Saturday, 26 September 2020

PETE BROWN & PIBLOKTO! - Aeroplane Head Woman

 (PS)

I love Pete Brown, but let’s get this straight right from the start: prodigious poet & lyricist though he may be, he should never have been a front man.  

In interview he’s admitted that he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of singing his own songs, and it was only Graham Bond who encouraged him to do so; even his 1987 anthology of the period between 1969-1977 was titled “Before Singing Lessons”. His voice is wavering, often not strong enough to rise above the typically excellent musicians under him and wholly unremarkable in tone or character. Watching footage of Piblokto live on French TV in 1970/71, it is also apparent that his on-stage presence was less Strutting Rock God, more Gnome Attacked by Wasps. 


But after his sublime songwriting partnership with Jack Bruce – both with Cream and on Bruce’s solo albums, including the exquisite Songs for a Tailor – there was a sense that Brown had earned the right to do whatever he wanted (and evidently had the moolah from the royalties to do just that). He formed the jazz/prog band Pete Brown’s Battered Ornaments and released the experimental A Meal You Can Shake Hands With in the Dark in 1969, and was then booted out before the release of the subsequent Mantlepiece LP, his vocals scrapped and re-recorded (Ed. and abysmally) by guitarist Chris Spedding and band name changed to simply The Battered Ornaments. 

Undeterred, Brown formed Pete Brown & Piblokto! and released two LPs in 1970: the jazzy Things May Come and Things May Go… But the Art School Dance Goes On Forever in April, and the somewhat rockier Thousands on a Raft some six months later. Aeroplane Head Woman is the later LP’s opener, and what an opener it is. 


 The riff that opens the song and continues ostinato throughout is a belter: raucous, loud, prickly, awkward, with a dropped beat halfway through to keep you on your toes. The riff is played in unison by organ, guitar & bass and even manages to survive being honked out by Brown himself for one of the repetitions. 

The lyrics, telling the story of a lovelorn woman missing her wartime pilot lost in action some 30 years previous are poignant, aided by the recurring moments of soft reflection in the music – until, POW! on the snare, back to the killer riff and the volume is back up to 10 where it belongs. This loud/quiet/loud pattern also repeats through the song, sometimes lulling you with a false ending, only to shock you back to life like a defibrillator to the heart when it resumes. 

Rob Tait’s drums are lovely and taut, crisp sounding and Steve Glover’s bass walks nicely around them throughout – but the two extended solos are the stars of the show here: first, Jim Mullen’s clean-but-still-gritty guitar is rocky, bluesy but precise and perfectly placed within the chord structure; then after a final verse from Brown, Dave Thompson’s whirling organ storms in and provides a fantastic climax, sometimes echoing parts of the riff, other times pinning you against the wall with its force or providing a calm conclusion to the proceedings. Magnificent stuff. 

Piblokto didn’t last long after Thousands on a Raft; Brown released a few LPs in subsequent years – the most notable collaboration being with Graham Bond in 1972 – before the safety pins of punk did for him in 1977 and he turned his back on music for many years. There’s plenty to delve into with Brown’s various projects & off-shoots if you have the time and patience, but this is perhaps the most accessible place to start. 

(CG)

A sub Troggs (or Wild Ones) riff and vocals from the heyday of archaic rock. The vocals are typical of this genre of British archaic rock, descending (and rising) with male plaintive phrasings that are meant to signify meaningfulness, a stylistic archness that heralded the pathway to supergroups and pomp rock. The lyrics are less than engaging but seeking similarly to be meaningful in that dire sub-sub Bob Dylan style that witters on. The guitar when left to get on with it (which is not often) plays some lively melody sequences but all too soon it is back to the power riffs that become exhausting to listen to. The organ breaks in at certain points but seems to head in other directions to the rest of the band. This is very much from a genre that the Harvest records had a prediliction for that their white male A and R guys of a certain age went for. Not a song I will ever listen to again.

(JS)


“She sits in the city with wings on her mind

 She waits for the birdman who left her behind

 He had to fly almost straight into hate

 There is only one though the race is run

 Pilot of her love feels him far above”

 

Dense, lyrically ambiguous stomper with a distinctive riff that sounds like a Cream coda and a lighter chorus section which prefigures Genesis. The riff spawns an endless guitar solo from Jim Mullen. The organ work by Dave Thompson holds it together. Brown’s vocal is gutsy but tonally minimalist, more of a lyricist than a singer.


(MS)

In the back of “The Torrington” the band wiped themselves down with bar towels and grabbed for cheese sandwiches laid out on a trestle-table. Round the corner the night bus edged its way out. Three shapes slumped deep in their seats on the upper deck. Behind them, Tally-Ho Corner slipped back into its early morning meditative state. Paper blew across the wet pavements, electrified in amber street-light, shining from the evening’s incessant rain.

 

"Not as good as his "Fire" stuff", said Big Barry, pulling at the damp black curls hanging like a storm-raged thicket on his head.

"What "Fire" stuff?"' Replied Colin stiffly, his ears still ringing, his head still bobbing, his chest inhaling the hand-rolled ciggie.

"'Fire'.Y'know with the fucking about with the ...fiery helmet shit"

"That was Arthur Brown, Barry,"

 

The bus lurched on in silence, the gears crunching over the North Circular. Moments passed like Centuries.

"Well who was that then?"

"Pete Brown!" snapped Colin in irritation, the riff from "Aeroplane Head Woman" still rising and receding in his inner ear like sea tide shale washing across a beach. "And sit over there will you...you smell rank"

"What did he do?"

"Can you sit over there for fucks sake?"

 

Rising with a moan Barry slouched heavily into the pale blonde girl staring out the window. "Give us a fag Sue?", he asked.

Fumbling in a Peruvian style woollen bag, the girl produced a crumpled box of Park Drives and shaking, thrust it into Barry's hand. Lighting up with a simultaneous drag and loud exhale, he spluttered on,

"Come on Coll what did he do?", he repeated.

Colin carefully picked a flake of tobacco from his lip, "He was in The Cream".

In his head he re-played the gig, from the riff-heavy opening, through “High Flying Electric Bird” to Brown’s lengthy beat poetry reading of “Politician”. “A sum of his parts” he nodded to himself.

 

The silence cannoned down the length of the bus. Aeons passed.

"Was he the drummer?"

"Of course he wasn't the fucking drummer Barry, he wrote the words. Politician, In The White Room…Sunshine "

 

Suddenly Sue leaned forward. "Gonna puke...gonna puke!"

Barry shot out of his seat banging his head on the roof. Moaning in pain he watched in horror as a psychedelic waterfall of projectile orange filth spewed from Sue's retching throat. Clearing her patterned dress it splattered Pollock-like across the whole right side of Barry’s already soaked afghan coat.

"Foookin’...Hell! Foookin’...Hell!", moaned Barry in slow, pained resignation.

Sue collapsed across the seat, breathing deeply, her teary eyes sparkling with relief. "I feel better", she cooed quietly.

Hands rubbing his head, Barry looked down at himself with wild eyes,  

"Foookin’...Hell! What about me?", he shouted back.

Colin pulled his scarf across his mouth and pulling his knees up to his chin mumbled and pointed, "Sit back there will you, you're stinking the place out".

 

Barry shaking his head, stumbled to the back of the bus and started scraping the vomit from his coat with a fist of discarded Golden Wonder packets. The tiny crisps hung to his coat, giving it the look of a ceremonial gown. From his back seat throne he surveyed his kingdom and boomed down the length of the bus,

"I'm soaking wet, I'm covered in sick, I've cracked me nut….I'm fucked off with all this!"

 

The bus continued its journey creeping up Muswell Hill, then on reaching the Broadway the three of them rose in stages. Colin lead the way, racing down the stairs with the music still pounding in his ears. Sue followed, urgently dragging a plastic comb across her hair.

From behind Big Barry shouted,

"I've just paid 50p to watch someone I've never heard of who couldn't even SING!" Dragging himself heavily down the stairs, he shouted after them, "I'm not even pissed...! I’m not even pissed…! I could have had three pints for that!"

Behind them the doors shut with a thud and the bus edged it's way on towards the Great Metropolis. 

 

Back in North Finchley Pete Brown and band silently loaded the Commer van. A night in Torquay lay ahead. 



Wednesday, 16 September 2020

BOB LIND - Since There Were Circles LP

 

(MS)

The brief acapella "I Love to Sing” serves as a chaser to possibly the most profound, flop-house, “skunk-drunk”, song-cycle ever dedicated to the barflies of the Sunset Strip. From the off the singer’s crazy and lost, bereft of a companion who can't even condescend to be with him; “Sweet Harriet”’s already gone and grey-faced drifter’s Doug Dillard and Gene Clark look on, serenading on furious banjo and harmonica. Across the room Harry Dean Stanton from “Cisco Pike” sits amongst the turkey-neck wrecks in dishevelled “Nudie” shirts, eyes propped open with burnt motel matches.  It’s the Hollywood highs and low-down lows of the old Los Angeles Downtown “City Scenes”.


I imagine...


"I am caught up in the circle and I turn again

Like the seasons, like the moon

Like the still and frozen moment in the beggars hand

Love is bargained for, much too soon"

 

10 years ago I allowed myself to be made redundant. Armed only with a good pair of headphones and a lap-top groaning with obscure album rips, I drifted on a circular bus journey round the US. At 2 am 2 months-in on a Greyhound somewhere between Deadwood and Devil’s Tower I first heard this Bob Lind LP. It was a crackly old rip which jumped halfway through the second track, "City Scenes". The bass, the rolling piano, the world-weary voice… the lyrical re-immersion into the circles of hell. It was enough to make up my mind there and then, to commit to a thousand mile return trip back to LA to search for a new copy in the Amoeba racks on Sunset Blvd. My bus disintegrated en-route and via Billings, Montana, Salt Lake City and Vegas I found myself transported by ever smaller vehicles, the last one a mini-bus that pulled our bags on a separate trailer all the way in from Barstow.

 

40 years earlier Bob Lind had been pulled back into Los Angeles on his own circular quest, returning to the city of his fleeting triumph and lingering fall:





 "I've been working on the railroad...

All my lifelong life

To find the way to set the track

To run the train to take me back

To take me back"

 

Exiled in Santa Fe, Lind had spent the latter part of the Aquarian age holed up with his demons, binging on a diet of drink and drugs, his bridges in the LA jungle burnt to a crisp by an industry reputation for "being difficult". Coaxed back by Doug Weston, owner of the famed “Troubadour” folk-club, 1970’s “Since There Were Circles” was to be the last shot, nurtured with favours cashed, in the bosom of friends, well-wishers and crack session musicians. 


By all accounts he gave them hell in the process.

 

“Love came in the early morning
And I was sleeping late that day
And I love to live the night life
But what a heavy price to pay”

 

“Love Came Riding” and left too soon, like a Jacques Demy film playing with destiny, the characters circling each other but constantly missing. Gone and forgotten and by afternoon rapping with his newest best “Loser”, sucking on bottles of budget Ripple wine; the junkman’s drink of choice. Think Mary Astor in "Act of Violence". By Sunset the blues walk in, accompanied by the woozy hired horns from a nearby mariachi wedding. ”Not That I Would Want Her Back” he says, pinballing the slurred euphoria of loneliness, bouncing thoughts back around the brain. 



It drives you mad if you stay there but like a sermon the “Theme from the Music Box” plays the moment out with the just-removed insight of morning-after sobriety, a sepia vignette closing side one with a Tinseltown string flourish.

 

“They don't go by for nothing, these moments
They come to touch and carry you
They come like thieves or saviours
To all our streams and avenues”

 

It was a great side and side two’s better.

 

In the mid-60s his brief moment came via a slew of wordy pop-vignettes draped in Jack Nitzsche strings, his Colorado drawl emoting Dylanesque put-downs and mystic requiems to fragile love. The poppy “Elusive Butterfly” made money but the career stalled whilst TV caught him un-photogenically strumming away behind frugging Go-Go girls, desperately looking for a Monkee. The death knell was the opportunistic release in 1966 of acoustic demos from the near and distant past, smothered in inappropriate arrangements that frequently failed to stay in time. From this, Lind opted to disappear for a while.

 

“Anymore” fills in the mindset of those wilderness years, holed up in his desert place, where he spewed out the songs on this album. On the cover he’s Moses on a Harley. On the back he stares out like a Beat Roman Polanski. Beat at 28

“I used to be the apple in the hand of Eve

I used to be the writing on the wall
Sometimes I can almost make it back there
Sometimes I don't believe it's there at all”

 

And then a sudden shift elevates the mood, careering into a sublime double-hit of hope, In the early evening hour when the sun comes through the blinds”, and a woman with love… uncontainable love… “Spilling Over”… zig-zagging across the floor, sending everything over… chairs, drinks, hearts… minds…The start of something, the start of a life.

 

“…it's insane, she never sees me when I'm strong

 

“She Can Get Along”. Two minutes fifty-three seconds of wonder. A single that barely made it out of the Capitol pressing plant. A blissed-out anthem wrapped in wary words. The one in charge is “She” made explicit by the breathless final gallop….

 

“If you're gonna be around the girl you better know about her - I can tell you she can get along and don't you ever doubt her - maybe she'll be lookin' like a lady needs a lover - but you know she's just a loner workin' easy under cover - all alone…”

 

The clatter of traffic, curtains pulled, a wipe of the eyes, “Up in the Morning Me” a little link with those horns again blowing out the spittle and snot, setting things up for the day’s big ending. Strummed guitar like the Fred Neil part of Tim Buckley’s mind, “Since There Were Circles”, emerges …colossus-like… the only song you ever want to busk on every street corner. Reverently and deep:

 

“Beauty breaking open over all of my solitude and pain
I'm in your life stream like the desert drinking in the rain
And whenever I'm holding you I feel your heart beat
And it feels like the pulse of the world at my feet
And oh, such wonders to discover
And oh, such peace to be your lover”

 

In the late 70’s Bob Lind was immortalised in the writings of Charles Bukowoski, then he became a tabloid journalist and then a novelist and playwright and 20-odd years ago he got the three R treatment with retrospective recognition and rediscovery. He’s back singing now I think. I also think this may be one of my very favourite LPs. I know this because I’ve realised in the last 3 weeks its only now I’ve really listened to it. For the last decade I seem to have tip-toed around it, fearful of tarnishing it with familiarity. It covers a range of folk-pop styles, with lyrics that embrace a lifetime of emotions and like getting to know someone special I’ve found repeated listens just keep on giving with this album.

 

I dedicate this review to Richie Unterberger because perhaps he doesn’t get allmusic.




(JS)


Bob Lind is an enigmatic singer song writer whom I confess I had never heard of. He made three abums between 1966 and 1971 before angrily spurning the music industry until 2012. Prior to his recording career he was a Colorado based folk singer. Recorded in the Bob Dylan wave of commoditisation, Lind produced an eclectic mix of country/folk with an impeccable galaxy of session musicians and producers whom he fell out with. Admired by other artists as a songwriter and critics, he didn’t achieve market recognition until his Jarvis Cocker instigated revival. Personally I missed that one as well. Intelligent tuneful songs with interesting tempo and lush productions. His voice is strong but lacking in range, so the effort goes into the tunes, arrangements and lyrical content. The music is composed on guitar with slow build to increasing complexity, and where piano joins, it follows the structure dictated by the guitar. If Lind has a key characteristic it is the way he changes the tempo of the piece in the chorus and middle 8, this emphasises the lyrical content. Most of his songs are love songs, of a slightly frustrated, unattainable note, with a sad introspection. He presents his narrator as a difficult, intense everyman without the cathartic release of Springsteen’s fast car driving, or Dylan’s righteous anger or Gaye’s sexual physicality or Van Morrison’s wistful optimistic mysticism. The romance in Lind is shouty and awkward. The journey is always unexpected and I suspect has aged better than it was first received, when I suspect the initial reaction was WTF. Structurally the songs are good, the production is generous but they go nowhere, and the lyric doesn’t stick with his voice’s tonal restrictions. A better singer could carry these songs further.


(PS)

I was only aware of Bob Lind previously through his 1966 single Elusive Butterfly, when his voice was smooth and optimistic sounding… country-tinged and a hint of wistful yearning, but ultimately quite innocent and fresh, boyish almost. 

 

However this LP starts with an A Capella folk blues overture which shows his voice had altogether changed in the intervening 5 years, it’s much earthier and harsher than previous… maybe something to do with the substances which plagued his life during that time; then it leads into a country infused Sweet Harriett, with a rustic blues harp & banjo which makes me think of something by Area Code 615 a couple of years earlier. So far, so Country Blues... then City Scenes starts and it’s another style completely, like a slicker version of Bill Fay transplanted from North London to Greenwich Village or San Francisco. 

 

Lind seems to have turned into the musical equivalent of blotting paper on this LP, seemingly taking in influences from all over the place – and evidently leaving their mark on other artists – as I can hear echoes of other LPs all through this one. An obvious influence would be Dylan, no surprise there – but I can also hear Arlo Guthrie and Richie Havens tones throughout the record (evidently Lind & Guthrie were close friends, and Lind’s favourite cover of his own songs was done by Havens, 2012’s How the Nights Can Fly). 

 

For some reason, the next track Loser made me think of The Band: maybe it was the laid-back tempo and the slight time shuffle on the ‘a-holding back a-summer storm’ return to the main theme that did it. The opening guitar of Love Came Riding instantly made me think of Flat Baroque-era Roy Harper, and the occasional skipped beat kept that feel throughout the song. 


Theme from the Music Box had a Phil Ochs feel for me; Anymore might’ve been written by Jimmy 
Webb, and the triplets in Spilling Over sounded very like Neil Young to my ears (maybe that’s the Jack Nitzsche connection between the two coming through). 

 

She Can Get Along was the only single from the LP, but it didn’t trouble the US or UK charts – it was middle of the road enough, but perhaps without the hook that would keep it in the front of your mind for long. The jaunty Up In The Morning is a couple of fun minutes and the most Arlo-like song on the LP, but it’s a trap – the closing title track is reminiscent of early 70s Bowie with its 12 string suspended guitar chords, and the darkly off-kilter lyrics remind you where the album’s heart is really at. 

The songs which work best for me on the LP are the acoustic ones, but then I’ve always shied away from lush strings and orchestral arrangements – so those were always going to grate slightly. It’s a chameleon-like album that changes colour with every song, most notably going from sky blue to dark grey with the closing two songs. It also improves with further listening, so don’t dismiss it out of hand if it doesn’t feel like your bag first time around

 

(CG)

This 1971 album offers an interesting selection of tunes and lyrics that explore different genres of folk as they intersect with rock music following the path of Bob Dylan (to whom he was compared – probably the kiss of death in terms of making it in the music industry in Dylan’s shadow) as well as Gram Parsons and the Byrds. A prominent feature is how with each song he re-articulates his vocals to shape the lyrics and add atmosphere. This vocalisation borrows from various styles to which he has clearly paid close attention and allows him to offer distinctive, if middle of the road, phrasings that compare favourably with some of the notable American song book and rock crooners of the period. On two or three tracks this stylistic device becomes somewhat arch and fails to convince but for the most part there is a creative enterprise that holds the listener’s attention.

His songs have been taken up and covered by a wide range of bands and singers such as Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis, Petula Clark, Nancy Sinatra, Richie Havens, the Four Tops and Dolly Parton to name but a few. Moreover the British band Pulp paid homage To Lind with the song  Bob Lind (the Only Way is Down) which alludes perhaps to his propensity for drink and other substances in the 1960s which hindered his career at that time. Interestingly he was a friend of the writer Charles Bukowski who referenced him in the character Dinky Summers in his 1978 novel. Becoming sober in 1977 he has had a productive career in a range of mediums, writing 5 novels and a screenplay and working as a journalist before taking up music again in 2004 at the behest of another notable friend the musician Arlo Guthrie. Since then he has been touring and released new music in 2012 and 2016 which is worth a listen