“Eight Miles High” — Three Views

The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” was released as a single on March 14, 1966, eventually reaching number 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.   Influenced by Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass album, it was one of the first (if not the first) glimmerings of psychedelic rock.  And thus a progenitor of prog?  I think so.

Check out three views of this pioneering tune for yourself.  First, a Byrds promo appearance lip-syncing for an unknown TV show.  Note David Crosby’s brilliant outfit, complete with Russian hat:

Of course, “Eight Miles High” has been covered numerous times.  Back in 1988, it was the one of the key tracks on To The Power of Three, the collaboration of Keith Emerson, Carl Palmer and Robert Berry.  How Eighties is this?  Check out Berry’s headless Steinberger bass!  Emerson’s keytar!  Palmer wielding a Dynacord electronic drum controller at the front of the stage!  Plus the, uh, dancers “playing” snare drums in the background.  Goodness!  (Though it does serve as a reminder that Robert Berry releases his posthumous collaboration with Keith Emerson, 3.2: The Rules Have Changed, on August 10.)

Three years later (ouch) in 1991, “Eight Miles High” was one of the cover tunes on Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s album Spin.  Since their 1981 version of Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” had snagged number one on the British single charts, Stewart and Gaskin had been bringing a thoroughly proggy attitude to the synth-pop duo format.  Spin is no different, mixing quirky originals with fresh takes on Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog,” Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia,” Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” — and the Byrds.  One bonus feature of the album: the precocious pre-Porcupine Tree percussion of Gavin Harrison.  Check out the spectacular drum fill that kicks off this version!

Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s new album Star Clocks, featuring “eight Dave Stewart originals alongside a cover of an iconic 1960s song,” is out on August 17.  Pre-order it at Burning Shed.

Bonus track: Stewart & Gaskin’s samurai/Beach Boys/cathedral bells version of “It’s My Party,” with special guest video appearance by … Thomas Dolby?

— Rick Krueger

Soft Machine: The Psychedelic Years

The seminal British collective Soft Machine were many things in their history — psychedelic pioneers, proto-progressive rockers, avant-garde explorers, always bobbing and weaving in the borderlands between jazz and rock.  One thing they were not was stable; by biographer Graham Bennett’s reckoning, the Softs had 24 separate line-ups during their original run of 1966-1984!  As the band’s current incarnation embarks on a 50th anniversary world tour and releases the new Hidden Details album, I’m listening to their studio catalog along with selected live recordings, tracing the long, strange road they’ve traveled from then to now.

Per the band’s new website,

Soft Machine were formed in mid-1966 by Robert Wyatt (drums, vocals), Kevin Ayers (bass, guitar, vocals), Daevid Allen (guitar) and Mike Ratledge (organ) …

This first Soft Machine line-up became involved in the early UK underground, featuring prominently at the UFO Club, and subsequently other London clubs like the Speakeasy Club and Middle Earth. .. They also played in the Netherlands, Germany and on the French Riviera.  … Upon their return from their sojourn in France, Allen (an Australian) was denied re-entry to the United Kingdom, so the group continued as a trio, while he returned to Paris to form Gong.

The archival recording Middle Earth Mastersone of a fine series from Washington DC’s Cuneiform Records, captures the remaining trio a month after Allen’s departure.  Easing in with relatively conventional (though absurdist) pop tunes like “Clarence in Wonderland” by Ayers, the Softs quickly slip the reins.  Wyatt repetitively chews on the words of “Hope for Happiness” like they’re an Indian raga, the trio kicks into a high-energy riff — and Ratledge takes off.  With his Lowrey organ run through a fuzzbox and a Marshall stack, he bashes out speedy pyrotechnics, grinding harmony pads, and distorted pitch-bent chords; underneath him, Ayers and Wyatt slip and slide from sparse grooves through splattery swing to bludgeoning stop time.  Ratledge’s solo “Disorganization” is even wilder, a tornado of phenomenal technique, overdriven amplification, and rhythmic attack echoing free-jazz pianist Cecil Taylor.  Then the Softs slam into another extended medley, kicked off by the goofy, minimalist “We Did It Again” (four words, one riff, six minutes), climaxing with a clattering drum solo and feedback all around before Wyatt winds down with a hushed falsetto benediction.  Cliche though it might be by now,  in 1967 sets like this were a serious trip.

Sharing management with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Softs gained a support slot on that band’s 1968 North American tour.  Between tour legs, they piggybacked on studio time for Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland to record an album for ABC/Probe, with Tom Wilson (Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground) producing.  While the record sat in the can, lots happened: Andy Summers (yeah, the future Police guitarist) joined, only to be summarily fired at Ayers’ insistence; then Ayers himself quit after another US tour, feeling the Softs were heading towards playing (shudder) jazz. Wyatt remained in the States, Ratledge returned to England, and the band seemed finished — the perfect moment for ABC/Probe to release the first album!

Continue reading “Soft Machine: The Psychedelic Years”

1969: A Blast from the Past

“Well it’s 1969 OK all across the USA
It’s another year for me and you
                                      Another year with nothing to do”  — 1969, The Stooges

I was 7 going on 8 in 1969.  But my brother was ten years older — and Detroit was a prime location to explore rock as it turned psychedelic, then progressive, still with plenty of punk attitude.  Our cousin from Lansing was about the same age as my brother — so they did a fair amount of concertgoing together.

The other day, out of the blue I got a letter from our cousin, reproduced below with my random thoughts interspersed:

Dear Cousin Rick,

I’m sending along a copy of the program from the festival I attended in the south of England summer of 1969.  I thought you might it interesting.

plumpton festival program(Hmmm … The 9th National Jazz and Blues Festival.  Waitaminute: Pink Floyd?  King Crimson?  Peter Hammill performing solo before the first Van Der Graaf Generator album? Yes?  The Who?  Keith Emerson with The Nice?  Not to mention Soft Machine and Pentangle?  And he was there? Doggone straight I find it interesting.  Please continue, cousin!)

I’d seen both The Who and The Nice at the Grande Ballroom in the spring before.  The Who played the entire Tommy opera both times.  The Nice as I remember had some kind of revolving organ at the Grande.  At the Plumpton fest they closed the show on Sunday backed by a large orchestra.  At the final song the stage opened and a regiment of bagpipers marched off the stage and into the crowd.  Those were heady times.

isle of wight 1969There’s also a copy of the Isle of Wight festival flier which I missed as it was the weekend which we were heading home.  Such fond memories.

(Bob Dylan & The Band?  The Moody Blues?  More from King Crimson, The Who and Pentangle?  Stop torturing me, cousin!!!  Actually, no — please continue as I wrestle with envy and wish Doctor Who’s TARDIS was real.)

The day we arrived in London the Rolling Stones played in Hyde Park celebrating the life of Brian Jones who had just passed.  Couldn’t quite get there but almost.  (Another King Crimson show!!)

I’d like to hear more about your music blogging/reviews.    P.S.  We didn’t arrive at the fest until Saturday so we missed all the Friday acts.  Booo!

Fortunately, the sounds of the Plumpton Festival aren’t completely lost in the mists of time; I plan to direct my cousin to Soft Machine’s and Pink Floyd’s sets online, and send him a copy of King Crimson’s set.

detroit rr revival 1969And talking with my brother later, I heard the story of how he and my cousin somehow got permission to go to the 1969 Detroit Rock’n’Roll Revival (with the MC5, Chuck Berry, Dr. John, The “Psychedelic” Stooges and many more acts) the night before my sister’s wedding.  Maybe I should rethink missing Yes’ 50th Anniversary Tour when it hits Grand Rapids.  Not to mention Wayne Kramer’s MC50 Kick Out the Jams 50th Anniversary Tour and Soft Machine’s world tour coming to Progtoberfest IV

— Rick Krueger

Progtoberfest IV Is Coming!

Reggie’s Rock Club and Music Joint has officially announced the line-up for Progtoberfest IV.  Sponsored by InsideOut Music, the festival will be held on the south side of Chicago Friday through Sunday, October 19-21.  Tickets go on sale Friday, June 1 Tuesday, June 5 at 12 noon CST at Ticketfly.  Here’s the line-up, with event and band links included wherever possible:

Friday, October 19 – Reggie’s Rock Club:

 

Friday, October 19 — Reggie’s Music Joint:

  • The Nick D’Virgilio Project (Fort Wayne, IN — jazz-rock fusion with colleagues from Sweetwater Studios)
  • Tempano (Venezuela)
  • Inner Ear Brigade (San Francisco, CA)
  • No More Pain (Old Bridge, NJ)

 

Saturday, October 20 — Reggie’s Rock Club:

 

Saturday. October 20 — Reggie’s Music Joint:

 

Sunday, October 21 — Reggie’s Rock Club:

 

Sunday, October 21 — Reggie’s Music Joint:

 

Ticket prices are as follows:

  • Single day general admission (standing room in Rock Club):$75
  • Single day general admission VIP (including poster, BBQ buffet and meet & greets): $100
  • Three day general admission: $175
  • Three day general admission VIP: $240
  • Three day Above Stage VIP: $275 (general admission seating in Rock Club balcony; my choice for Progtoberfest III)
  • Three day Seated VIP: $325 (reserved seats up front on Rock Club main floor)
  • Three day Red Chair VIP: $400 (reserved seats up front in Rock Club balcony)
  • There are additional Ticketfly service fees, but they’re reasonable.

I had a great time at Progtoberfest III last year, and I hope to make it to at least one day of this year’s festival.  This time around, I’m especially impressed by the variety of genres represented (including a generous amount of jazz-rock fusion) and the healthy mix of national/international big names (getting Soft Machine is a genuine coup), local favorites and hungry young artists.  See you there?

 

NAO4 Teaser Trailer

NAO
Our last glimpse of real beauty–NAO’s compilation album.

Sam Healy–while complying with Big Euro Brother laws, regulations, and microintrusions–offered a wonderful teaser/trailer for the forthcoming North Atlantic Oscillation album, coming sometime this year.

Granted, it’s only a full-eighteen seconds worth, but it’s eighteen more seconds then we had before. . .

Looking East: Gazpacho’s Soviet Saga

IMG_3132
Gazpacho’s 10th Album, SOYUZ.

Gazpacho, SOYUZ (Kscope 2018).  Tracks: Soyuz One; Hypomania; Exit Suite; Emperor Bespoke; Sky Burial; Fleeting Things; Soyuz Out; and Rappaccini.

To be sure, every release from the Norwegian art rockers extraordinaire, Gazpacho, is not just another moment in a progger’s life, but an actual event—filled with meaning and significance, marked by the awareness and heighten-ness of all five senses.

For those of us in the United States, we wait that extra week for the package from Burning Shed to arrive. Then, we carefully remove the rectangular sticker from Kscope (this one, Kscope607) and, then, the cellophane.  I have the strange habit of collecting every one of these cellophane stickers, placing each within the front or back cover of whatever book I’m reading at the time.  Today, when the mail came, I was re-reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Book of Lost Tales, Part I.  Hence, the Kscope607 sticker sits nicely behind the front cover.

Opening the booklet releases a smell every bit as satisfying as that of a brand new car.  It’s a bit sweet and a bit pulpy.  And, then, we dive into the pictures and, most importantly, the lyrics.

The only disappointing thing about a Gazpacho release is knowing that the next one is most likely at least two years out. Real art takes time, especially in the northern parts of the world.  I’ve now gone through this ritual exactly 13 times (counting studio, live, and re-releases) since I first purchased NIGHT in 2007.  It’s always healthy, and it’s always inspiring. As much a release as it is an inspiration.

Continue reading “Looking East: Gazpacho’s Soviet Saga”

Remembering the Genius of Porcupine Tree

2018 release
The 2018 release.  2 CD/1 Blu-ray from Kscope.

Porcupine Tree, ARRIVING SOMEWHERE. . . (Kscope, 2018).  2 CD/1 Blu-ray package.  A re-release of the 2007 title on DVD.

Though it originally came out over a decade ago, Porcupine Tree’s ARRIVING SOMEWHERE . . .–its live show from Chicago, October 11-12, 2005–has just been re-released by Kscope in a very nice 2 cd/1 blu-ray book.

When it first came out on DVD in 2007, I had purchased it immediately. Of all the concerts I own on varous forms of video, ARRIVING SOMEWHERE . . . has been in constant play, rivaling only Rush’s TIME MACHINE and Talk Talk’s LIVE IN MONTREUX for most played.

Now, having it on CD and blu-ray reminds me yet again how incredible Porcupine Tree was in the first decade of this millenium. Admittedly, between 2001 and 2010, I was rather obsessed with the band. To me–all pre-2009 and, thus, pre-UNDERFALL YARD–no other band had reached as far and as perceptively as had Porcupine Tree. The band seemed the perfect fusion of prog, pop, and psychedelia–in its music as well as in its lyrics.

Continue reading “Remembering the Genius of Porcupine Tree”

Rick’s Retroarchy — Procol Harum, Still There’ll Be More: An Anthology, 1967-2017

Take a Dylanesque verbal collage by lyricist Keith Reid; marry it to instantly appealing melody and harmony — passionately sung and played by R&B pianist Gary Brooker, drawing equally on Baroque grandeur (Bach’s “Air on the G String”) and dramatic soul (Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman”).  Then garnish with Matthew Fisher’s Hammond organ counterpoint.  The result: “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Procol Harum’s first single, a defining hit of 1967, and one of progressive rock’s most influential precursors.

You can argue Procol Harum (Brooker, Reid, drummer B.J. Wilson and a shifting supporting cast — notably Fisher and guitarist Robin Trower) never topped their debut, either artistically or commercially.  But they made excellent music for a decade, with reunions every 12-15 years after that — thirteen fine albums that consistently engaged the mind, gut and heart. The latest installment in Procol’s current reissue campaign, Esoteric Recordings’  Still There’ll Be More: An Anthology, 1967-2017 , is the long-overdue box set this band richly deserves.

Continue reading “Rick’s Retroarchy — Procol Harum, Still There’ll Be More: An Anthology, 1967-2017”

Time Has Shown The Wiser: Fairport Convention at Fifty

It came about this way: I received a 180-gram reissue of Genesis’ Trespass for Christmas. In a documentary on the making of the album Tony Banks said the band’s first truly progressive work had been inspired by listening to groups like The Nice, Family, and Fairport Convention.

fairport_convention.jpg

Fairport Convention? I think I once saw a passing reference to “progressive folk” applied to their work, and was familiar with their definitive album, Liege & Leaf — a statement on their growing affinity with the English folk tradition. While Trespass has some folk-inspired moments it’s anachronistic to say Liege influenced Genesis’ 12-string arrangements and composite chords. I went back to Fairport’s debut, Fairport Convention, recorded in November 1967 (man, something about British bands and fall recording sessions) and released in the spring of ’68.

Oh my.

Continue reading “Time Has Shown The Wiser: Fairport Convention at Fifty”

soundstreamsunday #88: “Oh wie nah ist der Weg hinab” by Popol Vuh

pv_letztetage.jpgIn the last few years, David Eugene Edwards has taken Wovenhand — soundstreamsunday #85 — in an increasingly heavy direction, towards drone metal underpinning an utterly unique and dead serious frontier circuit preacher mysticism.  The drone as tribal, the ancient tool of ascension to the Common One, and so Wovenhand’s thunderous droning riffs on 2012’s Laughing Stalk and 2014’s Refractory Obdurate relate to themes steeped in Native American and old time music, eastern desert whirlwinds and western desert stoner rock.  It is a vast music carrying a mad sensibility:

In its gothic-ness and existential riddles the music of Wovenhand is tied to bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, early Cult and, going further back, Popol Vuh.  The masters of acoustic and electrified devotional drone and chant music, Florian Fricke’s Popol Vuh were for decades known mostly for their Werner Herzog film soundtracks and often, mistakenly I think, identified as New Age.  The krautrock revival of the 1990s put them on a proper map and made their records — ranging from drifting synth meditations to acoustic chants — widely available, while their celebration by bands like Opeth (who often play Popol Vuh prior to coming on stage) have given them a certain hip cred.

By the mid-1970s Popol Vuh’s association with fellow Munich-based rock band Amon Duul II opened their music to harder electric exploration, and when drummer/guitarist Danny Fichelscher left ADII to join Popol Vuh following Connie Veit’s departure (Veit played on Popol Vuh’s stunning classic, 1972’s Hosianna Mantra), he brought with him the Teutonic heaviness that was ADII’s stock-in-trade.  What followed was a string of records where Fichelscher gave form, importantly, to Fricke’s east-meets-west devotional exercises.  Among these albums was 1976’s Letzte Tage Letzte Nachte, an electric monument joining dark guitar figures with Popol Vuh’s trademark mantras.  Renate Knaup, also from ADII, contributes vocals along with Dyong Yun, the band’s primary singer.  “Oh wie nah ist der Weg hinab,” though, is an instrumental, and is representative of the shadows and light found in the set.  Darkness builds and thunder cracks, and then the storm breaks, the world made new.  There is an intended spiritual drama unfolding here, as it does in Wovenhand’s music, and, wordless as it is, the message is clear.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.