Weekend links 567

dean-osibisa.jpg

Cover art by Roger Dean for Woyaya (1971), the second album by Osibisa. Dean’s flying elephants made their first appearance on the group’s debut album, and have been an Osibisa emblem ever since.

• Many of Roger Dean’s early album covers are better creations than the music on the albums they decorate. This isn’t the case with Osibisa, however, a Ghanaian group based in London whose discography includes (uniquely, I think) two covers by Dean together with one by Mati Klarwein. The group’s first two albums, Osibisa and Woyaya, are exceptional blends of Ghanaian music with rock, funk and jazz whose omission from the generally reliable Kozmigroov list is a serious error. Garth Cartwright talked to Teddy Osei and Lord Eric Sugumugu about Osibisa past and present.

• “The antiheroes of Angry Young Men cinema railed against the limited life opportunities available to them. Wired and frustrated, they especially chafed against girlfriends, wives, domesticity. Yet they never questioned heterosexuality itself. Not, at least, until The Leather Boys (1964), a relatively little-known film directed by Canadian expatriate Sidney J. Furie.” Sukhdev Sandhu on a film about gay life in pre-decriminalisation Britain that offered a slightly more positive view of its subject than the justifiably angst-ridden Victim (1961).

• “Brian Aldiss once confided to me that the big problem with American science fiction writers was that they loved to write about Mars but knew nothing about Indonesia.” Bruce Sterling on the attractions of being an expatriate writer who adopts a foreign persona, as he did for the stories collected in Robot Artists and Black Swans.

• New music: Fire Tower by The Grid / Fripp. Dave Ball, Richard Norris and Robert Fripp have been collaborating on and off since The Grid’s 456 album in 1992. Fire Tower is a preview of Leviathan, a new album out in June on CD/DVD and double vinyl.

• RIP Michael Collins, the astronaut who orbited the Moon alone, listening to Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz in the Command Module of Apollo 11 while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were walking on the satellite’s surface.

• “‘Walking with a thesis’ could easily function as the subtitle for a significant number of Iain Sinclair’s books.” Tobias Carroll on Iain Sinclair and the radical act of walking through a city.

• “‘Plain speaking, like plain food, is a puritan virtue and thus no virtue at all,’ Meades pronounces.” Steven Poole reviews Pedro and Ricky Come Again by Jonathan Meades.

• Building a panorama: Clive Hicks-Jenkins‘ latest progress report on his Cocteau-inspired illustrated edition of Beauty and the Beast.

• At Unquiet Things: Groovy Goddesses From Dimension X: Gene Szafrans’ Kaleidoscopic Book Covers.

• From leather boys to leather men: Miss Rosen on the little-known photography of Tom of Finland.

Alexis Petridis attempts the impossible again, with a list of Grace Jones’ best songs.

• At Dennis Cooper‘s: Cars.

I’m A Leather Boy (1967) by The Leather Boy | Warm Leatherette (1980) by Grace Jones | Leather Bound (2017) by Patrick Cowley

Do You Have The Force?

force.jpg

Forget all the Disco Sucks bollocks, this was where the creativity was. Many of the qualities of Disco that were so derided were mirror images of those qualities that were celebrated in Punk: an annihilating insistence on sex as opposed to puritan disgust; a delight in a technology as opposed to a Luddite reliance on the standard Rock group format; acceptance of mass production as opposed to individuality. It was the difference between 1984 and Brave New World: between a totalitarian nightmare or a dystopia accomplished through seduction. […] Disco’s stateless, relentlessly technological focus lent itself to space/alien fantasies which are a very good way for minorities to express and deflect alienation: if you’re weird, it’s because you’re from another world. And this world cannot touch you.

— Jon Savage

Don’t let that title fool you into expecting more blather about Space Nazis or belligerent muppets, these are not the Droids you’re looking for. Do You Have The Force? is catnip for this listener, being a compilation of electronic/dance obscurities that’s also another album compiled by the very authoritative Jon Savage. One of Savage’s curatorial hallmarks is a wandering from the beaten path in search of previously unnoticed trails and connections. This 80-minute collection continues the trend with an eclectic mix of energetic space disco and post-punk futurism, together with an extended ambient interlude by The Sea Of Wires, the British cassette world’s answer to the Berlin School of synthesizer music. I’d only heard a couple of these selections before, and the ones I had heard are all unpredictable choices: tracks by Suicide (Mr Ray) and The Flying Lizards (Steam Away) from each group’s less popular second albums; also Invocation, an obscure piece by Cabaret Voltaire from their post-Rough Trade, pre-Virgin recordings for the Disques du Crépuscule label.

Most of the unknown quantities here are all stimulating enough to warrant further investigation, even Droids (Fabrice Cuitad & Yves Hayat) whose Star Wars-themed dance groove may be excused its attachment to the wretched Lucas mythos by virtue of there having been a lot of similar opportunism at work in the late 1970s. In the notes to his album Savage mentions two chart-topping singles that might have warranted inclusion: I Feel Love by Donna Summer (previously), and the majestic Magic Fly by Space. The latter may be heard on the first Cosmic Machine collection of French electronic music, together with another track by Droids. Both of the Cosmic Machine collections make excellent companions for Do You Have The Force?, as does the four-disc Close To The Noise Floor collection, another exploration of the byways of Britain’s post-punk electronic scene which also includes an instrumental by the enigmatic Sea Of Wires. Savage ends his collection with a Mexican mix of tracks by the great Patrick Cowley, a producer who pointed the way to an electronic future he didn’t live long enough to experience for himself.

Do You Have The Force? is out now on Caroline True Records. Kudos to the label for making a CD available. Some of us still prefer to shoot lasers at spinning silver discs, and will support those who continue to produce them.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Just the ticket: Cabaret Voltaire
Summer of Love
Queer Noises

Solid Space: Jon Anderson’s cosmic voyage

olias1.jpg

Jon Anderson’s solo debut, Olias Of Sunhillow, is reissued this week in a double-disc set comprising a remastered CD plus an audio DVD. I’d been hoping for some time that this album might be given a proper reissue, it’s one I like a great deal but my old CD has never sounded as good as it ought to. The album may command cult status round here but you don’t see it mentioned anywhere outside Yes forums or partisan enclaves like the Prog Archives. This post may be taken as a small corrective to the neglect.

olias2.jpg

Olias Of Sunhillow was released in 1976, and was the most unusual of all the solo albums recorded by the individual members of Yes in the mid-70s, being a spin-off from some of the group’s early albums, or at least their cover art. Roger Dean’s first cover work for the group was on Fragile in 1971, for which he painted a miniature world rather like one of MC Escher’s planetoids. This was Dean’s idea, the band had suggested a broken piece of porcelain as the cover image. The back cover of the album showed the same planet in a state of fragmentation with a fish-like spaceship floating above it (see below). Another drawing of the fish-ship was added to the front cover before the album’s release, and it’s this ship, and the narrative it suggests, that leads eventually to Anderson’s solo album. Two years after Fragile, the planetary disintegration had turned into an exodus on the group’s triple-live album, Yessongs, the back cover of which shows pieces of planet being towed through space by a similar fish-ship. The other panels of the cover depict the arrival of these fragments on a newer, larger world. Anderson’s album takes this sequence of events then filters them through Vera Stanley Alder’s mysticism to craft a musical odyssey which Discogs describes as:

…the story of an alien race and their journey to a new world due to catastrophe. Olias, the title character, is the chosen architect of the glider Moorglade, which will be used to fly his people to their new home. Ranyart is the navigator for the glider, and Qoquaq is the leader who unites the four tribes of Sunhillow to partake in the exodus.

olias3.jpg

For many years in British music circles it would have been a grave error to even acknowledge this album’s existence, never mind admit to actually liking it. This was partly the old animus against progressive rock, an unexamined prejudice that lasted well into the 1990s, but Anderson’s album had so many strikes against it that it might have stood as the winner of a disapproval lottery for the more ideologically rigid writers and readers of the NME. It’s Jon Anderson (strike 1), the lead singer of progressive rock (2) group Yes (3), whose album is a science fiction (4)/ fantasy (5) concept (6), littered with Tolkien-like invented names and words (7), and with a multi-page sleeve embellished with detailed fantasy illustrations (8) by David Fairbrother-Roe. The design was art directed by Hipgnosis, who subsequently designed the next two Yes albums. Anderson originally wanted Roger Dean to create the packaging, which would have provided a further strike of disapproval against the album, but Dean’s career had gone into overdrive following the publication of Views so he either didn’t have the time or didn’t want to be involved. In Views Dean mentions “another project” based on the fish-ship’s journey which may be a reference to Anderson’s forthcoming album, the credits of which thank Dean for “planting the seed”.

views1.jpg

Roger Dean’s original artwork for Fragile (1971). Another fish-ship was added to the final cover art.

Continue reading “Solid Space: Jon Anderson’s cosmic voyage”

Weekend links 537

clarke.jpg

“The dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet.” The Masque of the Red Death illustrated by Harry Clarke, 1919.

• 2020 is the year of enormous pink lady faces on book covers, apparently. As someone who spends little time following cover trends, the identification of a new variety of herd behaviour among designers or their art directors is always fascinating and bizarre.

Tomoko Sauvage plays her porcelain and glass instruments inside a disused water tank in Berlin for a new album, Fischgeist. The Wire has previews.

• At The Paris Review: Craig Morgan Teicher on the later work of Dorothea Tanning, and Daniel Mendelsohn on the rings of Sebald.

Unlike many of the rapidly forgotten [Nobel] “winners”, and despite the occasional sniffy critic wondering “who still reads it?” Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet has never been out of print since he published it in 1957. The centenary of his birth in 2012 raised a flurry of revived interest in Durrell. Indeed the whole Durrell family has been popping up regularly in reprints of Lawrence’s novels and poetry, in his brother Gerald’s popular tales of his “family and other animals,” and in several TV series about their life in Greece on Corfu island in the late 1930s. A BBC interviewer once asked Lawrence about the difference between his writing and brother Gerald’s. He replied: “I write literature. My brother writes books that people read.”

I’ve read Gerald and I’ve read Lawrence; I prefer Lawrence, thank you. Thomas O’Dwyer examines the chef d’oeuvre of the elder Durrell, The Alexandria Quartet

• Dark Entries shares Patrick Cowley’s cover of Chameleon by Herbie Hancock. The original is here.

• Saunas, sex clubs and street fights: how Sunil Gupta captured global gay life.

• Inside the Grace Jones exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary.

Rob Walker on how dub reggae’s beats conquered 70s Britain.

• Who invented the newspaper? John Boardley reports.

Spread The Virus (1981) by Cabaret Voltaire | Cut Virus (2003) by Bill Laswell | The Unexclusive Virus ~even our invincible religion “Technology” cannnot~ (2006) by Kashiwa Daisuke

Weekend links 534

hasui.jpg

Beautiful night – moon and stars, Miyajima Shrine (1928) by Kawase Hasui.

• One announcement I’d been hoping for since last summer was the news of a second box of Tangerine Dream albums to follow the excellent In Search Of Hades collection. The latter concentrated on the first phase of the group’s Virgin recordings, up to and including Force Majeure. This October will see the release of a new set, Pilots Of Purple Twilight, which explores the rest of the Virgin period when Johannes Schmoelling had joined Froese and Franke. Among the exclusive material will be a proper release of the soundtrack for Michael Mann’s The Keep (previously a scarce limited edition), together with the complete concert from the Dominion Theatre, London. Also out in October, Dark Entries will be releasing a further collection of recordings from the recently discovered tape archive of Patrick Cowley. The new album, Some Funkettes, will comprise unreleased cover versions, one of which, I Feel Love by Donna Summer, is a cult item of mine that Cowley later refashioned into a celebrated megamix.

• “Did you know that Video Killed The Radio Star was inspired by a JG Ballard story?” asks Molly Odintz. No, I didn’t.

Casey Rae on the strange (musical) world of William S. Burroughs. Previously: Seven Souls Resouled.

• “And now we are no longer slaves”: Scott McCulloch on Pierre Guyotat’s Eden Eden Eden at fifty.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Frank Jaffe presents…Dario Argento and his world of bright coloured blood.

• At Wormwoodiana: The Serpent Calls. Mark Valentine on a mysterious musical instrument.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Long-Exposure Photographs of Torii Shrine Gates by Ronny Behnert.

• Mix of the week: mr.K’s Soundstripe vol 4 by radioShirley & mr.K.

• Rising sons: the radical photography of postwar Japan.

• The illicit 1980s nudes of Christopher Makos.

• RIP Diana Rigg.

Garden Of Eden (1971) by New Riders Of The Purple Sage | Ice Floes In Eden (1986) by Harold Budd | Eden (1988) by Talk Talk