainbow emerging from a cloud. Nothing else, just a square of perfect rainbow). At one point a fella came over to ask if he could borrow my lighter. He seemed a bit on the weird side, like how I would imagine Syd Barrett to be in his later years, all belly, confused, and in a different place entirely to the one he was stood in. (I have a great Syd story by the way). Grunts exchanged, we went back to smoking in silence when a man on the other side of the road started taking pictures of the venue and maybe the Jacaranda next door. Syd shouted “Hey lad. Stop taking my fucking picture”.

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On another break, A conversation broke out between a local and some American sounding tourists. One of the tourists took umbrage at being accused of being a national of possibly the most hated country on earth, and was yelling “I’m Dutch! I’m Dutch”.

“Well you want to work on your accent a bit then lad” came the legendary reply.

Back inside then for the final act of the night, unless there were any other surprises lined up. The JJohns had brought a fair sized following with them, and given they are from County Road I was never going to write a bad review. They might introduce me to their friend, Stanley.

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Fresh faced and very young I didn’t quite know what to expect from them. Three of the group are brothers so the inevitable break up over one of them hooking up with a Japanese artist; one being strung out on heroin, and the other doing voice-overs for train based children’s television programmes should be pretty explosive. Actually, the JJohns are very good and I am not just saying that because they have the moral fortitude to be Blues. They write feel good, catchy pop tunes with Liverpool musical influences all over the shop allied with lyrics that also reflect the City, which makes what I am going to say next a little incongruous because they remind me of two Manchester bands. At present JJohns have a Northern Uproar vibe, in the sense that they have that youthful vigour and cockiness allied with the thrill of discovering music that comes with young bands. However, with a little more time and musical maturity I can see them becoming something like Liverpool’s answer to The Courteeners. Musically and lyrically I could hear similarities in their sound. They have the potential to gain a following too, and I reckon ‘ver kids’ of Liverpool could go for them in a big way. So keep an eye out for the JJohns ladies and gents.

Monologues, poems, magicians and music. Not bad for a Wednesday Night in L1. La Violette Società are trying to do something a little different in Liverpool and beyond. You only have to see the artwork to know that. As with all they do on the record label, ‘good taste’ is key.

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The idea that this is a vehicle for local talents in various cities should be applauded. Admission was £10 each or 2 for £15 and so, if like me you are not taken by all the acts on show (although I could yet be swayed on Horsebeach, I am listening as I write) you still get a vibeful night with good people. The equal slot time, equal financial remuneration, and equal acclaim (hopefully) means that this an adventure that deserves support from both artists, and the paying public (if they know what’s good for them) wherever they pop up.

Coming to a city near you soon*

 

 

*But if it’s at the Shipping Forecast again I’d swerve the burger shop opposite.

 

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LIMF – Sefton Park 24th July 2016 Love and Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band

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You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

The Weathermen were right. I don’t mean the US militant, radical, left wing group of that name, (although they did have some pretty groovy ideas and it is a quite topical reference given what follows) but weathermen of the Michael Fish variety.

Liverpool: rain due up until 5pm and then sun, they said.

It takes a lot to get me off my arse these days, but when I found out that Johnny Echols, the original guitarist from 60’s psychedelic behemoths Love was playing, followed by another sample of songwriting par excellence in the form of local hero Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band, I was sold immediately. Then I found out it was free. Free? Are you mad? Quite possibly my perfect music bill and it is free? You crazy!

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I therefore timed my Sefton Park sojourn to arrive (peak) at Dave McCabe o’ clock (4pm). Walking down Greenbank Lane I was still wondering what the catch was. Maybe Johnny Echols has got new material to play and will just give a nod to the Love back catalogue. Would the band put together for the event deliver? I had tweeted Edgar Jones having heard a rumour (Liverpool gigs…you leave with your ears sated and a bagful of rumours… every time) that he was playing with Love. His emoji’d response, a kind of quizzical glance, gave nothing away (the tease), so I really did not know what to expect. When I got to the Park the mellow vibes pervaded the atmosphere. It was busy-ish but not rammed and sweet smells (you know the ones) casually showered with the light rays of the rain to greet my arrival.

It was strong stuff.

Remember Me

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Dave McCabe was just starting as I arrived.I had sort of lost track of Dave McCabe when the Zutons scooted, but on this showing I will be raiding what he’s done since. His band stomped hard and he is a fizz of energetic fervour this afternoon, and funny with it.

Given this was a free festival, I kind of expected it to be a bit shoddily put together, but not a bit of it. The layout of the It’s Liverpool site was perfect. Loads of space. Get a nice spec. Get a pint. Get back to same spec. No massive queues, no intrusive security, no Babylon. Nice. The sound was magnificent too. Dave Monks kept us entertained between slots with some top tuneage along the way.

Kudos LIMF!

(Far from a) Bummer in the Summer

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When (Liverpool) Love hit the stage augmented by origin of the species Johnny Echols, the throbbing bass of Edgar Jones led into early classic My Little Red Book. Echols growled beautifully through the vocal and Edgar and Johhny exchanged a glance as if to say “This sounds boss!”, and it was. Garage rocker Can’t Explain followed before Echols gave way to the first guest vocalist, local and upcoming tunesmith Nick Ellis, who began his session with a faithful rendition of She Comes in Colours. The familiar, beautiful, chiming intro to Orange Skies saw Ellis croon sympathetically accompanied by fluttering flute. Ellis then introduced one of my favourites from one of the greatest albums of all time; (I know the cool kids say Da Capo is better, but they’re wrong) Forever Changes. Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale saw things move up a gear as Mick Head bugler, Martin Smith and Edgar Jones saxman, Austin Murphy augmented the sound with the mariachi magic that is all over the album. Nick Ellis, maracas in hand was grooving like King Arthur in his pomp, and the whole sound was magnificent by the time Echols hit the signature guitar solo. BadaBadaBadaBadaBadaBadaBadas filled the gaff before Ellis made way for his fellow up and coming Liverpool talent Tom Blackwell, who dispensed a mellifluous and mellow Andmoreagain before channeling the spirit of Jim Morrison for a savage and blistering A House Is Not A Motel. Blackwell had the distinct pleasure of closing his stint with the magnificent Your Mind and We Belong Together with Johnny Echols warning that it was a difficult tune, so we needed to bear with him. It was faultless. It is my favourite Love song and by this time all my doubts had been cast away. This was real Love. No obscure tunes, no fillers; just pure and majestic Love. Edgar Jones‘s bass was running the show; whilst Johnny Echols and Dan Murphy sprinkled magic with their guitars, adding the perfect flourishes. They were tight! An Elvis-esque (or was it the quiff?) Signed DC was delivered by Mike Badger.

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So far, the vocalists had matched the song choice perfectly and John Power was given the responsibility to continue the vibe with the monumental Alone Again Or, and he didn’t let the side down. Visibly joyous to be there (maybe he was responsible alone for the sweet smell?) he lent the song some plaintive vulnerability. The set was reaching its crescendo now as Live and Let Live hinted at thunder before the machine gun drum breaks (Phil Murphy‘s drums came into their own on this) and Echols swirling guitar lines brought everything crashing down. Forever Changes closer You Set The Scene, a soundtrack and document to the paranoia and confusion of the dark underbelly of the U.S. sixties that spawned groups such as the aforementioned Weathermen and the Black Panthers, is expertly delivered save for Power recognising Jez Wing‘s frantic string lines were not loud enough in the mix. Glitch fixed, the song moved towards it’s stately segue effortlessly, powered by John‘s passionate delivery, and ending in that triumphant hail of brass. Power finished by saying “Johnny la, we love you” a sentiment shared earlier by Jones who had asked the audience to make Johnny Echols and his wife welcome if they see them around the city. The final piece of the set was short, sweet and stunning. Dave McCabe was back on and he battered 7 and 7 Is into submission with a Screaming Jay Hawkins of a vocal. When he gave way to Echols‘ beautiful guitar work, he raised his arms, then clenched them into a triumphant gesture, and with a shit eating grin plastered on his face, kissed Edgar on the head, patted Dan Murphy on his head, a little reticently tapped Johnny Echols on the shoulder and the same for Jez Wing. He felt like we all did; just fucking thrilled to have been there. This was the coming together of a guitarist, an album, and a city that fell in love with both. This was Liverpool Love.

At this point, I reckoned if Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band had played just one song and left I would still have been happy. The Shack cognoscenti were present and I chatted with old, and met new, before Mick arrived onstage; ‘kin hell, how many? Then the sun came out; ‘kin hell again.

X Hits The Spot

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Was this the biggest Red Elastic Band ever? Apparently he calls it “the full beaut”. (Ta Matt). Mick looked happy and relaxed.The shout outs for songs began immediately, but Mick, man on a mission, electric guitar in hand, merely said “Nah!” and sloped into the jazzy opening bars of Stranger which almost immediately transformed into a pumped up long lost John Barry Bond theme…if the next Bond movie was to be set in Kensington; OctoKenny? The Man With The Plastic Gun? Spliffmaker? You catch my drift. Mick’s voice sounded in fine fettle and sister Joanne Head‘s group of backing singers; Jennifer John, Janet Ross, Joanne Steele and Perri Alleyne-Hughes (all looking cool as fuck dressed in black with sunnies), belted at the outro “Stranger wants to fight with me!”  as Martin Smith‘s brass burnt. Wow! So that’s why the band was so big! What a start.

Cadiz, like so many Michael Head songs sounded perfect for such a beautiful, lazy, sunny day as this, where all is alright with the world. Mick was joined on a joyous Newby Street by co-writer Dave Butcher as the L17 crowd joined in with the first of the early evening singalongs. “This is for Kenny ‘eds” bellowed Mick as Rod Skipp‘s sitar sounding cello wound it’s way around the skies, announcing a walk through Kenny whilst a resplendent Dan Rogers’ coruscating guitar ripped through with angry precision as the song reached it’s always thrilling climax. Another of those beautiful summer songs, Queen Mathilda with Simon James’ wistful flute accompaniment, allowed the crowd to catch their breath. An astonishing acapella version of Walter’s Song introduced a blazing I Know You Well from the much maligned (and rightly so if we are talking production, not so if we are talking songs) Zilch. Brass, choir, strings and a stinging guitar swelled the sound booming around the stage as Head’s arrangements bred new and vital life into his songs making them sound either timeless or current. Take your pick. When Mick shouts out “All of God’s children want their freedom” it is a nod to the previous band’s Red Telephone, a slab of psychedelic magnificence.

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The mood is brought down to one of sombre reflection by the beautifully sad Daniella. Watching Mick pick acoustic gems whilst he simultaneously watches sister Joanne deliver the vocal confirms that this is a song with deep meaning for the Head family. It was a beautiful version. I was glad I was wearing my sunnies.

With a huge back catalogue of classic songs to pick from, Mick chose perhaps his most Love-like composition to get us back into a party vibe. The Red Elastic Band throw the kitchen sink at Meant To Be; flute, cello, brass and choir fill the Wavertree air as the BadaBadaBadaBadaBadaBadaBadas are ecstatically launched once more. Mick pauses to talk about the much missed Alan Wills and his work with Deltasonic. Mick,  having claimed “I am only forty now…” (he looks fantastic by the way, fit, healthy and happy…but not forty!) goes on to talk about the current thriving music scene in the city and even suggests “No disrespect, but you know them kids with the ket heads is it? They’re boss! If they got hold of guitars there’d be loads of Jimi Hendrix Experiences around the city. It’d be amazing!” He’s not wrong.His own band ain’t so bad tonight though. Phil Murphy (fresh from his Love outing), Tom Powell on bass and Dan Rogers on lead guitar sound ace.

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Mick shouts out “This is for “Willsy and Biffa” as the familiar intro to Comedy follows, and one of Michael Head‘s best compositions is  given new impetus with some gorgeous trumpet lines and sun drenched backing vocals. Forget what QOTSA say, this is the ultimate feel good hit of the summer…but with a twist. Just when you think the song has reached it’s perfect peak, Mick shuts things down with what sounds like it’s final notes before leading us into the stunning Bacharach-like coda of Black and White 2, one of many of Mick‘s unreleased songs, and what a wonderful little gem it is musically and lyrically. Like Winter Turns to Spring, you can only hope they are on the new album, but knowing Mick, they won’t be, but only because he has written something even better in the meantime.

Time had run out. Love had gone slightly over meaning we were deprived of hearing Something Like You, Velvets in the Dark and Wild Mountain Thyme from Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band. Maybe next time.

As the crowd wandered away, I was stood in a now empty field wondering what to do with myself (it wasn’t even 8 o’clock) and reflecting on a fantastic and quite perfect day.

All the organisers of the event and everyone involved should be very proud of themselves.

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You’ve spelt it wrong! The Zabrinski od(yssey)/dity – and why the music buying public is twp.

At the turn of the millennium I discovered some musical stardust; in a field, in Wales.  A friend of mine was going to the Eisteddfod in Denbigh, a place otherwise known locally but never internationally, and most certainly never politically correctly, for it’s now abandoned ‘mental’ hospital.  Having never crossed the Druid threshold before, partly because I am only a very partially bi-lingual Welshman (even in Wales the myths abound of “I walked into a pub and they all started talking Welsh” – of course they did, it’s fucking Wales!) and partly because I never knew there was a Maes B stage for Welsh bands to do their stwff. Modern Welsh culture was more my thing, but I suppose I was a little intimidated, especially linguistically once I had moved beyond “Da Iawn diolch”. I needn’t have been. I was in excellent company and my host with the most was particularly enthusiastic about one particular band playing that night.

The very young Welsh crowd were positively partisan (is there any other type of Welsh crowd?) towards every artist that arrived to loosen their lugholes. When Zabrinski ambled on I was surprised by their youth, and save for the odd Adidas top, they looked like they had just stepped in from working the farms. Then they played. The sound they mustered was one of sonic wonder. The songs were crafted and often built into a cascading crescendo of sounds from the ether. As the final musical wisp slipped away I was ruing the fact that a 24 hr Tower Records had yet to emerge in Denbigh. Mental, that.

Ankst the record label, as always was the saviour. They and Cob Records in Bangor were responsible for alerting many a music fan (John Peel included) to the fact that great sounds were being sculpted up and down the rugged landscape of the country. The legendary label of quality Welsh music, as opposed to any old music that happened to be Welsh, had put out Zabrinski‘s  Yeti album and so not long after having seen them, it thankfully found a way into my head permanently. The opening fiery, frantic throb of Mishi Brai and it’s title repetition sounded like a description of my head. To these ears “mushy, mushy brain, mushy brain,mushy brain she said” sounded like an apt representation of the effect Zabrinski were having on me. The album is full of wonderful songs delivered in a variety of vocal styles. There are sounds that arrive from nowhere, disappear, and are then replaced by something equally mysterious.  Yes, it’s one of those albums; creativity and thought flooding out of saturated speakers. Slow sleepy lulls are battered aside by spiky, thrashing guitars not unlike Giant Steps era Boo Radleys,  whilst the gentlest of melodies just build and build until they can contain themselves no longer. With every song there is a sense of anticipation, where a slow build sees you wonder “Just where is this going to go?” and then witness that the avenues these songs explore are infinite and rewarding. In Freedom of the Hiway they have a bona fide stonker of a song, with Matthew Durbridge‘s vocals echoing the boyish vulnerability of Bernard Sumner‘s more sensitive moments, whilst the euphoric, chiming overture overpowers the melancholic lyrics gloriously.

Within a year, Zabrinski had followed up Yeti with Koala Ko-ordination, and everything is intact. The wide eyed exploratory nature that rummaged around Yeti finding delight upon delight, is cranked up, see no further than when the stoned, sunny stroll of the title track merges into the astonishingly pretty Switzerland. Some of the imaginative effects in the latter just make the listener wonder how they had the idea to put that particular sound right there? The Augustus Pablo dub lilt of Pan Central makes way for a drum ‘n’ bass track  whilst Black Forest Science Friction is just awash with sound and is one of only two or so songs you can sample from the Zabrinski ouvre on YouTube and only hints and the creativity of their sound.

The closing Release the Hounds has a laid back Groove Armada/Air vibe about it and a quite jaw dropping hypnotic outro, but what ever styles and sounds Zabrinski explore they seem to become theirs due to the magic of further experimentation.

Zabrinski‘s third and final release was Ill Gotten Game and it has, and always will be, one of my favourite albums. The title track (Part 1) is as  beautiful and gentle an album opener that you could dream of, with lush backing vocals and stray sounds filling the first part, before (Part 2) kicks at the door demanding to be heard. Feeding on our Filth is perhaps the most conventional song here, as it rumbles towards the approaching menacing guitars with a verse and chorus that are equally memorable, and is practically the only other Zabrinski video available online. It doesn’t begin to hint at the musical possibilities mined elsewhere on this album, but it’s all we got I am afraid.

Possibilities being mined is what we get on GNVQ which is a gorgeously crafted song that offers musical gifts that are just what you always wanted. It makes me smile (no mean feat).

Executive Decision was the first track of the E.P. released to warn us of the forthcoming album, and it’s a builder with a catchy chorus to boot. It is followed by the album’s centrepiece, the presciently titled Mother My Faith In Human Kindness Has Somewhat Faded Recently, where vocals/chimes/guitars (forwards and backwards)/keyboards/brass all meld into something warm and wonderful. Hit the Rez containing the magnificent line “I heard someone say that humans make monkeys look good” ambles along like a country lane drive before it hits a traffic jam and everyone gets out of their car and has a bit of a rave. Seal My Cave contains quite possibly the warmest ,softest glow and hug of a chorus these ears have heard, delivered in-between a sound not unlike Mercury Rev at their finest. It’s a beauty. Because they toured with them and the fact that they are Welsh, the Super Furry Animals seemed to become a lazy comparison as Zabrinski became more well known. You can hear a similarity between the two bands  in the intro to the eigth track on Ill Gotten Game, but then all comparisons fly out of the window as the mighty SFA went one way with their stomping Lazerbeam and Zabrinski went to investigate Society and Stuff on an pounding instrumental tip. Go Clone Alone is the final epic space ride that closes the chapters on Zabrinski.

What happened on that final, fateful exploration? Are the still out there? What did they see? Did they come back? Will they come back?

The real reason they disappeared was that their music was not being appreciated, and I still don’t understand why.  So maybe now is the time to do yourself a favour. The three Ankst albums are available here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-music&field-keywords=zabrinski.

Get them; listen to them, be astonished, and then curse the British listening public for being twp.

Oh, and by the way, the name Zabrinski was taken from the film Zabrinskie Point but spelt wrong. So there you go.