After Stars

Stars from the gods.

Stars from the gods.

Maybe 40 years ago I would have left the Scala ecstatic but last night the melancholy behind the surface got to me. I thought I was immune to this performance – especially leaning against the balcony rail up there in the gods, higher than the lighting rig, looking down at the real audience with all those back-lit smart phones blinking up at me. Up there was alienation territory…like I was asking permission of myself never to come along to this kind of gig again. I was thinking about live performances, about how the music I hear at Cafe Oto works best live with the recorded ‘version’ acting as a stand-in for the actual event. And I was thinking that music that I listen to first as produced, song-based work almost always disappoints live. The band look slightly too old to be singing these youthful anthems of elation and doubt. They run through a set of moves and poses that come from the book of rock cliché – the pigeon toed, legs apart guitar stance, punk hops, raised fists.

But about half an hour into their set the singer Torquil Campbell theatrically halts the intro to ‘Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It’ to tell a story about the ritual he performs every time he comes to London…something about taking the Northern Line to a particular café then standing outside his father’s former house…and instead of feeling distant listening to this sentimental tale I began to dissolve into the present and as the music started I thought about my father and about my life in London and I could feel tears welling up. From there on in I was prey to every naïve or sophisticated nuance of the songs. I was even moved by the audience taking over the chorus of the song ‘Your Ex-Lover is Dead’ (‘Live through this and you won’t look back…’) and I fell for the repeated line ‘put your hands up ‘cause everybody dies…until then, nothing ends’ in the disco thump of ‘No One is Lost’. I have had the feeling of being the oldest person in the Scale before and it could be that I am too old to be at a gig like this…but only because I am at the other end of the experience from the rest of the audience. But as I am entirely invisible there is no reason they should notice…

Here is a link to the ‘official video’ of ‘Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It’…hard to relate this to my reaction above, except that this film has a certain sentimentality and/or melancholy too.

It’s all about the mix

mix001This is the 100th post on this blog…I had meant to do something clever like choose my favourite 3 LP box set (3 x 33 and one third…geddit?) was going to be either Yessongs or Escalator Over the Hill (no it wasn’t). But I was never going to get round to that and, in the meantime, I found a black bin bag containing around 130 CDs on Kingsland Road this week. Some were unplayable, there were a few free films from newspapers and some old software. There was one CD full of someone’s holiday pictures. The rest were mostly singles, either ‘Landfill Indie’ or the kind of R&B that does little for me. Still I retrieved 27 from the pile..the rest have already gone to Oxfam. Before I did this I recorded the shortest track from each CD for the purposes of experimentation…more of this at some future date maybe. Here is the first experiment/unholy racket…ten tracks that ended up at the beginning of the list played simultaneously and mixed down…it ends well I think.

Mouvement Perpetuel


This is one of two private recordings I bought recently in a St Andrews charity shop. The other was recorded at Levy’s Sound Studios, Bond Street, London W1 sometime in 1956. This one has no date though maybe the code S.V.12/37. is an indication. I suppose the date of 1937 would fit with the design of the label but I don’t know anything about the history of this kind of recording and I can’t find out anything about Sona-Vox Studios. The piece of music, as you see from the label, is Poulenc’s Mouvement Perpetuel (actually the first of three movements) performed by Miss M. McKendrick.This is the recording of Miss McKendrick playing the piano in a room that no longer exists at 186 St Vincents Street, Glasgow.

The two tracks on this side are separated by a silent locked groove.IMG_5679


This music was used by Alfred Hitchcock in his 1948 film ‘Rope’. In this section of the film Farley Granger plays fragments of the piece (in a room that never really existed) while he is being quizzed by James Stewart.rope





I have been thinking about this entry for months…at least since visiting Taiwan in 2013. I have been putting it off for two reasons…

  1. It deals with religion…particularly Buddhism. I know next to nothing about Buddhism.
  2. It is also ‘about’ my friend Tom who died some years ago. This blog doesn’t quite seem like the place to talk about him…the blog doesn’t usually stray into personal territory. Tom was a Buddhist and he knew I was sceptical and an atheist. I didn’t want to write something about him that was slight. Maybe what follows doesn’t add up to much but now I think it is better to write something than say nothing.

I was going to start with a postcard that I bought in Dens Road Market in Dundee in the mid-1970s. Tom might have been with me at the time, I don’t know. My memory of the postcard was that it was in black and white and showed a group of traveling musicians in Nepal or Tibet. I have just found the postcard after a long search and this memory is only partially accurate. It is in black and white, there are two musicians, two acrobats and a large family group with horses in the background…so they are probably nomadic performers. But the location of the picture is ‘Kirgisen’ which is now Kyrgyzstan. The people in the picture are probably Muslims and not Buddhists. So this opening paragraph, instead of making a direct link to Tom, opens up questions of memory.

I didn’t see Tom between him telling me he had cancer and his death. He thought there was more time than there turned out to be – I wanted to believe him and did. The last time I saw him he left me this card:


‘Nam-myho-renge-kyo’ is a phrase to be chanted. ‘Kyo’ is ‘the sound or vibration that connects everything to the universe’. At Tom’s funeral outside Glasgow there were beautiful unaccompanied Buddhist chants sung by his friends from the temple of which he was a member…suddenly it seemed to me that I had underestimated his beliefs. I regretted not seeing him before he died. I was sad that we often did not see eye-to-eye though I also knew that our friendship had been robust and we never fell out. We grew up quite close to one another before we met and there were, I think, many complicated bonds between us…bonds of difference and bonds of similarity. If Tom had been asked to depict the chanting he might have drawn this:






I might draw this:







In Taiwan, I found myself in a culture where Buddhism and its manifestations were never far away…even though it was probably not the kind that Tom adhered to. One afternoon, as part of the work I was doing there, I visited the University Hospital and there were street stalls selling little ‘Buddha boxes’.










Our guide advised me against buying one of these because she said that they were just for people who were dying. I didn’t believe this (it turned out I was correct…they were being sold at the hospital to give comfort, not to accompany the dying into the next world).

Then that evening we went to one of Taipei’s oldest temples. Compared to any Christian church this place was really lively but there was no music (I am not entirely sure of this…maybe there were prayers).  I picked up one of the free cassettes:





Then we walked around the Night Market…if the temple had been an intensive visual and olfactory overload, this was multiplied in the market and had an added layer of cacophonous sound. At a corner near the temple I stopped and recorded a woman sitting on a bicycle chanting the name of Buddha.


Compared to the sound at Tom’s funeral, the cassette tape and even the little Buddha box, this chant is harsh and discordant and it is the flip side of the calm that these other sounds generate.

I think about Tom most days.

Silent Dalston revisited (2008-2014)

Kingsland Road

Kingsland Road

In January 2008 I put together an album of photographs and posted them on that very well known social network. Thinking about this group of pictures lead eventually to this blog…an edited version of one of them provided my ‘profile’ picture. Passing that particular site recently I noticed that the sign had gone and the shopfront had been stripped back. This prompted me to revisit the photographs and their sites. Some things have changed round here since 2008 and, luckily, others have not. Here is the first part of the two parallel albums.

King Henry's Walk

King Henry’s Walk

Shacklewell Lane. 2008. 2008, 2014

Shacklewell Lane. 2008. 2008, 2014

Kingsland Road

Kingsland Road

Ridley Road Market

Ridley Road Market

Ridley Road Market

Ridley Road Market

Ridley Road Market

Ridley Road Market

Balls Pond Road

Balls Pond Road

13 from ’13 (= ‘zero)

cassetteHardly a ‘best of’ or a ‘top ten’ (or even top 13). Here are 13 sonic experiences from 2013 kind of rushed because it’s time to get onto 2014. They come from all over the place and all over time:

1Ten Freedom Summers (3 nights in November at Cafe Oto). Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet with the Ligeti String Quartet and Jesse Gilbert…for its ambition, historical perspective and generosity.wls4001

2Head Slash Bauch (2002). AGF. I got this in Oxfam back in the summer. Fragmentary and unresolved music that I kept coming back to for the rest of the year. At the end of the year I picked up a BBC sound effects CD for 49p in the same Oxfam…’Trains BBC CD SFX 041’…just as unresolved and compelling on one listen but with less ‘depth’ I guess. Still…here from the ‘Trains passing’ section is Track 42 ‘Single diesel locomotive passes under a bridge.’ (with unidentified birds).

3. The sound of the wind passing through metal fins on the top of the world’s second highest outdoor viewing platform on the world’s fourth tallest building, Taipei 101 Tower.

4. All Comes to an End with Disco in Hell. This was one of a number of compilations that I made last year…mostly the content defined by which CDs I had picked up in charity shops. The title was a gift and now I can’t remember where from (though I know that Russia and Chris M were involved and maybe he can point me in the right direction). I have a sentimental attachment to cassette compilations and have carried this through to these. I even like that they have their physical manifestation in those much-unloved and derided slender silver discs…


5. That impromptu gig in Belo Horizonte…see

6. ‘Listening evenings’…an indulgence. Three or four times a year I get together with 2 friends and we listen to recorded music together. In strict rotation we play our tracks in the hope of surprising, educating, delighting. We usually get through about 30 tunes in an evening…almost too much but a pleasure from beginning to end.

7. Innocence is Kinky by Jenny Hval (2013). A great album and a stunning performance with her band at the Vortex in May.

8. Keith Tippett solo at Oto…see: But also so many other Cafe Oto gigs: Marc Ribot solo and Trio, Thurston Moore with John Edwards, Fire!, Little Annie and Larsen and on and on. And more in 2014…

9. The Necks generally…the new album ‘Open’ and 2 nights at Oto.

10. The Sixteen at Christchurch, Spitalfields, 17th December. For the space and a programme of Poulenc and Britten.


11. Musica Electronica Viva…Oto again. (Alvin Curran, Richard Teitelbaum, Frederic Rzewski). Because I should have known about them but didn’t and went along ‘blind’.

12. Pictures of Sound; One Thousand Years of Educed Audio: 980-1980. (Dust to Digital 2012) Patrick Feaster. I have not really made my mind up about this yet…the CD is made up of sound ‘image’ (sometimes notation) translated into actual sound – hence the ‘educed’ bit. So as sound it can be elusive and as translation, somewhat melancholy. The book explains the process of doing all this and the author claims these are ‘ways you should be able to duplicate yourself…’ Hmmm. Here are some samples:

13. The last record I bought and the last record I listened to in 2013. (Complete with the cover it came in.) The over-familiar suddenly fresh and alive again and now stuck in my head still on the 3rd January 2014.


Belo Horizonte, 22nd August 2013.

We went to the opening of an installation in the New Market in Belo Horizonte. The work was a series of films projected onto the brick wall of one of the workshops in the space. The films by Maria de Fátima Augusto were selected by moving empty bottles in a crate. These beautiful films showed the life of the various artisans who worked in the market. One of them featured the guitar mender and as part of the opening he and his friends were playing in a rather casual way next to the bar. I say rather casual because the combinations of players changed all the time and most of the people at the party paid no attention to the music at all. There was a succession of long melancholic songs all accompanied by guitar and the occasional solo or duet on guitar. I recorded quite long segments of the music with conversation and background noise intruding throughout. This piece was a duo played on 6 and 7 string guitars. I asked the more loquacious member of the pair of players to write down both their names (this was being translated by a friendly interlocutor)…here is what the guitar player wrote in my notebook:


In the way of these things, my recorder’s memory filled up during the recording of the guitar duo, so it is cut short…so it goes. Rather than apply a fade out I have left the recording with its abrupt cut-off.