Archive for the ‘psych’ Category

The Moody Blues’ Mike Pinder: Promise Renewed (Part Two)

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Continued from Part One

BK: Eighteen years passed between release of The Promise and Among the Stars. Certainly you were busy with other things in the intervening years, but why so long a gap? And again – did you build up a backlog of songs over that period, or did you approach the album as a new project, and set about writing for it anew?

MP: I was very happy and busy with family life! During the years I was active with my band I did not have much of a private life. We were always recording or touring. First the release of Magnificent Moodies and Go Now in 1965. Then the formation of Moodies II. We were busy then from 1967 to 1978 recording eight albums. It was a rewarding but grueling work schedule.

I wanted to spend as much time enjoying and nurturing my family as I had done nurturing a band. When my sons were almost grown I thought it would be fun to get back into the studio recording. I have always had a small recording studio at home so even though I did not formally release any songs during those years, I was always tinkering around with the music and listening to the muse.

BK: Among the Stars seems to feature a sound that is closer in some ways to what you had done with the Moody Blues, specifically in its greater use of keyboards. Was the fact that so much time had passed a factor in your thinking, “it’s okay to sound like this now and then” or was that not part of your thinking at all?

MP: Keyboard is my main instrument so it is always an easy choice for me in an arrangement. I don’t think it was a conscious decision to use more Mellotron or keyboards. Having the sounds of the Mellotron available to me helped me to arrange and paint the backdrop for the song. I think you will always hear Moody Blues in my songs and arrangements because the music of the Moodies always reflected a certain part of who I am, my message and my creative vision.

BK: Part of the stated reason for your leaving your old band had to do with not wishing to tour. Did you do any live dates to promote either The Promise or Among the Stars, and to what degree have you engaged in public performance since that time?

MP: I did a tour in the US when I released The Promise. But I did not do any live shows when I finished Among the Stars. Instead I did a tour in the USA of Borders Books & Music stores. That was really fun. I got to meet and greet the fans. It was a beautiful experience to hear first hand the impact the music has had on listeners of our music. I have always said that that is my Hall of Fame. Who needs a bogus political entity telling me that I am worthy of recognition in Rock’s Hall of Fame. When you have changed or touched a life in some magical and wonderful way with music or art then the artist has hit the jackpot.

BK: The Mellotron was long notorious for its – many said – unsuitability as a live performance instrument. You, of course, used it extensively. Today, very few musicians do that; beyond Damon Fox of Bigelf, I don’t know of any other touring musicians who use a Mellotron. And when albums note the use of a ‘Tron, often it’s (ironically) a sample of a Mellotron! Of course there’s something called the Memotron, an attempt at a modern digital answer to this decidedly analog instrument. Are you familiar with the Memotron, and if so, how do you think it compares to my favorite musical instrument, the Mellotron?

MP: I think it was fate that brought me together with the Mellotron. Besides being a player, I have always had an interest in mechanics and engineering. The Mellotron was manufactured by Streetly Electronics in Birmingham and I applied for a job working in the factory. A perfect match. I loaded the tapes and made sure they were timed correctly. The fact that I could assemble a Mellotron from top to bottom enabled me to troubleshoot the instrument. I knew it inside and out.

The Mellotron was delicate. Improper handling would cause the tapes to get tangled. Also it was a heavy instrument at 350 pounds. All the weight was in the housing.

I have only seen the Memotron online but it is a concept that I did for myself years ago when I digitized my favorite Mellotron sounds to use on a Roland sampler. In the early 90’s I digitized and looped my favorite Mellotron sounds, and I now play them on a Roland S-760 Sampler (weighing 3 pounds) I also digitized the best sounds of the Chamberlain. So now I can play both in stereo. I still love the Mellotron but it is nice to have it available to me in a more compact version.

The sound and tone of the Mellotron is uniquely recognizable and I think I achieve my signature sound by the interface of how I use the pitch control and volume pedal.

BK: Two of the three bonus tracks included with Among the Stars feature involvement by Ray Thomas and Tony Clarke. When were those recorded?

MP: A few years before we lost Tony, he came over to the States and worked with my sons, Michael Lee and Matt Pinder (also known as The Pinder Brothers) on their CD Ordinary Man. “Waves Crash” and “Empty Streets” were songs Tony produced. We sent the tracks to Ray in the UK for his flute parts. It was a real treat to have them working with my sons.

BK: The new package is very nicely put together, with the box, booklet and DVD. How did this project come to be?

MP: I met the people at Esoteric on a visit to the UK. They had released a box set for my dear buddy Ray Thomas, and Ray introduced me. They are passionate about music, and this is rare in the record business of today.

Mike Pinder’s The Promise / Among the Stars box set is available from Cherry Red as well as the usual online places. Mike’s website is

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The Moody Blues’ Mike Pinder: Promise Renewed (Part One)

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Keyboardist Mike Pinder was a founding member of the Moody Blues. He was with them back in the really early days, when their lead singer was Denny Laine (later of Wings) and they scored a hit with “Go Now.” He was one of three members(along with flautist Ray Thomas and bassist John Lodge) who remained with the group as they became the quintet that most remember, the one with lead vocalist Justin Hayward and drummer Graeme Edge. That group released what are known among fans as the “Core Seven,” a series of albums that prominently featured Pinder’s arrangements and keyboard work, most notably on the Mellotron.

Pinder left the Moodies after their 1978 LP Octave, but had already began a solo career with 1976′s The Promise. A second solo release, Among the Stars followed, but not until 1994. Both albums have long been out of print. But now in 2014, the pair of albums – plus a DVD with interviews, and a few bonus tracks – have been released in a handsome box set. I spoke with Mike Pinder about the new reissue and some topics that have long been on my mind. Here’s our conversation. – bk

Bill Kopp: I bought The Promise on vinyl many years ago. When I first heard it, it came as a bit of a surprise to me, as it wasn’t what I had expected: a Mellotron album. Only the title track sounds much like what we’d heard from you before. Was it a conscious decision for you to create an album that overtly moved away from keyboard-focused songs, and from the heavily orchestrated sound of the Moody Blues?

Mike Pinder: I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I just gave choose the arrangement that I think fit the song. Recording on my own for the first time in many years just gave me the flexibility and freedom to use other musicians and friends and experiment a little more.

BK: A few years ago, I interviewed Graeme Edge, and asked him about the possibility of the Moody Blues doing what a number of groups have done: performing complete albums live onstage, start to finish. He said no, and his reason had to do with your songs: “We have considered it, but there’s a problem: we wouldn’t have somebody else sing a Mike Pinder song. It wouldn’t be right; there’s a phoniness to that.” What are your feelings on the subject?

MP: I don’t know about that. I considered them all my songs in some way as I am sure the entire band did. I would hear a song of Ray [Thomas]’s or John [Lodge]’s and I would add any creativity I could to making the song stronger. We all did that for each other. When you hear any Moody Blues song you hear my input or influence. For instance the counter melodies of “Nights in White Satin” are my creation. I think I am known for creating many of the memorable counter melodies, unexpected chord changes and most of the arrangements that you hear in any Moody Blues songs from the eight albums we did. Certainly from what fans call the “Core” or “Classic 7.”

BK: Moody Blues albums from 1967 to 1972 always featured one, two or more of your songs, since the band had several songwriters. I’m reminded of George Harrison once he left the Beatles and released All Things Must Pass. Was yours a similar situation, in that you had a huge backlog of songs you hadn’t had the opportunity to record and release, or did you write most of the tunes for The Promise specifically for the album?

MP: It was about 50/50. But it is interesting you make that analogy. Yes, like George I had songs in the wings. Musical ideas, like other art forms, are unique only in their expression. I don’t think ideas are individual by any means. But the transformation of the idea by the individual into art gives it uniqueness.

Here is a little fishing metaphor for the creative muse. I like to visualize creative ideas as being poured out of an urn, almost like Aquarius pouring out water. And then the wind would blow them, ideas, musical notes, lyrics, color etc and they would flow like a river. Alongside the river would be people sitting, with pencil in hand, an empty notebook or a guitar on their knee (which is metaphorically like fishing tackle) As these ideas come by, you try and grab one for you. Quite often that is what happens and you would hook something, and you would struggle with it, but you could never quite get it in the boat. So you have to cut your line.

I remember buying a George Harrison album, and hearing a song, and thinking “that’s the one that got away.” I didn’t get it, but further downstream (and George used to live about three miles away) George was up that night and hooked the bugger. Late at night when everyone is asleep has always been my favorite time to fish. I think when the world is quite it is easier to listen to the muse.

BK: I have read that “One Step Into the Light” was one of yours from the time of The Promise. It’s such a strong song; assuming that account is accurate, what led you to not including a version of it on your own album to begin with?

MP: “One Step Into the Light” was originally on Octave, which was the last album I recorded with the Moodies. We were not getting along very well in the recording studio, and I did not think any of the songs on that album got the attention they deserved. It was lovely to reflect on the song over time and re-record it with my sons.

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Bonus Weekend Feature: The Black Angels’ Alex Maas Talks About Roky Erickson

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

Austin-based band Black Angels have a finely tuned sense of history. While their music – often described by the band members themselves as “tribal psychedelic” – doesn’t aim to slavishly re-create the sounds of some long-lost musical era, the group readily acknowledges a clear debt to their psychedelic forebears.

And chief among those influences for the Black Angels (and many other acts who fall loosely into the modern-psych bag) is The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, one of the earliest psychedelic bands. Led by Roky Erickson, The Elevators – also Austin-based – released a legendary 1966 album (The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators), followed up with another fine effort (Easter Everywhere) a year later, and then petered out quickly with an ersatz-live album and a final effort on which its main musician was all but absent.

But The Elevators’ stature among succeeding generations of rock musicians grew, helped in no small part by Erickson’s bizarre life path. It’s difficult to summarize the story in a few words, but here’s an attempt: to avoid jail time for a drug bust (a single joint, by the way), Erickson entered an insanity plea and was confined to the (Rusk) Texas State Mental Hospital. There he received electroshock treatments, which many believe exacerbated the not-quite-qualifying-as-insane psychological problems Erickson was having.

He eventually got out, but went on to live an existence characterized by untreated schizophrenia. And during that period, he went on to make a series of albums that chronicled his obsession with the strange and macabre. The song titles tell part of the story: “The Evil One,” “Two Headed Dog,” “Bloody Hammer,” “I Walked With a Zombie.” He eventually got the help he needed, and his journey back toward something approaching normalcy is chronicled in the 2005 documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me, named after the Elevators’ most famous song.

Growing up in Austin and eventually forming a psychedelic band all but guarantees that you’d know about Roky. And the Black Angels’ multi-instrumentalist Alex Maas cites him as an early, high-school-years influence. “People had told me about [the 13th Floor Elevators], and I’d say, ‘Yeah, I’ll need to check that out sometime.’ I think I was in a record store, and I heard ‘Roller Coaster’ or ‘Reverberation.’ I asked the guy there, ‘Who is this?’ He told me, and it rang a bell.” He wondered why he didn’t already know about this locally-based band. “I mean, I knew about Buddy Holly,” he laughs.

When the Black Angels formed ten years ago, they drew upon Roky’s work – both from the Elevators years and beyond – for some of their inspiration. And then years later (2007) The Black Angels played at an event called the Roky Erickson Ice Cream Social at the SXSW Festival. That show brought the band to the attention of Roky’s management.

So it’s fitting that on the Black Angels’ current tour – which brought them to Asheville’s Grey Eagle on Thursday, February 20 – they finally share the stage with their hero. “If you told me years ago that this would happen,” Maas chuckles,” I would have said, ‘bullshit!’” Though they did a few dates backing Roky in 2008, this will have been the first time that they performed a double-bill with Roky and his band. “There might be a little tango onstage” with Roky and the Black Angels, Maas teases. Clearly everyone concerned is pleased at the pairing: in the time his band has spent close to Erickson, Maas says that they’ve learned “just how therapeutic playing music is for someone like Roky.”

Back in 2008, there had been plans afoot for a recorded collaboration between Roky and the Black Angels, but – despite an investment of time and resources by the band – that abortive project never fully materialized. Instead, Erickson released an album backed by Okkervil River, 2010′s True Love Cast Out All Evil. Luckily, reworked tapes from the Black Angels sessions have yielded a new single featuring the band covering a pair of Roky’s tunes. The seven-inch vinyl “(Thank God for) Civilization” b/w “Bo Diddley is a Headhunter” will be available at shows. Describing the songs as “not quite 13th Floor Elevators, and not quite Black Angels,” Maas explains that part of the band’s motivation for pushing to get the single out was “to put some money in Roky’s pocket.” Beyond that, Maas hopes that interested generated by the single will eventually lead to the release of more tracks from those 2008 sessions.

Maas urges anyone interested in Roky Erickson to attend the shows on this tour. “Roky doesn’t need to tour,” he says. “And he might not tour much after this.”

Hundred Word Reviews: February 2014, Part Three

Friday, February 7th, 2014

I’m making progress in bringing my the contents of my in-box down to a manageable size, but there are still so many albums deserving of coverage that I’ll be doing a few more of these capsule reviews. This time ’round I’ll take quick looks at artists who have either self-released, or put their music out on an indie label. All deserve wider notice, and like the government, I’m here to help.

Ezra Furman – Day of the Dog
I have difficulty getting past a vocalist I don’t care for; even if the songs are strong, if you sing like Geddy Lee or that guy in Cake, I’ll have a tough time with your music. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try. This is just such an example. With a sound that combines a stripped-down Phil Spector vibe with punk, Ezra Furman’s album is bitter, angry and restless. And filled with some pretty cool music. Greasy r&b saxophone battles it out with noisy guitars, except when Furman goes in an acoustic direction (see “My Zero,” an album highlight).

Rovo and System 7 – Phoenix Rising
When I first heard Ozric Tentacles, my first thought was that they had successfully updated the sound and aesthetic of Steve Hillage for the 21st century. But of course Hillage is still at it as well, and his latest project is this, a collaboration that includes him and partner Miquette Giraudy (as System 7) with Rovo, a five -piece from Japan featuring a former member of notorious band The Boredoms. Hints of 90s-period Porcupine Tree can be found. If you understand and appreciate the distinction between “trance” and “jam” and prefer the former, this one is highly recommended.

The Fire Tapes – Phantoms
This one makes me sad. I discovered this Charlottesville VA band in 2012, and found their moody onstage musical presentation even more affecting than their (excellent) debut LP Dream Travel. With a sound that builds upon the fuzzed-out sonic drone of the Dream Syndicate, the band offered a twin guitar attack that reminded me of Television. They followed up with a single later that year, and in late 2013 released the full-length Phantoms. But right on the heels of that release, they broke up. What they left behind is an album that betters the debut. Find it if you can.

Michael Des Barres – Hot N Sticky Live
On this live album, Des Barres avoids the crushingly obvious temptation to self-cover his Power Station-era material, and instead lends his raspy pipes to material from his latest studio album (2012′s Carnaby Street) and knowing covers .The highlight among the latter is a reading of Humble Pie‘s version of “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” as part of a medley. Des Barres was born to sing that kind of material, and he and band (featuring Bigelf‘s Damon Fox on keys) crank out rock, soul and r&b as if their lives depended on it. It’s as fiery as prime-era Graham Parker.

Dog Society – Emerge
Is there a place in the 21st century’s second decade for straightahead rock? Apparently, NYC based Dog Society think so. With a sound that builds on the best of 70s album-oriented rock, the five-piece is all about the vibe. The songs are catchy and memorable. Soaring, sustained guitar lines will transport you back to rock’s classic era. Bonus points for great vocal harmonies and stellar arrangement. Fans of Howlin’ Rain are sure to dig this, though Dog Society have a wider musical palette (see the clever melding of bossa nova and arena rock on “A Good Friend” for proof).

Weird Owl – Healing
This year’s winner in the Cleverest Band Name sweepstakes (say it out loud if you haven’t already gotten it), this Brooklyn outfit is of a musical piece with like-minded associates such as Black Angels and Brian Jonestown Massacre. Much of the album sounds if it was recorded in an empty gymnasium, but that deep-echo vibe is what the fuzzy, head-nodding-inducing songs require. Points to you if you can decipher the lyrics amidst the sonic haze, but that perhaps misses the whole point. Memorable Revolver-styled guitar leads and some tasty analog-sounding synth work are among the highlights of this excellent record.

Murray Hockridge & Dave Kilminster – Closer to Earth
I reviewed Kilminster‘s solo album Scarlet: The Director’s Cut about a year ago, and generally I don’t cover indie artists twice with in a year unless they do something especially remarkable. And that’s just what he’s done on this new record, in collaboration with fellow guitarist/vocalist Murray Hockridge. There are no original songs on this album; instead it’s filled with fascinating, soulful acoustic covers – reinventions is a better word – of well-known songs. REM, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Steely Dan and Radiohead are just a few of the acts whose work is recast here, and it works amazingly well.

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Nik Turner: Mystical Interdimensional Space Gypsy (Part Three)

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Continued from Part Two

Bill Kopp: You’ve come a long way from the beginning when it wasn’t about technical proficiency…

Nik Turner: But I’ve become technical just through practicing. I go busking on the street sometimes. I just play anything, you know. I’ll play Charlie Parker tunes, or whatever people want to hear. In Cardiff [Wales] I’ll go busking in the downtown district from eight o’clock at night until two in the morning. All the glamorous girls are out clubbing, and I get them all dancing. I’ll play bossa novas; I’ve got a whole raft of material.

I’ll play these clever arpeggios and then end up on the right beat, so it all comes out okay. And it’s great; I’ll earn ₤200 in an evening. To me, it’s an end toward practicing. I see music as a language; you have to learn the vocabulary. That vocabulary is the ability to connect the notes, and then express yourself.

I practice every day. I feel music is a healing thing; I like to feel I can heal people. I went to Egypt when I left Hawkwind. I was supposed to stay with a friend, but he got deported the day I went there. When I landed, I got a taxi to the Great Pyramid. I climbed to the top of it and played my flute.

BK: I read about that.

NT: It started raining! It was quite bizarre in a desert. So I recorded this music, spending time inside the Great Pyramid, recording and meditating and chanting. I got use of the place just by trying, really. I had this old Bedouin man who said he was arranging it for me; I didn’t believe him. He introduced me to the Director of Antiquities on the site, who I then asked if I could play my flute in the pyramid and record it. And he said, “Yes, just buy a ticket. And then I’ll close the pyramids to the public so you can spend four hours in there.”

So I did that, and I devised a story as I went along. Rather than just doodling along on my flute, I felt I should make something constructive of it. I visualized this entity going into a pyramid, and meeting the crew of that pyramid, which was an interdimensional traveling machine. And the crew were actually Egyptian gods. So you had to know all these passwords and spells and so on to get through. So [the main character] meets all these gods, and comes to in Egypt in 1977. And so I tried to illustrate this all musically.

BK: You didn’t think that all up right there and then…?

NT: I just developed it as I went along. Then I went back to England, and I had a tape which I had recorded for my own amusement. I thought it would be nice to have a recording of this sound. And I had a recording contract to fulfill, so I managed to talk the record company into letting me go into the studio and record over it, and release it. I got all these musicians including Steve Hillage and his girlfriend Miquette [Giraudy]. And Mike Howlett, the bass player from Gong. Tim Blake, who now plays with Hawkwind. And other people. I wrote the lyrics, culled from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

And then I found that I had some healing power. I went to the Festival of Mind, Body and Spirit. And I had a photograph done of my hands; the people said, “Oh, you’ve got the healing power in your hands.” I thought, “That’s interesting.” Then a friend of mine said, “Oh, I’ve got this awful pain in my tummy. Can you help me? And I said, “I don’t know what you mean.” He said, “Can you put your hands on it? I think you can heal it.” So I put my hands on it, and thought about the Egyptian gods and the elements and [laughs] the cosmos. Stuff like that. And he said, “The pain’s gone.”

And I found I could do that with several people. I didn’t think, “Oh, I’ve got healing power; let me go round healing people.” But people, when they were in need, I thought perhaps I could help them. There was a lad who had migraine; I put my hands on his head, and he said my fingers felt like ice. So I did all this stuff, and thought about it, and breathed in all the good and positive energy from the sun. And I blew it into him. And he said, “Oh, the pain’s gone.”

So it’s quite interesting. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t know what governs it. I sort of think if you get big-headed about it, it stops working! You become arrogant and egotistical…

BK: And it goes away.

NT: Right.

There’s this video called This is Hawkwind. Do Not Panic. It’s a film that was made by the BBC. It’s a documentary. And I was invited to do a question-and-answer about the film at a place where they showed it in Brighton. And some people said, “Tell us about what you did in Egypt.” So I told them all that, and I said I had this healing power. Then this woman in the audience said, “I’ve got this terrible pain in my back. Can you put your hands on it?” So I did, calling upon the healing of the Egyptian gods and the powers that they had. The magical properties, the awesomeness of it all. And her pain was gone.

I think it’s fantastic. And I try to make these gigs healing experiences. I try to make people feel good, and to communicate with them. We’re doing this tour at the moment, and it’s going really well.

BK: Playing the South…that’s not typical for you.

NT: I don’t know what’s typical for me! I’ve played over here in the USA a couple of times before; I did a tour in the 90s.

BK: You were just in Raleigh and Charlotte before here…how did those go?

NT: you know, the gigs are great, but they’re not all that well-attended in some places. I don’t know if it’s the fact that people don’t know me, or aren’t aware of Hawkwind, or if [the ones who do know] have all died! Or that they’re old, and can’t go out any more!

I’m promoting the album, and doing material that people would like to see. Because it’s the Space Ritual material. And that’s an iconic thing.

BK: It’s become a big thing in the last ten, fifteen years to do complete album performances. Arthur Lee from Love, The Church, Brian Wilson

NT: Right. So…have you got any more questions?

BK: I think you’ve given me plenty of your time, and you have a show to do this evening, so I’ll just be happy with what I’ve got.

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Nik Turner: Mystical Interdimensional Space Gypsy (Part Two)

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Continued from Part One

Nik Turner: And the success of the Hawkwind “Silver Machine” single enabled us to mount the Space Ritual, which was quite an expensive project. Jonathan Smeadon was quite a high profile lighting technician; he was quite creative. He had been working with people like Steve Winwood and doing stuff for Island Records. So he worked on Barney Bubbles‘ concept, which was that the band was the spaceship. And the audience were were what powered it [laughs] to other dimensions. So it was a sort of total event for everybody, really.

And then with regard to the stage lighting, Barney took all the astrological signs of all of the band, and the corresponding colors that go with them, and used those pointedly for the lighting of those people. He also devised an entire stage plan using the Pythagorean music of the spheres. All the planets were suspended on a cord, and they all vibrated at different frequencies. And out of that, you get the Western scale.

The Space Ritual show was a total concept. We had dancers, a very good mime artist who had studied with Marcel Marceau, and a couple other people. There was the lovely Stacia, who was a young lady I had met at the Isle of Wight Festival, and who I coerced into playing with the band. She’d take off her clothes, and Barney would paint her body with different colors. It was very arty; it wasn’t sensationally pornographic or anything. It was presented as, “You’ve seen a naked woman before; here’s another one.” She was about six foot tall and had a forty-two inch bust, so she was quite larger than life. Every schoolboy’s dream!

There was also another dancer, a young lady from San Francisco. She was a contortionist as well. Fun and games, that.

When we got the show together, Jonathan was using ten projectors onstage; each one had a slightly different image to give the appearance of movement. We had a dragon that flew across the screen, and a city that built up as we went along. Then it decayed, and out of that grew a tree. These were all moving sequences, not movies. All very clever stuff. Nothing else like it was happening at the time.

Bill Kopp: Multimedia before there was a name for it…

I was always into theatre. My family were all in theatre and cinema. I should have been an actor, really; that’s how I fondly imagined it. So I used to come out onstage dressed as an archbishop; I’d bless the audience, and then I’d turn to my equipment and mime taking it apart. And then I’d put on this other costume what looked like a frog’s head. The archbishop’s mitre was actually a frog’s head, with the mouth pointing up. So I’d pull it down over my head and turn into this frog. And then I’d, er, interact with the dancers. [laughs]

BK: Of course you would.

NT: It was all really very spontaneous…it was all very exciting. And we’re going to perform a version of that tonight. [Note: Indeed they would, and keyboardist Kephera Moon provided the requisite suggestive writhing on the stage floor that is so essential to the piece. – BK]

BK: Hmm…well, you just answered about six of my questions. Let’s see…I mean this in the best possible way. Through the production choices and instrumentation, plus of course the lyrics and song structure, Space Gypsy sounds as if it could have been released in 1970. Was the texture of the music consciously guided by a goal of achieving that, or is that simply how it comes out when you do it?

NT: There are certain characteristics about it, yes.

I didn’t write any of the music. I wrote lyrics. I came into the situation quite late, really. They had written songs. And I’m quite happy to perform them; it’s a collective work where people who had written stuff got paid for it. So I wasn’t planning to have written it all, anyway. I think it’s all very nice and I like it. It’s got a flavor of Hawkwind about it, but on the other hand it’s quite fresh. It’s all original material; there’s no covers.

BK: So in addition to doing music from way back when, are you doing any of the new material?

NT: We’re doing a couple of songs. We’ll do “Galaxy Rise” and the single, called “Fallen Angel STS-51-L.”

BK: That’s the one about the NASA Challenger, right?

NT: Right. The drummer [Jason Willer] wrote that song; I didn’t write it. He told me, “We can change the lyrics if you don’t like them.” I could have rewritten all the songs, but I thought, well, it all gets a bit contrived. And I’d rather do something creative with these guys and see it as a stepping stone toward the next project.

BK: You’ve got a lot going on. After this tour, what’s next for you?

NT: The weekend after the tour, I’m going to Germany, where I’m playing a psych fest. They’ve employed me as the spirit of the festival. They’ve bought me an air ticket to go over there; I’ll probably play with all the bands.

Then in December, one of the bands I’ve got called Inner City Unit has a couple of gigs. Then I’ve got gigs with another band of mine called Space Ritual, which plays some Hawkwind material, but only stuff that I wrote, or that Robert Calvert wrote.

I’ve got all these bands that I put together myself. I’ve got another band called Outriders of Apocalypse, which is based upon Mayan mythology. The music is influenced by Spanish classical music and some other classical music; I’ve got the theme tune to “Scheherazade” as one of the bass lines. I’ve got a girl playing trumpet, another girl playing trombone, and myself playing saxophone and flute. A guitarist, two bass players, a drummer. A clarinet player, two girl singers, and dancers. It’s on YouTube. The delivery is like Miles DavisBitches Brew. Leaning that way.

I’ve got another band called Project Nine which plays all of my repertoire. I have another band called Nik Turner’s Fantastic Allstars, which plays Latin jazz, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis. And we play a lot of funk as well, Maceo Parker stuff.


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Nik Turner: Mystical Interdimensional Space Gypsy (Part One)

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

It takes awhile to earn status as a Grand Old Man of, well, of anything. It seems to take even longer if the thing in question is rock music. But Nik Turner has earned the crown. As an early member of innovative British-based band Hawkwind, he added a jazzy dimension to their hard rocking, Pink Floyd-meets-Steppenwolf sound. Mostly self-taught (he did have a bit of formal training in his early 20s), Turner plays saxophone and flute in a style that focuses more on texture and feel than any sort of “schooled” approach.

Though his tenure with Hawkwind (his second, actually) ended in the mid 1980s, he has gone on to do a great deal of work in a similar space-rock vein. There are nearly two dozen Hawkwind albums (new and archival material) featuring Turner, and he has nearly as many solo/collaborative album releases. Moreover, his guest appearances on the albums of other like-minded acts are too numerous to mention. In short, this 73-year-old from Oxford remains quite busy.

Turner’s latest studio release is 2013′s Space Gypsy. And while the album’s foundational concept is largely the work of guitarist Nicky Garratt (formerly of UK Subs) and producer/keyboardist Jürgen Engler, Space Ritual keeps its marquee artist’s personality and musicianship right out front where it belongs.

I saw Nik Turner live onstage in November 2013 at Asheville NC’s Mothlight, a club that had just opened on the west side of town. For the American tour in support of Space Ritual, Turner was backed by krautrock band Hedersleben; they also did a wonderfully atmospheric opening set, followed by a dreadful and loud regional metal act, before Turner’s headlining set. In addition to Garratt’s deft yet distinctively punky guitar work, the band featured manic drummer Jason Willer, bassist Bryce Shelton, and Kephera Moon on keyboards (and dancing…lots of dancing). Before the evening’s music began, I enjoyed some time with Turner in the green room; in a relatively brief period, we covered a lot of territory. A simple question set Turner on his way; all I had to do, really, was sit there with him and happily take it in. He held forth on a potted history of his old band Hawkwind; multimedia and naked women onstage; his myriad musical projects; his mystical adventures in Egypt; and his healing powers.

Bill Kopp: I hear strong echoes of your music, your style – both now and back in the Hawkwind days — in the work of both Julian Cope and The Psychedelic Furs, both respected and influential-themselves artists who came up in the late 70s and early 80s. What do you think it is about your music that appealed, resonated with them?

Nik Turner: Well, I think what we were doing was very original. The music was very diverse because there were a lot of diverse influences in the band. I was into jazz. I liked Jimi Hendrix, but I liked Miles Davis, too. And I met musicians in Berlin who believed that you didn’t need to be technical to express yourself, so I saw the idea of free jazz in a rock band!

BK: It was sort of a punk aesthetic, a decade and a half ahead of its time…

NT: That was my sort of point of view. Dave [Brock, guitar] and Mick Slattery [guitar] were into blues, really. Terry Ollis was a primitive drummer who taught himself to play. His parents ran a scrap metal yard. And John Harrison, the bass player, had actually been playing in big bands; he played in a band with Joe Loss. And Dik Mik [Michael Davies] was a guy I met who had never been in a band, and he didn’t play anything. But he was given this audio generator that produced all these different waveforms — sine wave, square wave, sawtooth wave – and an echo unit. And [laughs] to me, that became the sound of the band. That is what the band was about; it gave us that sort of “space” ethic.

It was later that Robert Calvert became involved with the band. He was an old friend of mine, and I spent a lot of time with him. He turned me onto a lot of science fiction and other stuff; Samuel Beckett and people like that, too. So I invited him to join the band at one point, and he did. This was after he had been involved in the production of the X In Search of Space (1971) album cover and artwork. He and Barney Bubbles put together the log book of the space ship. It was about a spaceship that had come to Earth and become two-dimensional. The record was the story, and the adventures were all recorded in the space log.

So once Robert joined, he said he had a work in progress, this rock opera called Space Ritual. So we put that together [as an album]. But the band itself – because we had so many diverse influences – weren’t just trying to play rock. I feel that we were breaking new ground. There wasn’t a genre that we were trying to fit into. We were just trying to produce music that came naturally to everybody. And everybody was being creative in his own way. I think that’s what created the individuality of the band.

We had influences such as Michael Moorcock, the science fiction writer. He became involved with the band as well. He had been doing a number of community projects around Notting Hill; he got the band playing a concert underneath a flyover, on Portobello Road. He organized that because he had a stall in the market at that time. He sold bits of clothing; I remember, I bought a hat from him that looked like a pirate’s hat. So he got involved as well.

Part of Robert Calvert’s role was his poetry, and he also used some of Michael Moorcock’s poetry, including “In Case of Sonic Attack, Follow These Rules.” Robert did that stuff as well as singing his own songs from Space Ritual. And one of the songs he had written was “Silver Machine,” which was originally supposed to have been for Space Ritual.

But it wasn’t used for that; I don’t know why, actually. We recorded “Silver Machine” at a live gig, the Greasy Truckers party, with Robert singing. I think we used that recording on the Glastonbury album. But when we decided to record and release it as a single, we decided to have Lemmy sing it. That gave it a different sort of emphasis.


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Concert Preview: Welcome (Back) to The Machine

Monday, January 6th, 2014

New York-based Pink Floyd tribute band The Machine have long made Asheville NC’s Orange Peel the first or an early stop on their annual winter tour itinerary. The group routinely attracts a packed crowd to the venue for its sound and vision spectacular, a live recreation of the music of one of rock’s best-loved and most influential bands. Once again, this week (Thursday, January 9), the four-piece band will time-travel through the catalog of Pink Floyd, unearthing rarely heard gems (you might hear “Childhood’s End” from 1972′s Obscured by Clouds) right alongside everyone-knows-the-words tunes like “Wish You Were Here.”

And that mix is a key component of The Machine’s appeal. The band strives to put together a set list that satisfies the people who come to hear the well-known hits, and they also manage to please hardcore fans – including this writer – who want to hear relative obscurities such as “Cymbaline.” And in some ways, that could be a real challenge: after all, The Machine is working with a body of music that hasn’t been added to since 1993. Agreeing that they couldn’t get away with playing any given little-known Floyd song every night (say, “Green is the Colour” from the 1969 More soundtrack), drummer and founding member Tahrah Cohen admits, “you can play ‘Comfortably Numb’ and ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ every time. Because those songs transcend time; they’re so relevant in every way to so many people’s lives.”

Continuing on that thought, Cohen explains that for the musicians in The Machine, the goal is to “get your own ego out of the way. When you play great music, you’re just the conduit for that music. When you’re onstage and you play ‘Comfortably Numb’ for the 2000th time, and the entire crowd is going absolutely crazy, you feel alive, too. Get your ego out of the way, and let the music do the rest. It’s not that hard.”

The Machine has experienced some lineup changes since its inception in 1988. While keyboardist Scott Chasolen has been with the group since 2007, and guitarist (originally bassist) Ryan Ball has been in the band for fifteen years, only Cohen remains from the original lineup. But she views those changes as a strength, not a weakness. “Everyone who comes and goes brings something new to the group,” she says. “And it’s very inspiring. Certain people, their forte might be improvising. Some people might be better at groove-oriented playing. Some people are powerful singers.” She goes on to note that in addition to his considerable skills on bass, relative newcomer Adam Minkoff (who joined in 2012) “happens to sound unbelievably like David Gilmour.”

Cohen also makes the point that what the various members bring to the group is less a Pink Floyd influence than an overall musical influence, something that helps keep things fresh. And a visual approach that, er, echoes Pink Floyd helps a great deal as well. As stage personalities, Pink Floyd were never very concerned with how they looked; it was about the music and the visuals – lighting effects, projections, films, and (on the 1980/81 dates, the in-concert construction of The Wall).

The Machine takes a similar approach. The band has its own smaller version of the round “Mr. Screen,” and they use a number of motion picture visuals associated with Pink Floyd. Cohen says that Ryan Ball did “a lot of the video editing” that the band uses onstage, and notes that The Machine “keeps adding lighting effects and films to change things around” from tour to tour. And expressing a sentiment that the Pink Floyd members likely would share, Cohen notes that “it’s nice not having the pressure of being [onstage] individuals. It’s nice to be overshadowed by the music and the aesthetics.”

This week’s show isn’t the only 2014 date for The Machine in Asheville: in May the band will return for an outdoor show where they will be joined by the Asheville Symphony Orchestra, performing an orchestral/rock arrangement of Pink Floyd’s landmark 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. “We have been so lucky in that we have performed with the country’s top orchestras for the past five to seven years. We’ve played with The Atlanta Symphony; Detroit’s symphony, which is renowned; Philadelphia…we’ve played with some heavy hitters,” Cohen says.

“May times when you see a band accompany an orchestra,” Cohen observes, “the orchestral arrangements are a little bit fluffy, a little bit silly. You can see Metallica with an orchestra and say, ‘Okay, that’s very cool,’ but [in our case] Maxim Moston did the arrangements for [The Machine's live reading of] The Dark Side of the Moon. And they’re brilliant; the show is fantastic.”

And while she laughs off my playful suggestion that the group should tackle “Atom Heart Mother Suite” while they’ve got the classical players on hand, she does allow that the May 24 show will include some bonuses, among those “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.”

But Floyd fans shouldn’t play games and wait for May: this Thursday’s show at The Orange Peel presents a ready opportunity to see and hear The Machine.

(Doors 8pm / Show 9pm / Tickets $16 Advance / $18 Day of Show)

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News on a Long Awaited Reissue

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Readers who check out my writing more than occasionally will know of my keen interest in the music and the history of Paul Revere and the Raiders. One of my earliest memories – as a toddler in Poughkeepsie, NY, an hour or so north of New York City – is seeing a group of Revolutionary War-era-coats-and-hats-plus-tights-clad musicians romp around on the TV set. Of course that was Where the Action Is, a program that ran on ABC-TV every afternoon from June 1965 to March 1967.

My first connection to the group and its members (current and former) came not so terribly long ago, in early 2010. I reviewed a new 3CD set on Collectors Choice Music, a compilation of all the group’s A- and B-sides. I had known their hits, but was quite impressed at the depth and breadth of their style and abilities as showcased on that set.

I followed that up a few months later with a feature on the band, originally penned for England-based Shindig! Magazine. I was (and remain) proud to have that piece featured as the cover story; I was later told by the publishers that my story – which included interviews with several key players in the Raiders story – had elicited more reader mail than any previous story. Clearly the interest in this band – eternally snubbed from the irrelevant sham that is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – was latent.

I went on to write other pieces, including (just last month) an interview with The Raiders’ manager Roger Hart, in which the Pacific Northwest DJ tells the story of developing a written treatment for something he called Madness, something soon developed into The Monkees.

Among all that activity, I forged friendships with many of the people who have figured into the Raiders saga: former and current band members; current and former spouses/partners; friends, fans, sons, daughters, groupies, roadies…you name it. But the most significant of all of these (to date, anyway) was my deep research into a band called Brotherhood. The story of three escapees from the prime-era Raiders is – like so many stories – a cautionary tale, and it’s one that lay untold prior to my project. That feature is the most in-depth music-related piece I’ve published to date, and the original piece (which appeared in Ugly Things Magazine) helped reignite interest in this all-but unknown band.

Through a long and circuitous path, that resurgence of interest led to what we have now: an impending release – for the first time in any format since around 1969 – of the three albums Brotherhood released in the late 60s. I’m deeply involved in that project, having written the 24-page booklet (a revised and expanded version of my original Ugly Things feature – and designed the package. Brotherhood: The Complete Recordings will be out on Real Gone Music on February 4, 2014. That’s forty-six days from now, but who’s counting?

Me, that’s who. And also Phil “Fang” Volk, the surviving member of the band’s original trio. And it’s with Phil that I’ll be conversing about this upcoming 2CD release in a feature that will run right here in January. We’ll discuss a few topics that somehow didn’t make it into the exhaustive feature, and we’ll provide a bit of behind-the-scenes insight into the development of this new Real Gone Music release. And if I know Phil, he’ll share some heretofore unknown anecdotes from the late 60s. So keep an eye out for that.

All next week, I’ll be running my annual “Best Of” columns, taking a look at reissues, new music, DVDs and more. But I can tell you with certainty that I already know one title that is sure to be on my Best of 2014: that’s Brotherhood: The Complete Recordings.

A Look Back at Pink Floyd’s “Point Me at the Sky”

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Released 45 years ago yesterday (and recorded in a single day a mere six weeks earlier), Pink Floyd‘s “Point Me at the Sky” is characterized (by Wikipedia) as “the least readily available of all officially released Pink Floyd recordings. Though it was an a-side, its flip – “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” is infinitely more well-known.

Featuring a gentle-then-shouted lead vocal from guitarist David Gilmour, “Point Me at the Sky” is very much transitional Floyd. Sonically it is very much of the heavy psychedelic style popular in ’68, and though its lyrics deal with space travel, it doesn’t sound much at all like what would later be known as “Space Rock” (Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon being the exemplar of that genre).

Gilmour was still rather new to the band at this point; he had joined the previous December, ostensibly as a fifth member alongside then-leader Syd Barrett. Though the group did a small handful of live dates as a five-piece, by March 1968 Barrett was soon gone, and the group dynamic shifted greatly. The group’s second LP (and first without Syd), A Saucerful of Secrets was released in June ’68. But it’s long suite-like pieces – a rough template for the style the group would later pursue – were certainly not radio fodder. In those days – in the UK, at least – singles were often wholly separate from albums, and aimed at a different audience. “Point Me at the Sky,” then, could in some ways be considered a commercial effort for the fledgling Barrett-less Floyd. That said, it completely failed to chart. It would be the last non-LP single Pink Floyd ever released.

Though the song was composed with bassist Roger Waters, it’s Gilmour’s decidedly more tuneful vocal that fronts the track. Starting off gentle, elegiac, almost like a nursery rhyme, it initially charts a musical path not unlike the more childlike-wonder style Barrett used on Piper at the Gates of Dawn. But suddenly it blasts into a heavy, stomping section – unlike anything the Floyd had committed to tape previously, save perhaps the riffier sections of “Interstellar Overdrive” – before a massed chorus of voices proclaims the title lyrics.

The song has never appeared officially on a vinyl LP, and to date its only CD presence is as part of the bonus CD titled The Early Singles, included as part of the now-deleted 1992 Shine On box set. My own first exposure to this obscurity was via its inclusion on a bootleg/pirate LP I acquired many decades ago, the punningly-titled compilation Dark Side of the Moo.

But through the miracle of YouTube, I present to you Pink Floyd’s promo clip for  “Point Me at the Sky” in all its glory. (Better audio copies exist, but this clip has the advantage of showing our boys mugging for video.)

You may also enjoy the career-spanning Pink Floyd essay I wrote many years ago for Trouser Press.

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