andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Monthly Archives: December 2016

Falling Backwards for Christmas: a Kaleidoscopic Crescendo of Kula Shakerism

It wasn’t so much that your man couldn’t stay upright: it was more that he’d acquired a backward slant. So, no matter how hard he tried to jump up and down in the same spot with his larrikin mates, he always ended up falling backwards towards those in the audience stood behind him. Which, for a substantial part of the first half of the gig, meant me.

I mean, it wasn’t as if I hadn’t tried to cover this eventuality. Having taken up position before the support act front and centre, but a sensible modicum of distance back from the stage, I had covertly scanned those around me and satisfied myself that my immediate neighbours, like the vast majority of those there for Kula Shaker’s twentieth anniversary celebration of their debut album, K, had grown up with the band and were therefore now at a stage in life where staying reasonably sober and just nodding along to the music seemed like a decent plan on a school night.

However, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s actually me: because in the same way that those most anxious to find a surrogate mental health professional/drug counsellor amongst their fellow passengers on the bus seem to make a beeline in my direction, here were these guys, suddenly, right in front of us in the crowd and, in the case of your man, in my face in a very real sense.

To be  fair, 2016 has been such a shite year all round I couldn’t really blame him for wanting to escape the strict confines of reality for a bit. Continuing state and terrorist sponsored bloodbaths around the world, especially Syria; the refugee crisis; Trump, the impact of Brexit, however you voted (I’m obliged for legal reasons to say); the loss of Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen to name but three; on a personal basis, a lot of close family illness, some ongoing job discombobulation, and the technical problems around the Venus Carmichael album launch have all, in their varying degrees of significance, have made this year one of the easiest to leave behind ever.

In fact, one of the few bright spots had been conversion to the cult of Shakerism when the Kulas played Glasgow’s O2 ABC, back in February, at the start of their tour. So the prospect of ending it in the company of Mr Mills and his bandmates on the tour’s last night at the same venue was too good a prospect for us to miss.

And indeed, the signs and portents were encouraging: a damned fine blues-rocky support band called Rudy Warman and the Heavy Weather, then, amidst the interminable setting up process for the main act, the strategic placement of joss sticks at the front of the stage. Mind you, that was maybe just to distract any law enforcement present from the thick fug of exhaled cannabinoids coming from the crowd, and I’m not even just talking about the guy in front of us. All the while, a constantly evolving kaleidoscope of images featuring Ghandi, JFK and, bizarrely, Kevin Spacey, played on the backdrop.

If there was a criticism of what followed, it was mainly an inevitable consequence of the gig’s dedication to that twenty year anniversary of K: whilst a fine, fine, album, the band’s debut does have its weaker tracks. I mean, even Tapestry’s got ‘Smackwater Jack,’ right? Comparisons with February’s gig, which was essentially a greatest hits package comprising about 40% each of K and Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts, with the remaining 20% the best from the rest of their output, were somewhat invidious.

But I cavil, merely. Once both sides of K were – all but – done, the boys obliged with some choice material, of which more later. And again, if the gig seemed to dip in the middle, that may only be my perception because, despite having moved some thirty feet back and left in the now thickly-packed crowd, I was gobsmacked to see my friend with the backward slant headed in my direction, like some bizarre drunk heat-seeking missile. Honestly! Oblivious to the tuttings and head-shakings all around him, and the rather more forceful prods of the thickset guy in the puffa jacket and baseball cap in front of me, somehow, somehow, your man was back, falling backwards for Christmas into my unwelcoming arms.

‘You need to try leaning forward more, you see, that’s your mistake,’ I offered in his ear.

‘Shnngggurglnn,’ he replied, nodding and smiling in a sleepy-eyed fashion. He had obviously ventured far beyond language.

And then – a Christmas miracle! – back up on stage, Crispian Mills hit a power chord, your man and his mates leapt for joy, beer went everywhere, and in a thunderclap of a song’s ending, they disappeared! I shit you not! One minute they were there, scattering eau de Tennents’ everywhere (but thankfully mostly forwards) and the next they were gone, leaving a three-man-drunk hole in front of us. If I had doubted the Power of Shakerism before, truly I came to believe at that moment.

More, they had ascended into the Rapture (or, just possibly, gone to the bar) at a perfect time, because Kula Shaker had finished with K and its associated B sides and were closing their set with the obligatory storming cover of Joe South’s ‘Hush.’ Cue massed singing of na-nana-na etc, handwaving, foot stamping, and general commotion amongst even the most douce sections of the crowd. Then a tumultuous encore: ’33 Crows’ and ‘Infinite Sun’ from K2.0, followed by my all time favourite, ‘Great Hosannah,’ with a tremendous, roaring segue into ‘Govinda,’ the track they’d held back from the original album. The second encore, listed on Setlist FM as ‘I’d Like to teach the World to Sing/Shakermaker medley,’ sent us home smiling.

It would have taken a man less emotional than me to feel unmoved, in the face of aforesaid shite year, by the lyrics of ‘Great Hosannah:’

If we stand here together
And we see the world as one
We may think there’s no future
But it’s the same for everyone
It’s like the world has lost its head
And it’s like all the prophets said
But will we arise to a new world…

But my transcendental experiences were not quite at an end for the night. As we faithful all shuffled to the exit, another drunk guy drew near (it’s not quite the animal magnetism I’d dreamed of as a teenager, I may say).

‘Flug log illegal,’ he said to me, nodding conspiratorially. I must have looked confused, so he tried again.

Flaak laak ineagle,’ he said. ‘FLAG LARK IN BEAGLE.’

‘Ah,’ I said, because suddenly, a blinding flash of illumination had hit me (it may have been the last of the stage lights popping). He was, of course, quoting from the Second Epistle of St Crispian to the Glaswegians (K2.0, track 1, verse 1). And in that moment of enlightenment, a strange transfiguration came upon me. For were we not all pilgrims travelling on the same route? And who was I to judge my fellow converts? Indeed, but two nights ago, with the administration of some office-lunch peer-group pressure-inspired sambuca shots, had I not been pretty much in the same state, if not of grace, of talking in tongues?

Yea, brother, I had been. Big style. Drunk as a monkey. So now I laid a hand on my fellow pilgrim’s shoulder, and together we intoned the Holy Word of Crispian:

‘We are one with the Infinite Sun,

Fly like an eagle…’

At least, that’s what I was singing. He was still chuntering on about logging being illegal. But the Spirit of Shakerism was moving within him, I could tell.

Footnote: If you’ve read this far down, well done, and thanks for reading – and listening – to my various creative outpourings over the year. If you have. Have a great festive period, whatever your belief or none, and a safe and prosperous 2017. It can only improve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If there are ads below here, they’re not mine!

Andy’s Seasonal Solstice Sluggers!

The weather’s turning colder and darker here: so, despite the nominal tipping point of the shortest day having been reached, it’s not likely to turn into white wine weather any time soon…

So red it is! Here, drawn from Jane MacQuitty’s 50 top reds in the Times at the end of November, or, in the case of the winners, from other recommendations of hers, are the ones we’ve tracked down so far, and what we think of them:

2012 Cepa Lebrel Rioja Reserva, Spain, Lidl £5.49:

7/10. Damn fine Rioja. If you like it oaky, this one’s ok (see what I did there?)

2016 Taste the Difference Fairtrade Shiraz, South Africa, Sainsbury’s £6 till January 1:

5/10. Couldn’t taste the difference.

2016 Finca Las Moras Art Series Malbec, Argentina Sainsbury’s  £7:

6/10. Not that artful.

2015 Extra Special Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, Australia, Asda, £6.98:

6/10. Not that extra special.

2015 Estevez Pinot Noir Reserva, Chile Aldi £4.79

No score yet ‘cos we’ve not tried it yet. We’ve a lot to get through! But MacQuitty’s star wine of the cheapos, so well worth a try.

Vignobles Roussellet Pinot Noir, Aldi, £4.49

9/10. I’ve recommended this before (as has MacQuitty) and I’m going to recommend it again. I’d pay twice the price for it. Honestly. but coming up on the rails:

Wine Atlas Corbieres 2014, Asda, £5.98

8/10. Terrible label for the traditionalists, great glug. Actually not that far away from the Aldi Pinot Noir geographically, as it’s also a Vin de Pays d’Oc, where the good news for non-traditionalists is that the French have relaxed their fussy wine regulations to allow winemakers to stick oak chips in their stainless steel vats. That goes against the romantic ideal of the wine laying down in hand-crafted, artisanal barrels of the stuff, but for a cheap glugger it does the same sort of job. Fill your boots with this easy-drinking, moreish, hefty yet sensitive red. It’s kind of the red wine equivalent of Bruce Springsteen.

Wine Atlas Corbieres

Enjoy! More solstician blogging in a couple of days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anything below here is advertising by WordPress. Just keep drinking.

Everybody must get Stones: Keith Richards and me

One of my favourite fellow bloggers, Yeahanotherblogger, recently posted about his experiences as a youngster with the Rolling Stones. In Stoned Again and Again, Neil (shock news: yeahanotherblogger’s a nom de plume) gives an amusing account of his lifelong ‘obsession’ (he seems far too well-balanced to be really obsessive) with Mick, Keef and those other cats. Whilst not uncritical of their present lack of output, he clearly retains an affection for them – and the depth of knowledge to link to a couple of lesser known tracks from the Stones’ first imperial period, in the mid-to-late Sixties, the latter of which, Dandelion, I’d never heard..

And it all got me thinking. As the music press goes radge bongo for their first album in years and years (of which more later) what do I think of them myself? Do they still hold any relevance today? Should I be steering Daughter and Heiress towards them (as if she’ll listen, and/or as if she’ll not have made her mind up via Youtube already) as an ineluctable part of her rock n’ roll heritage?

Some context here. I was 5 in 1967, so Pinky and Perky were more my musical bag, man. Later on, I did become aware of the Stones at a relatively young age via the magic of my older brother and sister’s record collection. I still remember being especially impressed at the cover of Sticky Fingers (1971) with its picture of a pair of well-filled jeans, and an actual zip! Come to think of it, I think Toe Blister’s still got that album – might even be worth something now.

By the time I had got through my Pinky and Perky phase, the Stones were mainly absent from such crucial sources of music we had in the UK like ‘Top of the Pops.’ Actually, in the mid to late Seventies, ToTP was pretty much the only source of new music on the TV in the UK: but by then, the Stones were rich and famous enough to be tax exiles, and didn’t deign to appear on the show. Come to think of it, given the number of TOTP presenters who’ve since had their collars felt by the constabulary for alleged – and in some cases – proven misdemeanours of the morally turpitudinous type, that was a pretty smart move.

So the Stones were gone from the current music scene, and viewed by some as part of the old guard that had to be swept away by the cleansing wave of snot that was Punk, circa 76/77. Not that it was obvious from your average disco DJ’s set of the time: as a bit of relief from Rose Royce, Gloria Gaynor, and the like, a few ‘classic’ Stones numbers were generally thrown into the set: but then, Paint It Black, Ruby Tuesday, Brown Sugar are the like are pretty damn danceable, after all. I was always intrigued by the opening bars of ‘Black,’ especially: that sitar!

So the Stones were great to party on to. But in terms of still being relevant? I remember hearing ‘Start Me Up,’ the single off ‘Tattoo You’ in 1981, by which time I was a 19-year-old serious-minded student of Rock (that wasn’t my actual degree, but it might as well have been – see earlier post on my ill-judged attempts to become the next Bruce Dylansteen). I was pretty underwhelmed. Still am, in fact – I always felt that was the beginning of the end for the fabled Jagger-Richards songwriting partnership.

Then, a long period passed – in fact, most of the Eighties and Nineties – when, for me at least, the Stones were more about the myth than the music. Specifically, the Glimmer Twins legend. It was almost as if the two of them had realised the game was up with a clever tune and a lyric and decided to construct a whole new mythology instead. Mick became cast as the stereotypical Lead Singer: vain, self-obsessed, good with the media; Keith, on the other hand, was the cool one, the moody Guitarist with the tortured-artist addictions and the piratical dress sense.

Other parts of the Stones’ actual history were grist to the mill of the myth: tragic, mysterious early death of founder member; bad acid and stabbing at Altamont as the band played on with ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ drugs busts, Redlands, Marianne Faithfull and that Mars Bar. The Establishment was trying to take them down, man. Even exile in France wasn’t so much as prudent tax avoidance as sticking it to the Man.

Along the way, certain inconvenient truths were buried, particularly around Brian Jones’s part in the early years. It was interesting to read, last year, Keef’s autobiography, Life, and more or less straight afterwards  Paul Trynka’s biography of Jones. The latter gives a possibly slightly overstated version of Jones’s significance, but it does show how it was his band originally, how Mick and Keef marginalised him, and eventually left him with no place at all. Jones was far from blameless in all of this – he doesn’t seem to have been a particularly nice person, and he clearly ‘had issues’ – but it’s the way he’s been written out of the band’s history that’s striking.

Back to the Sage of Dartford though. Don’t get me wrong: respect is due from any guitar player for how, following Jones’s departure, Keef was largely responsible for refining the Stones’ sound around a riffing, country-blues vibe that played to the band’s strengths, along the way collaborating with Mick Taylor and then Ronnie Wood in a way that stepped away from the lead/rhythm guitarist paradigm and, instead, paved the way for a more egalitarian twin-guitar approach. And don’t be put off by my comments about his autobiography: it is highly entertaining, especially about the drugs busts, and well written. There’s even a section on tunings which will help you to work out how to play his stuff more accurately.

Look, I see myself as a guitarist rather than a lead singer, so like why wouldn’t I want to be a bit more Keith Richards? Indeed, I often feel the answer to many of my life’s dilemmas might well be, ‘what would Keith Richards do?’ And ‘Gimme Shelter,’ which very definitely has Keef’s fingerprints all over it, is my favourite Stones song ever.

It’s just, well, I dunno. He kind of takes the credit away from everyone else, somehow?

So, in his bio, he claims the only reason they recruited Bill Wyman was he had a big old bass amp. That famous meeting of Jagger and him on the railway platform at Dartford? He only got talking to the cat because of his record collection. In a recent interview with Uncut to push the new album, ‘Blue and Lonesome,’ he uses the same reason for hooking up with Brian Jones: ‘Brian was the first person I knew that had a Robert Johnson record … Very rare. That’s when I captured him. “I’ll take you, and the record!”‘

See what I mean? Even Mick Jagger’s apparent upturn in harmonica playing on the new album, according to the same interview, is down to him, via Ronnie Wood: as the interview puts it, ‘the two men worked discreetly, good-naturedly stoking Jagger’s enthusiasm for the harmonica.’ You can’t – or at least I can’t – help feeling a tad sorry for Brenda, as Keef calls him: forever guilty of acts of lead singerism, dependent on his guitarists to jolt him into harp-playing reanimation, the eternally uncool straight man.

Will I be buying ‘Blue and Lonesome?’ Nah. Partly because that pure, unadulterated blues isn’t really my thing, but also because, well, if I want to listen to the blues, there’s an excellent local band called Lights Out By Nine I could go and see in a small venue. I’d rather give them the money, same way I’d rather go see my good friend Norman Lamont recently (and contribute to Edinburgh Foodbanks in the process) perform his ‘Ballad of Bob Dylan’ live than go and see the non-Nobel Prize Ceremony attending old curmudgeon himself when he reaches Glasgow on 7th May (plus I’m working that night, come to think of it).

Still, Keith. We’ll always have Gimme Shelter…and to be fair, even the story of its recording is the stuff of legend.

Image result for keith richards