This blog has, for all the usual modern reasons (COVID, nobody reads blogs anymore, I've been fucking busy etc.), become a bit of a wasteland in the last year or so. But if anyone's interested, I have a bunch of new audiovisual stuff up on Vimeo these days. Try it, you may like it!
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
No, it's not the end of this blog (although time constraints and more activity on my other site have made this place all but redundant these days), but the title of the debut album by my band from South London: Cassini Flyby.
Recorded over two years ago, it's been a slow journey (not unlike the Cassini mission) to a conclusive physical (and streamable) release. To save time, here's the official PR release to set you straight on what to expect on the album. Without being too egotistical about it all, it's a pretty cool slice of space jazz rock, propelled by Tom and Pete's fantastic rhythm section. My guitar just adds icing to an already explosive cake.
"In 2016 Tom Clarke (drums), Peter Marsh (bass & electronics) and Chris Jones (guitars) – all veterans of London's improvisational/experimental music scene - began regular sessions in the heart of London's Brixton. Combining a shared love of jazz, krautrock, Canterbury and electronica, the band began exploring the possibilities of improvisation, but combined with a strong rhythmic undertow.
Simultaneously, NASA's Cassini-Huygens probe, which had begun its own exploratory journey nearly 20 years beforehand, had entered the final phase of its mission: a series of data-gathering 'flybys' of Saturn and its satellites. During the band's earliest sessions, the probe was regularly sending back sublime and awe-inspiring images of our Solar System that seemed to mirror the ominous yet driving aesthetic at the heart of the trio's music. Suddenly, the band had a name…
Like all semi-improvised music, this was a delicate balancing act between form and chaos; between the solid and the ethereal. At the beginning of 2017, Tom and Peter entered Baby Microbe studios in Brixton to record a set of backing tracks which were subsequently sent to Chris; now living in Northern Germany. Guitar overdubs were recorded in Germany and then taken back to London to be mixed.
The Cassini mission's final approach toward Saturn's surface was known as the 'Grand Finale': a carefully pre-planned and audacious dance between the various moons and rings of the giant planet that ended in a fiery plunge into the super-dense atmosphere. This combination of daring, science and auto-destruction also plays out in the band's debut album. From the vastness of space to the microscopic click's and buzzes of digital circuitry under duress, Grand Finale is a wild ride into the unknown…"
The album was released on October 18th and is available via the Off label site here.
Alternatively the album is available to download or stream at these locations.
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
As ever, this blog squanders away in a state of unloved disrepair, but meanwhile I've cranked up the writing muscles again to bring you another woeful exploration of a great guitar solo, encased in a lousy song. This time it's the incredible Steve Hillage and his version of 'It's All Too Much'. Read it over at Lousysong.com...
Friday, May 05, 2017
Wednesday, November 04, 2015
One of my favourite guitarists recently played the Bielefeld Bunker and I was lucky enough to see him and his band in such intimate conditions. There are a few pictures of the gig on my photography blog, but also there's a rather tech-y (but fascinating to guitar nerds like me) interview with the great Norwegian on the Guitar Moderne blog. Check it out...
Tuesday, November 03, 2015
A break in my fallow blogging period to let you know about my latest project - a new EP under my Jonesidying pseudonym entitled: Noble Truth.
The EP is released as a digital download through the new label of my great friend Simon Hopkins: DGMFS Media. Below is the press release.
Many thanks to Simon, Sarah, Vera, and everyone else who said nice things.
The EP is released as a digital download through the new label of my great friend Simon Hopkins: DGMFS Media. Below is the press release.
jonesisdying is the performance name of Christopher Jones, a South London resident who specialises in making guitars sound as little like guitars as possible and who takes inspiration from space rock, psych, krautrock, Norwegian jazz, classic country and much else besides. Using electronic processing, found sounds and post-production, Chris seeks to express concepts rooted in Buddhist meditation and other more esoteric traditions, as well as primal emotional states.
noble truth contains four ambient pieces originally commissioned for an abandoned project. The initial recordings were then rescued, overdubbed, remixed and re-mastered when Chris realised that the work contained a core that existed entirely free of any external motivations.
- truth 1 - suffering
- truth 2 - causes
- truth 3 - cessation
- truth 4 - path
- Electric & acoustic guitars, synthesizer and left wing musical box: Christopher Jones
- Produced by Christopher Jones
- Mastered by Simon Hopkins
- Cover image: Hans Dieter Beetroot & Mukmuk
- Cover design: Vera Brüggemann
- For further information about jonesisdying, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Many thanks to Simon, Sarah, Vera, and everyone else who said nice things.
Friday, May 15, 2015
By the time you read this you'll probably have seen Mad Max Fury Road, George Miller's astounding return to the franchise he gave creative life to in 1979. And if you haven't… for once believe the hype.To echo the plaudits, MMFR is a huge, tattooed and scarified middle finger to just about every major studio blockbuster that claimed to be an 'action' movie in the last 30 years. It really is that good.
Releasing the movie a mere couple of weeks after the confused mess that is two and a half hours of Joss Whedon's studio exec-hamstrung (if you believe his recent whining in interviews) Avengers: Age of Ultron is a stroke of genius. After what seems like an eon of utterly CGI-drenched stuff based on (adolescent) comics and impossible physics where even 'normal' humans move with lightning speed and can survive any number of crushing collisions with walls that cave in like memory foam, here comes Miller reminding us that explosion-filled, loud, visceral thrills CAN make not only narrative sense, but can still have us gnawing at our cuticles like tiny children in front of an episode of Doctor Who as well. I swear that throughout the film, not ONCE did my mouth close. I think I may have even grasped the man next to me's hand at one point. MMFR is filled with a master's innate knowledge of what makes a simple chase sequence not only coherent and exciting, but almost enough to fill a screen for two whole hours without once becoming repetitive, boring or anything less than gripping. So how on earth has Miller managed this vastly welcome renaissance of a genre that looked so spent? Well, there's so much more going on under the hood (if you'll forgive the car metaphor) of Miller's glorious celebration of speed, destruction and (yes, really) feminism.
A lot of this may be down to Miller's Australian background. The freewheeling aesthetic at the heart of this movie draws heavily on the indigenous culture of gritty outback realism coupled with an anarchist's appreciation of those wide open spaces which we lack in the UK. For this reason there's a lot of Western about MMFR. But, as in the second and third Mad Max movies, it's a Western peopled by Australian crusties, But Miller goes far beyond mere body adornment and tattoos (and also avoids the annoyingly trite gewgaws of bloody steampunk - my particular favourite detail was the War Rig's human femur as a gear shift). Here the marks of identity that come with every character range from the fine white lines of subjugation and self-harm that decorate both Immortan Joe's's War Boys as well as his Wives. MMFR is a film that also belongs the tradition of Todd Browning, Luis Bunuel or Alejandro Jodorowsky, warping genre by revelling in physical non-conformity. Fury Road is filled to the brim with misshapen bodies, amputated limbs and freakish fashion. One brief scene involving women kept as a source of milk (to drink) could have sprung straight out of El Topo or The Magic Mountain. Even Charlize Theron's character has an arm missing, necessitating the use of a prosthetic. But this celebration of the ragged ends of a civilisation gone insane delights in the strangeness, letting the fever dream drift over the viewer until you inhabit this world. One can only imagine how the casting sessions went.
Secondly, for anyone who's forgotten how good the original Mad Max films were, one of Miller's most radical contributions to car chase movies was his revolutionary use of editing. This is cutting of the highest order, and it's a dark art that seemed to have been forgotten by every director since Michael Bay and explains why every second of every Transformers film is a confusing loud jumble of blurred nonsense. Every second of MMFR is coherent, and paced like a swiss watch on steroids. Even the rare moments where the film slows down to allow you to breathe are perfectly timed. There's one post-pile up moment where Max emerges from the golden sand which is just as oddly surreal and transfixing as all the hurled spears and war-mongering.
And for all its violence this is no testosterone fest, but a salutary lesson in post-apocalyptic feminism. Again, to bait all those Whedon fans, measure MMFR against the garbled fudging of women's roles in Avengers or even stuff like Firefly. Here each woman's role is formed by the grim implications of rape and slavery in a society where the simple act of survival of a tribe becomes twisted by despotism, tyranny and a bogus system of religious symbolism (the War Boys, in their desperate 'half-lives', face violent annihilation with a chrome death's head grin, sprayed from a can, believing they're heading for apotheosis in Valhalla). This is no accident, as Miller used feminist playwright Eve Ensler, an expert on the atrocities in the Congo as a consultant. Essentially the film is fascinated by the implications of power in a near-medieval society and finds the real wisdom residing in female strength. What's more (and this is massively heartening) a large number of major (and positive) roles go to women in their 60s and 70s. To be truly faithful to facts, the real hero of this film is Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa: a woman who has played a waiting game since childhood to gain freedom for her and her female charges.
A synopsis (as was discussed by my friend and I in the pub afterwards) is also another clue to where Miller and co. have absolutely hit the nail on the head. The plot is almost laughably simple. And simply bonkers. Again, compare this to Marvel's more recent product (discounting Guardians of the Galaxy, which was a real hoot) where plot threads and insanely cloddish expositional dialogue obscure the occasional whip-smart wisecrack. Miller has a veteran's instinct for what makes a film work. It may sound utterly pretentious, but his remarks about seeing Fury Road as a form of cinematic poetry makes perfect sense. He has stated that this is a film that could be seen (without any subtitles) anywhere in the world and it would still be completely comprehensible: and he's right. The whole film probably contains about ten pages of dialogue. This concision allows every other detail in the movie to help convey back stories and detail, giving it a richness that no amount of blurby exposition can solve. Tom Hardy as twitchy old Max, delivers scant remarks, all prefaced with unsure grunts which convey his fight with insanity by making us believe that he's come so far that nothing can go past unquestioned or without a worried shake of a guilt-filled head, filled with hallucinations of his dead family and friends. What's more, you don't even see his full face until about halfway through the movie.
To sum up: Theron hits the road in a giant 'War Rig' - a big black truck that looks like it just got pimped in a very dark fetish club - with treason on her mind. She's stolen the Citadel leader, Immortan Joe (played to the hilt by Max veteran Hugh Keays-Byrne) 's bevvy of 'Wives' (essentially the film's only conventional eye-candy): young women who are kept as breeding machines. No longer prepared to be treated as 'things' the women (one of whom is pregnant) attempt to reach a place of sanctuary. Joined by former road warrior, Max Rockatansky (Hardy) they then go for a two-hour chase across the best deserts I've seen since Lawrence of Arabia (in actual fact, Namibia). The post-apocalyptic hell serves (pretty much as Monument Valley did in John Ford's Stage Coach) as a superbly linear backdrop to the action, which involves pumped-up dune buggies that ROAR with throaty V8 engines along with an army of other modified gas-guzzling monstrosities. One even comes complete with a set of big war drums and a GUITARIST. This is a society which depends on the triple gods of water, oil and bullets. Pretty much like today, then…
Max and Furiosa cross a desert or two, and then go back again. Things blow up. People get mangled. And that's about all there is. And the amazing fact is that you really don't need more. I saw MMFR two days ago and I'm STILL thinking about it.
Of course, too much proselytising will transform a two-hour joyride through surreal mayhem into something it would never claim to be. And yet MMFR's brilliance is that it reclaims a genre grown so tired and hackneyed due to its reliance on a slickness born of studio accounting and computerised reliability. While Fury Road does boast CGI trickery, it merely serves as a way of more efficiently delivering the very real stunts and destruction wrought by Miller's cast and crew. never once do you doubt that what you see on screen is exactly how it would go down. Such suspension of disbelief seemed impossible in this day and age. It's taken a 70-year old Australian to show us that fun hasn't gone from our screens forever.
Saturday, March 14, 2015
So farewell then, Daevid Allen, the one, the only real Pot Head Pixie.
Since Kevin Ayers passed away a few years ago, this leaves only two original members of Soft Machine - the ‘Canterbury scene’’s most important band - left alive. And more importantly it leaves us with one less true maverick. It seems entirely appropriate that he died on Friday 13th...
Many have already said it far better already, but the wit, irreverence and irrepressible optimism which ran through his entire canon marked him out as a true original. Ironically, like many of my generation, I have arch-capitalist Richard Branson to really thank for my introduction to Allen and the Gong clan. Regular post-school visits to the local Virgin record shop in Coventry in around 1974 were spent staring longingly at the strange album covers and spending literally hours trying to decide which to buy with my woefully limited teenage funds. Oddly the first dip into the world of Pot Head Pixies and the little green planet outlined in Allen’s self-authored mythology was with the first of the classic ‘Radio Gnome trilogy’: Flying Teapot. This is strange because at the time Gong’s previous release, Camembert Electrique (first released on Jean Georgakarakos, Jean-Luc Young and Fernand Boruso’s BYG label in France in 1971) was also available for a bargain price of 59 pence. Having fallen deeply in love with Flying Teapot and its blend of silliness, motorik funk and cosmic electronica, Camembert Electrique became my second Gong purchase. (side note: I also bought Faust’s erm… challenging - for a teenage Bowie fan - Faust Tapes for the same price. The nascent Virgin label catalogue was, at the time, composed of a truly life-influencing blend of European oddness (krautrock, electronica etc.), along with the notorious Tubular Bells and various Canterbury, jazz-rock offshoots such as Henry Cow. In fact, I really should get round to writing about how virtually everything that label released in its first few years was to influence my musical tastes. But enough of the old-man-reminiscing bullshit.)
A few months later a school friend lent me Angel’s Egg (the second in the Radio Gnome trilogy) and the game was up - I was a fan. Its more coherent feel was bolstered with extraordinary musicianship, innumerable genre touch points from bebop to space rock and all topped off with Gilli Smyth’s frankly erotic space whisper and Allen’s deeper-than-you’d-realise philosophy (the whole notion of the flying teapot was indeed borrowed from Bertrand Russell, of all people). Even better, a lot of the album was recorded in a wood on a full-moon. Far OUT!
Allen’s roots lay not in the more commercially handicapped mid-‘60s hippie era but in its roots in beat culture from earlier in the decade. Moving from his native Australia in 1960 to the UK via Paris, he was a polymath more typical of the times, writing poetry and dabbling in the visual arts as well as playing jazz-influenced rock ’n’ roll. His credentials by this point even included working with William Burroughs. It was his shared love of jazz as well as his automatic status as role model due to his greater age and free-thinking, freewheeling peripatetic experience that drew the other, younger members of the early Soft Machine to him. These included the son of his Canterbury landlady - Robert Wyatt - on drums. It was only Allen’s forced expulsion from the band in 1968 (due to an expired visa that meant he couldn’t return to the UK following a French tour) which allowed the band to gradually morph from countercultural leading lights into full-on jazz-rock bores by the mid-‘70s. Back in France, Allen and partner Gilli Smyth forged the communal umbrella of Gong and their very own brand of space rock was born.
|Soft Machine w. Daevid (far right)|
Musically, DA was (as in all things) an oddity. In many ways he resembled a more cosmic John Mayall, drawing a ream of talented players into his fold while remaining true to his own idiosyncratic path (to the point of leaving Gong just as they looked set to make it big). Each of these players drawn, almost mystically into Allen’s lunar orbit, was comically re-christened as they became part of the Gong cast of characters. Thus, bebop and world music sax specialist, Didiere Malherbe became ‘Bloomdido Bad De Grass’, and future Hawkwind electronics alumni, Tim Blake was dubbed ‘Hi T Moonweed’ etc. He himself used the names Bert Camembert, Dingo Virgin and many more. The band’s revolving roster of musicians included ex-members of Magma (Francis Moze), Yes (Bill Bruford), The Nice (Brian Davison), Kevin Ayers’ band (Steve Hillage) and even jazz rock legends Pip Pyle, Laurie Allan and Pierre Moerlen (as you can maybe tell, the band had trouble hanging on to drummers): the latter of whom went on to lead the band once Allen quit in ’75.
Unlike Mayall’s sturdy and (musicologically) important but intrinsically dull blues appropriations, Daevid had chops that put him in a class of his own, both philosophically and aurally. A friend often used to point out that early Softs and Gong recordings (before he teamed up with Steve Hillage) bear the mark of a true original on the guitar. For a thorough exploration of his technique I recommend the aforementioned Camembert Electrique, or his earliest solo album, Bananamoon. But in terms of true innovation on six strings he struck gold much earlier in the ‘60s. Following the Soft Machine’s appearance at the legendary Alexandra Palace 14 Hour Technicolour Dream in 1967, Allen witnessed Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd in their full acid-drenched glory. It was Barrett’s technique of ‘stroking’ the strings with a polished zippo lighter (itself, a technique borrowed from AMM’s Keith Rowe) that led to Allen ‘inventing’ ‘Glissando guitar’ (also referred to by him on occasion as ‘aluminium croon’): a method of using massive delay along with the use of polished surgical instruments to coax ethereal sounds from his guitar. It was adopted by Steve Hillage and influenced a slew of other guitarists (including… ahem… myself), and if there’s ONE thing alone that Daevid should be remembered for, it’s this.
Allen himself was a gloriously self-effacing and honest man who played the holy fool: part guru, part inane joker. His two volumes of autobiography make great reading, not only for his unshakeable belief in the spiritual quest which marked his muse, but for the honesty with which he paints himself as no saint, caught up in a business which rarely suffers such eccentricity for long. Despite the plaudits currently flowing about the man’s generosity of spirit, he, himself admits his tendency for an occasionally fiery temper matched with an egotism that stood at odds with his world view but was necessary to get his message across. But overall Daevid was a true idealist who never quit the search for real alternatives to late capitalism, and it often seems a shame that his adoption by the Glastonbury/Hebden Bridge brigade perhaps hampered such dialogue from reaching a larger audience. While the musical imprint of work he was involved with was immeasurably deep on my own tastes and directions, the world which he envisioned and the simple, playful ways in which it was explained were my first true introduction to so many things; from Eastern philosophy to consciousness-expansion. Like the fading traces of an acid trip, the end result always saw you returned to earth with a bump (just like Allen’s alter-ego, Zero The Hero at the close of the You album) but the journey was always so much fun.
A few years back I finally saw the classic band, along with all the attendant offshoots and followers of the Gong family, at their Unconvention in Amsterdam’s Melkweg. That one weekend still stands as possibly one of the most joyous, warm events in my life. The sense that everyone was there for the same reason was overpoweringly positive and for a brief spell I truly felt like I’d come home.
In short, he was a real hero, not a zero…
Friday, February 06, 2015
Famous bands' first guitarists: there’s possibly a book to be written there. You know: the ones that either left, lost their marbles or turned up at the studio to find that their gear was in a skip outside with no explanation (only to get a phone call from a roadie two months later) etc. etc.
From The Yardbirds onwards (Eric Clapton making way for the superior Jeff Beck) the ‘60s and ‘70s are littered with examples of groups who lost founding axe men only to finally make it big. Pink Floyd, of course, had Syd Barrett who, at least, had a few months working WITH his replacement, David (don’t call me ‘Dave’) Gilmour before he was ousted; The Moody Blues lost future Wings member, Denny Laine, but ended up with Justin Hayward (un)luckily for them; Thin Lizzy’s Eric Bell drank himself out of a job, only to find that his replacement of TWO guitarists would lead the Irish rockers to world domination; Jethro Tull replaced Mick Abrahams with Martin Barre; Genesis parted ways with Anthony Phillips due to his stage fright (which almost split the band up) before they opted for Steve Hackett; and Yes ejected Pete Banks after a brief power struggle (and a disagreement about the use of an orchestra on their second album, Time and a Word), meaning that they could employ boring old perfectionist, Steve Howe.
Which brings me to the subject of this episode of Lousy Song, Great Solo: David ‘Davy’ O’List, who had the honour of being in TWO bands who went on to greater things after he left them: The Nice and Roxy Music. The poor guy must have felt cursed.
Born in Barnet, and rising to prominence in London’s swinging sixties scene in a third rate bunch of psychedelic chancers known as The Attack (whose biggest claim to fame was that they recorded ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ a few days before Jeff Beck), he was nonetheless a gritty, suitably far-out guitarist who (not unlike Pete Banks in Yes) actually managed that most difficult of tricks: having a truly distinctive sound. Unfortunately (again, as with Banks) the ability to play is rarely enough when you’re in a band with some other erm… strong personalities. Fate was ultimately not kind to these men.
O’List was recruited to join the ensemble that had initially been put together as P.P. Arnold’s backing band by Immediate label boss, and industry manager/provocateur, Andrew Loog Oldham, The Nice. Of course the band already had one show-off in their ranks in the shape of organ-mutilator, Keith Emerson. However at this stage Emerson’s legendary stage high-jinks were tempered by a deft touch on the B3 which owed a lot to his jazz heroes (Jimmy Smith etc.). He had yet to meet Bob Moog and unleash the full force of progressive rock on an unsuspecting public. But along with the powerful and sprightly rhythm section of Brian Davison (drums) and Lee Jackson (bass and gruff vocalisation) The Nice were, in truth, true pioneers. Their sound was both muscular and psychedelic, matching sonic experimentation with classical chops and the ability to stretch out arrangements live. Add to this Emerson’s exhibitionism, such as his tendency to stab his Hammond organ with a Hitler Youth dagger (given to him by their roadie at the time, Lemmy Kilminster), and the band were all set to become one of THE bands to watch in the Summer of Love.
Equally adept at mauling respectable stuff by Bernstein (‘America’) or Bach (ahem… ‘Brandenburger’) as well as writing their own freak-friendly numbers, The Nice looked set for big things. But this was 1967 and show business had yet to understand how to handle or present such wild stuff. It’s here that O’List’s story not only crosses paths with Syd Barrett, but even comes to mirror it. The band were booked on a ‘package’ tour with what now seems like a dream ticket for anyone interested in the period. Stuffed low down on a bill that included The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Move, Pink Floyd and Amen Corner, time constraints meant that each act played short sets which veered wildly in content and barely allowed for the full force of their stage craft. Remember, this was famously the period of misguided ‘commercialisation’ which was leading Syd Barrett to rapidly unravel. With a hit (‘See Emily Play’) on their hands and faced with screaming teenagers, such a tour didn’t sit well with the Floyd (or indeed many of these acts who were trying to break free of their ‘pop’ shackles in search of something loftier and more exploratory). Syd became more and more unreliable as the tour trundled on.
It’s interesting to note that Syd’s legendary instability actually led to O’List being drafted in at the last minute to sit in for the missing Madcap at a few shows. By all accounts he was more than up to the task. And yet, less than a year later, the strains of competing with an ego as large as Emerson’s had begun to take a similar toll on the guitarist. Well, either that or some kind of chemicals... Scant footage of the band (see below) shows O’List cowering in the background, unable to compete with the organist's flailing acrobatics. The camera barely registers his presence.
What’s more, some accounts paint O’List as suffering similar mental troubles to Barrett, but whatever the truth, he, himself, became unreliable, arriving late for gigs etc. and following a fateful gig at Croydon’s Fairfield Hall the axe fell.
It’s here that O’List’s destiny almost crosses paths with another of the guitarists mentioned above - Steve Howe - as it was he who was initially auditioned as a replacement. When he eventually turned down the job the band continued as a trendy power trio (in the mould of long-forgotten pioneers, Clouds), upped the classical pretensions and eventually imploded due to lack of success and Emerson’s longings to find a better vocalist (more of which later) and be taken seriously as a composer (stop sniggering at the back).
A couple of years drifting in rock limbo for O’List ended briefly when he placed an ad in the music press looking for a band to fill the void in his professional life. As it happened the person to answer was none other than Bryan Ferry who’d seen O’List in concert at Newcastle City hall in 1968 and had been impressed. And for half a year O’List helped Roxy Music gain shape, even up to the point of recording five numbers for John Peel’s Top Gear show, all of which would eventually turn up on the band’s debut album a year later. By all accounts (barring O’List’s – his own account makes for some mighty peculiar reading) the guitarist’s eccentricities quickly wore on the other members and with a young PhilipTargett-Adams (later to be renamed Manzanera) in the wings as their road manager, the writing was on the wall. Once more fame and fortune had eluded O’List.
This isn’t the end of his story, however. As the above linked interview recounts, O’List’s hasty ejection from Roxy seemed to have left Ferry feeling uncharacteristically guilty, and he was invited back to provide some guitar on Ferry’s second solo album, Another Time, Another Place. O’List’s claims to have played on the later hit, ‘Let’s Stick Together’ seem somewhat far-fetched, yet his contribution to Ferry’s ‘74 hit: a version of Dobie Grey’s mod classic, ‘The ‘In’ Crowd’, is an undeniable fact. I’d even considered picking this number as the subject for this LSGS. The wigged-out solo at the close of the track is just about the only thing that redeems its rather plodding approach. Attacking a soul classic with a rhythm section made up of not only Roxy’s Paul Thompson (never a subtle drummer) but also John Wetton on bass was never really going to suit the number, and Ferry’s delivery can only be described as dull.
But to return to the subject of this article: back in 1967 The Nice were signed to Immediate records and recording their debut album which went under the amusingly cod-serious title of The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (see what they did there?). This was to be The Nice at their most concise and approachable as well as their most psychedelic. The album, coupled with the single version of ‘America’ (which features a great solo by O’List at its core), would turn out to be one of the great defining documents of English psych. From the revved up re-tooling of Dave Brubeck’s ‘Blue Rondo A La Turk’ (here renamed ‘Rondo’) via the full-on baroque pop explosions of the title track and outtake (included on reissue), ‘Diamond Hard Blue Apples Of The Moon’ to the creepy experimentalism of tracks like ‘Dawn’; the album is actually a delightful product of its time. O’List is on fire throughout: just check out his explosive intro to ‘Bonny K’. However, also very much a product of its time are Lee Jackson’s hokey, jokey, florid lyrics.
While I can understand why Emerson would eventually tire of Jackson’s rasping, oft-shouted vocals, preferring the angelic pipes of Greg Lake as an accompaniment to his mock-symphonies, I have a bit of a soft spot for his voice. On later work, such as their take on Dylan’s ‘Country Pie’, I think his Geordie bluster fits the bill nicely. But there are times when it can grate terribly. One such moment is on the song chosen for this series: ‘The Cry Of Eugene’.
Closing the album, this track sums up just about everything both right and wrong with The Nice. Emerson’s delicate organ intro displays a sensitivity that runs counter to his usual, more outré approach (as on the bombastic piano ending to ‘Tantalizing Maggie’ which Alan ‘Fluff' Freeman used as a comedy jingle for years on his Radio 1 rock show) and promises far more than is delivered. O’List at this stage limits himself to a weird, overdriven viola-like accompaniment. Enter Jackson, burbling what can be only described as psychedelic drivel. The song’s dreamy atmosphere is completely broken by his barking delivery of lines like ‘’The cry of three plus two times nothing at all, splits all time’s mind asunder.’’ Please, if anyone has the foggiest idea what the song’s about, let me know. Here, the internet has failed me…*
Building in intensity the song reaches a histrionic zenith at the exact mid-point where a frankly wobbly cornet adds a touch of typical English baroque-ness accompanied by Emerson’s thumping Rachmaninov impersonations and all hope seems lost. But out of nowhere at 2’ 45’’ comes O’List playing an arpeggiated, fuzz-drenched six-note motif that rips open the feyness and forcefully shoves the song into its tortured climax. Six notes, played over and over but they all matter. It’s as if someone left the studio door open and the zombie ghost of Jeff Beck walked right in. From this point on all hell breaks loose. Beneath Jackson’s laboured delivery O’List goes positively APESHIT. I can still remember the first time I heard this as a teenager, and even then I recognised the greatness. And, if that weren’t enough, as a masterstroke, 20 seconds before the end of the track the motif reappears, devouring all before it until the song does the only thing it can: stop dead.
Nearly 50 years on, the track (and the album) remain favourites of mine, mainly for O’List’s manic attack. Jackson obviously felt offended by his bandmates’ treatment of the song as he re-recorded an insipid version on the debut album by his follow-up band, Jackson Heights. This version just emphasised how lousy the song was, and yet O’List’s solo remains a highlight of British ‘60s rock.
*Also, I have no idea if the use of the name Eugene had any influence whatsoever on The Pink Floyd's later 'Careful With That Axe Eugene'.