Solid Space: Jon Anderson’s cosmic voyage

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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

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“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

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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.

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• 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

Weekend links 507

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The next release on the Ghost Box label will be Puzzlewood by Plone, “unironically joyful and melodic electronica; informed by library music, music for children’s TV and a deep passion for the history of music technology”. The album will be available in April. Design, as always, is by Julian House.

• “With his panting breath and dripping sweat infused in each page of his memoir, Patrick Cowley describes himself on his knees, bending over and ‘worshipping Phallus.'” Maxwell Shand on Dark Entries‘ “holy trinity” of Patrick Cowley’s Mechanical Fantasy Box, Hot Rod To Hell by Roy Garrett & Man Parrish, and Maxx Mann’s gay synth-pop.

• “We’re gonna do economic activity—without money!”: Inside the criminal glamour of the San Francisco Diggers with Kent Minault. The third installment of a verbal history of the hippie anarchists by Jay Babcock.

• “Susanna Hoffs and friends remember David Roback, who stayed creative, and enigmatic, to the end.” By Randall Roberts.

My connection with [raga] was not to be able to duplicate or emulate it but to learn from it. I combined it with the electronics and the harmonizer and things like that. But I would have a line that was being drawn. You’re thinking about it like a shape that’s being drawn on a canvas. It’s a line that’s being drawn and another. You’re holding three pencils at once while you’re drawing on the wall. So, you’re able to get the shapes. This was my thing with it, because I was into the harmony that it would make. So, it was an easy and natural thing to do, was to go and move into the electronics. Then we had equipment that was doing transposition and all that kind of thing. So that’s one little part of it.

Jon Hassell talking to Aquarium Drunkard about his first album, Vernal Equinox, which is reissued later this month

• Published next month by Strange Attractor Press: Rated SavX: The Savage Pencil Skratchbook.

• They came from outer Finland: the town where everyone saw UFOs, as photographed by Maria Lax.

• Mix of the week: Through A Landscape Of Mirrors Vol. VI – Sweden II by David Colohan.

Moonstrips Empire News (1967) by Eduardo Paolozzi.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Shelley Duvall Day.

Graham Massey‘s favourite albums.

Phallus Dei (1969) by Amon Düül II | Wrong Eye (1990) by Coil | Red Scratch (1994) by ELpH

Weekend links 494

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Aurora Borealis (1865) by Frederic Edwin Church.

• December is over-stuffed with enervating cultural lists, most of them reminding you of things which received enough attention earlier in the year. Better value than these—and always unpredictable—is John Waters‘ choice of favourite films; unpredictable and enlightening are the Secret Satan selections at Strange Flowers which come in two flavours: books originally published in English and books translated from other languages.

Flash Of The Spirit (1988), a collaboration between Jon Hassell and African group Farafina (with production by Hassell plus Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois), receives its first ever reissue on double-vinyl and CD next year. The last piece on the album is the 11-minute Masque (Strength).

• “In 1968, Federico Fellini decided he was going make the greatest homosexual movie ever made. What he meant by a homosexual movie, no one was quite sure, but it was going to be great.” Paul Gallagher on Federico Fellini’s delirious (and distinctly homosexual) Satyricon.

• “Here’s the typography of the next decade; the age of font minimalism is coming to a close,” says Rachel Hawley. I’ve been using Didones for the past decade so I’ll carry on happily ignoring the trends.

• More obituaries for comic artist Howard Cruse: Justin Hall at The Comics Journal; Trudy Ring at The Advocate; and Richard Sandomir at the New York Times.

• “Cowley records a kind of utopian sleaze that’s breathtaking.” Brett Josef Grubisic reviews Patrick Cowley’s sex journal of the 1970s, Mechanical Fantasy Box.

• At the BFI: Carmen Grey on where to begin with Sergei Parajanov, and Matthew Thrift on 10 essential Fritz Lang films.

A promo video by Julian House for Paul Weller’s In Another Room EP which is released in January by Ghost Box.

• At Aquarium Drunkard: San Francisco Radical Laboratory and the Mysterious Moogist of Altamont.

• Mix of the week: Through A Landscape Of Mirrors Vol. V – France III by David Colohan.

Aurora Australis (2005) by Émilie Simon | Iceblink (Aurora Borealis Mix) (2011) by Netherworld | Aurora Liminalis (2013) by William Basinski & Richard Chartier