November already? I really must update more often. The Peter Eden/British Jazz feature in Record Collector finally appeared, in RC458 (October 2016). In support of the tremendous Quintessence 2CD set on Hux, Spirits From Another Time, released earlier this year, I wrote a feature for Shindig! (can’t recall the issue number).
My Sunset Cavaliers album, released in March, was remarkably well reviewed in the UK. I’ll put some extracts up on the album’s page within the ‘Musical Projects’ tab to left. It was a great honour to appear on both Mickey Bradley’s Radio Foyle show and Ralph McLean’s Radio Ulster show to talk about the album and other things – thank you, both!
My current musical project is an expanded remaster of 2010’s limited-release instrumental set Titanium Flag – a concept album on Arctic history and exploration. The enhanced audio content is, at the time of writing, complete and by the end of the week the design will also be complete. The original album was dedicated to the great Dutch guitarist Jan Akkerman and I was thrilled that Jan agreed to play on one of three new tracks, extending the theme of the original ‘Ice Museum Suite’ of tunes. I regrouped the original ‘Titanium Flag Orchestra’ for two of the new tracks, inspired by Fridtjof Nansen’s 1888 crossing of Greenland – Linley Hamilton (trumpets), Rachelle Stewart (clarinet), Alan McClure (violins), ‘Ulster-Scots Jim’ Cuthbertson (drums). It was terrific to have the team back in action. Added to these tracks were Scott Flanigan on piano and Premik Russell Tubbs, recording in New York, on flute, plus Jan – delivering a sensational four-minute solo that is totally evocative of people battling through howling blizzards with indefatigable spirit!
The third new track is a reworking of an instrumental I originally recorded with Peter Wilson in 2007 as ‘The Duke Out On The Ocean’, here retitled ‘On The Ocean’, which is – by happy coincidence – the title of Pytheas of Massalia’s lost book on his fourth-century BC voyage to the Arctic regions. Australian production wizard Mark Tinson very kindly arranged and produced this new version in sunny downunder, featuring Aussie guitar legend Martin Cilia, with Linley Hamilton (flugelhorn) and Scott Flanigan (piano/Hammond) adding sublime parts in the less sunny Northern Hemisphere.
Four vocal numbers recorded at the original Titanium Flag sessions have also been added and the whole set has been mastered/remastered by the great Denis Blackham at Skye Mastering, who has done a typically superb job on it.
Alex Smee’s original silkscreen-print inspired cover design was fantastic, and I thought about keeping it, but in the spirit of refreshing the whole thing I’ve asked Mark Case to come up with new ideas and I’ve sourced an image that I hope will work as part of this. We’ll see… New booklet notes have been written, expanding the original limited edition card-wallet CD’s insert sheet, and I’ve sourced two vintage maps of the Arctic, which will be reproduced on a double-sided fold-out insert. I suspect this will help to bring the concept to life a little more.
I’ve been involved to varying degrees in several CD and vinyl reissues lately. I’m particularly excited about potentially three progressive British jazz CD archive projects planned for release via RPM circa March 2017. Legendary producer Peter Eden has kindly allowed Mark Stratford, the RPM-meister, to revive his 1970-71 Turtle label as a new imprint for these releases, which is a wonderful idea, and the first release will certainly be the Mike Westbrook Concert Band’s 1969 double LP (albeit originally released as two volumes in the UK) Marching Song. Appropriately, the album was originally produced by Peter Eden for the Deram label. This long-out-of-print revival will be a 3CD set, with a third disc of unreleased 1966-70 studio and live material selected personally by Mike Westbrook. It will, one hopes, if all goes well, be the first of several such personally expanded Westbrook reissues on RPM/Turtle. Mark had asked me for ideas for two other releases on the revived Turtle imprint, and I have provided these suggestions. As licenses aren’t yet in place, I’ll save the details for another time.
Still on a vintage British jazz theme, I was delighted to make the introductions between Mike Westbrook and Hux-meister Brian O’Reilly and between Tubby Hayes biographer Simon Spillett and Brian. Two great releases are in the offing from Hux: an expanded and remastered reissue of Live (1972) by a short-lived and fantastic Mike Westbrook five-piece, including Gary Boyle on guitar, and a first-time-on-CD release for the 1969 Tubby Hayes album on Fontana, The Orchestra. I’m not involved in the execution of these releases bar the cheerleading (Mike and Simon will provide the notes, respectively) but it’s terrific to see these albums on CD. I strongly recommend Simon’s book on Tubby, The Long Shadow of the Little Giant (Equinox, 2015) – a brilliant evocation of an era, and a compelling tale of one of British music’s greats.
Finally, on the British jazz theme, I’m involved in bringing a 1991 concert tour project to releasable fruition for the great bandleader/composer Michael Gibbs. Peter Muir’s Dusk Fire label will release some kind of fabulous audio artefact – I’m guessing a 2CD set – drawn from a slew of terrific DAT recordings from a 1991 British tour by the Mike Gibbs Orchestra featuring John Scofield. I was delighted to make the introductions between Michael and Peter and I’m helping with the digitising of the material. The music, performances and sound quality – even ahead of mastering – are superb, and it’s a real pleasure to be a part of making this happen.
Over in folksville, I’ve written a 3,000 word note for It Suits Me Well, a new Cherry Red 2CD set presenting four of the six Dave Swarbricksolo albums released between 1976 and 1983. Confusingly, I wrote the notes for a Sanctuary 2CD set of the very same title, which was compiled from the same four Swarbrick albums plus BBC material. (I wasn’t involved in titling either set.) This new set comprises the four albums in full and a completely new note, based on a forensic trawl through Melody Makers for the period and drawing on other published Swarbrick interviews. It’s a beautifully designed booklet, by Shindig!’s Andy Morten.
I’ve also written the notes – partly based on content from my Jansch biography, but including new writing – for Living In The Shadows, a new 4LP/4CD Bert Jansch set from the Earth label, comprising The Ornament Tree (1990), When The Circus Comes To Town (1995), Toy Balloon (1997) and an excellent fourth disc featuring 40 minutes of previously unreleased studio material. I had (as mentioned in a previous update) provided Earth with many 1990s photos and digitisations of soundboard concert recordings, but they’ve opted for a studio-based set and a minimalist design approach, which works perfectly well. Perhaps the above material will be utilised on another occasion, but this set is certainly recommended to Jansch fans and even newcomers. It is a mark of the fourth disc’s quality that it alone could be played to someone unfamiliar with Jansch’s music and act as a perfect snapshot of his artistry. Earth will reissue the 1998 Jansch live recording Downunder: Live In Australia in the New Year, including an expanded version of my notes for the original Sanctuary release.
I’ve been very slightly involved in a couple of other 60s British folk projects recently: the wonderful Anne Briggs vinyl EP of 1966 BBC recordings plus one same-period amateur recording titledFour Songs, on Fledg’ling (simply suggesting the idea to label owner David Suff, who had the courage to run with it and create a wonderful artefact); and a set of forthcoming Davy Graham Decca album reissues from US label Virtual Label. For this latter project, I was asked to source and provide scans of various Davy Graham adverts, interviews and reviews from my collection of 60s British music magazines – a bit more of a task than you might imagine, but one that will hopefully add an evocative sheen to the end products.
Speaking of Anne Briggs, Mojo 60s – a themed spin-off from UK music magazine Mojo – will be republishing my 1997 Mojo feature on her in their December edition.
In terms of new writing, I’m working on a Mike Westbrook feature for Record Collector, for which I’ve interviewed Mike and collected an almost overwhelming amount of vintage interviews and reviews. I have a feeling there must be an easier way…
I’m also working on a limited edition (probably 200 copies) hard-copy presentation of the e-book bonus chapters and appendices from Bathed In Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond (Jawbone, 2014). I’m quite excited about this, and I’ve already started doing a few new interviews and new print research, particularly on McLaughlin’s first employer Big Pete Deuchar. I can guarantee that the book – which I may title anew, to avoid confusion (although doing so may in itself cause confusion) – will feature several previously unpublished or ridiculously rare vintage McLaughlin photographs (from 1959-75) along with rare period adverts and the like. There will be new content in the Pete Deuchar and Tony Meehan Combo chapters, and maybe elsewhere, and anything needing revised/updated – such as the Discography and Mahavishnu Orchestra Mk2 Concert Listing – will be sorted out. The BIL website bonus chapter on Georgie Famewill be added and I’m looking into additional written content of value.
Given the above, and the recent launch of my own academic proofreading service (see: www.belfastproofreading.com), a couple of other book ideas on British jazz are on a back-burner just now, but they are not forgotten.
Finally, I’ve found myself a little more involved in the local music world in and around Belfast this year than has been the case for a long time. I’ve seen a lot of Brian Houston this year, having not done so for two or three years, and wrote a couple of long online pieces on his history and on a couple of live performances. Brian also took part in Lampstock, a great fun event I organised in early November as a fundraiser for local café The Lamp Post, which also featured some of my fave local artists Brigid O’Neill, Wookalily and Janet & Colin Henry. A great time was had by all. At the time of writing, having brought Brian together with John McSherry for an Irish-themed album earlier in the year (see previous posts), it looks like I might have done something similar between himself and the great bass player Ali MacKenzie (who can be heard to great effect on the new Titanium Flag remaster). Brian’s been pursuing a blues direction recently and Ali joined him, unrehearsed and plucked from the audience, at Lampstock, for a sensational improvised gospel-blues set with Brian and harmonicist Michael Beattie. Brian’s regular trio has been amicably disbanded recently, and I’m hoping the Houston/MacKenzie collaboration has some legs. Great things could result. Fingers crossed…
More definitely, terrific local trio the Hardchargers will be recording a debut album at my palLate-Night Tony Furnell’s studio (so new it has yet to be named) in December. I first saw the ‘Chargers in July at Welsh Sarah’s festival somewhere near Armagh and then later made a point of seeing them performing a full set at a bar in Monaghan. Based on a very distinctive ‘amplified country-blues’ sound, they definitely have ‘something’. My involvement has been offering some advice, encouragement and contacts, and hopefully the result will be a nationally available Hardchargers album early next year – one that is representative of their live power but also encompassing studio arrangements and polish where appropriate. The goal is to give the band a calling card or platform for expanding their live work into Britain and Europe.