Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Vital Organs

In my early teens, in the mid-1970’s and before the shockwave of punk hove into view and changed everything about the way I saw the world, I was briefly obsessed by the music of The Doors. Like many others, I suppose I was drawn by the air of dark mystery which attached itself to Jim Morrison, only amplified by the tragic circumstances of his death and the rumours that it had been faked by the singer himself.  Over time I tired of all of this hokum and I rarely seek out the band’s music these days, although I’m always rather surprised to realise how much it can still stir within me when I do come across it.
The element of The Doors sound which has stayed most in my consciousness, though, is Ray Mazarek’s organ playing and I was greatly saddened to hear of his recent death, at the all-too-young age of 74.

Manzarek’s passing set me musing on the sound of the electric organ and particularly its use in instrumental surf music. Now, it’s far from an uncommon  to hear an organ on surf recordings (including by my own former band, Dead Man’s Curve, with Johnny Deadman on Vox Continental), but it was nevertheless good to receive the eponymous debut CD from Alabama’s High Fidelics in the post last week. Robert Hoffman (who previously added organ to the sound of the fabulous Penetrators) is the keyboard wrangler with these guys, taking a prominent role on refreshingly varied tunes such as New Killer Ray, Spy Smasher, Black Dahlia, the ever-so-slightly bizarre collision between The Shadows and The Nice, that is Aquestriana and the Starsky and Hutch soundtrackery of Theme From Kismet. The album dates from 2012, but apparently a new one is due later this year, and I'm certainly looking forward to hearing it. One word of warning, though. The album only plays on one of my CD players, which is in the bathroom. Makes a great accompaniment to a refreshing shower, though!

While we’re on the subject of organs, I would like to point you towards this guide to combo organs, introduced by the ever excellent Blodwyn P Teabag, a woman who once slept on the living room floor at HangNine Towers, when her former band, The Thurston Lava Tube visited Brighton.

Now you might think that Blodwyn is slightly over-egging the pudding with her bold assertion that, “…it is possible to record a piece of music without an organ on it, but it won’t be as good,” and one band who might agree with you are the West Samoa Surfer League, a three-piece from Ulm in Germany, featuring two former members of The Space Rangers.  Their new CD, the Moments of Truth EP, dropped through the letter box within a day or so of The High Fidelics’ release.  No organs whatsoever on these six tracks (two of which are Point Zero), but plenty of full-on in-yer-face high-energy surf music, with covers of Dave Myers’ Moment of Truth, The Pharos’ Pintor and Bobby Fuller’s Stringer joined by the splendidly named What Would Takeshi Kovacs Do? It’s great stuff from the latest in a line of German bands and it would be good indeed to see them playing in the UK at some point in the future. Brighton beckons perhaps!

Coming soon: the new album from Man or Astroman? and the Surfer Joe Summer Festival.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Back In The Saddle

After a period of inactivity, I’m back. OK, it wasn’t all inactivity, Jules Deadman and I did manage to take in a brief trip to Livorno, with Clive Lung and The Professor to visit the super cool Surfer Joe’s Diner and to see the fabulous Los Straitjackets. This being February and England in the icy grip of winter, Livorno made for a very pleasant spring-like change, just so long as you kept out of the shadows.
Normal wintry service was resumed later that week, when we had the immense pleasure of returning to Zagreb to see my favourite band on the planet, The Bambi Molesters, at the very nice indeed thank you very much Vintage Industrial Bar. This is a little out of central Zagreb, but we managed to find a hotel a mere 500 metres from the club, so not too far to stagger after the gig (and nowhere near as bad as we were led to believe by Trip Advisor!). It being far too cold to spend too much time outdoors, we had to pass some of the afternoon in the nearby Bikers Beer Factory, which we can also highly recommend, before heading off to the soundcheck. Very decent Mexican food followed and then back to the club for a superb show from The Bambi Molesters and a few more Ozujskos. The next day we sat at Zagreb airport watching the snowploughs clear the runway, which was pretty impressive. We hope to be back in Croatia again soon.

I made a return appearance to Keith Baxter’s estimable Rock ‘n’ Roll show on Seahaven FM earlier this week. We spent a very peasant hour chewing the fat, whilst spinning some of our favourite tunes. Keith played Rebel Rouser in honour of it being Duane Eddy’s birthday, How Come It, from George “Thumper” Jones’ short-lived rockabilly period, as a tribute to the sadly departed country icon and Remember Walking in the Sand by The Shangri Las, to mark the passing of producer Shadow Morton.

I chose two tracks from the instrumental release of 2013 so far, Adios Sancho, from Madrid’s excellent purveyors of “Surf Music  Spanish-style”, Los Coronas. We had the title track and the quite brilliant La Leyenda del Solitario. This album is extremely hard to track down on CD in the UK (my copy was delivered from Australia), although it is available to download in all the usual places and I really can’t recommend it highly enough: great stonking spaghetti western melodies, handclaps, thrilling guitars and TRUMPETS, lots of trumpets (we like trumpets at HangNine towers!). Fabulous.

There was also an opportunity to slip in Headless Hipster from last year’s Galactic Guitars best of CD by The Space Agency, which was a thrill for all listeners, I’m sure. Keith certainly seemed to like it, as he did the two tracks we played from the recent Surf Age Nuggets box set; the scare-tastic House on Haunted Hill by Kenny & the Fiends and Earthquake! from Marlow Stewart and the Illusions (admittedly Keith played the latter by mistake, but we loved it anyway).
I also introduced Keith to the “New School Surf & Flamenco” sounds of Copenhagen’s The Good The Bad and we played 039 from the latest album “From 034 to 050”, which follows on from previous releases “From 001 to 017” and, you guessed it, “From 018 to 034”. Wayne Kramer is a fan of this band and it’s easy to see why. They’re neither surf nor flamenco, to my ears, but they’re thrilling, make great videos and have a fantastic concept. If you’ve not done so already, I urge you to investigate them further.
The hour passed all too quickly and both Keith and I agreed that we would need two hours next time, which is good, because the new album from Man Or Astro-Man?, Defcon 5... 4... 3... 2... 1, will be out by then. Actually, you can download it now, but the CD is released in June and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it.
I will also be bumping into Keith when we return to Livorno for the 2013 edition of the Surfer Joe Summer Festival from June 21st-23rd, where I’m particularly eager to see The Insect Surfers and Australian legends The Atlantics. I’m also pretty keen to resample the Diner’s excellent Farro salad!
And as if that wasn’t enough, September 14th will see us at The Melkweg in Amsterdam for the North Sea Surf Festival. Wow! What a line-up there is for this show: from Mexico it’s Lost Acapulco, the original men in the masks with the drummer the size of a mountain, who we loved when we saw them some years back in Calella; from Croatia it’s The Bambi Molesters; from Spain it’s Los Coronas; from the Netherlands it’s The Phantom Four; and from Denmark it’s the aforementioned The Good The Bad. I can hardly contain my excitement. Now, how do we get into the after-show party? 

Of course, once people know that you write a bit about surf music and suchlike, you do tend to get sent CDs (and, increasingly, links to dowloads and the like) for review purposes. Since changing the format of HangNine, I'm not so eager to write reviews as such, but it's always nice to recieve some new instrumental music in the post, so please do keep sending. One band who contacted me a while ago were Stockholm's Blazing Surfboards, whose Lone Star EP makes for a very pleasant summery listen indeed. Very apt for the suddenly improved English weather. As mentioned, I've been somewhat inactive for a while, so I can only apologise to Blazing Surfboards for spending so long getting around to mentioning their release. Do look them up.