Saturday, 7 May 2022

Rediscovering King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King

 I just purchased a new copy of King Crimson In the Court of the Crimson King, after not owning it for many decades, I used to play it quite a lot so new it well and it was interesting to revisit and I found myself really appreciating it again.

For me this album is a stand alone release, although King Crimson did continue after this it was a significantly different band with Robert Fripp as it’s undisputed leader, but on this album Ian MacDonald has more compositional presence and Greg Lake’s vocals and Peter Sinfields lyrics are perhaps all more important than the part Fripp plays. The songs on this might be unconventional but they are carefully arranged songs, which isn’t a mark of later Crimson. Overall this is an imaginative and rich evocation and while it has with justification been called the first progressive Rock album you can see that it does share some sort of musical lineage with Sgt Pepper, Family, Early Floyd, more in terms of having wide tonal colour, musical ambition and the sense of creative freedom and being imaginative triumphs of pop/rock.
Michael Giles drumming also really stands out it has a Ringo-esque style although is less restrained but always perfectly fitting for the album.
The album opens with the frenetic opening of 20th Century Schizoid Man, there is a great variety within this track with extended instrumental sections that are highly synchronised, very tight in both performance and structure. The track ends with a chaotic breakdown of instrumentation.
Then with I Talk to the Wind, we get a great contrast of a very spare arrangement that gives a great sense of space, a really beautiful song, evocative with natural images . Lakes singing here and throughout the album is perfect.
The third and final track of side one Epitaph is one of the two great epics of the album placed at the end of each side. Both of these have a grandeur and sense of the dramatic. The use of mellotron on these tracks is most use of the instrument.
Side 2 starts with Moonchild a very soft song divided into a song section at the start and a long improvised atmospheric instrumental section at the end. The song section does leave me wanting more and if there is a hint of weakness to the album I think it is that I’d substitute a little of the improv for a reprise of the song section with a couple of extra verse. But the improvisation does bring another colour to the album and it was a bold choice.
The it ends with the title track In the Court of the Crimson King. For me this is likely the best song on the album, they were right to use this as the title as it best captures the fantastic imaginative vision of the album.
I can’t believe I have been neglecting this album for so long and am delighted to be reacquainting myself with it.

Friday, 7 August 2020

Kate Bush - Lionheart

I have just recently filled in the gaps I had in my Kate Bush collection, largely inspired by Chrissi Johnson's current show on 88.2 Paekakariki FM.

But I looked up a few album ranking lists and was interested to see that my favourite album of hers Lionheart is often ranked last, so that inspired me to say a few words about why I think this album is so good.

So Kate was 19 when she put out her first album but was 11 when she started writing songs and apparently had a tape of 50 demo songs the she put out to try and get record company interest and which did get David Gilmour's interest and she got a contract. While I love the Kick inside her debut album, Wuthering Heights always stands out as a single and the album doesn't feel like an album to me. She was learning in the studio and she had the good fortune to have an excellent producer and arranger in Andrew Powell. With the success of the first album there was pressure to quickly put out a second and I think this is one of the reasons why Lionheart isn't perceived that well Kate didn't have time to write much new material so dipped into her earlier material which meant that we got more of her early material than we otherwise would have and her early style is more romantic than her later work which is more artsy and maybe existential. But back in the studio with producer and arranger Andrew Powell, I think they were more comfortable with how to record Kate, her excellent piano playing and songwriting and perfectly complimented by Andrew's arranging.

The cover has Kate in an attic dressed up in a lion suit, which perfectly encapsulates the qualities of the album. The sense of Englishness, quirkiness, the disparate individualism and of course romanticism all come together in a series of songs that flow into one another.

I am a fan of The Dreaming, I thought that was so wonderfully self expressive, her first self produced album showing that she had a singular strength of vision and this has continued throughout her career. But that early romanticism, the fabulous focus on melody centred around her piano playing with a sensitive arranger well that's what i love the most and that is Lionheart.

She's surely one in a million.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Forest River Pathway - Rich Goodhart

This blog was meant to be an exploration of the music I had lived with through most of my life, music that had seeped into my soul and that I had continued to respond to through subsequent decades. In this case though I first discovered Rich Goodhart's music in 2009 when I got his album Earth Spiral Water Sound that had recently been released, while that's almost 10 years now, for me that's relatively recent. Earth Spiral Water Sound was followed by the release of Shaman Mirror Medicine Tree, which felt even more accomplished than it's predecessor and now with the latest release Forest River Pathway, I have a solid body of Rich's work and that feels as if I have lived with it for much longer than I have. I think that is because this music ties in and develops much of the spirit of the music that I first responded to.

I discovered music in the 70's, a lot of contemporary music at that time was creative, optimistic and romantic. When I was about 14 I had an elective class at school practicing meditation, it was an unusual choice, but it really filled a need for me. I did not have a religious or spiritual upbringing, although my parents did believe in and encourage creativity. In the class we learnt a number of practices, one of which was relaxation. I took this home and used it to experience music in a new way. I would turn the lights out, put on music, go through the relaxation exercise and it substantially deepened the listening experience.

I listened to Pink Floyd's Ummagumma in this way, this was music with interesting soundscapes, strange musical adventures that build atmosphere and images in the mind. Pink Floyd's music went on to become more prescribed and pessimistic. But much of the popular music at that time was full of possibilities, albums like Yes' Close to the Edge suggested a new kind of popular sacred music.

Rich was inspired by a lot of this music of positive experimentation from the seventies: Yes' Close to the Edge and Tales from Topographic Oceans, Tangerine Dream and David Allen's Gong and the band Oregon, who created proto world music.

Rich Goodhart's music doesn't sound like Yes or Pink Floyd but it delivers on some of their promise. This music seems to go where that music might have gone. Rich's music has been developing slowly across his lifetime. His first album Divining Signs is instantly recognisable as his, but with each album his expression has grown deeper and clearer.

Rich's music may entertain us, but it is spiritual expression, we know that music has long played a significant part in religious ritual, ceremony and magic. Rich as a contemporary artist is working to rebuild a sense of connection to spirit and nature. He was early on drawn to the book "Through Music to the Self: How to Appreciate and Experience Music Anew" by Peter Michael Hamel. He experienced healing through sound and sought mentors to grow musically and spiritually. One of whom was Collin Walcott from the band Oregon, who taught him tabla, getting such a teacher suggests a certain magic in the world. Rich keenly remembers the rite of passage of driving for hours through the snow to get to his first lesson. Rich has always valued his mentors: Sarah Benson who he worked with for 10 years and who freed his voice, allowing an essential vulnerability into his music and John Bergamo his world music mentor.

This is music as transformation, expression and mindful practice, built up over decades, Rich's music is both individual and ripe, an expression and envisioning of artistic contemplation.

Rich excels most through music, but he uses art and poems to come to his vision through a different medium. If he had someone else decorate his cover something would be lost. I recommend getting hold of one of his books of poems, because it builds in words, in a complementary way, what his music does in sound.

Forest River Pathway inspired me to go to a nearby tract of native bush and listen in that setting, under the shade of trees, sitting still, surrounded by undergrowth, a lot of music would seem crass and out of place, but this music only enhanced and fed my appreciation of the setting.

That's a rather long preamble to the actual music on this album. The album has two discs The title Forest River Pathway seems to refer to the first disc subtitled "Regeneration" the pieces of which connect to create a musical journey, while the second disc is more a set of individual mediations and is entitled "Soul Sanctuary".

Track 1 Call from the Mountains

This surrounds us with the full resonance of Gongs, an invocation, it amazes me how much timbre and sonic richness is captured here, the sound breaths and has space.

Track 2: Where Rivers Begin

Here starts the journey down the forest river pathway, there are guitar figures that progress, we have rhythm bouzouki and native flutes that build a sense of place and celebrate the natural world and our connection or participation with it. 

The playing combines structure and improvisation giving a sense of meditative clarity.

Between the tracks are the sounds of a running river and bird song, these bring nature into the composition. Rich likes to go into a place in nature and just sit and listen, so it makes sense that he would then bring these sounds into his music.

Track 3 Water Knows the Way

Whereas the previous track felt like the start of the journey this track coming so early in the album makes it clear that the point is not just to go places but to be somewhere. 

Rich plays his Cosmi-Sonic Trance Banjo with its strange natural reverb and echo, this creates a very water like undulation, around the 3 minute mark we start to again get a sense of narrative movement and we know we're still on that pathway but the journey is going within. This is a 10 minute track, the usual rules of giving your audience immediate gratification are not being adhered to here, finally the bird and water sounds return. There won't be another meditation this long on this disc, but our psychic gears have shifted.

Track 4 Crossing the Spirit Bridge

The Gong returns, it's a bit like the ginger we eat between sushi it cleanses the palate and refreshes us, it gives a sense of Buddhist contemplation, the flute melody hangs in the air and percussion mimics the birds.

Then melodica and flutes and gongs, this is a gorgeous mix of sound tones.

Track 5 Where Paths of Power Meet

The dousongoni starts setting up a rhythmic figure and again we have drums and melodica. There is plenty of space in the sound you can hear it all, yet there is also plenty of detail to spot. We have a strong sense of direction but it is a natural sense that a river takes rather than a straight Roman road. It is movement that appreciates all that is going on around it.

We hear beautiful soloing dulcitar and tuned drums

Track 6 Morning Song

Water and birds and a drone, Dulcitar talking to the birds and flute. Sunlight water, clear air freshness, natural beauty, a reminder that in our interior life we find fulness in a participation with nature.

Track 7 Stone Water Medicine Wheel

The drum returns and something like a riff and now the human voice appears, the human voice brings a sense of intimacy and humanity, Rich duets with Athena Burke, a moving chant without words just the sound of the voice, there is a pause and then we're treated to the huge haunting airy pervasive sound of a large frame drum played with a friction mallet. The chant returns and lead and rhythm drums give a variety of drum textures.

Track 8 Riding the Night River

Gong, flute and bowls, it is good how previous sounds return and build on one another. Gonje plays with flute, the gonje sets a rhythm, drums drop in, the gonje has a tripping rhythm, building textures as it progresses, the rhythm keeps transforming until at the end it breaks down and reveals again water and bird sounds

Track 9 Between Moonlight and Dreaming

Bouzouki played with beautiful clarity in the placed quality of the sound, this not narrative or more a careful slow exploration of place.

Track 10 Joyous Renewal

David Duhig from Jade Warrior guests, this is spice at the end, we move up a gear snd move as close as we come to rock music on this album, but the same spirit is there, it is as joyful as the title suggests, uplifting guitar, banjos, bass lines, keyboards and an abrupt end, it is over.

This first disc "Regeneration" was a journey, best experienced as an hour's unbroken mediation. The second disc "Soul Sanctuary" is more a set of individual mediations, that could be used when you just want to devote 10 or 15 minutes to sound healing. Of course it can be experienced sequentially but does not demand it. 

The first piece is the Cosmi-Sonic Trance Banjo with melodica, the second Gong and bowls, these are like sonic baths the resonance of the sound is to soak in. The third piece “Lakshmi Chant” which has a sanskrit chant again with Rich, Athena Burke and this time Roger Mock, this piece could be used for devotional practice and has drums to fill out the sound. “Footprints in Water" is a short meditation with less sustain and more pattern. “A Stroll in the Forest” these later tracks feel more like part of a sequence and again the Cosmi-Sonic Trance Banjo but this time shorter and more cyclic. 

Then we have a long meditation for bowls, which again emphasises that this disc even less than the first is to not simply be listened to but rather experienced, when I say these pieces are meditations that is to be taken literally, you should sit still, both physically and mentally and your attention should be on the sound with no expectation, for this music, or more correctly, sound medicine is not here to entertain you or stimulate you but rather to quieten you. If you feel out of sorts, unbalanced, dis-quiet then sitting down with this for 15 minutes and just watching what arises from within you could be a good practice. I know for myself what arises in such stillness isn’t necessarily beautiful, but it is in me and good for me to see, past pain can emerge and much can be gained by just acknowledging it.

The final track “Spirit Grounding” is Rich’s collaborations with Yes vocalist Jon Anderson who provides the lyrics and vocal lines. This is the only track with English lyrics but it serves as a wonderful coda to the collection. I’d certainly love to hear an entire album of them working together, yet it fits perfectly here.

So I want to thank you Rich, this music pushes me to stillness and I am always better for taking its journey within.

(photo by Joseph McCormick)

Rich's website, where you can order this cd

Monday, 20 June 2016

Jon Anderson's work post Yes (with a little on Yes)



In 2008 Jon Anderson suffered an acute respiratory attack that took him perilously close to death. In the years previous to this touring had become problematic due to his respiratory problems. Rick Wakeman had rejoined Yes, while they toured extensively they had not made a new album since 2001s Magnification. Magnification was an album that Jon was proud of but disappointed by in that it sold poorly and so didn't reinvigorate the band as he may have hoped. I like the album, it features imaginative orchestral composition and arrangement by Larry Groupe that filled the place of the departed keyboard player Igor Khoroshev who was featured on the Ladder.

Yes' discography can easily be described as tortured, bewildering. It does not mark a slow progression and decline, there might be something of a linear progression from their debut album to Tormato, but even within that sequence there are disjunctions as members came and went and each album really carved out different territory from the one before. Throughout this "Classic" album sequence, the strange art and driving force of Jon Anderson was very present. Both through his belief in the band and his insistence in pushing them to strange musical places. His art was abstract, positive with cryptic but spiritual lyrics, that often bemuse listeners and of course his unique alto tenor voice.

Jon and Rick Wakeman left Yes after Tormato when the band failed to complete a follow up album. Chris Squire, Steve Howe and Alan White decided to team up with the Buggles which conveniently comprised a singer and a keyboard player: Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. This line-up created the Album "Drama" before splitting again and it's next rebirth was when Trevor Rabin a completely new member was the main creative driving force for a very different album and band that surfaced with 90125, which was a massive commercial success. More albums would be made with Trevor Rabin and a very Yesish album Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe was released by those members and eventually Rabin would leave the band and Steve Howe come back. The story of the discography is certainly hard to follow, but I have actually come to think it more a virtue than a curse as many think. As it has meant that under the banner of Yes there is a wide variety of music that is challenging, distinctive and strange.

The band couldn't wait for Anderson to get well and they got in a replacement singer Benoit David that they had seen on a youtube clip singing in a Yes tribute band. Rick's place on keyboards was taken by his son Oliver Wakeman. However when they came to record they decided to go with their old friend and acclaimed producer Trevor Horn, who replaced Oliver with his old Buggle bandmate Geoff Downes. They dusted off some old songs he'd written a few decades ago with Yes in mind making them the centre pieces for the album "Fly from Here". This was something of a sequel to Drama and it was a competent enough album.

Meanwhile Jon Anderson was slowly recovering and he managed to put out two albums. One with Rick Wakeman "the Living Tree" which they supported with an intimate tour. Jon's voice was understandably raspy and the quality of the vocal recording was also not high, yet these weren't entirely drawbacks, it created an intimate and naked music, drawing out some of Rick's most beautiful playing creating a nurturing setting for Jon Anderson's idiosyncratic vision. While it didn't sell well I found it compelling and have played it often since its release. The title track is a beautiful abstract fairytale. "Forever" is also one of the most beautiful songs of divine love/devotion which mingles the love of his wife Jane and love of God, making it deeply personal and immanent.

His other album at the time was kind of a compilation of tracks that he collaborated with people remotely from an internet invitation. This was called "Survival and Other stories" surprisingly this was a more professional sounding album than his one with Wakeman. I find it likeable, it has some good songs and sounds surprisingly unified but I admit I don't feel it has the heart that Living Tree has.

Yes went on, Benoit David started to suffer from the rigours of touring through singing a above his natural register, he was replaced by another singer, strangely another Jon (Davison) who had also sung in Yes tribute bands as well as the small prog band Glass Hammer. His register seems more suited to the material. The band recorded another album "Heaven and Earth" this time with Roy thomas Baker producing and with Jon Davison contributing to most of the songs on the album. This album is really the only Yes album that I think it simply a bad album, it is unfocused lacks energy and direction. A sad recorded finale for Chris Squire who  died shortly after, it is better to regard his collaboration with Steve Hackett "A Life within a Day" as his final testament as he poured more of his creative energies into this and it's a likeable album.

Whether Yes now with Billy Sherwood replacing Chris on Bass and backing vocals can rise up from this we shall see, Billy at least has a lot of drive.

Meanwhile Jon Anderson has made a nice artistic recovery. Jon worked with Stefan Podell on “Open” a largely orchestral 21 minute piece that he released digitally, with it’s simple one word title and it’s fluid movement and rich colourings.

Building from this he developed a very long cherished collaboration with Jean Luc Ponty, a very talented violinist, who had played on some of my favourite albums, particularly, Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Visions of the emerald Beyond" and Frank Zappa's "Hot Rats". Ponty also had a fairly successful solo career, I have only got to know this work recently. Ponty is a good player and his albums are good works, although I wouldn't put his solo work in the top rank of artists as he doesn't map out a distinctive imaginative territory.

Jon and Jean Luc decided to record a live album together and tour, Jon recorded vocal parts against existing Ponty tracks and they also did light jazz versions of certain Yes tracks. They rehearsed for a short time, did a concert which they recorded then did a significant amount of post production recording that paid off. I am amazed by how cohesive the album is. Part of this synergy Jon and Jean Luc have explained is due to how the violin approaches the expressiveness of the human voice. They make the most of the warm lyrical compliment that gives real  humanity to the music. For me it is a very rich pleasure to hear these artists both in their 70s express themselves so easily, Jon here has a great setting for his creative spontaneity. His voice sounds fantastic.

Jon has also created an album with Roine Stolt a neo prog star and leader of The Flower Kings.  Jon and Rick Wakeman have also teamed up with Trevor Rabin to do a tour, initially it was also to make a new album. I certainly hope they do manage to make that album. All this activity and music show that Jon is creatively alive. I am amazed at the way Jon has returned from the brink of death to make such significant new musical artistic contributions.



So far I have focused on the outward events now I want to turn my focus to the inner nature of Jon’s art. We can describe the externals of music but the real value lies in the internal qualities, vision, imagination and how it effects our consciousness. Music and poetry gives pleasure, but that statement  significantly under plays what it does. This pleasure is by moving our consciousness from one state of consciousness to another, this is a mythic process.

Jon Anderson work functions as poet, visionary and Shaman. These are really names for the same thing. Shelley described the poets as“the unacknowledged legislators of our time”. The poet is not simply a versifier. The poetic power of the ancients is often acknowledged but seldom explained. Ancient consciousness  was mythic, the divine,  the physical world, internal, external and group souls were fused. The words they used were mythic containing amalgamations of the modern words that emerged from them. Words came to have more specific or fragmented meanings better suited to intellectual destinations, word and phrase orders solidified. Yet the mythic was the father to the rational like Saturn to Jupiter. The mythic nature of words is still there but this process of classification of word and phrase blinds us to this and end uses states of boredom. Owen Barfield has explored these ideas extensively in his book "a History in English Words" & "Poetic Diction" The Poet then allows our subjective modern individualised consciousness to integrate and see the mythic in which it exists. It does this obviously through myth and metaphor but also by disturbing accepted word orders allowing a great fluidity and vitality of meaning.

Jon Anderson's later work is much more explicate and immediate in its intent to waken us to the divine. Jon is expressing more immediately than any other modern artist I can think of a great sense of ontological surprise. That fundamental religious experience of the recognition of Being. We see this through emphasis on the words "Real", "Truth", "Is" and the recognition of them with "Know"

"In The Presence of" from 2001’s Magnification Jon sings:

I get amazed like a true beginner 
I get amazed like a true believer 
I get amazed when I see you there 
And I come alive

This is a fantastic childlike expression of ontological surprise. This song Jon described as being about how God is all around us.

Increasingly with Jon Anderson’s recent work, his expression has become more open, homely, childlike and direct. In his aptly titled work Open there is this line:

Echo in the rhythm of the circle of the sign of how you're standing here

The “the sign of how you're standing here” has a prose, even a prosaic diction that's common place-ness makes it more present, this is almost shocking in such a mature artist. This is a shift from the dense and more distant, abstract imagery of great works like Close to the Edge:

A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace
And rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace
And achieve it all with music that came quickly from afar
And taste the fruit of man recorded losing all against the hour

Jon has shifted from this more romantic style although even this had startling syntactical disjunctions. He is now being more direct but no less startling. I am arguing that it is wrong to think of his recent lyrics as being less poetic or worse. He has moved to a different mode that is more insistent, it is like he is grabbing us by the collar and saying “listen” :

Straight for the deeper love given
Straight for the very song
(Forever - from the Living Tree)

In "Open" he tells us that we are born of Myth, it is our nature “sun it sings you”.

Post 2008 Jon has shown the abundance in his creativity, he has  expressed a unified vision across a wide variety of expression. This helps us to be unattached to the form of the work and enter a “New new world”.

Jon's words and his delivery of them, always has very definite felt metrical feet, you hear his steps and it anchors the music, he enters the centre of the music to conduct it with his dance. This is particularly notable in "Invention of Knowledge" where the steps of his often irregular prose meters allow the music to twist and turn and yet always feel sure footed.


In the Present

"The Invention of Knowledge" arrived while I was writing this blog and the comments I made in the later part of this blog apply to it in spades. The album was obviously a great labour of love, Roine Stolt's joy in collaborating with Jon shines through. They allowed the pieces time to develop with the work taking over a year. Roine was amazingly receptive to Jon's ideas and this humility actually increased his level of creativity on the project. This is an amazingly life giving work of art and I'm looking forward to building my relationship with it.

Monday, 25 April 2016


Prince, yet another significant modern artist dies.

We invest so much in our artists, we put our hope fears and visions onto them, they become our religion. When they die their life story and work becomes their immortality.

I, like so many others, have been galvanised by Prince's death, I hadn't been listening to his music much and I hadn't even got CD versions of those albums of his that I used to love so much: 1999, Purple Rain and Graffiti Bridge. I just have his triple CD Emancipation, which I'm discovering anew. But now he has died I realise there is a hole in my heart that I will have to fill again with those albums. I will also have to get his final album to see the trajectory he was on when he left this world.

The man released about 36 studio albums and he produced a lot more music than he released. His was a life of music, he reminds me of Frank Zappa in that regards, retreating to his utility muffin research kitchen and making LOTS of music, I really admire that. But also listening to emancipation I'm struck with what a sure touch he had, the music is sharp and accomplished. He not only played lots of instruments but he played them really well.

I have to admit Prince's over the top eroticism did end up putting me off as does Zappa's scatological humour. But he was also a spiritual man.

Emancipation isn't regarded as his best album, but I also have one DVD of Prince and that's Graffiti Bridge which is regarded as a terrible movie and I have to say i wasn't that impressed with it when I saw it, but I got it out and watched it again and while I won't say I thought it was a fantastic movie I was impressed by a couple of things, one is that Prince wrote and directed it, so it has a personal somewhat quirky quality to it that I like. I'll also say I don't really get what it is doing and what Prince is trying to say with this movie, but it does seem he is trying to say something and I'm a bit caught by that, I will definitely watch it again to see if i can tease out a bit more just what that is.

So, I'm sorry Prince that it has taken your death to make me focus upon your work, you have always intrigued me and I want to thank you for being one of those rare popular musicians who was individualistic and truly inspired.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

On the passing of Keith Emerson

It's sad that the death of a Rock Star is so often the occasion to write about them.

Keith Emerson has just died aged 71, but died by his own hand after suffering depression. His girl friend framed it in terms of Keith having suffered nerve damage in one of his hands and no longer being able to play as he had and not wanting to disappoint his fans. I am sure this was part of it. But Greg Lake has come out and said that Keith had started to suffer from depression in the late seventies, indicating that the depression preceded his physical problems.

In a way then it is something of a triumph that he made it through for as long as he did. I suspect if he'd been more open about it he may have been able to battle it more effectively. Brian Wilson's mental health issues are very well known and he is a much loved figure, certainly is by me.

I am not an unequivocal lover of Emerson Lake and Palmer, but I do have some respect for them. There is no doubt in my mind that from their debut album to Works Volume 1 they made audacious music, full of energy and well worth paying attention to. The 20 minute title track Tarkus is my favourite. It has everything that made them great. Keith was the driving force behind their musical vision. He was able to make Keyboards sound as daring and exciting as any guitar player, I think he is unmatched among keyboard players in this regard.

I admit that I haven't heard Keith's solo albums, I would love to know that there are some gems amongst them. But I did listen to Black Moon the later ELP album and was disappointed. It seems as though Keith could neither continue expressing that rock n roll aggression or find a music of quieter joy within him. Although his piano Concerto on the Work album could have been the start of a new direction.

In the end though, I do think we need to recognise his life as a success. It is something to make a music as distinctive as those early ELP albums are. They may not be tasteful and they certainly came to be regarded with disdain by the rock press. But I think more highly of Keith's work than I do generally of the rock press and tastefulness is not the quality I regard most highly in art. So I have been listening again to those albums thinking of Keith and I thank him for the colours that he added to my life.

Travel well.

Adenda: Michelle suggested that I listen to Keith Emerson Band featuring Marc Bonilla.  The CD arrived today and although it takes me sometime to absorb new music, I will say that this is highly credible music. It had space to develop and their were some very interesting music. So happily I retract some of my previous comments, Keith did find other things to say after the initial break up of ELP they just weren't within the confines of that group. I have since listened to samples of his album Three Fates Project, which also sounds like it explores other territory even if it does revisit some ELP pieces.

Friday, 15 January 2016

David Bowie and the land of the Dead

There is something impressive about an artist who times the release of his final album Black Star to coincide with his death. David Bowie is a significant artist who has been a part of my life and big part of the cultural landscape since I was young.

You were a black star, a prince of darkness who blazed with dark light. You brought "songs of darkness and disgrace" from the fringes of society into the lives of millions of middle class teenagers. You consumed too much cocaine and shared your dreams of psychosis and apocalypse.

You wanted to be a star, your fame was a part of your art. You were an actor who will probably be best remembered as Jareth the Goblin King in the warm hearted Jim Henson film Labyrinth.

It has often been said Bowie started off as a one hit wonder with Space oddity, but I do remember the Laughing Gnome got quite heavy rotation on New Zealand radio when I was young, but Space Oddity was something different, it had fear and adventure a song for the space age. I also remember dancing to Jean Genie at a primary school dance, that was a sharp song.

I became a fan of Bowie around the time of Scary Monsters, a point that I think marks an important divide in his career, after this point he floundered somewhat.

You have an impressive set of albums and you didn't repeat yourself.

Hunky Dory - the Man who sold the world was a good album but this was really his first  great album. The production values are great, fantastic playing a wide variety of excellent songs (Life on Mars and Queen Bitch) and it is by far the most humane album. but the album didn't break him into the big time.

Bowie's friend Marc Bolan of T Rex ruled, he was king of glam, he was cool Brittania. But Bowie moved into the glam space when he conceived a work of rock n roll indulgence the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the spiders from Mars. Bowie slid into the role of Ziggy, hiring a limo & he rode into the big time. This was one very cool album Mick Ronson's guitar riffing is just perfect, the production is perfect, the songs are little dramatic masterpieces. It was an iconic rock n roll story of fame ego style & cool. There was sympathy but not emotional warmth.

Diamond Dogs deeply pessimistic distopian and apocalyptic is probably for me his richest work of imagination:

And in the death,
As the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy
The shutters lifted in inches in Temperance Building,
High on Poacher's Hill.
And red, mutant, eyes gaze down on Hunger City.
No more big wheels.

Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats,
And ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes,
Coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers,
Like packs of dogs assaulting the glass fronts of Love-Me Avenue.
Ripping and rewrapping mink and shiny silver fox, now leg-warmers.
Family badge of sapphire and cracked emerald.
Any day now,
The year of the Diamond Dogs.

"This ain't Rock'n'Roll,
This is Genocide.

Bowie played most of the instruments, creating weird sound tapestries, it is full of drama and dark dreams as well as fantastic singing with some sections dense in layered vocals, It was a massive piece of work, incredibly original, imaginative and to this day deeply strange.

Low and Heroes were created almost as therapy an escape from the US and the bad habits that had been accumulating around him to Berlin, doing his own shopping hanging out with Iggy Pop, recording with Brian Eno and an aesthetic diet of German Kraut rock austerity Neu, Kraftwerk, Can. Low was stripped right back if still deeply stylish some crashing in the same car with J G Ballard he came full stop into the stillness of Japanese gardens and those sobering realisations that 6 million jews had died close by under the influence of fervid patriotism. Heroes seemed to fit Bowie's artistry better and listening to it again today I am astonished at what a perfectly constructed album it is. Ultravox's Systems of Romance from the following year must owe it a debt of gratitude and truly I love them both.

Scary Monsters showed that he didn't need Brian Eno as a crutch although Robert Fripp's angular manic guitar cut with Japanese singer singing japanese lyrics worked with precision across the startling title track. Major Tom was reprised and he hadn't been doing too well.

Let's Dance allowed more casual fans in it was outwardly friendly, even if it did contain tales of vampires and Iggy Pop covers. An appealing light 50s-ish style. Following this up proved to give him some artistic problems although I admit to having a soft spot for his critical nadir album Never Let Me Down. It reminds me a Little of Bolan Nadir albums Zip Gun Boogie and Futuristic Dragon.

Tin Machine and Black Tie white noise might be seen as recovery albums but I think they are pretty bad. Outside saw the return of Brian Eno but it's theme of murder as art is beyond the circle of my comfort.

Earthling sounded fantastic, once again Bowie was getting an excellent production, none of the later albums though have captured my heart, but Hours I do like it is almost human if still rather cold.

I had to buy Black Star the coda of his career and i may even like it, first couple of listens and I am pleasantly surprised.

Well David you have now crossed the river to the land of the dead, I imagine you meeting the Egyptian God Horus in judgement. I think you are ready.