Monthly Archives: December 2012

We Were Here! Orbital – The O2 Academy, Oxford – 13th December 2012

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I’ve been an Orbital fan since the spring/summer of 1995, when, thinking their stuff was an off-shoot of The Orb‘s ambient techno. I bought the “Snivilisation” album and woooooah, it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s far more beat-driven than The Orb (at least, at the time) and much harsher in places. It took me a few listens, but then I was hooked. I bought all of the back catalogue, which was two full-length albums. The EPs were really tough to get in the States and if you did score them, the import prices were pretty outrageous.

Then came “In Sides” in 1996 – which was released as a double CD. The second disc was a combined release of the “Times Fly” and “Sad But True” EPs, themselves having hit the shelves in 1995. “In Sides” was sorta their prog-rock album – long tracks with some having multiple sections within the tracks. “The Middle Of Nowhere” followed in 1999 and “The Altogether” was released in 2001. By 2004, Orbital announced they were splitting up, after releasing the somewhat disappointing “Blue Album“. The split almost implied they would re-group at some point, but we fans were never sure.

The boys played a few reunion shows in the past couple of years and everything seemed to go well. They announced late in 2011 that they had returned to the studio and were making a brand-new record. They even posted video diaries of the progress of the recording. In April of this year, “Wonky” was dropped and most reviews have been very positive. To me, it’s an excellent album – maybe not quite reaching the dizzying heights of “The Brown Album” or “In Sides”, but for a couple of guys going on 25 years as a duo, it’s pretty damn good!

I never got to see them live – they never played Connecticut, not as far as I’m aware and it seemed to be too much effort to go to NYC or Boston. They closest they came was on the “Community Service” U.S. tour in summer 1999. They played the Palladium Theatre in Worcester, Mass in July of that year. I’ve found a live recording of the show since and I really wish I’d been to see it. Pixie spotted the notice on the Oxford O2 Academy website that Orbital were going to play there on their winter 2012 tour and asked if I wanted to go…

We arrived in time at the O2 Academy to catch support act Nathan Fake, who took up his spot stage left with a laptop and mixing console. His set consisted of around 45 minutes of pleasant enough Aphex Twin-ish electronica…all synth sweeps and fast beats.  He bopped along to the beats and would occasionally reach over to the mixer and tweak the mix, making a snare-roll sound or adjust the speed. I don’t know the names of the tracks – but they all flowed one into another. The first ‘suite’ lasted about a half-hour and the second for roughly 15 to 20 minutes.

The Hartnoll brothers took the stage a bit later and if I may say so, played a blinder! They opted for “Time Becomes” as their walk-on..er…music, then ripped into an energized “One Big Moment” (which also opens ‘Wonky’). O.B.M. is fast becoming my fave tune on the new record – it’s a classic Orbital anthem. They then led into “Halcyon + On + On“. I’d have thought they would have saved this for later in the set, but nope – they forged ahead, even adding in the (now familiar) mix of Belinda Carlisle‘s “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” and Bon Jovi‘s “You Give Love A Bad Name“. “Straight Sun” and “Distractions“, both from ‘Wonky’ followed, with the dazzling lights flashing and the back-projected videos providing an excellent visual accompaniment.

“Distractions” segued into my other fave new track,Beelzedub“. It’s Orbital’s ‘dubstep’ tune – but for my money, beats out the young’uns at their own game. The vids showed various banker-types, George W. Bush, as the beats and synths were jacked up to punishing volume – the crowd surged along with the rhythms. “Never“, from ‘Wonky’ followed, leading into a surprise (and lovely) “Belfast“, all the way from Orbital first full-length, giving a bit of respite from the faster tunes and jackhammer rhythms.

Another highlight for me was “Impact” – one of my all-time fave Orbital tracks – it also gave a the boys a chance to crank the volume and get the bodies dancing! So good! The title track from the new album came next, with a recording of Lady Leshurr‘s vocals weaving it’s way through the demented synth riffs. An extended “Are We Here?“, from ‘Snivilisation’, followed, with Alison Goldfrapp‘s vocals in the mix. The best bit was toward the end of the tune, when they added a sample from The Carpenters‘ “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft” in – it worked perfectly with the rhythm and they even had the ol’ ‘bouncing-ball-with-the-lyrics’ on the screen! Their re-working of the “Doctor Who” theme – a live staple for a long while now, closed the main set. It was good, but not necessarily a surprise and I would’ve preferred a track from “In Sides” or “The Middle Of Nowhere” instead.

Phil & Paul obliged the crowd with not one…but two encores!! The first was an excellent “Chime” (you knew they weren’t to going to skip that one). It’s comforting, somehow, to know that they still don’t mind trotting it out after all this time. The final tune of the night was the final track from ‘Wonky’, called “Where Is It Going?“. I admit that by then, I was tired from all the bopping around (especially during “Impact”) and the body heat from the crowd made me a bit woozy – so it was nice just to chill a bit and listen as the music drifted from the speakers. The house lights came up as the boys left the stage and off into the cold December night we went.

Setlist (Orbital):

Time Becomes

One Big Moment

Halcyon (incl. “Heaven Is A Place On Earth & “You Give Love A Bad Name”)

Straight Sun

Distractions

Beelzedub

Never

Belfast

Impact (the earth is burning)

Wonky

Are We Here? (incl. “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft”)

Encore 1: Chime

Encore 2: Where Is It Going?

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Ravi Shankar – R.I.P. to the Maestro

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I suspect all the musos have heard by now – Ravi Shankar was pronounced dead yesterday. He passed away in San Diego, California, undergoing a medical procedure. He was 92 years old, so it’s not as much of a shock as say, his good friend George Harrison‘s death eleven years ago, at age 57. Still, the world has lost a true musical master – a virtuoso of Indian music.

Thousands of words will be written and blogged and spoken about this humble, but amazing musician and I can’t think of much to add to the various tributes and eulogies.

I can say that myself, like many, many other Westerners, discovered Ravi through George and The Beatles. George himself was turned on to Indian music during the making of the “Help!” film. The plot of the film involves an Indian cult devoted to the goddess Kali. They need a ring to perform one of their rituals and the ring belongs to….yep, Ringo. In any case – a few bits of Indian music were recorded for the soundtrack and that led George to Ravi Shankar’s music. I’m not sure if Ravi was directly involved with the “Help!” project, but his name must have surfaced during the sessions.

I can’t remember what order I heard The Beatles’ albums in – probably “Sgt. Pepper” first, with George’s “Within You, Without You“, a tune as about as Eastern as a Western pop song can get – combining sitars and cellos and sarods and violins in a great swirling melange. Then I may have heard “Rubber Soul“, with his first slight excursion into fusion, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)“. Though the song was written by John Lennon, Harrison’s tiny sitar riff is what gave the tune an otherwordly jolt. Then, of course, “Revolver“, with the groovy “Love You To” – where tabla-players were brought in to shore up the sitar riffs and “Tomorrow Never Knows“, a psychedelic masterpiece by John that begins with the droning of tambouras. Based on these tunes and George’s and David Crosby‘s and Roger McGuinn‘s recommendations (The Byrds‘ “Eight Miles High” features McGuinn emulating both Shankar’s sitar-playing and John Coltrane‘s mind-bending sax phrases on a 12-string electric guitar), I bought a Ravi album (on cassette!) in the late-1980s.

I purchased the The Sounds Of India,RaviSounds which was one of the few of his albums you could actually find in a mainstream record store then. The album was first released in 1960, but re-issued in 1968, with suitable “psychedelic” cover art. I dug Ravi’s spoken-word introduction to Indian classical music, even though it was tough to wrap my head around the cycles of 16 beats for the ragas. My knowledge of music theory leaves a lot to be desired, but this was just beyond even what I was used to. Once the playing started, however, I was entranced. I loved the expression he was able to convey from the instrument and the way the sitar blended with the drones from the tamboura. The ragas became even more amazing once the tabla beat kicked in. As with George, this music seemed to resonate with me, though I didn’t know why. It was the same with the low drones of bagpipes – I don’t know why, but I love those sounds. I played “The Sounds Of India” over and over, but the patterns of the music remained as mysterious to me as when I first heard it.

I wanted to buy more of his albums, but all I could find was the “Genius Of Ravi Shankar” cassette, first released in 1967. Still mind-blowing stuff (though now I prefer the 1964 classic “Portrait Of Genius“). Ravi, of course, was very, very prolific and released new albums around that time – like “Inside The Kremlin“, which I subsequently bought (though I still haven’t replaced the cassette), “Tana Mana” andPassages(an acclaimed collaboration with Philip Glass).

When I started collecting vinyl again in the early 1990s, I found used LP copies of “India’s Master Musician” and “Three Ragas“, which I eagerly snapped up. Angel Records finally started re-issuing his back catalogue in the mid-90s and by working at a record store, I was able to get a discount on some of them and free promo copies of others. Angel also released the magnificent “In Celebration” box set in 1996 – I highly recommend that one!

I discovered eBay in 2000 and found a few more gems on CD, like “Live At The Woodstock Festival” and “In Concert 1972” (a collab with Ali Akbar Khan – first released on Apple Records). A few years ago I found the “Homage To Mahatma Gandhi” LP in one of the market stalls at the Cropredy Festival and I got a copy of his tripped-out soundtrack, called “Transmigration Macabre” on CD. Still, there’s so much more to hear – I hope to get all of his 1960s and 1970s albums one day.

I also got to see him in concert twice in the 90s – once at UCONN, in the Jourgensen Auditorium and once in Northampton, Mass., at the Calvin Theatre. Both times his daughter, Anoushka, played with him. I wish I could remember what he played (did anyone keep track of Ravi’s setlists?) – but I was enthralled, just watching the maestro in person. Anoushka proved herself quite capable of matching his phrases in great call-and-response moments. Still two of the best shows I’ve been to – I walked out of the venues astonished at the level of musicianship I had witnessed. Always meant to see him one more time. Anoushka will carry the torch for some time, which is reassuring.

Farewell to the maestro – I’m not sure about the notion of an afterlife, but if there “is” such a thing – I’d like to think that Ravi is jamming with George and Ali Akbar and John and Brian Jones and Jimi and Miles. To wrap up, here’s one of my all-time favourite Ravi performances, as well as one of my fave filmed sequences. It’s Pandit Ravi Shankar playing “Dhun In Dadra and Fast Teental” at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Oh, to have been there…

December Will Be Magic Again

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Caveat: If you don’t wish to read about pets…and cats in particular….look away…..NOW!

Pixie and I adopted three kittens three years ago. The litter belonged to a co-worker’s relative’s cat. The mother cat was naughty and got out of the house one night, met up with a tom….and well, you know the rest. There were five in the litter: three boys and two girls. Another co-worker took in two. We were originally only going to take in two as well – but one of the boys had hind legs that sort-of stuck out at angles, possibly due to being cramped in the womb. Our other co-worker was worried about vet bills and declined to take him. I thought it would be a shame to separate him from the litter, so I convinced Pixie to take him as well. We called him “Orson”, as he was the third boy, or ‘third man’, if you will.

The other boy was called “Gryphon”, after the groovy 1970s British medieval/prog-folk group – and the girl we called “Parsley”, after Howard Moon‘s hippie transformation in the Mighty Boosh episode, “Call Of The Yeti“. Sadly, Gryphon was killed by a car when he was a year old. Orson really missed him, as they used to play wrestle and explore the car park behind our house together.

We talked about adopting another male cat for Orson for ages, but couldn’t really decide on when to do so. In the last month, we’ve started looking and even made a trip to the Blue Cross centre in Burford, to see if they had any suitable cats. Our main dilemma was that we needed one of a similar age to ours and one that can live with other cats. It turns out that our description is very tough to find, as a lot of cats need to be the only one in the house. We also found many pairs for adoption, who needed to be kept together.

In a cool synchro-mesh, Pixie received a message from our co-worker who had adopted the other boy and girl from ‘our’ litter. She had adopted a couple of dogs a while back and relations between the dogs and cats in their house were getting strained. She wanted to know if we could take “Magic”, the boy, in permanently. Misty, the other girl in the litter, was tragically killed by a car as well. After a family meeting and lots of thought, we said O.K.

He arrived last weekend and has been getting used to the house and Orson’s hissing and growling (to show his ‘top cat’ status in the house), as well as Parsley’s hissing (she doesn’t like anyone). We kitted out the spare room for him, complete with litter tray, food and water dishes and scratching post. Slowly, and I mean very slowly – he’s bonding with the others. They’re able to sit and sleep on opposite ends of the sofa and Magic’s even been sneaking food from Orson and Parsley’s dishes without much repercussion. He’s not been outside yet – we’re waiting until his vaccinations are up to date. It’s been really brilliant having three cats in the house again…with their personalities.

Since the ‘jolly season’, is fast upon us – here’s a festive tune, combined with a tribute to our new family member (ooooh, aren’t I the clever one):