Monthly Archives: April 2011

How to escape from Royal Weddings….

Like all loyal monarchists, I was of course out of bed at the crack today to iron the bunting with which the street will be festooned tomorrow and put Union Jack icing on the 300 cup cakes I spent most of yesterday baking.  Right.  As if. They wish.

 It’s Royal Wedding day tomorrow and a nation rejoices.  Mainly, it rejoices at the prospect of an extra day’s holiday and there will be those, souvenir tankards abrim with Uzbekistani Chardonnay, who will genuinely get involved with all the deferential, forelock-tugging bullshit that the media will feed into our homes via the TV throughout the day.  It is, so we are asked to believe, the point at which the Royal Family connects with us, the Great Unwashed.  One of ours is to become one of theirs and hundreds of loyal beggars will no doubt even now be lining the streets of London, ready to cringe in formation as the Royal Entourage sweeps by.  The link between rulers and ruled will be renewed for another generation and we should all raise a glass to wotsisname and wotshername.

Tosh and piffle.  Inevitably, my mind drifts back to the progenitor of all such events, the Chas & Di epic of 1981, a carbuncle of public grovelling compared to which tomorrow will be but an inconsequential pustule.  I was still happily burning the candles at both ends in Mancunia in those days and felt sufficiently offended by the prospect of a day of Monarchist nonsense all over the TV that I proposed to my mate Chris that we spend the entire day within the hushed and crepuscular cloisters of Chorlton Snooker Club, of which we were both members.  You weren’t even allowed to whistle in there, so there was zero chance of anyone sneaking in a portable TV to watch any of the nonsense going on in London.

However, my plans were thwarted due to an invitation to spend the weekend down in that royalist bastion of North Devon; an invitation that for a variety of reasons not germane to this post I felt I must accept.  So, the girlfriend and I hopped aboard the train to Exeter St David’s and headed south.  Being in North Devon on Royal Wedding Day was bad – after all they virtually own everything from Chagford to Hartland Point – but what made it worse was that the couple we were visiting were the proprietors of, not one, but two shops – one in Barnstaple, one in Plymouth – that specialised in the sale of wedding outfits for both men and women.  I felt like a republican Jonah, about to be chomped by a gigantic, crowned whale in a vast cream silk frock.

Mike was waiting for us at Exeter St David’s and on the drive up to Barnstaple, he mirthfully teased me with tales of how he’d got me a Union Jack bowler hat and a commemorative tea mug and how there was going to be a huge street party the following day.  He also told us of how their sales figures had gone through the roof ahead of the Chas & Di event and how wave after wave of dour Cornish farmers and their wives would arrive with their Demelzas and Cordelias and Morwennas at the Plymouth shop at 0901 on any given Saturday for the last 4 months, spending the whole day and thousands of pounds on outfits and accessories for their Perfick Day and how the dress had to be just like you-know-who’s.

Thankfully, threats of bowler hats and street parties proved to be unfounded and to my surprise, Mike – who was as ill-disposed towards Royal grovelling as myself – had a more radical and acceptable plan.  ‘The Big Day’ dawned fine and clear, so, after breakfast, Mike and I abandoned ‘the wimmin’ to a day of glutinous maximus, jumped into his car and drove up the coast to Ilfracombe.  Well before midday, we were out in the Bristol Channel on a venerable passenger steamer and headed for Lundy Island.  Lundy is a rectangular slab of granite about 3 miles long by half a mile wide that sits out in the Bristol Channel , about a third of the way from Devon across to South Wales.  Over the years it has played host to a variety of pirates and anti-Royalist ne’er-do-wells, so it seemed an appropriate destination for us.  And besides that, there was the pub.

These were the dim distant days before the Licencing Laws were liberalised; most pubs on the mainland would open from about 1130 to about 1400, close for the afternoon, then re-open about 1730, closing at 2230 or 2300, depending on local regulations.  On Lundy,  owned by the National Trust and not subject to said  laws, the pub stayed open all afternoon.  Bliss.

Getting ashore on Lundy wasn’t that straightforward – there’s no deep-water jetty, so we had to be decanted off into a large and  glorified rowing boat (with outboard), which took us in and drove up the steeply shelving shingle beach, after which we had to judge the incoming waves and hop out; hopefully without getting soaked.  To be fair to us, we did the decent thing by Lundy; we didn’t just head straight for the pub, but began by walking the length of the island and back.  It was a bit like being on the deck of a giant aircraft carrier, with the sea clearly visible to both port and starboard.  We followed the well-worn path to the northern point, seeing plenty of rabbits and amazing numbers of butterflies (no crop-spraying on Lundy), but none of the puffins which were then fairly numerous.

Lundy Island: a haven of sanity in a world gone mad…

OK, wildlife safari over, we then headed straight back to Lundy’s only pub and found that a sizeable number of disloyal republican types like ourselves had been similarly inspired to make the trip out to an island that had once played host to Barbary Pirates from Salé in Morocco for several years.  Of course, given its position, Lundy was ideally situated to host any pirates or privateers waiting for ships coming up or down-Channel from Bristol.  It’s also ideally situated to offer incoming transatlantic flights a visual reference point as they head into the lunacy of the Heathrow Stacking System.  I seem to recall hearing a vague thunder as an incoming Concorde dropped back into sub-sonic mode, but that might just have been the copious amounts of Exmoor Bitter we were imbibing, along with excellent local crab sandwiches, all consumed in hot sunshine in the pub’s garden.  There was no TV, not a speck of bunting to be seen and the afternoon drifted by in a pleasantly bibulous haze.  I may well have had a siesta at some point.

In the haze of early evening, making it back on board the Ilfracombe boat was somewhat trickier than leaving it had been several clear-headed hours earlier.  Essentially, we had to balance ourselves on the side of the wildly-bobbing launch, then throw ourselves through a doorway/ hatchway in the side of the steamer, hoping that the waiting seaman was able enough to catch us as we hurtled across the gap.  We arrived back somewhat bleary and somewhat sunburned to find Mike’s wife and the girlfriend still discussing the dress, the event, the day….

After nodding absent-mindedly through an account of the ‘highlights’ whilst grabbing some reheated prawn curry, we continued as we had begun and wandered down the road to Mike’s local with the girls in tow.  The pub presented a sorry sight; the forecourt with its tumbleweeds of crisp packets, outside tables laden with empty glasses and the bunting already coming adrift from the nearby street-lights.  In the bar, a young local in a Union Jack vest was playing a desultory game of pool with his girlfriend, an elderly man in a tweedy suit was half -asleep over a bottle of Guinness and two overdressed  ladies of mature years were conducting an innuendo-filled conversation with young Alan behind the bar.  Generally, the place looked as though we had walked into the aftermath of a large party – which was probably the case.

Just a precaution against the inevitable media sycophants…

I remember sleeping like the proverbial log that night and waking to find that most of my face, legs and torso had gone the colour of a bride’s blushes – nearly as painful, too, but a vat of ‘after-sun’ later, I was chipper enough to head off to nearby Saunton Sands and blow away the cobwebs with a long walk on the wonderful beach.

Somehow, I doubt that I’ll be able to avoid tomorrow’s ‘event’ as comprehensively as I did the Chas & Di blowout of 1981.  I’m still somewhat gobsmacked to think that it has been 30 years since that sun-blasted day on Lundy.  Since then, and in the wake of the whole Diana nonsense, my hostility to the Royals has been transformed into a kind of sour indifference, so the fact that the partner will most probably be glued to the tube for much of the day is of minor consequence.  There’s always the blog to keep me warm.

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Listening to Caravan

 Canterbury as a hotbed of literate English rock & roll, 1966-1976; discuss. 

I have yet to encounter any convincing argument explaining why this sleepy cathedral town in Kent generated not only substantial numbers of musicians during this era, but also had its own distinctive style, sufficient for people to be able to talk about the ‘Canterbury Sound’ or the ‘Canterbury Scene’ and for this catch-all term to conjure up certain expectations. 

 1960’s Canterbury – ‘your typical city involved in a typical daydream’ 

Yet, all of this was generated by a small enclave of musicians; probably no more than 25 in number, who either originated from Canterbury, lived in Canterbury or were ‘fellow travellers’ of one sort or another.   Some of  its leading lights were from the town ,  some of them went to school or university there, but many – Robert Wyatt, Elton Dean, Dave Stewart and the late Pip Pyle – to name but four,  were born elsewhere.   Even today, the town’s population is only about 45,000; I grew up in a town over twice the size, yet the only semi-notable musician Northampton produced in this era was guitarist Mark Griffiths, who jumped ship to join Matthews’ Southern Comfort and later had the dubious distinction of becoming musical director for David Essex.

 If the genesis of the Canterbury Scene can be laid at the feet of anyone, that person would be that global citizen of the hippie era, Daevid Allen.  Allen arrived in the UK from his native Australia around 1960, having already spent some time sitting in with various jazz-ish ensembles in Paris.  Somehow, he ended up as the lodger in Robert Wyatt’s parents’ house and duly introduced a fascinated Wyatt to his travelling collection of jazz albums and – indirectly – to playing the drums.  Allen had collaborated with Terry Riley whilst in Paris and was much taken with the use of tape loops and other primitive electronic experiments.  He duly passed on his enthusiasm to both Robert Wyatt and bassist Hugh Hopper, who worked with him in a free jazz  trio in London in 1963.

Daevid Allen outside Robert Wyatt’s house in 1961 

Jazz might have been the driving force behind much of what the musicians of the embryonic Canterbury Scene were trying to achieve, but this was also the era of The Beatles.  Gigs, girls and record contracts were all a lot easier to come by if you were in a pop band, which is probably how The Wilde Flowers – the seminal Canterbury band – got started in 1964.  This was initially a project started by Hugh Hopper & his brother Brian with a whole raft of players passing through, among them Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Mike Ratledge and all of what would eventually become Caravan.  Little has survived of The Wilde Flowers’ recorded output, but much of what there is reveals a psychedelic pop band with strong jazz overtones – and virtually all of the bands from The Canterbury Scene were to produce music that could be positioned somewhere along that spectrum from psychedelic pop to jazz.

The Wilde Flowers 1965: L-R, Brian Hopper, Richard Sinclair, Robert Wyatt (with amazingly long hair!), Hugh Hopper and Kevin Ayers

 Daevid Allen re-appeared in 1966 and at various stages Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers  jumped ship to join him in London for what became the first incarnation of Soft Machine.  The Wilde Flowers drafted in a  range of replacements, including Richard Coughlan, who took over the drumming duties once Wyatt decided to concentrate on singing, then cousins David & Richard Sinclair and singer/guitarist Pye Hastings, whose older brother Jimmy, was an established jazz saxophonist.

 Once Kevin Ayers decided to leave Soft Machine behind in 1968, it was almost inevitable that Hugh Hopper would be offered the chance to replace him.  Brian followed in his wake, playing on most of the second Soft Machine album.  That left Messrs Hastings, Sinclair, Sinclair and Coughlan down in Canterbury and holding The Wilde Flowers baby.  Having written some songs, the band re-named themselves Caravan and quickly signed a contract with a new label funded by MGM.

Caravan in 1968

Their first, self-titled  album emerged in the summer of 1968 and was an absolute gem.  It was here that the essential ingredients of Caravan’s sound were established – first of all, a sense of English whimsicality, not unlike some of Pink Floyd’s more pastoral early songs, Pye Hastings’ fragile, vulnerable vocal style, Richard Sinclair’s  more polished vocals and his flair for quirky lyrics and cousin David’s distinctive organ sound; quite unlike the ‘classic’ Hammond sound as used by – for example –  Steve Winwood in Traffic or Ian McLaglan in the Small Faces.  Dave Sinclair’s organ was processed via who knows what gizmos to produce a reedy, almost flute-like sound that was unmistakable and swiftly became a Caravan trademark.

 The first album got airplay – I heard it on John Peel’s show and quickly acquired a copy – and there was much enthusiasm for songs like ‘Place of my own’, the orientally-flavoured ‘Ride‘ and the bossa-novaish ‘Love song with flute’ which featured Pye’s brother Jimmy playing a lovely flute solo.  The new band’s efforts to establish themselves weren’t particularly helped by the chaotic state of affairs at their record company.  The ‘Verve Forecast’ label had been MGM’s attempt to make a splash in the rock market and had essentially evolved out of the Folkways label.  Caravan found themselves promoted by a company whose stock in trade was earnest American folk musicians like Tim Hardin, Richie Havens and Janis Ian.  Most of the acts  were American and the only UK peers Caravan had  on the label were The Alan Bown and Peter Bardens, neither exactly household names.  Unsurprisingly, the forecast for Verve Forecast was stormy and the label’s UK activities effectively ceased in 1969.

The cover of Caravan’s first album 

So, having just got their feet under the table, Caravan had to start again, moving to Decca for their second album in 1970.  This rejoiced in the unwieldy title of "If I Could Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You’ and the complex vocal nonsense of the title track’s lyric led to an unexpected brush with Top 40 success. The album also saw Caravan already starting to move away from the fey pastoralism of their first album; their songs now had a harder edge and were often  integrated into longer ‘suites’ with lengthy instrumental passages.  The band’s perennial concert favourite ‘For Richard’ (in its original version on this album) was a prime early example of this new strategy. 

Through the rest of 1970 and into 1971, Caravan gigged steadily; mainly club gigs around the UK, moving on to university gigs, initially in support slots, but increasingly as a headliner.  A new album, ‘In the Land of Grey & Pink’ was released in April of 1971, and for many people, this defined the Caravan ‘sound’.  Most of the writing was done by the Sinclairs; Richard’s sidelong quirkiness well to the fore on ‘Golf Girl’ and the title track, but showing a more tender side on ‘Winter Wine’.  What grabbed most people’s attention, however, was David Sinclair’s ‘Nine Feet Underground’, which took up a whole side of the vinyl release and seemed to combine Caravan’s songwriting aspirations and their instrumental prowess over a 22-minute ‘suite’.  Pye Hastings contributed only the overtly ‘poppy’ ‘Love to love you’.

For all the critical approbation which ‘Grey & Pink’ received, Caravan were sometimes dismissed as a ‘student’ band and the volume and quality of gigs they played in 1971 suggested that if they were broadening their audience they were only doing so extremely slowly.  After 3 years of slog, they had managed 3 well-received albums that had, however, only sold moderately well, had started to develop a fan-base in France, Holland & Germany, but were still no closer to touring or making any impact in North America.  In some respects, perhaps their quintessential Englishness was working against them.

The first person to show any impatience with this state of affairs was David Sinclair.  For many people, he was the band’s best musician and his organ sound, as mentioned, almost defined the band.  In August of 1971, Sinclair left the band to join Robert Wyatt’s Matching Mole project.  He was replaced by Steve Miller, who was more of a pianist than an organist and this was reflected in the sound of the band’s next album ‘Waterloo Lily’, released in May of 1972.  The album, though it had its moments, sounded fairly schizophrenic, with Sinclair & Miller’s jazz-inflected styles clashing with the romantic balladry of Pye Hastings.  Despite touring France and the UK to promote the album, Miller only survived a few months, before leaving, taking Richard Sinclair with him to work on a project that eventually morphed into Hatfield & the North. 

With the Sinclairs out of the band ( though David was to return, sporadically, throughout the ’70’s) Pye Hastings now assumed a more central role in the band, something that he has never relinquished since.

Caravan were a band in crisis and that was reflected in the number of personnel changes that ensued over the following 12 months.  Hastings and Coughlan recruited viola player Geoffrey Richardson to add a new dimension to the band’s sound and set off on their first serious overseas tour to Australia ( a bizarre line-up with Slade as the headliners and Lindisfarne and Status Quo also supporting) with two short-lived members in Derek Austin on keyboards and Stuart Evans on bass.  Evans & Austin both left after the Australian tour and John G Perry (bass) and the returning David Sinclair were in place to start work on the band’s fifth album,  the oddly-titled ‘For girls who grow plump in the night’, which came out in October of 1973 after an unusually protracted recording process. 

‘For girls’ was dominated by the songwriting of Pye Hastings and there was an overall reduction in the lengthy instrumental workouts.  It was one of the band’s more popular albums, with ‘Memory Lain, Hugh’ and ‘Headloss‘ quickly becoming staples of their live sets.  However, although production values were high and although Richardson added something a little different to the mix, the new songs were somehow ‘Canterbury-lite’; a ‘fast-food’ version of ‘Grey & Pink’ that saw the band departing ever further from the unique sound of their first album.

In the same month as ‘For girls ‘ was released, the band took a sideways step to record an album with an orchestra at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  This cosy venue typified Caravan’s problem at this juncture.  There they were, trundling along in the middle lane of the English rock & roll autostrada, whilst artists they had supported or had even supported them flashed past in the fast lane en route to major success; big American tours, prestigious gigs at much bigger venues – Genesis, David Bowie and Deep Purple are just a few of those that come to mind.  The ‘Caravan and The New Symphonia’ album was, as ever, well-received when it came out in April of 1974, but it sold only respectably and there was a general feeling that Caravan had somehow missed the boat.

John G. Perry left the band in July of 1974, with Mike Wedgwood drafted in to replace him.  This line-up produced the next Caravan studio album, released in July of 1975.  The titles just went from weird to embarrassing; this one was called ‘Cunning Stunts’  (how they must regret that now!) and it showed a band whose mojo was definitely on the wane.  After this album, David Sinclair  left the band again and I pretty much called time on Caravan.  Clearly, the 1968 album had just been a momentary dream that was never going to be revisited and even the solid achievements of ‘Grey & Pink’ seemed light years in the past.

Caravan in the mid-70’s; not happening really, is it?

Pye Hastings and Richard Coughlan kept a struggling Caravan going through a series of mediocre albums for the rest of the 1970’s, but by 1979, saddled with debt after their management company went bust, Hastings and most of the original members began a cycle of reunions and partial reunions that have continued to this day.  At times, it’s all got a bit too Spinal Tap-esque for comfort. 

Thankfully, since the 90’s their reputation has been partially rescued thanks to  the possibilities of the expanded format offered by the CD and the delving of archivist fans. Their diligence meant that we got to hear collections of the numerous radio sessions Caravan did for the BBC from 1968 onwards.  Collections like ‘Songs for Oblivion Fishermen’ (1998), ‘Ether Way’ (1998),  ‘Green Bottles for Marjorie’ (2002) and ‘The Show of our Lives: Caravan at the BBC, 1968-1975’  (2007) have uncovered some real gems and reminded us just how good a band Caravan were in their earliest days.  Just a pity it didn’t last.

In truth, none of the Canterbury bands ever achieved any lasting success, though many had their moments.  Egg, Hatfield & the North and Soft Machine all left their mark on the leafy prog rock meadows of  mid-1970’s Britain.  Caravan might have existed at the extreme ‘poppy’ end of the Canterbury spectrum, but they had as much success as any of their peers. 

Of the original Canterbury core , only Robert Wyatt has maintained any serious public profile into the 21st Century and, as a Bristolian living in north-east Lincolnshire, he is generally dismissive of his Canterbury roots, making music which is grounded in jazz and world music rather than rock.

So what we are left with at the end of it all is a modest collection of bands, ostensibly linked by geography, but in reality connected by the creative tensions between their desire to play jazz and their ability to make rock music that is informed by jazz.  Undoubtedly, like many other musicians from this era, the Canterbury Crew continue to exert an influence on contemporary music.  Anyone who doubts that should sit down and listen to Texas-based Midlake.

Here’s a short playlist, offering a personal choice of some of  the better offerings in the Canterbury Catalogue.  You may disagree with these selections, but I won’t let it bother me…..

Caravan – ‘Caravan’ (1968)/ ‘In the Land of Grey & Pink’ (1971)/ ‘The Show of our Lives; Caravan at the BBC, 1968-1975’ (2007)

Soft Machine – ‘Third’ (1970)

Egg – ‘Egg’ (1970)/ ‘The Polite Force’ (1971)

Kevin Ayers – ‘Shooting at the Moon’ (1970) / July 1, 1974 (with John Cale, Brian Eno and Nico) (1974)

Hatfield & the North – ‘Hatfield & the North’ (1974)/’The Rotters Club’ (1975) /’Hatwise Choice’ (2005) / ‘Hattitude’ (2006)

Khan – ‘Space Shanty’ (1972)

Robert Wyatt – ‘Matching Mole’ (1972) / ‘Rock Bottom’ (1974) / ‘Nothing can stop us (1982) / ‘Cuckooland’ (2003)

Finally, I am indebted to the excellent ‘Calyx’ website for much of the detail contained in this post.  They can be located here:

http://calyx.perso.neuf.fr/index.html

Post # 300…..

There are a thousand stories in the Naked City and these are just 300 of them….

Milestones or millstones; sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference….

Manchester Utd U-18 v Chelsea U-18; F.A. Youth Cup Semi-Final , 2nd Leg

Over 9,000 people in the North Stand  at Old Trafford for the second leg of the F.A. Youth Cup semi-final against Chelsea, with United down 2-3 after the first leg at Stamford Bridge.  Both teams made just one change from the first leg with Ravel Morrison displacing the unlucky Jesse Lingard in United’s midfield and Chelsea skipper Daniel Pappoe returning to the centre of defence in place of first leg double goalscorer Chalobah, who moved forward into midfield.

It was clear pretty much from the opening moments of the game that Chelsea were looking to lure United forward, then hit them on the break, Milan Lalkovic was playing on his own up front and Josh McEachran was looking to play him in at every opportunity.  This combination nearly brought Chelsea an early goal with Sam Johnstone rushing out to block Lalkovic’s attempt as the Slovakian striker closed in on the left.  United, as in the first leg, had started the game slowly and Chelsea were looking threatening on the break.  United’s midfield hub of Tunnicliffe, Pogba and Morrison were struggling to make any real impact on the game and Blackman in the Chelsea goal had little to occupy him except the occasional backpass. 

Some footballing sage or other once remarked that you need a bit of luck to win trophies and United duly got a slice after 38 minutes.  I’ve been quite critical of Dutch winger Gyliano van Velzen in the past, but he looked more effective tonight and after wriggling his way past a couple of challenges on the right-hand edge of the Chelsea area, shovelled over a cross that Paul Pogba’s cushioned header laid perfectly into the path of Ravel Morrison.  His shot  looped up off a blocking Chelsea defender and dropped like a stone just under Blackman’s crossbar.  Very reminiscent of Andreas Brehme’s deflected winner against England in the 1990 World Cup semi-final. 

Just four minutes later, United increased their lead on the night to 2-0 and also went ahead on aggregate with a goal that owed nothing to luck and everything to skill.  Sean McGinty, preferred to Tyler Blackett at left-back because of his aerial prowess, moved forward threateningly on the right hand edge of the Chelsea area and produced a perfect flighted cross to the far post.  Blackman stayed on his line but Pappoe got underneath the ball and Will Keane rose to angle home a downward header that beat Blackman on his near post.  So, at half-time, it was United 2 Chelsea 0 on the night and United 4 Chelsea 3 on aggregate.

Will Keane

It was to be expected that Chelsea would come back at United in the second half and they duly did just that, but United had the bit between their teeth now and the midfield became a bit of a battleground.  A limping van Velzen was replaced by Tyler Blackett and with Ryan Tunnicliffe and Paul Pogba now growing in confidence and influence, Chelsea were finding it difficult to create any genuine chances.  Lalkovic did force Johnstone into one good save, but at the other end, Blackman was twice tested by Tunnicliffe, who was finally finding something like his best form.

It was another driving run from Tunnicliffe that led to what was probably the decisive third United goal after 76 minutes.  Tunnicliffe found Morrison on the left of the area and his pass to the left picked out the rampaging Blackett, who took the ball to the byline before producing a perfect cutback for Will Keane to bundle the ball in at the near post.

Will Keane celebrates his second goal

United were now in complete control of the game and the increasing desperation of some of the Chelsea tackling reflected their growing frustration.   However, for them, things just got worse….

3-0 became 4-0 just three minutes from time when Ryan Tunnicliffe made a great interception in midfield and burst forward on another buccaneering run. With  Chelsea defenders backpedalling , Tunnicliffe’s astute reverse pass set Will Keane free on the right of the penalty area.  Blackman came out and although contact was minimal, it was definitely enough to deny Keane the opportunity to prod the ball into an empty net.  Happily, it was of little consequence as Keane got up to slot an accurate penalty past the Chelsea keeper for his hat-trick and his  11th goal in 10 Academy starts this year.

Ryan Tunnicliffe in full flow

Of course, 4-0 sounds like a complete hammering for Chelsea, but they can probably consider themselves unfortunate to lose so heavily when the game was so evenly balanced, especially in the first half.  United no doubt profited from Morrison’s return to the team and Keane’s return to fitness.  Tunnicliffe and Pogba started slowly as they did in the first leg, but just as in that game, their influence grew as the game progressed.  Keane will get all the plaudits for his hat-trick, but both Morrison and Tunnicliffe were hugely instrumental in securing the victory for the young Reds.

United will now play the surprise package of this year’s competition, Sheffield United, in the two-legged final.  Dates for these games have yet to be announced.

Listening to Magnus Öström (via E.S.T)

It’s been on my mind to do a series of posts under the heading of ‘Great Albums by Drummers’; something that for some people would either be a cause for mirth and/or a very short series of posts along the lines of ‘A History of Swiss Naval Battles’.

I’m not sure why this should be the case but  it’s possibly because so many of my generation grew up with the template of Ringo Starr, the epitome of the (essentially) non-musical drummer – good for solid, no-nonsense tub-thumping and the occasional novelty tune like ‘Yellow Submarine‘, but not much otherwise.  The conceit underlying this outlook, of course, is that drummers just need some sense of rhythm; they don’t need to be able to write or read music and they don’t have to be able to sing. 

“I like to be, beside the sea….”

So it is, that when a drummer emerges from behind his kit, I’m still often  slightly surprised.   The rock bands of the 60’s and 70’s  very occasionally produced someone like Mickey Hart, Don Henley, Levon Helm or Bill Bruford, who appeared to have a little more to offer.  Then there was Phil Collins, but I think I’ll take a raincheck on him for now, if it’s all the same to you.  By and large, though, the Great Albums by Drummers list was looking pretty sparse.

In jazz, during the same general era,  Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Max Roach led bands that achieved varying degrees of prominence and distinction, but these were bands where the focus was never specifically on the drummer, but more on the ‘collective’ or even on the other participants.  Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, for example, were celebrated chiefly for the ‘Who’s Who’ of emergent players (from Wayne Shorter to Wynton Marsalis) who got their first serious exposure in Blakey’s ever-shifting line-ups.  It was the same story with Tony Williams; his Lifetime band probably gave more prominence to players like Jack Bruce and John McLaughlin than to Williams himself and his mid-80’s band that made several impressive albums for Blue Note was as well-known for the involvement of players like Bobby Hutcherson and Wallace Roney as it was for Williams’ own contributions.

For me, the drummer who began to change things around was Jack de Johnette.  His 1970’s solo albums for ECM revealed him to be a consummate player, of course, but they also saw him stepping out to play piano on a few really impressive tunes like ‘Blue’ and ‘Silver Hollow’.  JdJ really hit his stride in the late 80’s with ‘Parallel Realities’ a solo album made with A-List collaborators in Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny and later  translated to a live context with the addition of Dave Holland on bass.  The almost infinite possibilities of a modern studio allowed de Johnette to really cut loose with layers of keyboards and multiple percussion, bringing in Hancock and Metheny to add their own distinctive contributions like cherries on top of the cake.

Jack de Johnette

Since then, we seem to have seen a range of drummers who lead bands but bring more to the table than just their rhythmic sense.  Jim Black has produced a series of excellent albums for Winter & Winter with his Alasnoaxis band, Joey Baron has produced two excellent solo albums – ‘Down Home’ and ‘We’ll soon find out’ (Intuition), Peter Erskine has led a marvellous acoustic trio with John Taylor and Palle Danielsson on a series of ECM releases , the multi-talented  Thomas Strønen is involved in a series of Rune Grammofon bands, not to mention  Food (with Iain Ballamy) – there are no doubt other nominees for this list.

Most impressive of all for me though are the three albums made since 1998 by drummer Brian Blade with his Fellowship ensemble.  This is a band that combines an unusual instrumentation – two saxes, steel guitar, guitar, piano, bass and drums with a repertory of tunes, often composed by Blade himself, that tap into an extraordinarily rich vein of music that references  the jazz-meets Americana style of Pat Metheny, ECM-style ‘chamber’ jazz,  and even progressive rock.  In particular, the first two albums they made for Blue Note – ‘Brian Blade Fellowship’ (1998) and ‘Perceptual’ (1999)  are quite magnificent.  Their 2008 ‘reunion’ album ‘Season of Changes’ wasn’t quite as impressive, but better than most of its type.

The Brian Blade Fellowship on stage

And so to Magnus Öström, formerly the drummer with the most successful European jazz group of all time, the Esbjörn Svensson Trio (E.S.T.), whose stellar progress was abruptly halted in 2008, when pianist Svensson was tragically killed in a scuba-diving accident in the Stockholm Archipelago. 

E.S.T.’s career path had been on an upward curve since the late 90’s when their album ‘From Gagarin’s point of view’ began to make waves for the band outside of their home territory.  Up until that point, they had been a sturdy but unremarkable piano trio, dutifully trotting out Thelonious Monk covers and commanding a respectable following in Scandinavia at least.  ‘Gagarin’ showed a shift towards more (and more interesting) self-penned numbers and a conscious attempt to break down the conventions surrounding piano trios.  Production values changed, with the band opting for a harder edged sound more often associated with rock bands, the occasional vocal interlude crept in and all three players began to use electronic effects that boosted the volume and the range of the band. 

This was no longer Bill Evans territory.   Öström’s drum style began to adopt the fast-paced choppy style hinting at drum & bass and other non-jazz stylings, Bassist Dan Berglund began to use all manner of effects to amplify his bass, evoking the spirit of everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Jaco Pastorius, whilst Svensson himself manipulated the sound of his grand piano, producing notes that -once put through the electronic wringer – would ‘decay’ far more quickly or spiral and echo away to nothing.

The Esbjörn Svensson Trio on stage

Between 2000 and 2003, E.S.T. produced a trio of albums that essentially defined their sound and their appeal.  ‘Good morning Susie Soho’, ‘Strange place for snow’ and ‘Seven days of falling’  each raised the bar another notch and showed a band who had locked on to a highly persuasive and effective style.  These three CD’s and the ensuing tours gave the band a higher profile than was customary and brought a quite different and much younger audience than most jazz gigs were capable of attracting.

On stage, E.S.T. were as dynamic and upfront as any rock band; no dry ice, but plenty of snazzy lighting and excellent sound – they played loud as well!  However, by 2005’s ‘Viaticum’ the band were on the horns of a dilemma; clearly Svensson had no desire to broaden his palette by using electronic keyboards, so there was a feeling with this album and its successor, ‘Leucocyte‘ that the band were starting to repeat themselves and were running out of ideas.

If electronic instruments were out, then another possible path they could follow would be to bring in more players.  At Germany’s ‘Jazz Baltica’ festival in 2003, they collaborated with both Pat Metheny and an orchestra and they also worked briefly with Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius.

Svensson’s sudden death put a stop to any such speculation and after 15 years of E.S.T.,  both Berglund and Öström were effectively left high and dry.  Inevitably, they both took time off to regroup but with E.S.T’s label, ACT signing them both to solo deals, it was always going to be interesting to see what they would do next.

Bassist Dan Berglund was the first to break cover with an album and a band called ‘Tonbruket’, literally a ‘tone factory’.  Tonbruket (the band) are a quartet that utilises steel guitar, pump organ and electronic keyboards.  They sound nothing like E.S.T. but their debut CD would probably have to be classed as a mild disappointment.

That just left Magnus Öström, who has finally emerged from the shadows with a terrific album called ‘Thread of Life’.   Öström has put together a quartet of his own, featuring Andreas Hourdakis on guitars, Gustaf Karlöf on keyboards, and Thobias Gabrielson on bass; all musicians from Stockholm. 

Whilst Tonbruket seemed consciously to shy away from sounding like E.S.T., Öström’s band have taken the jazz-into-rock pathways that E.S.T. were carving out and made them much more overt.  In some respects, this is more of a prog rock album than a jazz album, evoking fellow travellers like Norway’s Jaga Jazzist or In the Country.  Whilst not an unqualified success, it’s a massively promising debut and reflects well on Öström’s qualities as a writer.  Most of the talk about this album has centred on ‘Ballad for E.’, a tribute to  Esbjörn Svensson.  It’s a ten-minute long ballad played by Öström in company with Dan Berglund and Pat Metheny on acoustic guitar.  Recorded in New York, it is pleasant enough, but Metheny is in his comfort zone here; he’s been playing these plangent ballads for thirty years now and seems to me to have  little new to offer in this area.  Nonetheless, it’s clearly a heartfelt tribute and should be respected as such; E.S.T. were obviously friends as well as bandmates and Öström still  feels a sense of loss.

Even so, the rest of the album is much more adventurous and exciting on the whole.  They are touring Europe at the moment and it will be interesting to see how their sound devlops.

Chelsea U-18 v Manchester United U-18 F.A. Youth Cup Semi-Final, 1st Leg

It seems that Chelsea and Manchester United just cannot avoid one another these days; after Wednesday’s Champions League Quarter Final, it was the turn of United’s Under-18’s to roll into Stamford Bridge this lunchtime to take on their Chelsea counterparts in the first leg of the F.A. Youth Cup Semi-Final.

Chelsea are the holders of this competition and, in Josh McEachran, can boast a captain who has also played 15 games for the first team this year.  As for United, they were deprived of Ravel Morrison and Tyler Blackett through suspension and John Cofie through injury.  On the other hand, Will Keane returned to the team after about 2 months out with a leg injury, meaning that United could field a genuine striker for the first time in quite a while.

About 5,500 made their way to a sunlit Stamford Bridge for this one and saw the home side make a very positive start.  United’s midfield of Cole, Pogba, Tunnicliffe and Lingard were too occupied with defensive responsibilities to offer lone striker Will Keane much support.  Sam Johnstone was kept busy in the United goal, saving well from the dangerous Slovakian Chelsea striker Milan Lalkovic and on one occasion racing 30 yards from his goal to fly-hack clear as Chelsea threatened to break through.  That breakthrough duly arrived on 29 minutes.  Chelsea won a corner on the right and from it, Johnstone, perhaps impeded by his own defenders, dropped the ball and Chelsea centre-back Nathaniel Chalobah slid in to poke a right-footed shot past Johnstone from about 6 yards out.

United tried to respond, but Paul Pogba, normally so dominant in these games had started slowly and seemed preoccupied with trying little ball-playing tricks in the wrong area of the field.  Gyliano van Velzen was getting absolutely no change out of Todd Kane down the United left and Keane was having to feed on scraps.  Lingard, Cole and Tunnicliffe were getting forward as often as they could, but Chelsea, marshalled by McEachran, looked fairly comfortable.  Having said that, Will Keane was actually guilty of a complete howler after 38 minutes; clean through on goal with an awkwardly-bouncing ball, he prodded ineffectually at it, made no contact and the chance had gone.

Larnell Cole in action at Stamford Bridge

Even so, it was a bit of a shock when Chalobah put Chelsea further ahead just before half -time.  This time, the centre-back met a corner with a looping header that dropped just under the crossbar, beating both Sam Johnstone and the diminutive Larnell Cole, who was stationed on the post.

0-2 at half-time seemed a little harsh on United and Paul McGuinness will no doubt have focused on getting Pogba into the game more and getting more support up to help out Will Keane.  Whatever he said began to pay immediate dividends as United, roared on by a sizeable contingent of travelling fans started the second half in a more attacking mode and began to threaten the Chelsea goal more than at any point in the first half.  The hitherto ineffective Van Velzen hit a powerful drive from about 12 yards out and Chelsea goalkeeper Jamal Blackman had to dive to his right to claw the shot away.  Blackman was again in action after 55 minutes when Pogba, who seemed at last to be making some impact on the game, produced a raking 30 yard shot which Blackman tipped over.  However, from the ensuing corner, the ball fell to Jesse Lingard beyond  the far post and he produced a controlled half-volley which flew into the roof of the Chelsea net.  United were now well on top, with Tunnicliffe making some trademark runs from deep and Pogba pushing further forward to help out Will Keane.  Cole and Lingard were also pushing forward with intent and United had Chelsea penned in their own half for substantial periods.

Jesse Lingard fighting for the ball…

All the more surprising, therefore that Chelsea contrived a third goal in what was a rare foray into United territory.  Left-back Deen-Conteh took advantage of Michael Keane being out of position and skated past Tom Thorpe on the left before producing a low cross that unmarked winger Bobby Devyne sidefooted home from 7 yards out.

With the summery weather and the pace of the game beginning to take its toll on players from both sides, it was a question of whether United could summon up enough energy to get a  vital second goal and they managed it after 77 minutes.  Lingard’s initial corner was cleared and Tunnicliffe fed it back out to his fellow midfielder.  This time he produced a better cross and Pogba rose above the Chelsea defence to head home from about 8 yards out.

Paul Pogba; vital goal

And that was just about that; heat, cramp and tiredness dominated the last 10 minutes and though United might feel that their dominance of the second half deserved an equaliser, it wasn’t to be.  With a second leg at Old Trafford to come on April 20th, McGuinness will be confident that the Young Reds can overcome the narrow deficit.  Both teams will welcome back injured or suspended players and it will be interesting to see how Chelsea cope with the guile of Ravel Morrison.  Hopefully the Mancunian fans will turn up in force to support the team and cheer them on to a two-legged final against this year’s surprise package, Sheffield United, who beat Aston Villa in the other semi-final.

Faustino Asprilla Syndrome and the not-so-sweet F.A.

United travelled to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea in a Champions League Quarter-Final First Leg last night, emerging with a highly creditable 1-0 victory, their first at the Bridge since 2002.

It wasn’t a bad game, but it wasn’t a great one, either.   United probably deserved the win and scored a terrific winning goal, thanks to a wonderful crossfield pass from Michael Carrick,  a great first touch from Ryan Giggs that completely bamboozled his marker, Bosingwa and a cool sidefoot finish from English football’s poster boy-gone-wrong, Wayne Rooney. 

Chelsea will feel aggrieved that the Spanish referee – despite being subjected to the inevitable ‘mobbing’ tactics that Chelsea have used for years to intimidate referees – refused to award them a penalty after Patrice Evra had bundled over Ramires in the area right at the end of the game.  Replays showed that it was, unarguably, a penalty and it does make you wonder what the ‘extra’ officials behind the byline at each end are actually doing.  The one behind the United goal must have had an unimpeded view of what was a clear foul by Evra. yet did nothing.

The Chelsea mob gang up on Mike Riley at White Hart Lane……

This will have been particularly gratifying for United fans, who have suffered some appalling decisions by officials in games against Chelsea of late.  Last year, Didier Drogba scored a goal at Old Trafford that, in effect, won the title for the Londoners, despite being about 5 yards offside when he received the ball, whilst in the League game at Stamford Bridge just a month or so ago, referee Martin Atkinson had an absolute nightmare; refusing to send off the already-booked David Luiz for a clear bodycheck on Rooney and awarding a highly dubious penalty to Chelsea after an Oscar-winning triple salco from Zhirkov.   In other words, United were due a bit of luck against Chelsea and last night they got it.

The tie is a long way from being over; Chelsea have won often enough at Old Trafford recently to feel that they are still in with a chance, but they will have to play a good deal better than they did last night.  The particular conundrum facing Carlo Ancelotti before next week’s second leg is how to get the best out of his January trophy signing, Fernando Torres.  Apart from one late header brilliantly saved by Van der Sar, Torres had another woeful evening.  So desperate is the £50 million man to break his scoring drought (Over 600 minutes now, so we’re told) that he was twice reduced to diving in attempts to get a penalty.  Pathetic for a player who once reduced defenders to gibbering wrecks as he prowled the Aldi Stadium, but Torres is no longer that player – and the fear for Ancelotti and Abramovich is that he’s going to be the next Andrei Shevchenko rather than the next Didier Drogba.  

Drogba was chosen to partner Torres last night, rather than Nicolas Anelka, who is Chelsea’s leading Champions League scorer this season.  This decision by Ancelotti was surely a nod to the owner’s bankrolling of the Torres deal – leaving him out of such a high-profile game would have been tantamount to an admittance that Torres – temporarily at least – is a busted flush. 

Chelsea will need to play better next week and with his job (probably) on the line it wouldn’t surprise me if Ancelotti benches Torres and brings back Anelka and Malouda alongside Drogba in the 4-3-3 system that has served them so well in the past

The arrival of Torres in the January transfer window has created rather than solved  a problem for Ancelotti.  Prior to the Torres deal, Chelsea could deploy two contrasting strikers in Anelka and Drogba, bringing on the promising Daniel Sturridge as an impact substitute and by and large, it seemed to work well.  Chelsea played 4-3-3, with Anelka nominally in one of the wide positions and either Malouda or Kalou providing width, with support from Cole & Boswinga.  With the arrival of Torres  and Sturridge farmed out on loan, Ancelotti had to experiment with various combinations to see which worked best and has even abandoned Chelsea’s tried & trusted 4-3-3 formation in favour of a 4-4-2, which must be seen as a work in progress; certainly it didn’t look too convincing last night.

Torres the Problem Child

All of this is what I would refer to as a recurrence of Faustina Asprilla Syndrome, so-called because its first emergence came following  Kevin Keegan – in his first spell as Newcastle manager – buying Asprilla, a talented but temperamental Colombian striker from AC Parma in January 1996.  Up until that point, Newcastle’s season had been a revelation.  They had a lot of talent and played a really attractive brand of attacking football with players like Les Ferdinand, David Ginola, ‘Quasimodo’ Beardsley and Keith Gillespie ripping defences apart.  By the time Asprilla appeared – famously wearing a fur coat in a north-east blizzard – Newcastle were 12 points ahead of us at the top of the table.

It wasn’t Asprilla’s fault; he did as well as you would expect a South American whisked away to Tyneside in the depths of an English winter to do, but his arrival forced Keegan into changes that he probably regrets making.  Gillespie got injured at Old Trafford in late December and Quasi was dumped out on the wing to make room for Asprilla.  Ferdinand’s goals dried up, Beardsley’s influence diminished and slowly but surely, United’s ‘kids’ reeled them in.  In Manchester, we loved it, just loved it…..

Chelsea’s worries about  Torres were of course overshadowed last night by the latest moral panic over Wayne Rooney.  Rooney didn’t have a great game on Saturday at West Ham, but, importantly, managed to score a hat-trick anyway.  After despatching a perfect penalty past Rob Green for his and our third goal, Rooney became embroiled in an altercation with a Sky cameraman behind the goal, who allegedly wanted him to, er, kiss his camera.  Rooney reacted with scorn, anger and industrial language, all of which was duly transmitted to the watching millions and caused Sky Sports – that acme of moral rectitude – to issue an immediate apology for Rooney’s foul-mouthed outburst.  This, by the way, is the same Sky Sports who formerly employed those bastions of decency, Richard Keys and Andy Gray as their flagship presenters for many years. 

Rooney mouths off…cover the childrens’ ears, Marjorie!

And then of course, the guardians of our national pastime, the F.A., lumbered into action, charging Rooney with using foul language and trotting out the usual mealy-mouthed, self-serving  rhetoric about their expectations of players etc, blah blah blah.  Rooney had issued an apology via United’s press office within hours of the event occurring, but was still looking at a two-match ban if found guilty.  In the end, he accepted the charge but contested the ban, taking to the field at Stamford Bridge last night with the F.A.’s verdict unknown at this point.  You could almost sense the assembled hacks willing him to compound his stupidity at Upton Park with a further bit of nonsense last night, but as it was, his behaviour was that of a choirboy.  He smiled beatifically as the Chelsea intelligentsia baited and booed him at every turn, he looked rueful but nothing more when provoked by late,  dangerous and unpunished challenges from Essien and Ramires, he smiled and said nothing, tumbling across the turf in celebration as his precise sidefoot finish put United ahead.  In short, his behaviour was exemplary -and he had a seriously good game as well, posing a threat to Chelsea’s goal on a regular basis, linking with the midfield and defending when he needed to.

Wayne favours the Matthew Harding Stand with a smile..

No matter; this morning, the FA did that thing they always do when they try to come across all stern and magisterial and just end up looking and sounding pompous.  Rooney’s two-match ban stands and will come into force immediately, meaning that he will miss this weekend’s league game against Fulham and next week’s F.A.Cup semi-final against……..hang on a minute!

The Chairman of the F.A. is a guy called David Bernstein, who was formerly similarly occupied at Manchester City…our opponents at Wembley a  week or so hence…  Here’s what Bernstein said when he left Middle Eastlands to take up his new post;  “I would like to thank our wonderful fans for their backing. They have been fantastic in their support, which has never wavered even during the most difficult times. I have been touched by their kindness and enthusiasm. I have supported Manchester City since I was a boy and I am desperate for us to succeed.”

How desperate is that, then David? 

“Two games?  That’s brilliant, David! Can you let Mancini know?”

Rooney’s offence is to use language that you would hear in any football match at any level on any given Saturday, but critically, he used it to an idiot cameraman and the audio picked up his angry comments.  This is where the duplicity of the media comes in – broadcasters like Sky want more and more access to Premier League football; they’d be interviewing players in the shower after games if they could get away with it.  They want it – warts and all – until one of the warts turns foul-mouthed on them one sunny Saturday lunchtime, at which point they suddenly made a dash for the moral high ground and tried to distance themselves from Wayne’s World and its Four-Letter Tirades.  Can’t have it both ways, guys….

However, the real issue  here is the moral redundancy of the (sweet) F. A., who, having already staggered us with their incompetence, now add venality and a strong whiff of anti-United bias to their portfolio.  The forthcoming F.A. Cup semi-finals are a typical, farcical example of how little these be-suited toadies consider the welfare of the ordinary football fan. 

Consider the situation; on the weekend of the semi-finals, you also have the Dippers in town to play Arsenal at the Emirates and the London Marathon.  You have four teams from the North Midlands (Stoke) or Northwest (United, City, Bolton) forced to travel down to the dubious delights of northwest London to play these games, costing supporters god-knows-what for the tickets, their transport and no doubt a king’s ransom for Wembley’s overpriced refreshments. 

The policing bills for this weekend of fun and frolics will be enormous, especially when you consider that Stoke & Bolton fans on one day and City and United fans on the other day are going to be using the same stations and transport links.  After each game, you will have one set of very happy fans travelling home alongside another set of very unhappy fans.  The potential for major confrontations is unprecedented and when it happens, the politicians and journalists will wring their hands and lament the declining standards of our society.  Yet, with a little more consideration for the needs of the average fan,  all of this could have been avoided.  Old Trafford lies more or less equidistant from Bolton and Stoke, so that semi-final should have been played there, or at Eastlands.  Policing United & City fans was always going to be a problem, so  the potential for trouble  should have been minimised by keeping the travel time to and from the game as short as possible.  In other words, it should have been played at Anfield.

However, as any fule kno, all match-going football supporters are being made to suffer with idiotic arrangements like this well into the future, with inflated ticket prices and all the grisly overblown hype of ‘The Wembley Experience’ in order to bail out the incompetents of the F.A. who frittered away fortunes in the building of this soulless and frankly unremarkable arena .  Originally estimated at £245 million, the final bill was somewhere between £750 milion and £ 1 billion.  It even cost the F.A. £17 million to relocate to Wembley from their old gaff at Soho Square!  They must have hired a fleet of gold-plated helicopters to do it….

As for Wayne Rooney, I hope that he is giving serious consideration to the idea of declining to play football for Ing-er-land until further notice.  His initial behaviour was unacceptable, but he issued a prompt apology, yet his punishment is out of all proportion to his offence.  He’s been made a scapegoat because of who  he is and the club he plays for – and that, frankly is a disgrace.  The fact that the organisation imposing this ban is bereft of any credibility just makes the whole situation even more farcical.