= October 2013 =  
Bardo Pond
Black Tempest
Avital Raz
Book of Shadow
Ant Bee
Nik Turner
Magic Hero Vs Rock People


(LP from www.firerecords.com)

The world’s most essential psychedelic rock experience, as described within these very pages by the late, great Tony Dale, have torn up their own roots for this, their umpteenth album.

The great thing about Bardo Pond’s records to my mind is that unlike other bands, each one isn’t meant to be a crowning achievement or some kind of milestone in the band’s career: the band’s emphasis has always been on live performances, and their albums resemble snapshots along the way. Recorded “live” as a full band in their own Lemur House recording studio, this latest release is an album in every sense of the word: a collection which holds true to the single vinyl LP format.  As such, it’s no good trying to read too much significance into its musical merits or otherwise: time is much better spent simply listening to the damn thing.

And there are rewards aplenty for those who choose to listen. Whilst it’s the slow-burning ‘Taste’ with haunting vocals from Isobel which will inevitably run away with the accolades, it’s the opening ‘Kali Yuga Blues’ which  to my mind best defines all that is best about Bardo Pond, and which will hopefully become a fixture in their live set for a long while to come. Isobel chants as the guitars gently weep, the song gradually building to a crescendo by which time the flute’s exploded and the guitars are howling like a buffalo on mescalin. And that’s not all - ‘Chance’ is the most astonishing collision of exquisite noise it’s been my privilege to hear for a decade or more, the sound of gently strummed guitar and flute luring you into a glade of softness before the drums kick in and you’re carried along towards a maelstrom of wah-wah guitars that build and build towards a breathless ecstacy of feedback.

The best Bardo Pond albums all sound like a Greatest Hits album the second or third time you lower the tone-arm onto the grooves, and this does just that. Get a copy and love it to death. (Phil McMullen)




Well I wasn’t expecting that, or maybe the title really should have been a big giveaway. It’s just that when you sit back in that comfy chair and wait for the feeling of well-being that inevitably results from listening to Black Tempest to wash over you, it comes of something of a shock to hear a field recording of the artist’s local Morris team at full tilt. Not that there’s anything at all wrong in that – after all what was good enough for Cecil Sharp, Ashley Hutchings et al is fine by me. In fact this not only serves as a brief and curiously enjoyable intro to the lengthy (if this were vinyl we’d be calling it “side-long”) title track of this top-notch release from Stephen Bradbury but sets the scene beautifully for what is a musical homage to the cultural and spiritual heritage of These Isles and beyond. Made up of a number of segments in which Bradbury employs his trademark hypnotic musical mantras the sound is a seamless fusion of East/West drone and levitating ambience interspersed with a playful folksiness and judicious use of guitar. The result sounds like a wonderful gumbo of You-era Gong, Ashra Tempel and, er, the Albion Band.

Of the three shorter compositions that follow, “The Crack Between the Worlds” seems to hang in the ether, a creation of stunning and meditative beauty pierced only by a subdued but slightly caustic shimmer of guitar. If anything it outshines even the magnificent title track. “Pyramid” is a more darkly hewn incantation which evokes a Morricone/Tangerine Dream-scored cyber-western and a sound which either welcomes the sun or the darkness depending on the mood. The ambient chill reappears in the gleam of the “Morning Star” overlaid with repetitive, faintly percussive motif that quite frankly gets into your head and takes up residence without killing the vibe.

Overall this is a hugely uplifting almost spiritual musical experience. Coming as it does on the heels of his outstanding contribution to Fruits de Mer’s recent “Strange Fruit 3” compilation and collaboration with Dead Sea Apes (surely one of the best instrumental albums of 2013 so far) “Sticks and Bells and Ancient Spells” confirms Stephen Bradbury as a real talent and one who ought to be a significant force in UK ambient music. What’s more, as if the quality of the aural product wasn’t already enough, it comes housed in a Pete Fowler (Super Furry Animals) cover. (Ian Fraser)



(CD from http://www.avitalraz.com/)

Avital Raz was born in Jerusalem, she has studied Indian Classical Music in India and now resides in the North West of England. On this, her fourth album all these influences are to be found, all welded together by her amazing voice which soars and sweeps, is rich with emotion , passion and power.

    Having a droning centre, opening track “If You Ask Me” is rich with sadness and longing, the sound of winds on ancient moor both stark and beautiful, the following “Oh Isabelle” maintaining the dark theme, a cautionary tale in a Hilaire Belloc style, with Avital's voice adding extra depth to the lyrical twists. At seven minutes, the haunting beauty of “Till It's Time To” has plenty of time to develop, the deeply personal lyrics allowing an uncomfortable glimpse into the mind of the author, delicate notes and a quiet drone underlining the tune, creating one of the albums show stopping moments. Using the words of Blake, “The Sick Rose” is a delicate guitar piece reminding me of early Joni Mitchell, whilst “Blues of the Ugly Sister”  returns to the deeply personal this time in parable fashion, laced with humour and a Cabaret feel, good times  inevitably falling apart.

    With a varied musical buffet and a wide range of instrumentation the album never becomes dull or predictable, the title track moving the drone to the forefront, the voice at its starkest whilst a menacing guitar growls in the distance, powerful music lost in a dark cloud, the percussion adding an extra layer of tension to the piece.

    Working as a pair “Regarding Man” and “Regarding Angels” with the former having a folk feel, the lyrics again dealing with relationships and tribulations, whilst the latter adds an ethereal overcoat, a more drifting ambience that is bewitching casting a spell that is hard to break. In between these two songs is “You Told Me”, a tale of regret that reminds me of Josephine Foster in its vocal delivery. Finally, the bluesy stomp of “Back In The Promised Land” is an old time gospel inspired piece that has echoes of Nick Cave and Tom Waits, a great way to end a wonderful collection.

    As with all good albums (normally, there are exceptions) it takes a few listens to really get to grips with a collection that has lyrical depth, musical excellence and a voice that ignites the tunes. (Simon Lewis)



(CD and Download from www.cosmicprimitive.com)

Released many moons ago and knocking about in my possession for a couple of months now, Glowpeople’s “Things...” consolidates the reputation of a band formed in 2010 since when they have steadily built a name for themselves on the festival circuit, having appeared at the likes of Sonic Rock, Kozfest and Onboard the Craft events over the past year or so

With its rhythmically elastic bass, tasteful percussion, bubbling synths and prominent trumpet, “Things...” is a tripped out yet polished and extremely accomplished work that could – lazy label alert, folks – be termed psychedelic jazz, mixing as it does fusion-era Miles with the odd dollop of dub and distinct (although decidedly pixie-lite) Gong leanings. Use of the spoken word sample on “Things Went Wrong” and “Metaphorical” are particularly effective – the title(ish) track evoking in spirit if not in sound, Frankie’s “Pleasuredome” (one for all you kids to Google) as interpreted by those nice Ozric types. “Everywhere” is as fine an example of luscious cocktail dub as you can ever hope to hear, with louche bass and squelchy synths providing the undertow to some cut- glass glissando while the aforementioned “Metaphorical” is another standout, the spoken word vocal reminiscent of that K9 character from Dr Who. The jazzy dance vibe here reminds one of Red Snapper while “Resounding in H Flat” is a feet shuffler oddly evocative in places of an up tempo reworking of Man’s “Keep on Crinting” (I know, I’m showing my age now). Supreme accolade, though, goes to the sublime “The Saddest Flower in the Vase” with its urgent, Mike Howlett style bass lines and rumbling pulse that puts it in slightly darker territory than the rest of the album.

Equally recommended to those searching for that gentle festival vibe or else the musical backdrop to an evening winding down in some sun kissed Riviera resort as that welcome cold beer hits the back of the throat (I’ve road tested both, readers) this screams “soundtrack” in the same way as Zero 7 kept garnering media exposure a few years back for their visual-friendly grooves. It could even be your entry point into jazz if you’re not already there (in the same way that Gong’s Flying Teapot did for me more years back than I care to remember). See you’ve been warned, now take the plunge. (Ian Fraser)



CDs from Reverb Worship http://www.reverbworship.com/)

It’s always gratifying to open a jiffy bag adorned with Simon’s familiar scrawl, more so when nestling twixt the various and varied delights are a couple of Book of Shadows releases.

This month’s brace represent the past and the present although the line-ups are almost identical, with Carlton (keys) and Sharon (voice) Crutcher and Doug Ferguson (guitars and electronics) at its core. Indigo M was the band’s second release and was recorded in 2005 at KVRX, Austin, TX for the show which gives the album its title. Bookended by an introduction from DJ Trey Smith and an interview with the band conducted by Smith in which he even elicits a contribution from the usually reticent Sharon, the solitary track, “Indigo M”, is essentially a 50 minute improvisation. It’s reminiscent of a cosmic washing machine on long cycle with electronic ephemera not dissimilar to what can be heard on Hawkwind’s Space Ritual, without all that beat combo “nonsense” getting in the way. At times it veers deliciously into “Oh Superman” territory while Sharon’s wordless vocalisations invoke the dark side of Gong’s space whisper. It’s all typically arcane and it burns slowly but deeply.

As is so often the case with BoS releases you have to be prepared for the long ride. Patience will out although we never get to hear that super-rare Red Crayola session which Trey mentions in his interview with the band – the tease. Now I wonder where we can get hold of that one!

The other welcome offering is Ritual of Joy which, like Indigo M is, released on the very fine Reverb Worship label in strictly limited numbers (in fact both have a run of 50 and no more). After a series of releases in which Book of Shadows appear to have been more of a collective and have even dabbled with a more compositional approach, Ritual of Joy features the stripped down line-up of Crutcher C, Crutcher S, Ferguson and Steve Marsh (guitars and electronics). Well, ringing the changes seems to have worked as the result is one of the best Book of Shadows offerings for a while. “Stone People” features some powerful riffing with Sharon’s vocals as expressive and emotive as they’ve ever been. Throughout, the electronics – Ferguson’s influence no doubt – are reminiscent of prime era (or primeval) Hawkwind – a bit primitive, perhaps, but bang on the money in the way in which they complement and augment the trademark BoS sound.”Purification” is another stand-out track, during which Sharon goes into overdrive. Think Ya Ho Wa and Yoko Ono on a 1000 microgram trip together through time and space and you get a pretty good idea of what’s going on here. The filler in the sonic sandwich are the title track and “New Abilities” which are more glacial and subtle in their intent but hardly less fulfilling.

Should there be a Woolf Music festival (or, dare we hope, Terrastock) at any time in the foreseeable future then it would cry out for BoS to perform, say, a special two hour set out in the woods at some point between midnight and dawn. I mean there’s no point me being greedy and asking for more. Is there? (Ian Fraser)



(CD from http://www.gonzomultimedia.co.uk/index.html)
(CD from http://shop.barkingmoondog.com/main.sc)

Originally released on Voxx Records in 1990, “Pure Electric Honey” was the first offering from Billy James, the music within a strange mix of sonic abstraction, drifting Psychedelia and bursts of Kraut inspired freakouts. Using a host of guest musicians, the collection is an inspired musical trip, the journey taking unexpected turns, through strange landscapes and familiar countryside, a love of early Floyd always a help in these situations.

    As someone who has owned and loved this album since its initial release it is somewhat hard to be objective about it, however there is a naïve charm to the recordings with “Eating Chocolate Cake (In The Bath)” being a warm and simple slice of mellowness,  “My Cat” invoking the stranger areas of UK Psych before becoming a fine spacey excursion, whilst “Black and White Cat, Black and White Cake” moves into more abstract areas, a quiet cloud of noises and voices. To round of side one, at least on the original vinyl, “The Wrong At Once (Has Gone)” is a beautiful track, the kind you find at the end of your favourite psych album, letting light and love into your soul, just relax and float downstream.

     After the brief “Say AHHH!!” which is just that, lots of voices saying ahhh, and the ambient Eastern floatation of “The Green Gin”, the rest of the original album is taken up with “Evolution # 7”  parts I-IV, a piece that manages to mix the Beatles with early electronic experimentation, creating a joyous track that you can return to again and again, heavy guitar solos adding to the fun to be had as your mind gets blown along the way.

   As an added bonus, the CD also includes some of the original demos that were sent to Voxx including tracks that didn't make the final album. Possibly not essential, these are stilll worthwhile additions as they remain in the same style and fit in well ensuring the strangeness lasts to the very end.

     So, move on twenty odd years and we come to “Electronic Church Muzik”, the fourth release from Ant Bee, an album that follows a similar musical path although this time we find Mr James working with people such as Bunk Gardner, Peter Banks, Daevid Allen, Don Preston and Gilli Smythe.  Opening with “Birth” the listener could be forgiven for thinking they have just put on an early going album as flute and space-whisper fill the room this feeling dismissed by “Living” and Alice Cooper cover with a nice loose seventies rock feel. This being Ant Bee of course, Daevid Allen appears on “The Language of the Body” half singing the usual bizzare word play over some stoned jazz musings, all good clean fun and the best thing to do is just go with it and keep smiling, especially as the whole thing falls to pieces as it goes along.

    Breaking into some Zappa style prog, “Eye of Agamoto” features Jimmy Carl Black, Bunk Gardner and Don Preston all proving what fine players they are, bringing life to a happy summery tune.

   After more gong style musings, a bluesy acoustic guitar riff heralds the arrival of “Mallard Flies Towards Heaven” a track which finds Zoot Horn Rollo teaming up with Rockette Morton to let it all hang out for a while adding another layer of surprise to the proceedings. This, of course is the albums strength and possible downfall, the sudden changes of style certainly means that nothing becomes stale or predictable, it is just that it is also hard to really get into the thing, however if your collection includes Gong Beefheart, Zappa and plenty of late sixties, early seventies underground sounds then this could well be the album for you. In fact, this collection could sound like you entire collection in sixty minutes, whether that is ultimately a good thing is for you to decide, but when you are in the mood for some confusion about what you are actually listening to then this hits the spot completely, Herbal cigarettes are optional and some good strong ale may well be as effective. (Simon Lewis)



(CD, BOX SET and Download from Cleopatra Records www.cleorecs.com

If you are a regular reader of these pages you probably don’t need much introduction to Nik Turner. Founder member of Hawkwind, and party (and what a party it was) to many of their finest hours, Turner is something of a musical polymath who has fronted more bands than you have digits to count on (Sphynx, ICU, Space Ritual, All Stars, Kubanno Kickasso, Outriders of the Apocalypse and Project 9 to name but several). However Space Gypsy, which features guest slots from redoubtable old campaigners Simon House and Steve Hillage as well as sterling contributions from his US touring band including ex-members of UK Subs and Chelsea, marks and unashamed return to Nik Turner’s intergalactic roots and lays strong claim to being his first solo album proper.

From the twittering synths and the primal riffing to Nik’s trademark free jazz skronk the key ingredients of a great Hawkwind album are plainly evident. There’s melody too, particularly when Turner (whose playing has matured over the years and is, to my mind, often unfairly maligned), turns to the flute. The beautiful, haunting dark folk of “Eternity“ and skip-along “The Visitor“ are both cases in point. However, charming though these may be, what you really want to hear is whether Thunder Rider can still slice the Dijon when it comes to nailing that iconic Mother Ship sound of yesteryear.

The answer, in one word, is a pretty emphatic “yes”.

Whether it’s the killer single “Fallen Angel STS-51-L” the Near Eastern flecked “Time Crypt“, the mystical and hypnotic “Coming of the Maya”, tasteful toe-tapper (and something of a personal favourite) “Anti-Matter“ or the deranged “Something’s Not Right “ Space Gypsy offers up a tonic to Space Rockers everywhere, one which is close enough to the sonic template to warrant a game of “sounds a bit like...” but not so derivative as to be dismissed and stored with the remoulds. The “conscience of Hawkwind” he might have been as well as providing an important visual focus, but Nik was never the strongest vocalist in the band’s armoury. Here, though, he makes a pretty decent fist of it thanks in part to some sympathetic production and the fact that for the most part he is comfortable to work within his most effective range and timbre. It’s only on “Something’s Not Right” that he really lets rip vocally and its entirely fitting that he does. It’s a barnstorming end to what might easily have turned out to be an ill-judged attempt at recapturing glories past but which aside from the occasional wobble (mostly lyrical) qualifies as something of a triumph.

Listening to Space Gypsy it could be the Lost Album between “Hall of Mountain Grill” and “Warrior on the Edge of Time” and one wonders whether Turner’s career might have followed a different trajectory had it seen the light of day during the glory days of space rock. To these ears it definitely has the edge over Space Ritual’s acclaimed “Otherworld” from 2007 and, at a time when successive Hawkwind releases rely increasingly on reworking old standards, for Turner to have come up with ten original compositions of reassuring sound and commendable quality is an achievement not to be sniffed at. Time-warped or timeless? You decide. After all yer pays yer money and makes yer choice, but for me it’s like being 15 again although of course I’m really much, much older but not at all wiser. Thankfully. (Ian Fraser)





(CD from http://trounrecords.bigcartel.com/)
(CD from www.schnauser.co.uk)

Two more albums in the long running series “blimey, I should have reviewed this already”, this time focusing on some lovely Psych-pop musings from both sides of the pond.

     First up, Magic Hero are sprinkled with Californian sunshine on this collection, the opening song mixing this with a healthy layer of Family-esque grooves , making “Set Sail” the perfect song for this warm and shimmering voyage. With a hint of Bubblegum running through it “The Day Spring Of All Things” is the kinda song that makes you smile, get you dancing in the kitchen and generally makes your day better, the mood contained throughout this fine disc, the songs short sweet and generally lovely.

    You have all seen pictures/film of the hippies dancing in Golden gate Park back in the sixties, well that seems to be the mood of this disc with “I'll Follow” sounding like a mellow version of The Monkees, “Piece by Piece” having a more psychedelic sound and “Summer is a Place in my Mind” sounding like an Airplane outtake worth owning. On “The Rain Left” and “Treat it Like the First Time”the sound switches to a more UK Psych sound, both tunes relaxed and gorgeous, the melodies wrapping themselves around you like incense smoke. This may be one of the collections strength, the wonderful melodies, the warm feel and the generally relaxed vibe all creating an album that will drift over you and soothe your troubles away.

     With chiming guitars, delicate keyboards and a sixties groove this is a collection that sound both familiar and enticing, something the title track displays by the bucket load, by the time you get to “It All Depends on Everything” your life will be a little bit better, guaranteed.

   Taking their cue from the Early seventies UK underground scene, Schnauser manages to make the familiar sound fresh their blend of songs and sounds managing to be both retro and up-to-date in some strange way, with this 11 song collection surely appealing to lovers of Caravan, Stackridge, Rundgren as well as Super Furries,  Gorkys, Soft  Hearted Scientist, etc etc.

      Featuring the talents of Alan Strawbridge, formerly of the ever excellent Lucky Bishops, the songwriting is strong throughout with “Walking Stick & Cat” providing a robust early marker, filled with some fine guitar work and loads of energy reminding me of Blossom Toes (for some reason).

    With ringing guitar and some sprightly flute “Dinner Party” is a truly wonderful song, a heady mix of 10cc and BJH, taking the best of both bands and elevating it.

    Elsewhere the Todd Rungren influence is clear to see, whilst “Pigeons” would be right at home on “Land of Grey and Pink”, which is a damn fine thing in my book.

   Another one of the album's strengths is the fact, that while the songs are all written by Mr Strawbridge there is a definite band cohesiveness to the collection with everybody contributing to the feel, a palatable joy to be heard in the tunes. As with all good UK albums there is a hint of music hall to be found on the jaunty “Hangdog”, the fun never letting up until the last strains of “Westward Ho” fade into the night, the tune sounding like one of those tracks that sneaked onto Top of the Pops in the seventies, livening up the generally substandard rubbish we normally had to sit through.

   So, two album that, whilst sounding very different, both prove that quality songwriting will always be around, emotion and feeling more important than the beat or latest style, Amen to that I say, although I do love a bit of Drum and Bass on a night out! (Simon Lewis)




( 3” CD  from http://www.rustedrail.com/)

To be fair I could review this collection in one word: perfection, but I guess the discerning reader may need a bit more information presented to them.

   Those who are familiar with Cubs will know that they blend acoustic instruments with field recordings, the odd swathe of electronics and blasts of electricity, taking folk music into the future whilst retaining elements of the traditional giving the music a melodic heart and a human soul.

     Opening with the gorgeous “Gulliver” the listener is struck with the beauty hidden within the seeming simplicity of the tune, the lovely voice of Cecilia Danell washing your cares away in a moment of rare beauty. On the title track, Bouzouki, Bead Drum and Radiophonics dance together delightfully, whilst “Hummingbird / McAlindens Lament” has a more traditional feel, the vocals again filled with emotion, drifting over the musical landscape below.

  Another delightful feature of the album is the use of vocal samples that will make you smile (“I chose the cat”) or think (“What is the secret?”), the samples occurring frequently enough to become a feature of the collection whilst remaining sparse enough to surprise you when they appear.

     As we move on the band present us with full songs, instrumental duets and solo pieces, the wide range of players and instruments ensuring the album has a freshness that really shines across the whole disc, each piece playing its part in the music creating something timeless and enchanting.

    Even playing this now, I am struck by the magical qualities the record possesses, the ability to totally absorb you in its world, as welcome as the first day of spring and as golden as autumn's finest hour. Lovers of beautiful music should dive right in. Perfection. (Simon Lewis)