17 June 2007

READING MATTER

Hurrah! Resourceful Mrs. Gutter managed to find me a copy of Simon's 'Bring The Noise' in time for Father's Day (the chocolates and 'Best Dad Ever' mug were also gratefully received from my lovely children...not that they really gave a shit, but what the hell). I shall begin devouring it (the book that is, I've already started on the chocolate) very shortly, but thought I'd just say a few words in praise of another music book I've just finished, called "White Bicycles - Making Music In The 1960's" by Joe Boyd. The title is of course lifted from "My White Bicycle", the debut single by psychedelic group Tomorrow, the lyrics of which were inspired by the antics of a Dutch anarchist group (more info on all that over at Wikipedia). Although Tomorrow and Dutch anarchist groups don't really figure much in the book, it's worth remembering that the band were regular performers at one of the UK's most legendary underground clubs, the UFO, which Boyd curated in partnership with John Hopkins in 1966-67. The whole British psychedelic counter-culture was essentially born from that club - both Pink Floyd and Soft Machine were regular attractions (and don't forget that Boyd also produced the Floyd's first single, "Arnold Lane"). Of course it all went mainstream and sour very quickly, but Boyd's first hand account of that exciting period is fascinating. There's also some poignant observations of the decline of Syd Barret and, later on, the brilliance and tragedy of Nick Drake's brief life (again, remember that Boyd managed and produced Drake - quite badly, it seems!), plus the antics of The Incredible String Band (favourites of Boards Of Canada) and Sandy Denny/Fairport Convention. Boyd's tone is conversational and informative throughout...he really has lived such a wonderful, if occasionally precarious life, traveling all over the world, meeting and working with so many people who helped to shape the musical climate during that period. If there's one accusation I'd level at him, it's that he's a terrible name-dropper!

On the surface it might seem that Joe Boyd lived and worked in a time that has little significance to the sort of things I write about here, but in truth I've been an admirer of the man and many of the artists he worked with for some time. It took me a while to get into some of the British folk-rock groups, but as Boyd points out, us Brits are the only nation who are embarrassed by their own folk music, so I had a mountain of prejudice to climb! He has some very forthright opinions about what's wrong with music and culture today, and frankly there's an awful lot I agree with. In particular, his disdain for the scourge of digital/sampling technology holds a lot of water. If I was making 'real' music today, I'd want to work with people who knew about microphone placement and the subtleties of particular acoustic spaces, using analogue 16 track tape and avoiding 'Direct Injection' recording. But the thing I like about true electronic music is the way that artists can imagine and create their own imaginary acoustics and tone colours...a place where things like equalisation, reverbs, echoes and other sound processors are part of the creative process rather than a quick means of spicing-up dull instrumental sounds. I guess that, on paper, me and Joe are as far apart in terms of age and aesthetics as it's possible to get, but I like to think that we're both hardcore muthafuckaz in our chosen paths.

Available at Amazon, in case anyone's interested.

2 comments:

  1. I have been digging Tomorrows music for a little while now, I had no idea about that book so I'll def be keen to track it down for a read. I just finished reading "Out Bloody-rageous" a history of the Soft Machine... not the most amazing read but a great insight into the band and detailed history of them playing at the UFO with the Floyd too!

    Great to see your comment box back too!

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  2. Prince Asbo8:39 PM

    Conincidently, I just finished the Boyd tome last week. The book kind of petered out for me by the time he moved back to the States, but an engaging read for sure. He'd make a great dinner guest.

    Yes, Boyd's anti-sampling arguments are valid if you're trying to re-create something, not so if you are creating something new.

    PS: I'm going to Hoppy's 70th (!) birthday party in the next village over this August. Music provided by Kangaroo Moon--should be a blast.

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