Chris Wade, renaissance Man!

Chris Wade is a multi talented and multi-faceted chap who on the one hand produces his own music magazine, whilst on the other writes highly regarded critical analysis of various artists works spanning all genres from film to music, not to mention being the writer of his own range of comedic novels and the brains behind Dodson and Folk, the acid folk project that has spawned 11 albums, and features a multitude of special guests. Since 2012 he has been ploughing his own musical furrow as Dodson and Fogg, with musical excursions into instrumental prog (The Moonlight banquet) collaboration with his brother (Rexford Bedlo) as well as Rainsmoke (with Nigel Planer and Roger Planer) and the last time I spoke to Chris was just after his Dodson and Fogg début had been released. I decided that as four years is a long time in music, and because I like talking to Chris, I would have a chat with him to find out what’s going on in his world and to chat about his new album, The White House on the Hill.

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I first mentioned his role as a one-man acid folk pioneer, and the release of his new album

‘I prefer to call it Maltloaf folk; it’s a new tag that I’m going to start using. This is album number 11, if you don’t count the outtakes.

I hadn’t planned the next album but I moved out to the countryside about 4 months ago and found in the second month of living here I’d started writing the next record, but that won’t be out until next year because of the books I am working on’

Ah yes, the books,

‘I’ve just done a Hawkwind book, a recent fiction book and I’m working on books on Dennis Hopper, George A Romero and Woody Allen. I find when I’m doing the books I just get immersed in the world of the subject, I’m watching all the films, tracking people down and reviewing them’

We started talking about how things have changed since the first Dodson and Fogg album was released back in 2012,

‘Progs totally altered since the first release, since then the industry has changed with all releases, back in November 2012 there wasn’t things like Spotify, 4 years seems like a long time ago for me now’

I first contacted Chris back in 2012 using twitter and since then we’ve been friends on Facebook,

‘This is the thing about Facebook, you don’t see some people that often but you can see how peoples lifes have changed over time’

I wondered if Chris was still an avid user of social media,

‘I’ve got a Facebook set up for the books and the albums, and it showcases the latest work, but it doesn’t really generate sales for books or music, and in that respect it isn’t that useful. Someone was complaining on Facebook recently about mailing lists and emails not being read, I don’t thing it’s fair to criticise your audience on Facebook or social media, but it proves that you can’t rely on social media, I only use it a little bit’

Chris is very prolific and I wondered where the inspiration comes from,

‘I do all this because I don’t want a normal job, the more I do then the more income I get, I don’t push a lot of this to be honest, I like to do projects and that’s how I spend my time, on my projects and with my family. A lot of creative people like to think they are different and special, and I love making music and writing books but to me it’s an everyday job with no lucrative income’

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With the books Chris tends to self publish,

‘My first self published book was before I discovered the server I use now, it was a book about Malcolm McDowell, and since then I’ve learnt over time, some of the earlier books are a bit creaky but it proved to me that learning as I go and self publishing is a valid option. I’d rather put it all out myself, as it gives me complete control’.

Dodson and Fogg are well known for the use of guest stars,

‘I have built up a contact list, for the latest record I used Toyah, I was only aware of her 80’s work, and heard some of her later work with Fripp in the Humans. I liked what she was doing and made contact through her website, she was working somewhere in a studio and I sent her the track (Drinking from the Gun), and it ended up being a co-write as she wrote a third verse and did really interesting things with the track.

I’m always after interesting sounds, I’ve always been after a stuffy brass band sound, I really like the old fashioned brass band, (It must be something about being from Yorkshire as I adore that sound as well) It’s the sad sound of the brass, it’s summit in the blood. I enjoyed working with Ricky Romain on the sitar, I loved mixing the sound in but people were saying I was just doing psych acid folk because of the sitar. I can’t do the same thing all the time, I like to swap things around’.

What about your influences?

‘I don’t tend to have lots now, I can find sometimes if I’m writing a book I can pick up the guitar and something will come to me, at the moment I keep listening to a lot of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, it’s stuff I like and will never stop liking it, it’s my music. I listen to a lot of Madonna, although you won’t see me in a conical bra. I used to really like Donovan but I can’t listen to him any more, you find without noticing that your tastes change over time’.

Do you ever have a theme for your albums?

‘On some of the early ones I did, the first two didn’t have themes, but the third one Sounds of Day and Night (2013) the loose thread was that all the songs were about day and night.

The later albums are more like a diary, showing where I am at any moment in time, for people who buy the later albums say the project has gone in different directions.

I do it for fun, and like to structure the albums like a 1960’s album, around 40 minutes long, it doesn’t ramble, you can listen to it in one sitting and pop it on a tape, I record and structure them in the way that I like to listen to albums.

The first album with a real concept was the one I did with Nigel Planer doing the stories (In a Strange Slumber 2014) and When the Light ran Out (2015) was an idea of home and how that works, both my Mum and my Sister moved away, and it made me think of what home meant. The songs are all personal to me and get emotions out there that you wouldn’t normally get out there, it’s a loose diary of my life’

Talking of home you recently moved to the country,

‘I’ve moved near to a farm into the countryside, I’ve taken up gardening and getting into my photography, it’s a nicer life, though there is that cliché about not making good art if you’re too content. I find it more comfortable that there’s next to nothing out here, an old train line, a farm, it’s far better than having too many people in your face.

Doing this interview is like therapy, I’m telling you stuff I haven’t mentioned before!

(I did mention I was much cheaper than any therapist!)

I like doing these projects because I’ve always wanted to do things I wanted to do and make it work for me. I had no interest in serving customers or trying to flog more things to get an extra 10p.

I just feel like when I was a kid I used to make books and liked the idea of putting a book together and playing drums. My brother and I used to make albums, with the sleeves and my Dad would encourage us by popping them on the shelves next to his Beatles or Kinks tape and encourage us to make more.

I’m a haemophiliac and found it hard to get work, it was difficult to get insurance in conventional jobs, I lost jobs because they couldn’t get insurance for me, when I was a child I wasn’t allowed to do contact sports and preferred to write, draw and play guitar. That’s another revelation to me, you sure this isn’t therapy?

Being creative is worthwhile, it’s important because what would the world be like without music, books, arts? It would be a very dull place indeed. We should encourage kids, my little girl Lily is 2, I wonder what she’ll do, she can draw, she loves music and watching films, it’s great watching them grow up.’

So where next for Dodson and Fogg?

‘If your creative you want to move onto the next thing, I don’t like sitting on work, I want to release it and move on, it might be commercial suicide but that doesn’t bother me, it’s not and never has been about the commercial side.

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In 2012 I spotted a tweet from a singer songwriter about a musical project he was launching, the tweeter was Chris Wade and the project was Dodson and Fogg, and I have watched and listened as Chris has taken his DIY ethos through 10 previous diverse albums, with guests like Celia Humphries, Nik Turner, Nigel Planer, Ricky Romain, Alison O’Donnell, Scarlet Riviera, Judy Dyble and Chloe Herington to name but a few, and over the past four years it’s been a delight to hear Chris muse take him down new and exciting avenues.

This latest release which came out back in August is his first release since moving out to the countryside, but don’t expect him to have gone all back to the country, no sir, what we have hear is another clear progression of the Dodson and Fogg sound, and every time Chris releases another record I worry about whether he’s stretched himself too thin this time, but no every time he comes up trumps.

It’s not cheap being a Dodson and Fogg fan, but when the music is this good, then does it matter how often the records are released?

With a smaller cast list, the focus is primarily on Chris soft vocals, and his superb guitar playing, with guests Georgia Cooke on Flute and John Garners violin adding their soft touches throughout the album to enhance the D&F sound. As Chris mentioned in his interview this time around he got Toyah to guest on this record, and the duet, Drinking from the Gun, where as ever the artist she is Toyah contributed an extra verse, is a superb jazzy duet, where their vocals blend perfectly, whilst the title track that opens the album is a joyously bucolic folk rocker with some fantastically sympathetic violin work throughout. Meanwhile the powerful instrumental Bitten has a real funky groove to it, in fact the album is pretty funky throughout, as Chris gets his funky troubadour hat on Tell Me When Your Ready to Leave, with its Ric Sanders esque jazzy violin, in fact with Chris vocals, this sounds like the current incarnation of Fairport Convention could cover it, and it would slot right into their repertoire.

In fact this is pretty funky album, as Chris growls his way through the heavy funk of The Giant. Whilst the instrumental Bitten has powerful rocking riff that runs through the record like Scarborough through a stick of rock.

The closing 7 minuter Lily and The Moonlight, a wonderfully languid mellow rocker inspired by Chris daughter, is a slow builder, giving time for the song to build and grow and Chris fantastically cool vocals and a wonderfully eloquent guitar led coda closes this fine album in style.

For those worried that Chris is running out of ideas, don’t. This is another eloquent musical statement from one of the most prolific artists around who enriches the musical scene that he sits in.

Ladies and Gentleman, Dodson and Fogg, England’s premier Maltloaf folk band.

 

All photos by Linzi Napier

Thanks to Chris for his time.

Dodson and Fogg albums and Chris’ books are all available from

http://wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com/

 

 

Fighting Generation Bland: The Short Career of Ordinary Psycho

One EP, two LPs, and an insert with a mission statement.  What they lacked in quantity is made up for, a million times over, in quality.
One EP, two LPs, and an insert with a mission statement. What they lacked in quantity is made up for, a million times over, in quality.

The English band Ordinary Psycho enjoyed a short but brilliant burst of life from about 1997 to 2004.

Their first EP, “Introducing Ordinary Psycho, Special Limited Discovery CD (With Marion Crane,” offered the world only twenty minutes of music. So well crafted, though, the music continues to speak to me after innumerable listens over the past sixteen years. Enjoying its pleasures as I type this piece, the music seems as alive to me today as it did in 1998. In 2000, they released their first LP, The New Gothick LP (sometimes just The New Gothic–without the k). A year later, they released their second and final LP, Vol. II.

https://progarchy.com/2013/09/24/ordinary-psycho-calling-david-gulvin/

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post—back in September 2013—I first encountered the music through a Talk Talk discussion group sponsored by a Danish website. David Gulvin, one of the two founders of Ordinary Psycho, popped into the discussion offering the band’s introductory cd. I requested one, and, lo and behold, it showed up in the States only a week or so later. I immediately fell in love with it, and I still consider it one of my most prized cds (out of a rather unseemly large collection!).

The brain child of brothers Tony and David Gulvin, Ordinary Psycho incorporates normal rock instruments—guitar, bass, and drums—but the band also employs lots of real strings (viola and cello, predominately), piano, double bass, and various forms of percussion. In the background to many of their songs, one can hear church choirs, children’s choirs, soundbites, samples of everyday life, and movie dialogue.  All of the music warrants careful listening and high-quality headphones.

In the band’s only EP, “Introducing Ordinary Psycho,” the 20-plus minutes of music tell a story revolving around Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Psycho (based originally on Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name). In what could best be described as a theatrical play or actually interesting performance art, Ordinary Psycho manages to ask the most important existential questions for any person—who am I, why am I here, what do I do—in a soundscape that flows as naturally as human creativity allows in this rather crazy world. The production on this little EP is immaculate and the flow of the music and the lyrics simply perfect.  Again, though I’ve heard the story of Marion Crane told many, many times, it never fails to grab me.  This is how powerful the Gulvin brothers can be in their art.

The lyrics of all three releases titillate the intellect as well as the soul. No mere lyrics of “baby, baby”, the Gulvin brothers offer some of the most serious social and cultural criticisms I’ve ever encountered since Roger Waters and before Andy Tillison. “Generation X gave away to Generation Bland” screams one of the first lines of the first song of the first album. The brothers employ lots of Catholic imagery (Gnostic, too), critiques of anything bureaucratic (corporate, governmental, or educational), and an existential embrace of some vision of life ranging from the carnival-esque and to what would be considered mildly anarchist and libertarian.

Though one can hear many of these same themes throughout the three Ordinary Psycho releases (always creatively presented and often with raw anger), no style of music predominates. Any attempt at labeling this music would fail miserably. There are straight rock, prog, punk, folk, theatrical/music, and acid elements throughout. Never does any album, song, or passage move predictably, though, and one style easily and readily blends into another. Each album makes sense, however, and each clearly and abundantly overflows with intense imagery and equally intense creativity.

Sadly, there’s very little to find about the band or its history. It’s official website, www.ordinary-psycho.co.uk is defunct. Utterly kaput. Across the web are questions from fans asking such things, repeatedly, as “Does anyone know what happened to Ordinary Psycho?” or “Does anyone know where to find” this or that Ordinary Psycho release? But, there’s no solid information out there.  When I googled the band, I came up with the piece I wrote about them last September.  I could quote myself, but I know as little about the band’s actual history today as I did then.  So, quoting myself would only be vain.

From what I can tell (and I have received a very nice email from Tony Gulvin, but with no details about the band or why it called it quits), the band began in the mid 1990s, released the EP and the two LPs, and ended itself around 2004.

Youtube has a couple of songs available as well as a few videos of some live performances. Classic Rock (the magazine) had one article about the band in July 2000, though it, in and of itself, is a bizarre article [as a quick note—I was able to access this about a year ago, but I’m unable to access it as I’m writing this piece].   It’s clear that the writer for Classic Rock had no idea how to classify the band.

It’s also very difficult to locate any of the Ordinary Psycho releases any where, even in specialty shops on the web. But, you should try. Really, you should. You should track these releases down as quickly as you can.  Make it a treasure hunt (sorry, I have small children–such enthusiastic imperatives just come into existence from time to time!)!  Listening to this band is an absolute feast for the ears, the mind, and the soul. I’m sorry they only produced what they produced. But, holy schnikees, it’s so much better to produce one great thing (or three great things) than a load of trash.  Really.

That Ordinary Psycho was and remains a cult band only adds to its mystery.   I feel today about the Gulvin Brothers the way many in the 1970s and 1980s felt about J.D. Salinger. His absence only added to his attraction.

Still, if the Gulvin brothers re-emerged, they’d find no greater fan than yours truly.

If nothing else, Tony and David, please release all of your music through Soundcloud or Bandcamp so that the world can enjoy your sheer brilliance. In this surreal existence of sorrows, the Good Lord knows we can always use a little extra truth, beauty, and goodness.

*****

Ordinary Psycho’s Discography

EP

“Introducing Ordinary Psycho, Special Limited Edition Discovery CD (With Marion Crane)”

LPs

The New Gothic LP (2000)

Vol. II (2001)

Ordinary Psycho’s Brief But Intense Burst: A Sampling

One EP, two LPs, and an insert with a mission statement.  What they lacked in quantity is made up for, a million times over, in quality.
One EP, two LPs, and an insert with a mission statement. What they lacked in quantity is made up for, a million times over, in quality.

 

Official website: http://www.ordinary-psycho.co.uk.  Totally and completely and absolutely defunct.

*****

A few songs, however, exist–however legally?–at Youtube.  Prog, rock, prog rock, folk, prog folk, acid prog, carnival prog, anarchist prog, Thoreauvian prog?

What say you?

Integrity’s Minstrel: John Bassett. Unearth (2014)

Unearth-Album-CoverA review of John Bassett, Unearth (Stereohead Records; release date: March 31, 2014).

I’m honestly not sure if my admiration for John Bassett knows many—if any—bounds.

When we first announced progarchy’s birth in the fall of 2012, Kingbathmat’s label reached out to us immediately.  As objective as I’m trained to be in my own actual day-to-day profession (though, I’ve become firmly convinced that so-called objectivity is highly overrated), it’s hard not to be grateful when someone, some band, or some label contacts us.  After all, it’s automatically a profound sign of trust, though always based on a leap of faith.

As reviewers and lovers of music, we’re, of course, not for sale.  Still, we are rather human.  Kindness and relationships make a difference in the ways we perceive artists.  In no genre of music is this more true than in prog, as the audience matters so deeply to the music—its creation and its longevity.  Whatever my many faults, disloyalty isn’t one of them.  As it turned out, though, I didn’t have to worry about any false motives on my part.  I was not only grateful to Kingbathmat for trusting us, but I also, thank the Good Lord, really liked their music as well as their trust!

I also immediately came to like—personally—two of its members, John Bassett and Bernardo Smirnoff (who goes by many aliases and seems to be one of rock’s greatest men of mystery).

Perhaps, all four members of the band are wonderful.  I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if this proved true.  But, I’ve not had the pleasure to meet the other two.  I do know, however, John and Bernardo—at least electronically—and they’re both truly great guys.  Really truly great guys.  The kind of guys I would love to spend some time with—maybe over a beer and discussing a meaningful book.

John Bassett Promo 3So, when I heard that John was releasing a solo album, I couldn’t help but be thrilled.  I was immediately curious as to what it would sound like.  Another Kingbathmat album?  I imagined the solo album to stand in relation to Kingbathmat’s other releases much as I think of Chris Squire’s solo album from 1975, Fish Out of Water.  It’s a critical piece of Yes history.  The same, I assumed, would prove true of John’s solo album.

As early reviews have come out regarding the forthcoming release, a number of reviewers have compared Unearth to much of David Gilmour’s work with Pink Floyd.  I’m sure that Bassett has listened to lots of Floyd, as we all have.  And though Gilmour’s work is so iconic, Bassett is simply better and more nuanced than even the best of Gilmour.  Gilmour is certainly amazing, and he always has that trademark sound, recognized anywhere.  But, frankly, Bassett has a better voice, more diverse talents with the guitar, and better lyrics.  This isn’t meant to be a knock against Gilmour.  The guy is brilliant.  Bassett is just better.

I’m not sure this comparison is worthwhile or fair, though.

As I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a review copy of the album over the past several weeks—and, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with it, listening to it at what one might call an addictive level—I’ve thought of many comparisons.  This might be Dan Fogelberg without the sappiness.  It might be Storm Corrosion without the pretension (as the ubercool David Elliott has argued, Storm Corrosion might be one of the biggest hoaxes on the prog community in years; Bassett is no hoax).  It might be Opal or Mazzy Star with a male voice.  It might be. . . well, we could keep going with this.

It’s worth stating this as directly as possible, though: John Bassett is his own man and his own artist.  He’s the kind of guy who would, I assume, take criticism very seriously for about an hour or two.  He might even feel a bit down if a truly negative review of his work came out.  The next morning, though, Bassett would’ve totally forgotten whatever was written about him, and he’d do his own thing any way, whether he remembered what had been written or not.

harry the anarchistAgain, Bassett is very much his own man.  It’s part of his immense charm.  And, the fact he doesn’t even realize—at any level—how charming, interesting, and charismatic he is, makes him even more interesting.  When I tried to tell him several months ago how important he was in the prog community (yes, I’m rather blunt and obnoxious at times—I’m sure you’re shocked), he just blew it off.  “Brad, I’m just a Muppet,” he wrote me.  Well, John, you are far more than a Muppet (though, I really like the Muppets, especially Animal, Sam the Eagle, and Harry the Anarchist).

So, the sum of it all?  This album, Unearth, is a manifesto for being your own person, just as John is his.  My best comparisons?  Imagine the lyrics of a young Neil Peart without the overtly Nietzschean strain.  Or imagine the lyrics of a middle-aged Neil Young, but anti-political rather than merely anti-rightest.  Or imagine the social justice of Andy Tillison (a man of equally brilliant integrity).  Put all of this together, and you have a John Bassett.  The lyrics are not only well written, they are sung with absolute belief and integrity.  Indeed, this entire album just exudes integrity.  As I’ve written elsewhere, Kingbathmat “reeks of integrity.”  The same, of course, is true for this solo album.  Lyrically, Bassett justly rails against injustice, superficiality, betrayal, and every single form of conformism.  This is a most confident and non-navel gazing individualism.  The individualism of a Keats or a Thoreau.

Musically, the songs range from the sublime (this word seems to fit more than does “beauty” for Bassett’s music) and the delicate to the clever and the intricate.  And, frankly, though I’m no musician, I’m as impressed with the keyboards as I am with the guitar.  In the ability to pull every thing together, Bassett is a master.

I must state a dream of mine.  If Kingbathmat ever released an album, a concept to be sure, that combined the drive of Kingbathmat and the pauses and reflections of Unearth, ably giving it an organic flow, the band would make an album that would not be just a great release of third-wave prog, but a worthy masterwork, an equal to the best of Genesis or Pink Floyd of Yes from the 1970s.

Please John and Bernard, think about it.  I’m already eager with anticipation, just imagining what could be. . . .

***

To order, go here.