ALBUM REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

John Howard ‘LOOK! The Unknown Story Of Danielle Du Bois’
(Kool Kat Musik) 11th March 2022

Depending on how you measure success of course, you could view John Howard’s career in two ways: the artistic kind (which is really the only one that counts at the end of the day) and the stardom kind. Failing in the later stakes after the damp squib that followed in the wake of the piano-player-songwriter’s 1975 debut on a major label, Kid In A Big World, John’s career hit the rocks; restricted on various occasions by a both idiotic and sympathetic cadre of managers, publicists, producers, labels and well-wishers. All to no avail.

However, through a myriad of anecdotal relayed projects (all written down by the raconteur troubadour, so far, in three volumes of entertaining autobiography) continued across the 70s and 80s, John had to wait until the noughties to finally pick and choose his projects, and to work with whom he wished: on his own terms. Arguably more successful and creatively on fire now than he ever was in the heady heydays of the 70s, he’s enjoying himself; able at last to bang out a concept album without the merest hint or resistance or scoff.

Personally, I’m still holding out for a sequel to the longform cerebral Across The Door Sill album from 2016, and a cover album of Beach Boys maladies, but until then, here’s John’s latest opus; arriving off the back of a rich prolific run of records.

Although billed as a musical concept songbook based on the fictional transgender character Daniel Wood, later to transition into the Paris cause célèbre Danielle Du Bois, LOOK! The Unknown Story Of Danielle Du Bois is a barely veiled sympathetic magnum opus to the late April Ashley. Perhaps amongst the first men to go through sex reassignment surgery at a time when it was so taboo that you had to fly out to a clinic in Casablanca, April’s own life story mirrors that of John’s fictional creation. But I also detect something of, parallels with, John’s own story of escape and search for identity; only allowed to live out his true homosexual spirit when moving away from home to London, where he thrived.

And so, this is a story of identity, rebirth and the lengths someone is willing to go to accomplish their dreams; to transition and discard a previous life, even if it comes back to haunt them: which it does. However, the projection of Daniel Wood is different to that inspired biography, with the boy wonder, despite various travails, a bullying WWII veteran father and a puzzled mother, making it big in the burgeoning music scene of the late 50s and early 60s. With his hit carousel and theatrical harpsichord furnished ‘Every Day A New Adventure’ wowing both national and international audiences alike, the bucks and offers come flooding in. There’s even talk of a Hollywood movie biopic. But Daniel’s journey ends here, as Danielle’s begins: the young pop star leaving it all behind, bound for that reassignment appointment at an exclusive clinic in Paris.

As Daniel is left behind to be dredged back up as a “whatever happened to?” salacious redtop exposé decades later, a new belle hot foots it around the Paris cabaret circuit, struts it out in style through the salons of the exclusive bohemian and arts set; later adored as a sensation and heroine of the LGBT plus community. In another age, able to live as they always wanted, the final deathbed dream sequence reimagines, in theatrical staged pomp, the school daze that never were; played out to a camp rock ‘n’ roll and glam musical accompaniment, a dying, fulfilled Danielle is whisked away by guardian angels to a fantastical classroom of the 1950s to perform an upbeat cast number as the woman she always knew she was.

Despite being of the times and almost overtly on-trend, this album feels like unfinished business; more the ambitious follow-up to Kid In A Big World then a follow-on from his recent catalogue. Musically too, this seems a 70s conceptual piece – not that there’s anything wrong with that – with shades of early Elton & Bernie, Gilbert O’ Sullivan, Bruce Johnston, pre-disco Bee Gees and even a tint of Russell Meal vocally.

In the linear story’s feather boa panache and garish swished parades through the French capital (and even namechecked alongside a soiree of French stars that includes Brigitte Bardot, Gainsbourg and references to the intelligencer: see Jean Genet) there’s a decadent air of Charles Aznavour. And although of course musically at opposite ends, there’s The Who’s Tommy mirror symbolism (both to gaze into but ultimately smash) going on, and the bookend framing of an overture and a reprise. ‘Last Night He Woke Up Screaming’ is the overture of a kind, moving through a slightly ominous nursey rhyme, a sorrowful church organ service, and a lushly swooned backstory; the reprise, ‘A Place In Time (After-ture)’ repeats that dissonant lullaby whilst revisiting musical passages, refrains and touching melodies from the entire album.

John does however evoke a more contemporary Rufus Wainwright on songs like the descriptive left banke accordion wafted goodbye plaintive ‘Good Day Daniel’, and on the cabaret celebration in the face of mortality and aging ‘Still Gorgeous’: a raunchy anthem that ‘brings down the house’.     

Filled with brocade and gilded sentiment, chamber orchestrated swells and stage musicals, LOOK! The Unknown Story Of Danielle Du Bois shows a full gamut of variety; a showcase for John’s musicianship, arranging skills and song writing. A perfumed, lush songbook fit for the stage, John’s homage to his late friend shines a sympathetic light on not just April’s travails but those transgender trailblazers (and I’d put the late Jan Morris in that list) that struggled, and still do, to lead the life they should without recrimination and prejudice. All very platitude inducing, but correct nonetheless. John Howard once more has that magic touch, seemingly in his elements, the sagacious polymath enriching us all with his best work five decades on from his initial break. Not many artists can do that.

ALBUM FEATURE/REVIEW/Dominic Valvona

John Howard ‘Best Of…’
(Kool Kat Musik/I Don’t Hear A Single) 14th May 2021

The musical career of John Howard (five decades and still counting) has hardly been plain sailing; with a majority of the songs he both wrote and recorded during his initial short-lived ascendance in the mid 1970s either shelved or sidelined. In fact, the bon vivant pianist, troubadour, former A&R man and now author’s musical output has arguably been more prolific, yielded better riches, in the last decade than it ever did when the young burgeoning star was on the cusp of success in 1974, after signing to CBS.

Hampered however by a myriad of setbacks and travails (both professionally and personally), the eyes-wide-open Lancashire gay lad in the big smoke found his recording career quickly stifled, even blocked by a thoroughly unsympathetic and often ruthless music industry after the commercial failure of his debut album, Kid In A Big World in 1975. Though gaining some critical acclaim at the time, the album’s singles failed to meet with the approval of the radio camarilla. The debut single from that starry-eyed but resigned to the usury of others thematic album, the grandeur sighed melodrama ‘Goodbye Suzie’, was deemed far too downbeat for the daytime audience needed to make it a hit. And to be fair, the fateful subject of this stage tragedy does end up dead. But what a way to go! Drowned to the soundtrack of a graceful and most lovely of slow building chorus maladies. 

That single opens this, the first proper, wide-ranging ‘Best Of…’ compilation of Howard’s songbook to ever be released: ahead it seems of a new album, Single Return; as denoted by the Bacharach shares the piano stool with Brecht vision of the former Aztec Camera instigator Roddy Frame’s starry lower case universal yet personal anthem ‘Small World’. A bookended collection if you like, with the very first rudimental demos from a teenage Howard appearing alongside those from a future release. 

Chronicled so far in two autobiographical volumes of memories, this survey’s track list mirrors Howard’s oft toing and froing between actual realized projects: of which there is many. There’s a lot of music on this 2XCD spanning celebration that never saw the light of day when it was recorded during the backend of the Glam epoch; a hell of a lot it subsequently picked up and redistributed across various low key compilation EPs and albums, released a decade or two (even three) later. There are a litany of reasons for this: the already mentioned lack of support, the interference of others, but also by a terrible, almost fatal, accident that threatened to cut his career short. Pursued by mad Russian sailor, a ‘bit of rough’, brought back to his shared accommodation by his colourful Filipino gay flat mates (relocating to London to escape the clutches of dictator Ferdinand Marcos), Howard would end up breaking both his back and his feet escaping this manic, intent on murder, when jumping from a window to escape. Recovery was convoluted, yet Howard did return to the bar stool, recording studio and pen thank god.

Under the Kid In A Big World trilogy umbrella a quick succession of albums were recorded in a two-year window of opportunity. Only the first of which, and the only that gives its name to this flurry of recordings, actually made it to the release stage. The album that announced Howard’s arrival is for obvious reasons well represented on this compilation. Dressed like Annie Hall era Diane Keaton shopping at Biba, Howard’s blossoming as a quality balladeer of semi-foppish stagey drama is both very much of its time. There’s the doleful, softly soothed if fearful and yearned Bernie and Elton melodrama title track, the Steve Harley accented and Bolan “lalala” marimba bobbing ‘Family Man’ (actually released as a single on the said sainted day for lovers), and attempt at Fitzgerald roaring twenties Hollywood glam, ‘Maybe Some Day In Miami’. Despite some of the over-production (mostly against Howard’s wishes) and schmaltz, there’s always something deeper and often autobiographical in many of these songs; an artistry that saves such pop cabaret hits from mediocrity.

During the CBS label years, Howard would record songs for both the Technicolour Biography and Can You Hear Me OK? albums. Both put on the indefinite backburner at the time, but appearing in smatterings at a later date, some of this material now appears here. The former is represented by the sorrowful CSN&Y-esque ‘Oh Dad (Look What You Done)’, the Elton fandango with Mick Ronson plaintive ‘Take Up Your Partners (Finale)’, and the sadly romantic, cerebral character arc mini opus title track (a touch of Robin Gibb and even Freddie Mercury on that one). The latter of those two albums is represented by the Lynsey de Paul disco swinger ‘I Got My Lady’, daytime TV weepy, fluty and theatrical album title track, and Gibb Brothers (them again) lawsuit sound-a-like ‘I Can Breathe Again’.

Going back before even this trilogy, and appearing thirty-odd years later on the cozily nostalgic entitled Front Room Fables EP, there’s a genuine rarity from a seventeen year-old Howard finding his soul and craft. From the sitting room, the grainy acoustic guitar driven home demo of ‘I’ll Feel What I Feel’ shows a strong penchant for the music of Donovan and Roy Harper, rather than the glitz of what was to come. That Harper reference isn’t so surprising, as an older Howard covered the erstwhile counter-culture English troubadour’s ‘Another Day’, which, as it goes is included on this compilation.  Unless you know your Howard back catalogue inside-out, the next chunk of this collection’s curated track list gets confusing; taken as they are from other smaller, more concentrated samplers of Howard’s 70s and 80s output released in the 90s and much later still. The Hidden Beauty compilation from 2008 is a case in point: a collated survey of misplaced and rare recordings. There’s a strong showing from that album in particular with Howard channeling a heart aching Lennon on the romantic plaint demo from ’79, ‘Loving You’, and tenderly evoking shades of Love Affair, McCartney and unsurprisingly, considering it was produced by Eddie Pumer, Fairfield Parlour on ‘Smalltown Adventures’.  Meanwhile the spindled, warm 60s sounding ‘Three Years’ (one of a few songs never before available until now on CD) finds Howard in Butch Cassidy Bacharach territory, and caught between Gilbert O’Sullivan and Sparks on the superhero caper ‘Comic Strip’

From Howard’s litany of ill-advised and realized re-launches, there was an awful sci-fi concept that saw him don a pastiche of Midge Ure and Gary Numan mimicry in an attempt to buck the trends of the early 80s. Thankfully there isn’t much from that period, only some good ideas turned into over-ripe, over-produced schmaltz for the disco and pop age. If we leap forward, we arguably find some of Howard’s best work is relatively more recent. Though fed up enough to jack it in (to a point) and turn A&R man during the 80s and 90s, Howard still continued to tickle the ivory and carry on recording: from 1989, there’s the inclusion of Howard’s love letter of support to his husband, ‘Neil (You Can Depend On Me)’; another over-produced 80s glitter of daytime Pebble Mill soft pop rock that could have been a missing hit for Cliff Richard; produced strangely enough by Acker Bilk!

Into another decade completely Cole Porter shares the keyboard with Rufus Wainwright, whilst a melody that strongly suggests CSN&Y’s ‘Our House’ and a ’68 period Kinks, on the 2005 recorded ‘The Dilemma Of The Homosapien’. We actually hear a proper poetic tinseled lyrical homage to Rufus on this compilation; one of a few that also includes Howard’s Broadway sign off sigh to the glam fated Jobriath; putting music and sagacious voice to Robert Cochrane’s lyrics on the 2006 curtain call malady ‘Stardust Falling’.

In a freer age, able to cast off the burdens (mostly) and prejudices that went some way to curtailing his career in the 70s, Howard is almost a rejuvenated character these days. The expectations of fame are now long gone: Howard is pretty much free to record when and however he likes; untethered to fashions and the industry. But with age comes the impossible to avoid rumminations and reflections on the past, of which there is much to wade through on this compilation. Offerings include many dedications to mum and dad, and the growing pained ‘Injuries Sustained In Surviving’, taken from the most recent album, To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection. Considering the topics and travails of that number, the accompaniment and cadence has an air of a hearty Dylan-esque chiming breeze to it. From the album previous to that one, Cut The Wire, there’s the no less reflective Friends era Beach Boys missing diaphanous ‘lifetime of love’ ballad, ‘Becoming’.

Added to those are an abundance of songs collated from another ten albums and EPs and missives; some show tunes here, an unfinished track saved for posterity there; a borrowed Anthony Reynolds penned dreamy malady next to both of them. Personally though, I’d have liked to have seen something from Howard’s extraordinary long form experimental songbook, Across The Door Sill; if not only because its damn brilliant and full of descriptive, almost filmic, lyrics, but also because it shows an entirely different side to this talented assiduous artist’s storytelling skills and poised musicality. Saying that, it would sound admittedly a little incongruous to the rest of the collection’s soundtrack. I would have also loved to see Howard’s fantastic cover version of ‘The Bewlay Brothers’, which I rate amongst his best performances. It wasn’t to be: maybe on the next compilation.

We do have however a brilliant, refreshing and upbeat live performance of Howard and the band that led to the creatively successful Night Mail album collaboration. Howard and ensemble are captured at the Servant Jazz Quarter playing a Mike Scott meets Ian Hunter-esque bouncy and warm version of ‘Deadly Nightshade’. Again, ever the professional, yet loosened up and enjoying the whole thing, Howard happily sits alongside a younger generation of admirers with nothing to prove, just unadulterated joy.

An exhaustive, far-ranging compilation the first official ‘Best Of…’ will attract diehards and those still unacquainted with Howard’s back and future catalogue alike. It makes for a flourishing, rich songbook of his stage, cabaret, AOR, pop, rock and glam infused timeless craft. This is a celebration as much as declaration of fandom to an artist in their fifth flush of youth; the first real pause in creating, to look back at both what is and what could have been. The auguries are good for that future, with Howard showing no signs of stopping: if someone is willing to hear it, Howard is willing to play it.

A History Of John Howard On The Monolith Cocktail:

To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection Album

Cut The Wire Album

From The Morning Album

It’s Not All Over Yet Single

Across The Door Sill Album

Incidents Crowded With Life Autobiography

Illusions Of Happiness Autobiography Volume 2

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Autobiography Review/Dominic Valvona




John Howard ‘‘Illusions Of Happiness’
(Fisher King Publishing) 7th August 2020/510p


The fickle nature of the music industry is of course well-documented in countless embittered and lamentable autobiographies, but you have to feel for the ever candid piano singer, songwriter John Howard who’s second volume of memoirs lays out a repetitive travail of ill advised artistic (re)launches and knockbacks.

We last left the half glass full kind of artist-turn-A&R man-turn-artist-again Howard dejected after the failure of his inaugural solo songbook, Kid In A Big World, in the mid 70s. Signed to CBS Records with an enviable shot at the big time, the critically favoured adroit album should have made him a star. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. In a recurring pattern that the author details throughout his previous, and this latest, volume in those memoirs, the haphazard misjudgments and mishandling by others and a lack of radio play ruined what should have been a gilded ascent in the recording business. CBS for their part (another recurring partner in the Howard story) would unceremoniously drop their burgeoning artist the following just a year later; more or less clueless with what to do with him.

The personal encounters of a formerly suppressed Catholic living in post-war austere Lancashire, escaping a life in the priesthood to fill his boots in gay London, was another of the recurring themes in that inaugural volume of plagued-with-bad-luck stories, Incidents Crowded With Life. It ended with Howard waking up in hospital with a broken back after leaping to safety (or he thought) from the flat he shared with a bevy of illegal Filipinos (living in London after escaping the Marcos regime); escaping his flat mate’s rough trade Russian sailor turn raving blood thirsty robbing manic. Though the author is not one to dwell or lament, this incident would be life changing both physically and mentally. The second volume of what will be a trio of such autobiographical legacies, the sadly entitled Illusions Of Happiness picks up Howard recovering from his injuries, laid-up in a hospital bed. A cast of drop-in visitors however adds some light relief to what is essentially a most traumatic chapter: From one of many gay sharp tongues, “You look like Aubrey Beardsley on heroin.”





In and out of consciousness, recuperating and dreaming of his parents whilst taking on all the legalities of chasing after a compensation claim without dropping his Filipino friends in the shit, this chronological (for the most part) memoir follows a broken, rejected talent clawing his way back, yet eventually finding solace and content, not as a solo artist, but as an A&R man. By the end of this book, the sometime vocalist and songwriter is not only working his way through discount specialist labels and cottage industry reissue, re-licensing specialists but contentedly single, having given the eventual elbow to his forever young and continuously unfaithful Canadian partner Bayliss.

Despite the CBS debacle, Howard persuade a music career throughout; often meeting by chance acquaintances and by design a burgeoning Trevor Horn and Steve Levine, amongst others. Countless tracks are cut, promises made but plagued by the convoluted and scheming nature of the industry, nothing ever quite pays off. Looking like a cross between a Biba fop and Diane Keaton from Annie Hall in the mid 70s, Howard goes through a number of style changes in pursuit of striking the right chord with the record buying public and hitting the trends. In one such transformation, Howard is pushed towards donning a knock-off version of Gary Numan’s visitor-from-the-future look when he tried to launch his space oddity sci-fi musical concept, Cal Mylar. This is when things get insane, as a quasi-Ziggy Stardust, quasi-Superman and his mortal alter ego Clark Kent themed concept grows legs and runs and runs; taking in a host of producers, agents and labels in its wake. Still, songs from the project spring up and are reconstructed and released to no avail.

Despite not taking off, Howard works with various producers, musicians and songwriting partners in the years covered by this book, and quality wise, conjures up some memorable songs. One of which, ‘Don’t Shine Your Light’ even makes in into the Eurovision list of potential entries: reaching multiple stages but losing out in the end to some forgettable dross.





Pushed and pulled in all directions by a host of labels; promised so much but constantly let down, Howard finds himself heckled by the new Turks (the Sex Pistols) whilst playing his pianist lounge set at a pre-New Romantics Blitz, working (badly) the counter at an upmarket deli, laying down guide vocals for artists far less talented, and even taking on the role (again, badly) as a photocopier at a corporate enterprise; all to keep the proverbial roof over his head as he awaits that lucky record deal. Along the way the fleeting and ridiculous nature of the music business is laid bare as the troubadour is wined and dined, or invited to hobnob with bigwigs and the recording stars (at one point surreally invited to lunch with Cliff Richard and a strange entourage of 70s faces).

 

Not just a musical autobiography, Illusions includes all the salacious details of Howard’s personal life, his lovers, partners and vivid accounts of the gay scene in late 70s and early 80s London. This is often handled with a wry, sometimes dark, humour; especially when Howard and his boe with another friend book a stay at a gay nightmare of Fawlty Towers B&B in Manchester: S&M, an attempted suicide and the bursting in of a strangely nonplussed police making for a sadly dark comedy of errors. But the ominous specter of the AIDS crisis is never far away as the 80s sections of this book get going. Especially as friends, housemates and peers start contracting it. Howard dodged that bullet thank god, yet is nevertheless verbally attacked in the street for deigning to be an easy and obvious target of ignorance and prejudice: it is also the only real time Howard has come across such hostility towards his sexuality before.

On the upside, Howard is asked to sit for a masterfully painted portrait (the relaxed sitter pose that adorns this book cover) by Paul Brasson , which ends up hanging in the National Gallery, and finds a carefree existence of bliss on the gay mecca of Mykonos: a veritable oasis in which Howard will return to throughout the decade covered in this book. All life’s major landmarks and hurdles are paraded throughout a story about essentially taking the knocks and finding solace. Howard still only in his early thirties by the end of this second volume is already quite sagacious after packing in a lifetime of drama.

 

A tale of compromise, in which the heart sinks as another chapter heading indicates a set back in his recording career, and always within touching distance of making the big time with a catalogue of “what ifs” (from working with both a pre-Buggles Horn and pre-Culture Club Levine), Howard is surprisingly far from bitter or despondent by the journey’s end. In fact, by the end of this volume he’s found a job as an executive at Pickwick and moving into a new home; coming full circle as we find him picking out furniture for this abode.

As to that Sex Pistols anecdote, Howard, with more than a little Noel Coward wit and reading his audience well, tames the yobbish adolescents with a medley of T-Rex classics that leaves the punks raving in the aisles wanting more. Though he leaves us on a ruminating if poignant chapter, unlucky in love but finally finding financial security, Howard has a lot more to entertain and share with us yet.





Related posts from the ARCHIVES:

John Howard ‘Incidents Crowded With Life’

John Howard ‘To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection’

John Howard ‘Cut The Wire’

John Howard ‘Across The Door Sill’


REVIEWS/Dominic Valvona





As usual, another international whirlwind of stopovers awaits reader, as I pick out choice and interesting new releases and reissues from across the globe. Channeling his traverses, mountain climbs and treks across the California wilderness into ambient peregrinations, Fran Dominguez as the Forest Robot, takes the listener out into the great outdoors, with his latest suite After Geography. An aural escape, a safe spatial plain, Dominguez creates an environment in which to take stock. A Finnish-American freeform jazz partnership is in vogue with Stanley J. Zappa’s new album for the Baltic coastal label We Jazz. Saxophonist and clarinetist Zappa (a nephew of the late Frank) and drummer/percussionist Simo Laihonen traverse British-Columbia and all points in-between on Muster Point. Creating the most hushed and diaphanous of cinematic dreampop, Israeli artist Zoe Polanski releases the Violent Flower album. I also take a look at the troubadour pianist John Howard, who from his Spanish studio home, ties in his latest adroit songbook To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection with the second part of his published memoirs, Illusions Of Happiness, this month. And in my reissues section there’s the first ever reissue of the West Java Yanti Bersaudara sisters honeyed soul and beat group psych exotic self-titled ’71 nugget. The Australian born, but bought up in a rural backwater of England troubadour Campbell Sibthorpe returns back to his roots with the expansive storybook, Ytown.

 

Towards the fantastical, though based in geological science, experimental dub unit Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones reimagine a lost continental bridge of shared deities and cultures on the new album Kafou In Avalonia. And finally, we have the new no-fi songbook of despondent poetic scorn and resignation from our very own Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, The King Of No-Fi’.

Zoe Polanski ‘Violent Flower’
(Youngbloods) Album/17th July 2020





Despite, at various times, living in one of the most contested dangerous spots on the global stage, Israeli artist Zoe Polanski transduces all the violence, danger and stresses into a most diaphanous, sometimes fantastical, synthesized musical haze. Her latest fully-realized shoegaze electronic swoon of an album – co produced and written with the Tel Aviv producer Aviad Zinemanas – is subtle but immersive, moody yet dreamy. Lit though by Polanski’s travails, a deep sense of sadness and sighed questioning lyricism permeates the wispy vaporous smoke machine pop production.

Beautiful throughout, hushed and fragile, Violent Flowers is a sweeping cinematic articulation of conflicted feelings. The title-track, and former single, draws upon the ongoing Israeli-Palestine tensions; which has taken on even more drama in recent months with the policy of planned Israeli annexations in the West Bank.

Channeling the Cocteau Twins and Chromatics, this gauzy serenade of blossoming synth-pop is a disarming evocation of lightness that features Polanski yearningly searching for a way back home amid the division. The album’s second single, ‘The Willows’, mourns not only the painful end of a “surreal” affair whilst travelling across the USA, but is also inspired by Polanski’s mixed feelings of empathy towards her Palestine neighbours with a longing to escape the rocket attacks that passed overhead when she lived in the atavistic port city of Jaffa, during the 2014 conflict with Gaza.

Born in another ancient city port, Haifa, on the slopes of Mount Carmel, Polanski escaped the tumult through music and cinema. After obligatory service with the IDF, the experimentally burgeoning musician, singer moved to the States; recording with the NYC band Katamine and enrolling on a summer course in cinematography at the prestigious School of Visual Arts. The fruits of which can be heard evoking a kind of dream realism on this filmic scored album.

As it happens, on returning to Israel and settling in the liberal creative hothouse of Tel Aviv, Polanski started a new project of soaked-reverb “slow cinema verite” named after the renowned Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr. Tarr’s actual cinematographer Fred Kelemen caught Polanski at a live show. So impressed, he invited her to score his own upcoming film.

This latest vision sees the visual-audio talent reach ethereal, almost apparitional scales of atmospheric beauty as she sings veiled lines over her creative foil Zinemanas’ mirror-y and airy synthesis of arpeggiator, sine waves and enervated percussion. Dream pop and neon lit electronica meets Israeli panoramas, mysterious island inlets, touches of Vangelis (on the glassy contoured ‘Humboldt Current’), soft bobbing beats and pulchritude waves of silk.

Gentle, enchanting with an aching depth, Zoe Polanski together with Zinemanas have created a refreshing vision of dreamwave electronic pop and filmic music; one that offers a different perspective and sumptuous mystery. Turmoil has seldom sounded so gossamer and hushed.







Kalporz X Monolith Cocktail: Zoe Polanski ‘Pharaoh’s Island’



Stanley J. Zappa ‘Muster Point’
(We Jazz) Album/7th August 2020




A regular stopover on my global tour of reviews, the Helsinki festival-label-store hub We Jazz are proving to be among the most prolific deliverers of quality contemporary and experimental jazz. Earlier this month the assured label put out albums from the Danish-Finn JAF Trio and Gothenburg saxophonist Otis Sandsjö. Their latest release pairs up two former acolytes of the Mitford Graves school of free jazz enterprise: the American tenor/soprano saxophonist and alto clarinetist Stanley J. Zappa (who’s name embellished this LP) and Finnish drummer, percussionist Simo Laihonen. The Queens-made drummer extraordinaire and teacher Graves is renowned for his avant-garde contributions working with Albert Ayler, Paul Bley and the N.Y. Art Quartet; a reputation that is lapped up by his former students on this set of probing impulsive serialism recordings.

You may have guessed by the name, and yes Stanley is indeed a scion of the famous Zappa family tree: a nephew of the late rock-fusion genius Frank. Erring towards jazz, Stanley proves that old adage that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; highly adroit and proficient in pushing at the foundations, able to switch between the spiritual and hard bop. His foil Laihonen, of the long-standing Black Motor trio, proves equally as talented, propelling in bursts and snaps or in an amorphous fashion hitting and reeling shapeless accents and meanderings.

Joining them on the odd radial exploration, bassist Ville Rauhala adds some stringy, rubber-band thrummed double-bass runs and bodywork thwacking: less rhythmic and traditional, more loose and wandering.

Muster Point, a reference heavy album of track title locations (much of which name check places in Stanley’s British Columbia Canadian home), was recorded both in the studio and out on the road. You can hear some of the live spontaneity and an appreciative applause on the flighty clarinet and looming bass, with sporadic drum breaks, avant-garde piece ‘Muster Point IV’. Split between shorter ambling and more energetic incipient Muster Point entitled flexes, and deeper, longer workouts this album strikes out towards Pharaoh Sanders’ Egypt on the opening suite to dishing out tougher, heavier breaks on the street map ‘538 E14th, City Of Piss, USA’.

Fluting, twirling and coiling over the tumbling drums, rumbling timpani and shaking percussion, Stanley’s vibrato sax hawks and spirals with both longer and shorter breaths. Often sailing at a counter speed to Laihonen’s quickened rolling patterns, that wondering instrument trills freely as light as air itself. Well, for the most part. Stanley can also toot rapidly and with force when the occasion arises.

From drawing on the ancestral (on the Kahil El’ Zabar watery percussive underflow ‘Pleasant Avenue’) to skitting across a NYC boardwalk, Muster Point plays hard and footloose with freeform jazz; dipping into the spiritual and rapidly evoking hard bop dashes. Yet again its another fruitful experiment and performance from the We Jazz label.




Otis Sandsjo ‘Y-Otis 2’

JAF Trio ‘ST’


Forest Robot ‘After Geography’
Album/28th August 2020





With a deep connective respect to the landscapes this intrepid mountaineer and sonic explorer has scaled and traversed, Fran Dominguez provides a subtly evocative safe space in the most tumultuous of times. When all the elements of a virus epidemic and the ongoing tensions of Black Lives Matter mix with the divisive rage of social media and fake news, the only tool we have left to navigate the storm of constant faux-outrage is “intuition”. Put both together, as the California-based trekker Dominguez has done, and you get a most beautifully subversive ambient soundtrack; a tenderly produced sonic psychogeography of both the synthesized and naturalistic; a million miles away from the hubbub and stress of the online world. A sort of self-help guide for contemplation and rest you could say, the softened bobbing and trickled piano notes and gently blowing winds washing over the listener with just enough depth and interest to transport them to the awe-inspiring landmarks of nature.

With over 400 ascents and 6,000 odd miles of cross-country exploring under his belt, Dominguez tunes into those experiences when composing music under the Forest Robot title. Intuition, that main motivation and driver for the latest tonal contouring suite, After Geography, comes into practice after all the preparation in the world fails to allow for the variables that arise when climbing those magnificent rocky peaks. Though obviously a great title in itself and an encapsulation of the Forest Robot’s meditative semi-classical, semi-Kosmische maps, the inspiration behind it comes from Ringo Starr. As the anecdote from rock’s backpages goes, the bejeweled digit fingered Beatles drummer proposed it when the Fab Four were stumped for a title for their next album after Revolver. As a lighthearted chide at the rivals, The Rolling Stones, who’d just released Aftermath, Starr chimed in with “After Geography”. It seems highly appropriate in this context, and in this time.

An escapist survey that breaths in the influences of Roedelius, Boards Of Canada, Erik Satie, Harold Budd, Nils Frahm and Small Craft On A Milk Sea era Eno, the album covers the terrain in a gauze of delicate resonance, notation and obscured woody movements. Track titles become descriptive reference points and wildlife moments experienced, on this aural map; a clue at times to the scenic inspirations that encouraged them. ‘Of Birds Migrating In The Distance’ is for example a winged patted dance and flutter across the ivory, and the marimba-like bobbing ‘Glacial Architecture Of The Mountain Corridor’ features crystalized icy notes and melting droplets: it’s almost as if Dominguez captures the sunlight gleaming off the slowly melting glacier. ‘Over The Drainage Divide’, which doesn’t exactly sound very inspiring, is surprisingly wondrous, even spiritual, with its choral ethereal waves and hints of ghostly visitations. An ascendant version of that choral spirit can also be heard on the soft droning, delayed and bouncing notes beauty ‘All Across The High Plain After The Storm’.

A mostly peaceable geography, Dominguez’s latest impressive suite offers the safety of a timeless rugged pristine panorama. A breath of fresh air; a sonic plain on which to gain some perspective, that intuitive methodology proves highly successful on a most pleasing, imaginative ambient experience.





Campbell Sibthorpe ‘Ytown’
EP/21st July 2020




Following up on the impressive choral anthem ‘Good Lord’, which we premiered last month on the MC, the yearning troubadour Campbell Sibthorpe proves he has more than it takes to deliver the full emotionally stimulating package with his new, generous EP Ytown. Over seven tracks of similar beautifully realised rustic anthems and shorter mood passages, Campbell expands his themes of escaping the pastoral backwaters of small town life.

Both a travail down memory lane and pilgrimage, nature’s son returns from London to the town in which he spent those formative years, on the outskirts of Bristol, to mull over the past, but above all, as the Australian born songwriter/multi-instrumentalist set out to serenely on that ‘God Lord’ hymn, seeks to find himself amongst the humdrum scenery. Ytown could be many towns, any town, yet it proves evocative and creatively fertile enough to inspire this expansive songbook. The very essence of the place seeps into the music through field recordings and the sound of the local church’s pump organ – used very subtly as a sadly reverent undertow on the setting-sun curtain call ‘Strawberry Line Pt. 2’ a couplet to the EP’s only scenic twinkled if musing instrumental, The Shins like ‘Strawberry Line Pt. 1’.

Entirely self-produced and recorded from the bedroom of his youth, Ytown pays homage to innocence, to his childhood relationship with his ‘Father Carpenter’, and the unburdened freedoms of nature. The first of those is a powered-up Midlake country folk anthem, the latter, an achingly harmony rich longing to be as free and detached as the ‘Dandelion’.

Almost echoing an early Radiohead paired with the Fleet Foxes, the tender woven poetic ‘Pastel Porcelain’ seems to have stepped out of a medieval tapestry, and the opening dappled lit blossoming ‘The Sun Appeared’ shows an almost filmic and experimental quality to Campbell’s music.

A balance of acoustic naturalism and full on, climatic singles, Ytown is a great piece of expansive storytelling, a conceptual EP perfect in length, depth and heartfelt searching.





Campbell Sibthorpe ‘Good Lord’ Premiere


Brian Bordello ‘The King Of No-Fi’
(Metal Postcard Records) Album/16th August





The self-anointed king of no-fi returns with another songbook of quasi-demoed wistful despondency and self-deprecation; a stripped-back one-track display of rough charms that cuts to the heart of the cult St. Helens malcontent’s sardonic, but also extremely vulnerable, annoyances about modern life.

The idiosyncratic de facto leader of the long standing dysfunctional family legends The Bordellos, and the barely concealed instigator of the anti-Brit pop and plodding rock Idiot Blur Fanboy, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea (who I must also point out is a regular contributor to these very pages) follows up on his recent solo offerings, the Liverpool Hipster Scene EP and Boris Johnson Massacre single, with another album for the Aussie platform, Metal Postcard Records. Recorded during lockdown whilst growing tired at the lack of revolutionary zeal and wit in contemporary music, and the reliance upon of nostalgia, regurgitation in the industry (both musically and through blogs, publications, radio), Brian has penned a quite sincere collection of romanticized sufferings, regrets and love songs.

Making even Sparklehorse sound like ELO in comparison, the no-fi production values on offer are raw but never really coarse or discordant. No augmentation, filters, effects or sundry, just a bare accompaniment of rough’n’ready but melodious acoustic guitar and the whirling of a rudimental four-track; the click of the record button and, at the end of each performance, the stop button.

Channeling various maverick troubadours, post-punk poets (Dan Treacy springs to mind) and a Brylcreem of rock’n’roll idols (ironically enough the release of this album intentionally falls on the anniversary of the true king, Elvis’ death), Brian postulates on a lack of energy and rage in music, the death of the mutherfucker personalities, a bevy of “scarlet” women and lost innocence. Brian can be a romantic sod at times, even sentimental; writing some real tender poetic lines amongst the scorn and despair, with even a hint of Bacharach on ‘Banana Splits’ (yeah, imagine that!). Various stolen kisses, evocations of less complicated, less divisive magical times permeate the album despite the constant references to the death of this and that and the lamentable resignations and threats to give it all up. Sometimes Brian just tersely pays homage to his icons, such as Lou Reed and Billy Fury.

Quite swooning in places, this is neither a plaintive nor angry songbook, but as I said before a sincere often humorous yearn from a maverick soul stuck in lockdown. The King is dead; long live the King.


The Bordellos ‘Debt Sounds’

The Bordellos ‘Will.I.Am You’re Really Nothing’



Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones ‘Kafou In Avalonia’
(Submarine Broadcasting Company) Album/19th June 2020





Reimaging a time when Earth’s landmasses were being reshaped, the atavistic geological inspired futurist dub unit pose a cultural “what if?” with their fourth “set”, Kafou In Avalonia. Developing out of a volcanic arc at the northern edges of the “supercontinent” Gondwana (we’re talking about 550 million years ago; when this leviathan contained one-fifth of all the planet’s land) but decoupling to form a drifting micro continent of its own, Avalonia, if it didn’t eventually breakup and collide with Pangea, would have bridged what is now the Atlantic Ocean. Crustal fragments underlie parts of Southwest England, Southern Ireland and the East Coast of America. Wishful dreaming Cousin Silas And The Glove Of Bones picture an alternative reality; one in which Avalonia still existed as a gateway between all Earth’s cultures and peoples. It acts as the crossroads that might have set out an entirely different course for civilization; a more integrated, less fractious one perhaps. In this setting Haitian, Brazilian, Angolan and Nigerian deities, spirits and rituals converge with an experimental soundtrack of post-punk dub, Kosmische and electronica.

Invoking a lost world, a quasi-Atlantis, they merge voodoo ceremony and tribal incantation with sonorous throbbing basslines, barracking drums, heavy reverb and craning Manuel Gottsching like guitar.

A reference heavy album, with various “Loa” (spirits) and divinities summoned and made offerings, the track titles name check a pantheon of the worshipped. The opening gabbling dub and primordial shrouded ethereal jug-poured ‘Oxûm Over Water’ pays homage to the Yoruba peoples river goddess, while the singing chorus and insect chirped trans-Europa rail momentum Kraftwerk meets Guru Guru ‘Oxalá Of The White Sky’ takes its name from the Brazilian “sky father” and creator of human beings. Elsewhere, Haiti’s spiritual ancestors are represented in the shape of the serpent creator of the cosmos, Damballa (the On-U-Sound dub prowling low frequency crumbled bass languorous ‘Damballah Of The Dark Sky’), and senior Petro visitation born from the heinous savagery and injustice of slavery, Ezilí Dantor (the lolloping Orb submersion ‘Ezilí Dantor Awake’). Incidentally, that last spirit especially took kindly too offerings of crème de cacao and jewelry, and on its birthday, a wild pig. It’s believed that one such feast in honor to Dantor preceded the infamous slave revolt of 1791.

Ancestral ghosts meet synthesized futurism on this mystical transformed aural geography, as recordings of various rituals swirl in and around a cosmic soup. A supernatural and celestial, seeping and vaporous vortex of polygenesis sources are gathered together to create an imaginative cosmology hybrid. If The Future Sound Of London and Ash Ra Tempel recorded an album at Lee Scratch Perry’s black ark studio it might very well have sounded something like this. And that’s me saying this is a bloody great experimental dub album. Seek out now.




John Howard ‘To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection’
(UK John Howard/USA through Kool Kat Musik) Album/7th August 2020




Chiming with the second candid, sometimes wistful, chapter in the pianist raconteur’s memoirs, this latest fragrant songbook manages past regrets with wizened heartfelt balladry. With plenty of time, including the lockdown, to mull over the past, after writing two volumes of self-effacing recollections (part two, Illusions Of Happiness, is scheduled to tie in with this album, published on the 7th August) John Howard channels a lifetime of setbacks and learning through the philosophical and metaphorical.

Coming to terms and letting go in some respects, the fledging 70s star set back by a series of career mishaps and a traumatic accident (forced to make a fateful leap from the window of an apartment he shared in Earl’s Court with some colourful Filipino gay characters, who brought back a mad Russian ‘bit of rough’ intent on murder) muses over breakups (the la la, almost Christmas seasonal, chiming mini anthem ‘I’m Over You’) and a broken friendship (the regretful heartache ‘Echoes Of Pauline’). The latter’s real life subject appears as a recurring figure of that regret in John’s work; the best friend from school losing touch since 1973 (as John admits, probably down to him and not Pauline) first pops up on ‘The Flame’ from the career launching Kid In A Big World showcase, and later on ‘Pauline’s Song’, which featured on the 2009 EP Songs For A Lifetime.

Pauline’s presence, companionship is much missed it seems, as John looks out from his Spanish home veranda on an uncertain, if scenic, world. Idyllic though it is, his life in the Southeastern Spanish town of Murcia can’t make up for the pining of his former Welsh home, and even further back, Lancashire. Moving across the seas to preempt Brexit, John recalls a Welsh pastoral bliss on the wistfully beautiful melodious ‘And Another Day’. Yet both lyrically and through his signature subtle minor key changes moves deftly into the sadness of leaving it all behind. The scented waltz-y ‘Illusions Of Happiness’ ambles through a perfumed garden of delights but also mournfully wades out into the sea; waiting on something, a ship, vessel, the final boat ride perhaps.

Old ghosts mingle with analogies of saviors, and the tropes of coming-to-terms with one’s decisions. This is all done with a most adroit touch of pastoral organ, Baroque chamber pop, gentle Dylan-esque harmonica, concertina and softened tambourine rattled crescendos: all of which is played by John. It’s a sound that is saved from the saccharine and pushed towards the yearning beauty of the early Bee Gees, late 60s Beach Boys and the Incredible String Band, whilst echoing the flourishes of John’s burgeoning pianist troubadour career in the 70s.

The 17th album proper in a career that has regularly stalled (mostly down to the mishandling of others), with gaping holes in which John turned his hand to A&R, the lyrical To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection follows on from last year’s brilliant Cut The Wire – just one album in a long line of such releases from arguably his most creatively prolific tenure. The poetically scene-setting songbook is a perfect accompaniment to those memoirs; a mature retrospection of a life well lived.








John Howard ‘Cut The Wire’

John Howard ‘Incidents Crowded With Life’

John Howard ‘Across The Door Sill’



Reissue

Yanti Bersaudara ‘ST’
(La Munai Records) Album/7th July 2020





A beautiful three-part harmony serenade drifting out of West Java, the much sought after 1971 album from the endearing Yanti sisters is finally being reissued for the first time ever. From Indonesian musical treasure hunters, La Munai Records, a befitting repackaged version of that original Bamboo Music magical Sundanese suffused treat.

Previous twee recordings, which swing between Merseybeat and enervated gospel soul, have made it digitally onto a number of platforms and compilations over the years, but the sisters’ later self-titled nugget has remained pretty elusive.

Released towards the end of their tenure, this beautifully cooed, lulled and charming harmony rich record seems oddly out of step with its time; though the strict regime in Indonesia had the gall to ban rock’n’roll, and so outpourings of fuzz-thrilled rebellion and salacious gyrating were kept to the minimum: more the early fab four’s ‘Tell Me Why’ or anything by The Tremeloes than the dirty scuzz and teasing of the Rolling Stones. That’s not to say the odd frizzle of psych and a coarse guitar twang or two doesn’t pop up here and there, but this early 70s songbook is mostly dreamy, heavenly even, and spiritual.

Whilst channeling the siblings (that’s Yani, Tina and Lin Hardjakusumah) West Javanese heritage of Bamboo Music, Gamelan and Jaipongan, you will also hear a constant sustained and fanning ray of church organ too. The lovely honeyed vocals even reach the ethereal heights, sounding like an Indonesian version of Dusty sings gospel.

The second most populous ethnic group in Indonesia, the Sundanese people (a name derived from the Sanskrit prefix “su”, which means “goodness”), of which the sisters belong, reside in a part of the country synonymous for its rich musical traditions. Soothed into an exotic dreamboat mix of angklung ringing and bamboo bobbing, reedy staccato surf guitar and ticking away drums those delicate ancestral chimes are propelled into the beat group era, and on the misty organ ghostly ‘Bulan Dagoan’, a spooked funhouse garage band era.

Coquettish, enticing, at other times like the 5th Dimension and choral rhyming, the girls vocal sound is sweetened; flourishing with yearned and exotic swooning.

For those of you wishing to enjoy a languorous dreamy slow boat to Java, with just enough fuzz thrills to pique the interest, let the Yanti sisters provide the hip accompaniment. If you’ve already been entertained by the trio, then you’ll find this ’71 release less saccharine and girl-group than previous albums; more magical and with more stained glass soul.






Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

ROUNDUP
Dominic Valvona





A quick shifty, glance, a perusal of the mounting pile of singles, EPs, mini-LPs, tracks, videos and oddities that threaten to overload our inboxes this month by me, Dominic Valvona.

Featured artists include Bob Destiny, Elefant, John Howard, MAI MAI MAI, Mazeppa and Remington Super 60.


Bob Destiny  ‘Wang Dang/Mahna (Troubles)’
(Pharaway Sounds/Guerssen)  Double A-Side Single/19th February 2020



‘Wang Dang thank you ma’am!’ Another scintillating raucous obscurity from the Spanish Guerssen umbrella of reissue label specialists, the Puerto Rico born, Harlem furnace baptized Bob Destiny’s double A-sider is a blistering souk soul missive from the North African r’n’b back pages. Originally dug up by the Habibi Funk crew a few years back and featured on one of their compilations, ‘Wang Dang’ is a scuzz-y howled hustler that was laid down in Algeria, of all places. Bob headed out there at the tail end of the 60s to teach music at the Algerian National Theater. He continued a singing career whilst living there, and in 1970 released both the ‘Wang Dang’ and more localized percussive and sauntering ‘Mahna (Troubles)’ 45s.

Pharaway Sounds have chosen to select tracks from both singles to make up this blazing reissue 45.

The backstory is as interesting as the fusion of funk. Bob started playing piano as a child (self-taught) and tap danced with the Five Chocolate Drops when he was just six years old. He’d go on to meet and play with Billie Holliday, appear in a film with Shirley Temple, hot-foot it in musicals on Broadway, dance at Mankiewicz’s movie Cleopatra, and sing at the San Remo Festival. All this before he made it across the Atlantic, where he also played in Morocco with Hahmed Maraki and formed bands like The Fingers. A well-travelled man, Bob moved to Spain the 80s where he created a jazz school in Zaragoza and was involved with the famous Jazz en la Margen festival. In the 90s, Bob hopped over the border to France, focusing on composition, gospel, musicals and soundtracks. Sadly, he passed away on March 31, 2016. This then serves as a befitting tribute.



Remington Super 60  ‘New EP’
(Café Superstar Recordings)  EP/29th January 2020





How beautifully melodious is this?! Like a hazy 60s Californian dappled light shining on a velvet morning, the nostalgic lulling Norwegian band of Remington Super 60 have caressingly released a brand New EP. On the circuit for twenty odd years these dreamy drifters of soft lush psychedelia, folk and peaceable troubadour wholesomeness have released several albums, EPs and appeared on numerous compilation albums since their inception in 1998. Set-up by producer and songwriter Christoffer Schou the band has featured a changing lineup that includes Magnus Abelsen, Benedicte Sveinsson and Elisabeth Thorsen, among others.

Released through their own label imprint Cafe Superstar Recordings, and also as a cassette version through the small Slovakian indie label Z-Tapes, this disarming six-song collection evokes dreamy recollections of Fleetwood Mac, Bacharach, Lee Hazelwood & Nancy Sinatra, Stereolab, the Velvet Underground, Susan Christie, Chuck and Mary Perrin and the Beach Boys. In other words, a nice gentle wash of softly lulled gossamer pop and undulating synthesized liquid lushness. The most attractive thing about this EP though is that it sounds and feels like an endless dreamy summer; the kind we’re all in desperate need of.


John Howard  ‘It’s Not All Over Yet’
Single/7th February 2020





In a second nee third, even fourth, wind of creativity the enigmatic pianist troubadour John Howard has enjoyed a considerable renaissance in the last decade. Choosing his projects wisely and wholly on artistic and desirable (enjoyable too) merit, Howard has recorded a well-received collaboration with Andy Lewis, Ian Button and Robert Rotifer, under The Night Mail moniker, the cerebral open-ended experimental Across The Door Sill opus, and delivered the first volume in a vivid and travail rich autobiography (part two to follow anytime soon) that not only deals with Howard’s haphazard rise and misfortunes in the music industry but chronicles the misadventures of a gay artist in a far from understanding world. Though he gave up the recording and performing for a good couple of decades to focus on A&R, Howard hasn’t wasted any time in returning to the fold; more prolific than ever. Howard’s last album, and 16th, was released just last year on the You Are The Cosmos label; the beautifully rich romantic balladry and stage show-like Cut The Wire.

Since then there has been the odd congruous set of recordings, including the piano suite Four Piano Pieces. And now, a tender rendition of Daniel McGeever’s fatherly tearjerker It’s Not All Over Yet; a label mate of Howard’s on the You Are The Cosmos label.

Attracted to this steadily building wash of recollection – which when Howard gets going, and on the highest vocal notes, sounds very Friends era Beach Boys – Howard says: ‘I first heard the song on Daniel’s album Cross The Water…I instantly fell in love with the album, especially It’s Not All Over Yet, which resonated with me very much. Daniel wrote it for his father Andrew McGeever, who died just a few days before Daniel recorded it. My own father was poorly then too; he died in the summer of 2018.

The lyrics tell of how Daniel’s dad inspired him and how his influence will remain forever. I grew up listening to my dad playing the piano, as a toddler I’d hear him practicing for his gigs with his jazz band, something he continued to enjoy into his eighties.

It was because of hearing my dad play in our front room in Lancashire in the 1950s that my ambition to become a pianist myself grew. I started taking piano lessons aged seven with a determination to be as good as my dad. I don’t think I ever achieved that – Dad was an amazing jazz pianist admired by his musician friends and anyone who watched him play at the various clubs he performed in from the age of fourteen.

When you listen to the song, you’ll understand how it blew me away the first time I heard it and why it touched me so deeply.’

Today, we’re sharing the video version of this faithful but inimitable cover.

Howard explains the imagery used on it: ‘The video features photos of my dad through the years, including a couple which Neil took during our last visit to Dad in his nursing home near Rochdale. He had advanced Alzheimer’s by then but he absolutely loved seeing pics of his old mates from his jazz band days, telling us the name of each musician and what they were like as people. His fondness for them and those times were still tangible, even in dad’s frail state of health by then. He was 93 when he passed away.’



Mazeppa  ‘The Way In’
Single/29th January 2020





Coming on like a Kabbalah Patti Smith wafting and lingering around an intoxicating incense of Middle Eastern and Byzantium psychedlica, the second single from the Haifa, Israel based Mazeppa is an entrancing hallucination of esoteric spiritualism.

Formed in 2017 for the purpose of putting a psychedelic score to the poetry of the Bohemia-Austrian lyrical poet Rainer Maria Rilke, the quartet of Michal Perez Noy (vocals and guitar), Juicyjew Koren (guitar), Elad Bardes (bass) and Amir Nomiros Noy (drums) have started to incorporate Michal’s own lyrics into the heady astral mix.

‘The Way In’ will be followed in the summer by the group’s debut LP.


Elefant  ‘Ultra Plus Ultra’
Video/Latest track taken from the Bejahung LP





Sludge metal and gallows Krautrock merchants of the Belgium underground Elefant are back. With a contortion of phaser drudge fuzz and industrial post-punk elasticated distress, Wolf Vanwymeersch’s led collective of agitated miscreants once more wrestle with NIN, Swans and the Killing Joke on the group’s latest video track ‘Ultra Plus Ultra’.

Following on from 2018’s dystopian deranging Konark Und Bonark (which made our albums of the year feature), the boiler-suited misfits (think forensic team meet Time Bandits villains) have just released, rather sneakily, their second LP Bejahung; of which this is the second single to emerge. For the most part a continuation of that same disillusionment and basement dwelling creepiness, the latest offering seems to be more roomy, spacious and varied this time around. In short: an alarming twisted work of art-rock and menace.


MAI MAI MAI (Feat. Vocalist Maria Violenza)  ‘’Il Secondo Coro delle Lavandaie’
(La Tempesta)  Single/21st February 2020





Continuing to transmogrify, in part, the ethnographic recordings made by Alan Lomax and Diego Carpitella in the 60s and 70s of Italian southern music, native noise tormentor Mai Mai Mai follows up on the previous dark arts caustic Nel Sud LP with another disturbing vision of a folk obscurity.

Translated as the ‘Second chorus Of The Washerwomen’, the lamentable beauty of Roberto De Simon’s (with the Compagnia di Nuovo Canto Popolare) original is lent a discordant, hypnotizing and gradually more sinister fizzle of ritualistic and primal voodoo pulsations. The real Southern Gothic, ‘Il Secondo Coro delle Lavandaie’ features the voice of Maria Violenza, who can be heard in choral mantra amongst the intoxicating scuzz, whistling and dreamy industrial churns.

The spill from the PR sums it up perfectly: A dark journey into the past of the Italian south, a ‘Mediterranean Hauntology’, this ominous extended single encompasses an ethnic and folkloric tradition in a more contemporary way, conjuring a work in which art, music & theatre intersect.

Ahead of its official release in two weeks time, we’re sharing the video, which I warn you is a menacing cartoonish horror show: The protagonist limbering up with the worst ever Kung-Fu workout before increasingly deranged, stalking and volatile commits bloody murder.

Album Review: Dominic Valvona



John Howard ‘Cut The Wire’
(You Are The Cosmos) March 15th 2019


Returning after the deep cerebral peregrinations of the previous Across The Door Sill album to the shorter romantic balladry and stage show-like songwriting that first garnered such acclaim for the adroit pianist troubadour, John Howard’s first full songbook in three years is a most sagacious beautifully articulated affair of the heart.

Enjoying a renaissance of interest in recent years; choosing projects wisely and wholly on artistic and desirable (enjoyable too) merit, Howard has recorded a well-received collaboration with Andy Lewis, Ian Button and Robert Rotifer, under the The Night Mail moniker, the already mentioned open-ended experimental ATDS, and delivered the first volume in a vivid and travail autobiography (part two to follow anytime soon) that not only deals with Howard’s haphazard rise and misfortunes in the music industry but chronicles the misadventures of a gay artist in a far from understanding world. The star-turn dealt a typical band hand by the industry as a burgeoning artist in the 1970s, the singer-songwriter pianist turned to A&R (quite successfully as it happens) but always seem destined to plow his own unique furrow; decades later and with wised self-belief, fully in control of his own career. Though he’s found congruous labels, including the wonderful You Are The Cosmos, to launch his recent catalogue of new music, Howard is a candid one-man industry, totally in command of his legacy and story.

So far the overall results of this output have been anything but indulgent, the quality maintained, with arguably some of his best work being produced in the previous five or six years. The 16th studio album, Cut The Wire, is the first to be recorded at Howard’s Una Casita hacienda studio oasis in Murcia; surroundings that lend themselves well to the meditative and questioning yearns of Howard’s most rich balladry.

Those familiar with the previous From The Morning EP of inspired cover versions will hear the imbued spirit of The Incredible String Band once more on this album’s percussive jangly and bellow-y Parisian peaceable opener ‘So Here I Go’ and the mobile-trinket twinkly and bowed strings title-track: The first of those homespun-words-of-wisdom sonnets evoking a Krishna Dylan, even Donovan. Intentioned or not, the softened doo-wopish lull of enduring adversity ‘Keep Going, Angel’, the forlorn venerated organ blessed ‘We Are’, and sweetly-laced Baroque-psych autobiographical ‘Remains’ all sound like lost ballads from The Beach Boys Friends and Surf’s Up albums. You can also pick up the scents of prime 1970s Elton John, The Beatles, Jeff Lynne and Nilsson in the sage’s purposeful beatific longing maladies and paean performances.

Decentering with blissful melodic ease, Howard, with signature vulnerability, swells and also glides through various chapters of his life; ‘Remains’ recalling to a chiming harpsichord and swooning harmonies regrets in not standing one’s ground, and the nostalgic dreamy-pop ‘Idiot Days’ reflects on the foolish indulgences of youth and the oblivious-at-the-time harmful consequences. But Howard, in more mournful mood, also ruminates on the divisive topics of Brexit; sailing on an accordion wafting elegiac barge on ‘Pre-Dawn’ with cathartic despondency to the changing political landscape and the lack of generosity.

A thoughtful songbook that returns to the melodious balladry of past triumphs and a nod to the rich tapestry of influences that first inspired him, Cut The Wire is timeless; another beautifully written and sung album from an artists radiant with quality.








Words: Dominic Valvona

Book Review: Words: Dominic Valvona




John Howard   ‘Incidents Crowded With Life’
Fisher King Publishing,   26th March 2018

Enjoying a comfortable revival (of a sort) in what is essentially his semi-retirement, bon vivant pianist, troubadour, former A&R man and now author, John Howard has finally managed, after decades of being misguided and encumbered, to record and release a series of critically successful albums of a cerebral quality on his own terms, without the travails of middlemen and agents. The humble working class lad from Lancashire, Howard’s musical career started off with such potential but was cruelly crushed, hindered by a steady stream of miscreants, businessmen, producers and the BBC, who refused to play his singles – whether, as Howard recounts out of homophobic prejudice, or just plain ignorance we will never really know.

Signed to CBS Records in the early 70s Howard’s glittering debut LP Kid In A Big World was shunted, overproduced than reproduced, passed around and eventually mishandled, until its eventual release in 1975. Rightly revered decades later, with a number of re-releases (including a very recent celebratory version), this debut became an instant cult classic; critically adored but unable to attract commercial success, mainly as a consequence of the to and froing and mismanagement, it was met with general indifference by the public. Despite an obvious talent and potential, Howard’s stop/start career went from bad to worse until he was dropped in 1976 by CBS after various aborted projects and makeovers, including a disco pop crossover with the producer Biddu (enjoying a succession of hit records at the time off the back of Carl Douglas’ Kung Fu Fighting novelty).

Chronicling that burgeoning period in what is the first of a series of autobiographies, Howard candidly reminisces, entwining his family history and eventual move to London with his various musical mishaps and highlights, and his sexual exploits. As much a history of the perils but also free-for-all misadventures of homosexuality as the hardships of making it in the music business, the first part of Howard’s story reads like an ever-horrifying recollection of violent encounters with the most ill suited of partners. Going full circle, the book opens and finishes on one of the most life changing of these ‘incidents’, with Howard’s fateful leap from the window of an apartment he shared with some colourful Filipino gay characters (as it proved, relocating to London to escape the clutches of dictator Ferdinand Marcos), who brought back a mad Russian ‘bit of rough’ intent on murder – Howard would break his back and smash both his feet in the fall. Incidents Crowded With Life then, is recounted via his recuperation; the formative years looked back on with mostly a fondness as a modest curtain is raised ‘on the living-room in a semi-detached council house in Heywood, Lancashire.’






Observations, asides are mixed with the musings on the musicians that inspired him: Dylan, The Beatles, Mothers Of Invention, Incredible String Band, Bolan and of course Bowie. Signs that Howard wasn’t exactly cut from the same Catholic cloth as his family are made abundantly clear when at an early age he develops a crush on PJ Proby – whilst his sister is clamoring and screaming for the Fab Four -, replaces religious symbolism for posters of the elfin beatific Bolan, and as the book’s quote so aptly puts it, ‘swaps the guilt for gilt’. Not that dear Mum and Dad minded; their humble upbringing causing some uncomfortable situations, yet hardly the stuff of fire and brimstone puritanical condemnation. Though they were right to worry about their lad; especially when you read about his stunningly naïve exploits and trusting nature. Incidents that include a savage beating by a thuggish minor East End gangster lover, a lucky escape from a gang rape whilst holidaying in Malta, and an even luckier escape from a serial killer -posing as a taxi driver – in New York. It’s not all bad though, Howard has just as much fun throwing caution to the wind and partaking with abandon in orgiastic gatherings on Hampstead Heath.

Despite experiencing some of the most traumatic escapes, Howard’s accounts are free of victimhood. In a matter of fact way, neither told as a warning or even alluding to the present frenzy of #metoo, Howard’s honesty is unapologetic, with no blame attached to anyone other than himself.

Probably not quite as insightful for those unfamiliar with his work, this 600 page tome details various recording sessions – some of which are at the famous Abbey Road studios -, performances – both as an aspiring artist on his uppers and as a jobbing pianist/singer, making ends meet playing for diners in various hot spots throughout London – and his inspirations; the things that prompted and triggered those beautifully caressed and erudite songs in the first place. It also details all the ensuing rewrites, overdubs and constant bickering – mostly between his management and the litany of producers who were brought in by a label unsure of the precious signing they’d landed. Howard often frames his insights on the creative process with a synopsis on his favorite artists, showing quite a deft passion for music writing. Here’s just an extract from a flowery evocation of Bowie: ‘Setting out surreal, slightly disturbing panoramas like a screenplay writer in a moonlit park at midnight, Bowie intoned each line perfectly. He sang of times gone like a lost Atlantis, while sounding utterly NOW!’

The good times and fatuous nature of the music industry go hand-in-hand with the highlights: such as penning and recording the theme song for the William Holden and Peter Fonda movie Open Season, which started off so well with Hollywood schmoozing and the hint of a brilliant future, but soon turned to shit; the show time TV appearances that amounted to nothing, and the various meetings with iconic songwriters that ended up blindsiding or leading our author down the wrong garden path entirely.

Hardly the first artists to be chewed up and spat out by the corporate fangs of the industry, Howard’s refreshing, witty and sagacious autobiography is an often heartwarming read (especially when talking about his dear old man and dad); absolved and free of regret and bitterness. Coming out the other side, unceremoniously dumped by CBS Records at the end of this first life works volume in 1976, laying in a hospital bed looking ahead lamentably to years of recovery, the reader is left at Howard’s most low period. Without giving too much away, Howard does bounce back, turning to A&R but also continuing to record and play: even though fame will continue to elude him. An entertaining if overlong read, Incidents Crowded With Life is an interesting survey of the ‘nearly man’ of pop, an insight on both the industry and gay life in 70s swinging London.





Previous John Howard posts:








The Quarterly Playlist chosen by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms



A reasonable assessment of the last three months, the Quarterly Playlist features an eclectic selection of ‘choice’ tracks from the Monolith Cocktail team. From across the musical spectrum, songs from the far east sit alongside glittering pop; traversing meditations share room with hip-hop and the Kosmische.

The inaugural revue playlist of 2018 features Plastic Ono Band sultry protest pop from U.S. Girls, fragmented reeling breakbeats from Cut Chemist and friends, Motorik mooning from Station 17, electrified dance jazz from Hailu Mergia, mystical cosmic cumbia from Sonido Gallo Negro, a cappella paean to Nelson Mandela by the Afrika Mamas, direge-y garage rock from the Moonwalks and 38 other equally interesting and varied tracks from across the globe.


Tracks in full:

‘Incidental Boogie’  U.S. Girls (review)
‘Look At Your Hands’  Tune-Yards  (review)
‘Well Who Am I’  Band Of Gold
‘Die Cut (Theme)’  Cut Chemist feat. Deantoni Parks  (review)
‘(((leapfrog)))’  MC Paul Barman  (review)
‘Addis Nat’  Hailu Mergia
‘Ein Knall’  Station 17 feat. Harald Grosskopf and Eberhard Kranemann  (review)
‘The Timeless Now’  Nonpareils
‘1001 Nights’  Ouzo Bazooka  (review)
‘Fresh Product’  Awate
‘Anything Goes’  Andy Cooper feat. Abdominal  (review)
‘Efrati’  Fadaei
‘Black Sambo’  Skyzoo  (review)
‘Kingz & Bosses’  Slim Thug feat. Big K.R.I.T.  (review)
‘That Jazz’  Coops  (review)
‘Cumbia Ishtar’  Sonido Gallo Negro
‘A Casa De Anita’  Camarao
‘All That We Are’  Brickwork Lizards  (review)
‘Hlala Nami’  Hot Soul Singers
‘Le Château’  Fishbach  (review)
‘Into Space’  Sailing Stones
‘Illogical Lullaby’  Hatis Noit  (review)
‘Also’  Astrid Sonne  (review)
‘Reptile’  Soho Rezanejad  (review)
‘Remain Calm’  Tony Njoku
‘Air Rage’  Lukas Creswell-Rost  (review)
‘Embers’  Flights Of Helios  (review)
‘And The Glamour Fell On Her’  Brona McVittie feat. Myles Cochran and Richard Curran (review)
‘Same Old, Same Old’  The Cold Spells  (review)
‘Winter Bound’  Hampshire & Foat  (review)
‘Vidsel-Sthlm, Enkel’  Bättre Lyss  (review)
‘Akokas’  Tal National
‘The Border Crossing’  Dirtmusic  (review)
‘I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes’  John Johanna
‘Diego Says Hello’  Modulus III  (review)
‘Communion’  Park Jiha  (review)
‘De Roda’  Rodrigo Tavares  (review)
‘You Get Brighter’  John Howard  (review)
‘Tata Madiba’  Afrika Mamas  (
review)
‘In Between Stars’  Eleanor Friedberger
‘No Place Like Home’  Life Pass Filter’  (review)
‘I Don’t Wanna Dance (with My Baby)’  Insecure Man
‘Israel Is Real’  Moonwalks  (review)
‘Men Of The Women’  Peter Kernel  (review)
‘We Have Always Lived In The Palace’  Sunflowers  (review)

NEW MUSIC REVUE  WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





Featuring another eclectic borderless roundup of interesting and innovative, and sometimes previously lost, treasures, this latest edition of my reviews package includes a fond and timeless quality collection of songs from the Irish folk legend John Dunhan; the second album from Oxford’s English tea dance meets Ottoman jig outfit, the Brickwork Lizards; a morning chorus inspired EP of homage covers from the adroit John Howard; Lukas Creswell-Rost transforms and remodels his soft rock triumph Go Dream into something more abstract, eclectic and dreamier; and a promising pair of debut albums from the ‘Celtic phantasmagoria’ inspired Irish harpist and songstress Brona McVittie, and the abstract sonic sculptor Anna Sonne. We also have, yet another blast of garage, doom, psych and this time Gothic mooning fun from the Stolen Body Records label, in the guise of the Portuguese boy/girl Sunflowers.

And if that isn’t enough already, I have a roundup of equally interesting and eclectic ‘shorts’ from as far afield as Canada and Paris too, with tracks, singles and oddities from the Parisian Anglo-French group Orouni, Toronto-based producer Luxgaze and the Leeds Psych pop electronic outfit Lost Colours.

Brona McVittie  ‘We Are The Wildlife’  Available Now

 

With the lightest, most deft of touches, Irish songstress and harpist Brona McVittie embarks on a voyage of ‘psycho-geographic’ inspired encapsulations of a mysterious, magical landscape and history on her debut album, We Are The Wildlife.

The title of this original and transformed traditional suite alludes to the premise that even people and the modern infrastructure (pylons for instance) that spans the land are just as important and intrinsic to the landscape as ‘spiders and cobwebs’; acting as they do throughout this album as both manmade and natural catalysts with which to bounce ideas and sounds from, or even off of – the inspiration for the pining bliss of the ethereal voiced and caressed bucolic, Under The Pines, arose from hearing the reverberation of a dog’s bark off the trees that stand on the edge of the Rostrevor pine forest.

Tracing the sonic contours of London’s urban fringes and the rural landscapes of Mourne, McVittie pitches her fluttery diaphanous harp-led songbook somewhere between post-folk and the cinematic – helped along in part by the drifting trumpet evocations of film composer Hutch Demouilpied, who’s contributions sound at times like Miles Davis Dingo transported to an Irish peat bog.

Her ephemeral harp melodies and phrases often feel like a breath or just the merest hazy lingering presence of the instrument, which – and I’ve never heard of anyone else doing this before – might in some ways be down to McVittie’s technique of playing them all on the guitar first before transcribing over. It certainly offers a different perspective and technique. And it certainly takes this heavenly traditional instrument into even more mystical, accentuate abstract realms, helped of course by an accompaniment of meadow flute (Keiron Phelan), sad bowed delicate strings (Richard Curran), searching fleeting slide-guitar and shuffling to full-on breakbeat drums (Myles Cochran). All of which amorphously pushes the often-ancient feelings and geography towards John Martyn and Bert Jansch one minute, towards the Incredible String Band or trip-hop the next.

 

As an additional running theme to that of a modern natural panorama, McVittie also draws deep from the well of Irish musical folklore and literature, borrowing as she does both titles and ‘the great Celtic phantasmagoria whose meaning no man has discovered, nor any angel revealed’ (interrupted on the yearning instrumental The Vast And Vague Extravagance That Lies At The Bottom Of The Celtic Heart) lyrical adage from W.B. Yeats to reinterpret her ancestral home’s legacy and hard to define feelings. Taking the And The Glamour Fell On Her reference to mean, in a manner, ‘away with the fairies’, and When The Angels Wake You, a reference to the ancient Celtic perception of death, from Yeats, McVittie’s quivering harp caresses and translucent vocals articulate a misty veiled dreamscape; both haunting and peaceable.

Transformed with a subtle undulation of electronic ambience, traditional fare such as the resigned death lament The Jug Of Punch (“When I am dead in my grave, no costly tombstone will I have. Lay me down by my native peat, with a jug of punch at my head and feet.”), and more obscure County Down love ballads, such as the greenery meandrous tip-toe Newry Mountain, have an eerie, elegiac echo, shrouded as they are in the haze of a pastoral adumbrate swooning soundtrack.

Played, as I said at the very beginning, with the lightest of touches, McVittie’s wildlife and Celtic inspired filmscape subtly crafts tradition into a cerebral suite of neo-classical and ambient folk. We Are The Wildlife is the most inviting and unique of debuts.






Astrid Sonne  ‘Human Lines’   Escho,  19th February 2018

 

Merging a background in the classical with a love for electronic composition, the Copenhagen-based composer/musician Astrid Sonne examines the balance between computer-generated and organic sounds on her spatial sonic debut LP, Human Lines. Conceptually minded, Sonne is know for her burgeoning work in creating site-specific compositions for a number of installations in Denmark, including the old ruins under the Danish Parliament and a stretch of the Copenhagen Metro – part of the Trans Metro Express for the Strøm Festival. Human Lines sounds at times like an extension of this: certainly informed by it in the use of space and depth.

Structurally and thematically exploring both the organic and mechanical, but also, as Sonne puts it, ‘the balance between repetition and renewal in various universes which responds to different emotional stages’, each piece develops from either its initial crystal sharp sonorous pings or tubular metallic twitches into interconnecting hovers or fissure stretching cyclonic warps.

 

Leaving it to the listener to interpret, each ambient, drone and transduced viola performance seems to spark or stutter into action on its own accord, as though Sonne gathers the elements together and once generated lets them fall, probe and encircle where and how they desire. There’s clean scattered nodes and seeping melody on the Kosmische style Also, gabbling crushed and warped percussive loops and a cosmic ethereal repeating choir on the heavier Real, and a hint of Japanese electronica on the abstract, arpeggiator A Modular Body; all of which, as does most of the album, ascend, marvel and encircle the celestial.

It’s left to the final and most achingly beautiful sad composition, Alta, to break free from the machine (almost) and find the humanity. Erring towards the playing of Tony Conrad and John Cale, Sonne’s last impression bows towards her classical learning, with only the subtlest of synthesized sound to accompany a touching, atmospheric, viola performance.

Still developing and searching ideas, Sonne’s debut is a very promising start; combining the conceptual with techno, darkwave and ambient. The balance suggests the machine element hasn’t completely taken over just yet.




John Howard  ‘Songs From The Morning’  John Howard/Kobalt,  Available Now

 

Probably more productive than he’s ever been, during a career that spans five decades, songwriter/pianist troubadour and A&R man John Howard has in recent years worked with a myriad of collaborative talent (the Robert Rotifer, Andy Lewis and Ian Button instigated, and most brilliant revival, John Howard & The Night Mail) and released a number of solo albums and EPs – the last of which, the stunning cerebral Across The Door Sill, made our choice albums of 2016 features.

Enjoying a calm and restrained renaissance of a sort since the feted days of his acclaimed debut Kid In A Big World, Howard’s status as a seriously adroit songwriter and assiduous tickler of the ivory is assured and proven beyond doubt with every subsequent project. His latest collection, a five-track homage EP of covers, is a welcome breather, even stopgap, between albums. Howard is set to release his eighteenth long-player this summer, with news of a nineteenth to follow – though this is purely at the writing stage at the moment.

 

Perhaps a reflection and circumstance of Howard’s approaching 65th birthday, Songs From The Morning muses at a leisure over a selection of favorite songs from the artist’s formative years in the late 60s and early 70s – a time when he was adoring fan, and not quite the confirmed artist. Highly influential, imbuing Howard’s own craft, a carefully chosen quartet of tracks themed around both the celebration and lament of the morning sun, have been subtly lifted and transformed with signature aplomb. Showing a great taste in music, he picks from the golden spring of both lauded and tragic songwriter artists.

Featured a couple of months back on the Monolith Cocktail as a taster, a Waterboys-esque, almost jangly version of the fated Nick Drake’s most touching pulchritude – which more or less lends its name to the EP title – From The Morning is given the venerated praise treatment by Howard. This is a leitmotif, an almost deep reverence that comes out as pastoral gospel. Sharing with Howard a certain promise that failed to crossover into commercial success, though of course the understated quiet figure spiraled into a mental abyss and tragically committed suicide at the age of only 26 – the year before Howard’s debut album release – Drake was renowned for penning the mournful and serious, yet he wrote this most uplifting of beauties, a favourite of Howard.

In a similar vein, Mike Heron’s – of The Incredible String Band fame –bucolic delight You Get Brighter is another glorious declaration of love for nature’s brightest life-giving force. Positively radiant, meandering as it does through a Baroque folk majesty, Howard subtly marks the original with his own peaceable nature and joy.

Wishing to hold off the morning’s rays, Tom Springfield’s lovelorn plea, Morning, Please Don’t Come – originally recorded with his sister Dusty in 1969 for his own LP Love’s Philosophy – playfully yearns for the dawn to never come; a signal as it seems for his love to leave his bedside, and maybe step out of his life forever. Howard rings out the tambourine, lightly caresses the piano and swoons a faithful tribute.

Once again drawn to the tragic, Howard also does justice to Sandy Denny’s complex woven lament The Lady and Tim Buckley’s equally troubled, but achingly beautiful, Morning Glory. Savoring the challenge of translating “rather a lot of chords” (as Denny herself puts it on a live recording of this elegiac delight) on to piano, Howard transposes the malady and bellowed heartbreak to sound like a lost Elton John classic. He turns Buckley’s rather ambiguous 1967 ballad into a 70s style epic that rolls on and on. Accompanying anecdotal notes of interest from Howard explain each song’s appeal and influence, with a mention about the ‘musical scholars’ debate over the meaning of Buckley’s “fleeting house” lyric; a reference that Howard himself believes alludes to a ‘house we only live in temporally, like the hobo the lyric mentions several times in the song.’ Whatever you decipher from this cryptic and great lyric, the song is somehow congruous to the collection, yet barely mentions the ‘morning’; just as easily conjures up an ambivalent atmosphere of time and the seasons.

 

A great songbook, lifted and subtly turned into a venerable homage, Songs From The Morning is an articulate often peaceable collection from an artist happy to spend a moment contemplating and celebrating those that inspired him, but also a pause before launching into a string of new solo work.






John Duhan ‘The Irishman’s Finest Collection’   ARC Music,  Available Now

 

With a certain earnest sentimentality and the Irish brogue of a “folkie” Springsteen, songwriting legend John Duhan’s five decade spanning songbook is for many of his admirers both a heartfelt hymn to life and love and an article of faith.

Despite penning highly popular peaceable anthems and the most romantic of love songs, Duhan’s music has mostly been brought to attention via international Irish icons such as Mary Black and The Dubliners. His most popular hit of all, the timeless Emerald Isle metaphorical seafaring paean The Voyage, was a much loved sentiment to overcoming life’s obstacles together as a couple and family (a recurring theme throughout), much beloved by Duhan’s local community but propelled to global success by Christy Moore, who covered it in 1989.

And so for many this latest collection come compendium musical accompaniment to his autobiography, To The Light (a title taken from the leading track of his album of the same name), is an introduction to the songwriter/performer who originally started out in the 60s as the fifteen year old frontman for the highly successful Irish beat group Granny’s Intentions, before going on to carve out a career as a lone troubadour.

Corresponding to each of the four chapters of that bio, songs have been ‘carefully’ selected from a quartet of his most ‘epic’ albums: Just Another Town, The Voyage, Flame, and, of course, To The Light itself. Self-confessedly never following ‘trends or fashions’, Duhan’s music remains timeless, accompanied as it is by gentle oboe, violins, cello, pipes, the accordion and his tender guitar. There is some room however for modernity, with the subtlest of technological advancements allowed to create synthesized atmospheres and melodies when wanted.

Following a toiled life story, it makes perfect sense to start at the beginning, paying homage to the town of his birth, Limerick. Featuring a diorama cast of locals and scenes that have obviously touched and been lived by its author, Duhan muses that his town is “just another town” like any other, but it’s the first of two occasions to include lyrics that reference his old dad – lyrically etched as a character, singing in baritone, ‘with the emphasis on the ‘bar’’ – on the track of the same name and on the rousing Don’t Give Up Till It’s Over, and paints a fond picture of home.

 

All the cornerstones of the family and the touchstones of a life well lived are drawn upon for material, including the offering of a steady hand of assurance to both his teenage daughter – in the middle of some tumult on Your Sure Hand – and to his son Kevin – on the immensity of the great unknown and our place in the scheme of things pondering Face The Night. There’s a coo-like bowed tribute to his mum in the form of a charming reminder from the past on Song Of the Bird; a tale of when Duhan and his Mum nursed an injured bird back to life, offering hope and a fond memory of his mum when she sadly passed away.

Through it all, from meandering family rifts to stargazing philosophically, there’s a deep sense of faith and the tender gesture of overcoming adversity. Mostly set in the here and now, though musically transcending any specific timeline, the only song that deviates from this is The Blight. A sad saga about the fatal disease that infected and destroyed as a consequence so many potato harvests in Ireland, known by its Latin name as Phytophthora infestans but named ‘the Blight’ by those communities it devastated, this obviously emotionally aching chapter from the Island’s history is turned into a tale of death and survival on the ‘blight’ riddled toiled fields and lands by Duhan, but it could so easily be an ode to the hardships of eking out substance on the American frontier as well.

 A perfectly pleasant guide to one of Ireland’s greatest living songwriters – who it must be said is also pretty deft and handy with the guitar too – Duhan’s Finest Collection gently explores his adroit magic and sincerity over time, and will remain one of the best encapsulations of his craft for years to come.




Brickwork Lizards  ‘Haneen’   Available Now

 

A beneficial creative exchange of musical backgrounds that blossomed from a chance meeting between Oxford stalwart Tom O’ Hawk and the Egyptian vocalist and oud player Tarik Beshir – of the town’s Arabic ensemble Oxford Maqam – into the fusion, the Brickwork Lizards, sprung from a mutual love for the 1930s harmony group The Ink Spots, but also a yearning for a, mostly, lost past.

Nostalgic reverberations from both the exotic Ottoman Empire of yore and 1920s English dancehalls seamlessly elope off together to create something fairly unique and congruous. This second LP to date, Haneen, is an often joyful bound across time, soaking up lines, melodies, riffs and the atmosphere of a shellac scratchy tea dance one minute, a lavishly decorated, carpeted seraglio the next.

The very definition of that album title in Arabic describes a longing sense of the past. And so timelines align as the two distinct backgrounds of the group’s founders harmonize with surprising results. You will for example hear a Tim Westwood style late night radio host introduce a wartime blitz era ballroom romantic crooned lullaby of sentimental assurance (Old Fashioned Song) and a creeping transformation of a traditional 16th/17th century ‘hanging song’ that takes in both the atavistic bucolic of merry ole England but also features an air of Latin American (The Hanging Tune).

 

Better when they evoke and redeem the exotic – reclaiming almost forgotten Ottoman pieces Hijaz Zeybek and Hijaz Mandira: the prefix alluding to an eclectic transformation that takes these traditional encapsulations out of their epoch into something more electric, from the Silk Road to cocktails at The Ritz – than the bohemian, the Brickwork Lizards most promising excursions are amongst the amorphous sand dunes and bazaars of a vague North Africa and Middle East panoply. Songs such as the mosey wagon trail western metaphor, Come On Home, – which as a tinge of White Album McCartney about it – and the cornet trumpet nuzzled cabaret swoon, Queen Of Bohemia, can sound twee and pastiche, but this is made up for with the album’s abundance of zeal and fun at fusing pastures new – Ottoman rap, anyone?!




Sunflowers  ‘Castle Spell’   Stolen Body Records,  February 9th 2018

 

In what is proving to be a busy year for the Bristol label Stolen Body Records – we must have featured at least four bands from the label’s ever-expanding roster in the last month alone – we have yet another garage-psych-stoner-doom backbeat propelled slice of international mayhem to wake-up the dead with. In the guise of a Portuguese Cramps embracing The B52s, Moon Duo and Black Lips inside Grandpa Munster’s cloak of Gothic looning, the Sunflowers, despite the name and fiery vigor, lurk in the graveyard of human metaphorical gloom.

Their second album, Castle Spell, is full of fantasy and voodoo, yet throbs, bends and whines with pantomime horror. Tongue-firmly-in-cheek, the girl/boy yahoo, mooning and wooing vocals and tumult backing of scuzz, fuzz, spunk rock and explosive blues suggests some fun. Though in no way does this mean it’s a cartoon imitation or joke, as the group do get very heavy and the lyrics echo a sort of inevitability, an illusion to death, grief and kool-aid enthused destruction.

Tumbling off-kilter on the tangled lunar-hopping, fretwork in space, opener The Siren, we’re introduced to the Sunflowers spikey howling energy, as each track careers and thrashes its way to a destination; be it Link Wray riding the big one down to the Mexican coast on the ole! tremolo-twanged Surfin With The Phantom, or creeping like The Black Angels in Poe’s cemetery on Grieving Tomb. For pure zaniness and what-the-fuck-is-all-that-aboutness, the barking scuzzed A Spasmodic Milkshake features the most bizarre boy/girl exchange of lyrics (“I’m a milkshake don’t disturb me, I don’t want to die!”), and the finale, We Have Always Lived In The Palace, is just…well, weird: a ponderous bass riff stride through the palatial palaces of the mind.

Still, a cracking great album, full of thrills; light and shade dynamics but heavy as fuck, Castle Spell is a real explosive blues, garage thumping, punky doom withering surfin’ cosmic psych blast.






Lukas Creswell-Rost   ‘Gone Dreamin’’  Plain Sailing Records,  Available Now

 

An Extension. A re-contextualization. A transmogrification leading to a concatenate yet new set of songs, developed from the English troubadour Lukas Creswell-Rost‘s 2014 Go Dream songbook, Gone Dreamin’ is a reimagined transformation of that original misanthropic tragedy, culled from Rock’s Back Pages. Taken off into more experimental realms, with ideas, scraps of dialogue, riffs and melodies ‘flying around’, merged with various effects and breaks, these original beautifully vaporous soft rock ballads and cruising songs are given a new lease of life.

Alluding to track titles from Go Dream and sounding at times like the Animal Collective remixing Michael Angelo and Paul McCartney, or 10cc fronted by Michael Farneti, this latest nine-track suite – described by Lukas as: ‘A pop soundscape road trip going through different radio stations that are all haunted by the same voice.’ – builds upon the sentiments and dazed recollected tales of fate, suicide and ego on rock’s highway, but drinks liberally from the woozy poisoned chalice of Kool-aid woe.

 

Championing Go Dream at the time, becoming a sort of cult album, Lukas has revisited that collection, which weaved such blissful, cursing visages on the fate of Bad Finger, the strange unnerving limbo of a transient life on the road as a touring band in the 70s, the detachment of star power, sipping cocktail aimlessly in Miami, and the tantrums of an air bound miscreant Yngwie Malmsteen. Though amorphous in dipping in and out of that album to conjure up something new, it’s difficult to recognize what bit of which song he’s used, echoed with effects or turned inside out. Gone Dreamin’ has just Cocktails, whilst Go Dream had Ten Dollar Cocktails. Gone Dream also has Patient Pilot, whilst Gone Dreamin’ has Air Rage. Yet neither particularly collate; just the essence and vague linger. Shimmery, shining with synth percussion, sauntering bossa rhythms, troubadour acoustic guitar and echoes of a sun-dappled Laurel Canyon Lukas’ music is now submerged and remodeled with ambient music, hallucinogenic and garish 80s pop production – Here In Hollywood signposts every signature buzz, drum-pad pre-set, vapours and electro boogie sound from that decade, sounding like Nile Rodgers on speed.

Lukas has done a great job too; loosening, bending, crystallizing and stretching his 70s blessed, Pacific Ocean Blue meets Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan crafted cerebral soft rock songs into something experimentally more colorful and, even, dreamier.







Shorts: curios, oddities, great sounds and tracks floating our orbit this month.

Orouni   ‘Uca Pugilator’   Taken from the Somewhere In Dreamland EP

Making a return visit to their 2014 musical travelogue album Grand Tour, this time with singer and flutist Emma Broughton at the helm – the previously admired from afar Anglo-French artist, provider of a rich, effortless timbre, is now a paid-up full time member of the band – the Parisian pop band Orouni recast a quartet of older songs on their latest EP, Somewhere In Dreamland.

The shape of things to come, Emma Broughton features as the lead singer on all of the reconfigured EP’s tracks, Somewhere In Dreamland will act as a bridge of sorts to an upcoming album, released later this year.

Blending world music instrumentation – usually picked up on their travels – with a kind of clever, air-y and breezy melodic style of lilting pop, Orouni glide amorphously between a myriad of French and English influences. Sounding at times like a French-African Belle & Sebastian, or a Breton styled New Pornographers.

Taken from their new EP – a taster if you like – the opening Uca Pugilator is described as ‘a two-chord pop song about Senegalese wrestling’ by the group. Formerly the first track from the group’s Grand Tour, this alternative version features a more up-tempo rhythm guitar pick-me-up – part Bowie, part Kate Bush, part Postcard Records – and of course now features Broughton on lead vocals. Dreamily conjuring up the well-traveled tourist’s observations – imagine Goddard on a road trip with Paul Simon across West Africa – about a Senegalese pugilistic ritual, this beautiful light but sophisticated song promises the most glittering of African adventures. And it’s very, very nice indeed: swimmingly so.




Luxgaze   ‘Pretty Eyes’

Vaporizing before our ears the latest electronic track from Toronto-based music producer Luxgaze (Natalie Veronica) is a dreamy instrumental of slow beats, mirror rippling and reverse effects entitled Pretty Eyes. This glass-y abstract trip-hop meets electronica track meanders; swirling gently and indolently in its space like a chilled mystery.

It follows on from a trio of similar previous singles and also acts as a guide towards the upcoming full-length debut LP. Keep a lookout on the site for more details in the future.




Lost Colours  ‘One Space Left’   12th February 2018

Splashing a range of dreamy kaleidoscopic ‘colours’ on their celebratory, almost life-affirming, universal pop psychedelic spectacular One Space Left, the Leeds paint a most ambitious canvas with their debut single. In what will be a busy year going forward for the band, ahead of both their Different Life EP and Talking In Technicolour LP releases (to be released consecutively over the next two months), One Space Left is open invitation to soak up the band’s expansive, even transcendental, ambitions.

Alluding to the Indian subcontinent, this flight of fantasy features the ethereal calls of Rebekah Dobbins (of Nouvelle Vague and The Living Gods Of Haiti fame) drifting over subtle hints of sitar and the echoes of an undulating exotic voyage, as a constant bloom and cycle of drums and stargazing opulence – not a million miles from MGMT or Snowball II – materialize like ether.

A Ty Unwin remix of that same song – one of the three versions on this three-track release that also features an instrumental – strips the song back, sending it towards a dreamscape trance. Unwin reweaves the original threads and vocals, untethering what are already quite float-y and light voices until they become translucent, as samples of those Indian sounds waft in and out of a most vaporous, celestial, atmosphere until reaching the final section of the remix, which introduces sonorous bass and glassy shard percussion.

Lost Colours aim to put ‘huge smiles on peoples faces’ with their cinematic electronic and pop psychedelia, and One Space Left, I can thankfully conform, does just that. I’ll be keeping an ear out and hopefully will bring you more news and a possible review in the near future.




 

CHOICE TRACKS OF 2017: PART FOUR
SELECTION: DOMINIC VALVONA, AYFER SIMMS, MATT OLIVER





Wrapping up 2017 with the final part of our quarterly playlist revue, Matt Oliver, Ayfer Simms and Dominic Valvona have chosen another eclectic genre spanning collection of ‘choice’ tracks from the latter end of the year. From the Golan Heights (TootArd) to the cantons of Switzerland (Ester Poly), from weaponised disco pop (U.S. Girls) to attacking vibrant Curaçao electro protest (Kuenta i Tambú), from Gilbert and Sullivan cerebral pop (Sparks) to unearthed lost golden 60s nuggets (Cymbeline), this last curtain call of the year playlist reflects our tastes and opinions, and reflects what has been an anxious, unsettling twelve months.


Tracklist:

Mark Barrott  ‘The Pathways Of Our Lives’
Snapped Ankles  ‘Hanging With The Moon’
Kuenta i Tambu  ‘E Kalakuna’
TootArd  ‘Laissez Passer’
Mustafa Ozkent  ‘Kasap’
Los Camaroes  ‘Mbembe Ndoman’
The Movers  ‘Kansas City’
U.S. Girls  ‘Mad As Hell’
Destroyer  ‘Cover From The Sun’
Wild Ones  ‘Invite Me In’
The Moth Poets  ‘The Shabby Gentlemen’
Ester Poly  ‘Dienstag’
Alpine Those Myriads  ‘Mail Order Doom (WHWGH)’
L’Orange  ‘Cooler Than Before’
Danny Watts & Aye Mitch  ‘Young & Reckless’
Evidence  ‘Jim Dean’
Thavius Beck  ‘Akhenaten’
Ocean Wisdom  ‘Eye Contact’
Antiheroes, Lee Scott & Salar  ‘No Sleep Till Mars’
Psycho & Plastic  ‘Boojum’
Alexander Stordiau  ‘Fulfilling Eclipse’
Solo Collective: Anne Muller & Alex Stolze  ‘Solo? Repeat! (Live)’
Audiac  ‘Gospels Unreal’
Bjork  ‘Arisen My Senses’
Miles Cooper Seaton  ‘I Am That’
Gwyneth Glyn  ‘Tanau’
The Cornshed Sisters  ‘The Message’
Girl Ray  ‘Preacher (Radio Edit)’
Wesley Gonzalez  ‘Piece Of Mind’
Cymbeline  ‘Strax Nedenfor Tomen’
Martian Subculture  ‘Chewing Gum’
John Howard  ‘From The Morning’
Sparks  ‘I Wish You Were Fun’

Previous Quarterly Playlists from 2017:

Part 3

 

Part 2

 

Part 1



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