Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mark Burgess — View From A Hill

Well, I finally recevied and read through Mark Burgess' autobiography this past week. Besides the book being autographed and personally addressed (!!!!!!), I have to say, I am thoroughly impressed and excited about it. I ran through its 700+ pages in about ten days and it's the quickest read I can recall from recent years.

(I interrupted Henry James' Wings of the Dove, which I was about halfway through, to take on View From A Hill and now I'm a little disappointed to go back to it, in complete honesty)

My initial thought of the book is that it's a completely essential document for any fan of post-punk music of any sort. Startling candid in his approach, Mark only scarcely hides explicit details about coming of age in the new wave era, so you can gurantee that there's plenty of sex, drugs and rock and roll. But there is a stark, humanist slant to the whole thing —as if that's any surprise to longtime fans— that places extra emphasis on nature, the looming despair of life, being an activist for human rights and general good will and the downright disgusting experience that is sushi bars. Yep, it's all here... and for Chameleons, it is the virtual bible, complete with a trip to Jerusalem (no, seriously).

In the midst of the book's recent release, the message boards over at has been buzzing, so here are some posts that I've made while reading the book and in the initial aftermath of finishing it...

In response to the general topic on the book:

"Jun 8 2008, 11:58 AM

Well, I'm through the first six chapters (about 250 pages in) so far and I have to say, the story is absolutely engaging.

The writing style is very quick and kind of scattered. It feels like perhaps Mark thought of things he wanted to include before writing and then went back and pieced them together afterwords. He uses similar devices in different settings and while that would become tedious under any other circumstance, as a huge Chams fan, you stop noticing because the subject is aboslutely fascinating.

So, in other words, sure it's only for the biggest of fans, but for us, what a gold mine.

So far, my only big complaints would be 1) that it's scattered and not completely linear and 2) there are quite a few grammatical errors, but that is usually the case with first editions in smaller runs and is completely not Mark's fault.

And mine was signed and dated 10 May. So, yeah.

In the same topic, in regards to all of Mark's recollections of meeting other rock stars on the road:

"Jun 12 2008, 07:56 PM

'Robert Smith struck me as a rude, arrogant poseur.'

At that point, I laughed coffee through my nose.

In the same topic, in regards to the fact that the Paypal receipts for payment on all pre-orders had been printed on the back of original proofs from different pages of the book, making each one a collector's item in itself:

"Jun 13 2008, 07:11 AM

No, I think that was done intentionally. As an extra little collectible, so to speak.

I was also very excited to see that.

(to which a clever co-poster replies, 'I thought Mark was just recycling.' Hardy har har)

Immediately after reading a nice little tidbit:

"Jun 16 2008, 01:41 PM

So, I'm about two-thirds of the way through and I have to say the biggest revelation for me so far is that the drums on 'Serocity' are... Reg beatboxing!

I laughed out loud when I read that part, out of pure excitement.

And one last random burst of excitement in that topic at a random piece of trivia:

"Jun 20 2008, 03:56 PM

In other 'Holy shit THAT was Reg?!' news...



And yes, just finished this morning and the last chapter is very much a scattered all over the place bit of personal manifesto and philosophy. Interesting, but hard to grasp some of the concepts he discusses at such short length.

In a topic titled, View From A Hill Editor's Section, Find a typo, win a quid, I very sassily retorted:

"June 22 2008, 10:34 PM

Yes, there are errors upon errors in the book —sometimes several on the same page— but, really, is the narrative lost on any of us?

The main people are addressed as who they are —it's not like Mark said 'Reg' and actually meant 'Marc Bolan'— and all of the ideas and concepts are clear. The biggest mistakes in the book are equal to typing 'teh' on instant messenger or some other ridiculously small mistake where everyone knows what you actually meant.

I, for one, am absolutely enamoured with the book after one cover to cover reading... and I can't wait to read it again — typos and all.

And, finally, in a topic titled 666 Happening... (a reference to a series of events that Marks alludes to over several chapters which all involve the number '666'), which other members replied to and the conversation eventually leaned towards how Mark points the finger at Dave Fielding's behavior several times for the Chams' internal conflicts, I got very poignant and self-absorbed:

"June 22, 2008 10:56 PM

Well, I know there is quite a few topics on here currently about the book, but I will indulge one last time...

...maybe in hopes that one of the band members will read my thoughts and consider them; even if briefly...

The main thing to keep in mind is that the book is View From a Hill by:


Not Mark Burgess, Reg Smithies, Dave Fielding, Jon Lever, Tony Skinkis, Tony Fletcher, Martin Jackson and "Scoffer," as Mark so effectionately dubs him (I have to admit, I laughed each time I read that).

Not Mark Burgess and Yves Altana.

Not Mark Burgess and Sally.

Not Mark Burgess and Daniela.

Not Mark Burgess and Simon Lawlor.

Not Mark Burgess and Bryan Glancy.

Not Mark Burgess and James Oakes.

(hey, sidebar: when can we get some JO on iTunes?)

None of those people wrote this narrative except for Mark.


We've all known for ***years*** that the main conflict in the band was between Mark and Dave. Yes, that is completely and wholly unfortunate for us because we love the music and records they created during their time in the Chameleons. But, can we, hopefully as mature adults (?), simply recognize that the personality conflict between those two amazing muscians was too strong to overcome the equally as amazing creative chemistry between them?

Yes, so and so did such and such and it was an awful thing to do.

But, after three classic albums, countless unforgettable gigs and enough memories to keep us all telling stories to anyone who will listen for as long as we live, isn't that enough to ask?

I, for one, applaud Mark's decision to tell his story in the way that he did. It tells the story of a band that many of us have come to call 'ours.'

However, the book is his, through and through. The Chameleons are certainly a large part of [t]his, because the band is clearly a large [part] of his life (as it certainly is for Dave, Reg and Jon). But, at the end of all of it, it is his life and although the Chams consumed much of it, there are other parts.

I loved the book and I loved reading his impressions of doing acid at Loch Ness.

Bottom line: he's a great story teller and the story is, without a doubt, HIS.

PS — Didn't he claim Reg's behavior as the final straw for him quitting the Chams in the first place? Not to continue a ridiculous discussion, but that seems a pretty important bit to overlook.

And so, my personal conflicts about posting on the Chameleons message board did unfortunately and ultimately invade on my ability to enjoy Mark's book on its own terms. But I did enjoy it immensely, even disregarding that whole situation.

Honestly, I'd love to hear Reg's side of the story, with short bursts of belligerent attacks from Dave and Jon. Not only would it be hilarious, but we'd hopefully be treated to passages like, 'Has that cunt come back from Jesusland yet? No? Bloody fookin' 'ell, are we going to play this fookin' American tour or not?!!??!'

Hopefully, it will coincide with the remastered and expanded Reegs reissues.

Oh, I can't wait, my friends.

Do yourself a favor and invest in a copy of View From A Hill.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Stephen Fretwell's Man On the Roof and other recent purchases.

A little history before I get fully into my thoughts on this album: I saw Stephen play an opening set for Feist about two years ago at the tiny
Great Basin pub in Sparks promoting the American release of his first album Magpie (which had been out in Europe since 2004) and I had never heard the guy before. When the host of the evening introduced him as being 'all the way from Manchester England' I was paying intently close attention. To shorten the story, he blew me away. Anybody who can stand up in front of a group of people and just sing and play his guitar and still be able to absolutely captivate those people and, especially, keep me interested for the entire duration deserves my keenest of listening ears (Feist was good too... haha). So, I went out and bought Magpie the very next day. It was and still is awesome. I'm far from a singer/songwriter/contemporary folk fan, but I really felt like I found the one of those variety that was fine tuned for my ears. Fast forward a couple of years. He puts out a new record and, not to my surprise at all, it isn't released in America. Because, at the time of this writing, it still hasn't seen a US release, I waited about eight months impatiently hoping. I couldn't wait any longer and finally picked up the British import this past week. Initially, I thought, 'Well, that first album was a fluke after all' as a sort of nod to Holly's cynical resistance of Mr. Fretwell and my particular fondness for him. I certainly didn't expect the brief squalling feedback that opens the album on 'Coney' and I initially hated the song. Halfway through the album and I was just about ready to shut it off, but then I thought that was unfair. I took to Magpie pretty quickly because I recognized about half of the songs from his live set and, with Man On the Roof, I had no touchstones or foundations to take off from. Well, it took three front to back listens before I found myself singing '...and the band plays BOOM-CHA-CHA BOOM-CHAA and the night draws in...' and I realized that, oh SHIT, this album is pretty fucking great. 'Darlin' Don't' and 'Bumper Cars' are straight out of the Magpie sessions to my ears, while other full band works like 'She' 'Dead' and 'Sleep' find Stephen looking for a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. And that would be my one complaint: while Magpie felt like a series of fond recollections (perhaps bittersweet, but fond nonetheless), this album feels like a downright sad breakup record. But, who knows, I like that sort of melancholy sad bastard shit. I'm such a dork for liking music that resonates. Can't say if I like it better than Magpie, but it does feel more complete and all around more accomplished and reassured initially. I am so down with this record.

Al Green — Lay it Down (2008)
I feel lucky, as it seems like I can't buy bad music these days. Questlove from the Roots had been talking about recording this album for the past two years on the message boards and I was honestly surprised to see it actually materialize. I was skeptical when I first saw that Questlove and right hand man James Poyser were purposely making a throwback record to sound like Al's classic albums from the 70's on Hi Records with Willie Mitchell. But, you know what? I can't even front like that. This is a gorgeous album. And why shouldn't Al Green make a classic Al Green album? His last classic album was roughly thirty years ago, so I'd say he's due for another. I can't even comprehend how good this record is. I hate to do this sort of thing, but i don't forsee anything that's on deck for the rest of this year competeing with this album. Unless that new Maxwell comes out (not bloody fuckin' likely, mate! © Johnny Marr). It's albums like this that come along and and then you really realize how bad contemporary music really is.

Luscious Jackson — In Search of Manny (1992)
I'm not even into LJ like that, but I've always liked this little EP. It's everything that's great about them packed into a nice little cohesive, concise package. I've had it before, but traded it in. Nice to able to re-acquire things like this.

The Cure — The Only One/NY Trip (2008)
Yeah, so I had 'The Only One' on bootleg from live performances last year, but the studio recording has revealed itself to be a rather nice, classic sounding Cure single. By the third or fourth listen, I have to admit, I was rather excited. 'NY Trip' is the typically strong Cure b-side by this point. It feels like the noisiness they tried for (and failed at) with the last album has finally been conquered and they are actually good at incorpoating that sort of thing into the songs again. A very good single.

The Cure — Freakshow/All Kinds of Stuff (2008)
Well, this is why us Cure fans are so cynical of you, Bob. The a-side here is absolutely trite piece of gimmicky wank. I mean, I understand that the Cure has always been a little toung-in-cheek, but come on! The b-side is more noisy, aggro stuff and it's not bad in comparison to 'Freakshow', but pretty mediocre overall. A very disappointing single.

Electronic — Raise the Pressure (1996)
I don't know. One listen through and it felt like every song was either a New Order throwaway or a Smiths throwaway (insults recognized and intended). The first one didn't strike me right away either, though. And now I like it quite a bit for a side-project-y sort of thing. We'll see on this one, but on one full listen, I thought it was somewhat forced.

I've been buying a lot of new music lately. That's a quite unusual thing for me.

But I have been reading Mark Burgess' wonderful autobiography View From A Hill and, in addition to all my Chameleons records, it has prompted me to play the Sun and the Moon's one and only album quite a bit lately. That's a lost classic if such a thing even exists.

See you soon.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Grant Green's trilogy of early 70's live albums.

I've always been a huge Grant Green fan, but I've revisited these three albums recently and they struck me in a different way than I remember previously. They just seem to capture that window of time where playing funk in a jazz idiom didn't mean dumbing anything down and it actually meant something that went beyond just the music. You can hear it the way the band plays each of the songs like it's the last time they'll ever be heard. The albums I'm referencing are:

Alive! (1970)
Although it's probably his most recognized album of his funk period, I would say Alive! is probably my least favorite of the these albums. The formula that Grant would follow for his next few live albums is certainly in place here: covers of current r&b and pop hits, funkdafied beyond belief and the grooves played to simmer on for extended periods, but never allowed to boil (in fact, that integral restraint shown throughout is part of what makes these albums so good). The original album has a funk monster followed by a more reflective piece on either side (indeed, organist Neal Creque provides the only original tune here with his introspective toned 'Time To Remember' — more on that in a minute). Opening up side two of the album is Grant's famously scorching rendition of Don Covay's 'Sookie Sookie.' As far as just jamming out and playin' some downright nasty, funky ass shit, you can't do much better than this one. And while his studio playing of the time was somewhat sporadic, Grant seems inspired by the audience and all of his lines are clean and straight in the pocket. His entrance into his first solo after a few choruses on 'Sookie Sookie' is literally an 'awww shit!' moment. The reissued CD version of the album adds three extra tracks, making for the definitive version of the record. Among the three tracks, the treat among them is the extended take on Herbie Hancock's 'Maiden Voyage,' one of Grant's rare ventures into post-bop during this time period. Although this album does contain more than its fair share of groovers, with the previously mentioned 'Time To Remember' and 'Maiden Voyage,' along with thoughtful run throughs of Lalo Schifrin's 'Down Here On the Ground' (this band playing what I feel is the definitive version of the tune) and Jerry Butler's 'Hey Western Union Man' and the qualities given to these tunes by the guitar/oragn/vibes frontline, this album has a sort of sad overtone to it. Rounded out by Claude Bartee's fantastic performance on tenor (just check the portion on 'Hey Western Union Man' where he feels the groove so heavily he just creates a near raga-like trance-inducing line) and perfectly anchored by Idris Muhammad, it set the table for the next two live albums...

Live at Club Mozambique (1971)
This one sat in the Blue Note vaults for 35 years before it saw the light of day in 2006. It was recorded in Detroit, Grant's home base at the time. The liners (by Bob Belden) speculate on why Blue Note chose to record Grant at this time, just under six months after Alive! had been recorded and just over a year before Live at the Lighthouse would be recorded, perhaps explaining why it wasn't released at the time (in addition to these three live albums, Grant had studio records coming out just about every ten months). As it stands now, it's an invaluable document of Grant's playing and his reperetoire. The only holdovers from Alive! are Idris Muhammad and Ronnie Foster on organ who is here for the duration (he played on most of Alive!, laying out on two tracks to make way for Neal Creque) and of course Grant on guitar. The music here is given an entirely new texture in comparison to Alive! because of two things: the group is only a quintet (as opposed to the sextet on Alive!) and there are two horns (Clarence Thomas on soprano and tenor and Houston Person on tenor). This gives the music a much harder edge, leaving those rough corners smoothed over by the ballads and bypassing the gloss added by the vibes and congas. There is a slight shift in reperetoire here as well, with the first three tracks being basically obscurities: 'Jan Jan' (an instrumental funk 45 by the Fabulous Counts), Clarence Thomas' original 'Farid' (basically the album's highlight) and an uncredited composition titled 'Bottom of the Barrell.' The one ballad on the album —a soul drenched rendition of 'Walk on By'— is right in the middle of the affair, providing a chance to catch your breath in between the funk workouts. And I mean WORKOUTS. I could be wrong, but I think this album is the fastest I've heard Idris Muhammad play for this long. In comparison, his cascading, rolling backbeats on Alive! seem like funeral marches compared to the tempos on this album. This album provides the neccessarry link between Alive! and Live at the Lighthouse.

Live at the Lighthouse (1972)
Even though the only returning player from the Club Mozambique album is Grant, Claude Bartee is back on tenor and soprano, making a show-stealing appearance (allmusic has some interesting info on this underrated horn player). Shelton Laster is on oragn and Gary Coleman is on vibes, perhaps hinting that the album may venture back into the smoother territory that had already been covered on Alive!, but Wilton Felder is brought in to play electric bass, which gives the band an entirely new platform. Filled out by Greg Williams on drums (faster and more cymbal-favoring than Idris Muhammad, giving the songs a sense of urgency) and Bobbye Hall on other percussions (normally a studio session player only), the rhythm section on this album works the grooves like no other group. Where other crossover jazz funk projects were venturing into jammy territory, these three players dig in and show that there is a difference between a jam and groove. Never once do these sprawling tunes feel monotonous or noodly. Originally a double album on vinyl (one record of that dedicated to two sidelong epics), this thing is gargantuan (unfortunately, mood was sacrificed when the CD issue trimmed off the Hank Stewart and Ed Hamilton introductions to fit all of the music onto one disc — a rare case of the vinyl containing more music than the CD). At this point, Grant's live reperetoire was like a well-oiled machine. Making those extended workouts segue seamlessly into a cover of a pop song (the opening transition of Neal Creque's 'Windjammer' into an amazing rendition of the Stylistics' 'Betcha By Golly Wow' illustrates this perfectly). From there, it goes the deepest into Grant's heaviest funk of any of these albums. Whether it's Shelton Laster's original 'Flood in Franklin Park' a unique revision of Donald Byrd's 'Fancy Free' or a scorching run through of 'Jan Jan' (which, at this point, was Grant's tune in all but name), this album's deep grooves and numerous "Right on!" shouts from the audience extend into something far more than a group of musicians making a record. As Junior Walker's 'A Walk In the Night' closes out the album on a wonderfully bittersweet note, I'm always reminded why this album continues to be my favorite of this period in Grant's catalogue. It would be his last truly cohesive, fully realized and... well, in all honesty, his last good album.

All three of these records are able to find that often looked for, but rarely found, meeting point where complicated be-bop solos crash head-on with funk backbeats and simmering grooves, making their way into the promised land. More than that though, they convey a vibe of good grooves and a heartfelt soulful meaning in the music. Whether you're listening to set the vibe at a summer get together, looking for funky loops to feed your sampler, want to hear some heated technical riffing or just want to groove, these albums will provide those vibes and much more.