Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Nature Prance: David Thomas' Solo Albums 1981-87: Winter Comes Home


'A Day Such as This'

David Thomas’ second solo album (as ‘David Thomas and his Legs’, though the front cover merely lists the three contributing musicians) is Winter Comes Home. It is a live recording of a show he, Lindsay Cooper and Chris Cutler put on in Erding, ‘a town north-east of Munchen, West Germany' on 11 December 1982. It is largely a spoken word performance, for which Cutler and Cooper periodically provide atmospheric and presumably largely improvised backing.

In the sleevenotes to the compilation Monster, Thomas explains why Winter Comes Home has no place in the CD box set of his solo material:

BTW Winter Comes Home does not exist. According to the Authorized View, it never did exist and so, it never will exist. Those who claim to own copies are troublemakers. Report them to the Grocery Police. 

More recently, Thomas has made the album available for download, stating simply ‘This album has been out of print for decades now - the master tapes were lost long ago. Recently Paul Hamann at Suma digitally transfered and mastered a virgin vinyl copy of the album.’ (Find it here)

In taking on such a rare form for a rock musician, blending performance poetry, stand up comedy, public expostulation, theatre and music, Thomas was really making a bold move. Like the single of ‘I Didn’t Have a Very Good Time’, which may or may not have been too arcane for the already extremely arcane Sound of the Sand, Winter Comes Home was (presumably) too obscure a project for the Rough Trade label and was, instead, released on Chris Cutler’s own record label, Recommended. The calligraphy on the back cover is typical of many Recommended releases, and is Cutler’s own.

Cutler had already worked with Thomas, to a minor capacity, on his recording of ‘Sloop John B’ on Sound of the Sand. Here, Cutler was required to be part of the band recording backing to a pre-recorded vocal – never an easy task. John Greaves, the other half of Henry Cow’s rhythm section with Cutler, also played on that album. Greaves does not appear on subsequent Thomas releases, but another Henry Cow member, the late Lindsay Cooper, was to appear on a number of future albums; this was the first.

An additionally unusual element of the Winter Comes Home album and the tour it represents is the ‘text’ Thomas is using. Though Sound of the Sand had been released by the time of this show, the works Thomas is performing are Pere Ubu lyrics, largely from the band’s most recent album from that time, Song of the Bailing Man; ‘Rhapsody in Pink’ was a track from the previous album Art of Walking. These are blended, on the album, with commentary and monologues from Thomas.

To add to what might be seen as the perversity of this approach, it should be borne in mind that Thomas (and indeed Pere Ubu) was seen at this time by many having lost direction, particularly lyrically, though also musically. Whereas the trend amongst new wave (now often called postpunk) bands of the early 1980s was for depressive, harrowing and thereby ‘meaningful’ lyrics exploring a ‘dark side’, Pere Ubu had completely eschewed such output by 1981/2 – which they had already shown on Dub Housing they were more than capable of generating, should the need be apparent. Instead, Thomas’ work these days was primarily about birds, hats, walking and other profoundly mundane elements of daily life; the effect for many was childishly na├»ve, irritatingly rootless and perverse. Why would a band who had made their name firstly with proto-punk, Hawkwindesque rock – and then with cutting-edge new wave paranoid angst before moving into often uneasy-listening, edgy experimental material – then turn to idle whimsy? Song of the Bailing Man is probably regarded by many as the nadir of Pere Ubu’s output (yes – it’s due for reassessment, like everything) largely for this reason.

How, then, to write about these tracks? There are, of course, numerous possibilities. However, it strikes me that this, like the next Thomas album Variations on a Theme, can be regarded as a series of songs with (at least) two iterations, and the truth of the matter lies in the contrast between the two.

‘The theme for tonight,’ Thomas says at the start of the record, ‘comes in the form of a question “is hyperbole man’s best rhetorical friend?” This is also printed on the back of the sleeve as the overarching concept for the album. He describes hyberbole (he’s translating, remember, for a German audience who incidentally seem to find as much humour in his intonation and crazy voices as his actual words – not to suggest they’re not fluent in English, obviously they are) as speaking ‘more than the truth… to create a vivid impression’. ‘A Day Such as This’ is, of course the perfect song to illustrate this concept. On Song of the Bailing Man it’s brisk and breezy; on Winter Comes Home Thomas teases out all manner of possibilities. He repeats the first line twice; then Lindsay Cooper and Thomas work around the ‘H.Y.P.E.R.B.- O.L.E.’ refrain in a number of ways; the second time, Cutler joins them and turns the whole into something of a folk dance. (‘He plays drums like he’s singing’, Thomas says in the Monster sleevenotes).

During this performance, on some occasions Thomas is singing the song as it’s known on Song of the Bailing Man then on others, drifts off into his speaking voice.


So we might be encouraged to think, then, that this particular rendition of this track (and indeed the whole performance/album) has been created to showcase Thomas’ abilities as a lyricist, and a misunderstood lyricist at that. The ‘nature prance’ is not, as it might superficially appear, a random, incidental gathering of wry and musings on the passing show; it’s a thoughtful inquiry into the workings of language and observation. In that regard, while it is probably the weakest track on this peculiar album, it sets up the remainder admirably.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nature Prance: David Thomas' solo albums 1981-1987: Vocal Performances (and Song of the Bailing Man)

Song of the Bailing Man and Vocal Performances

It was my intention to not delve into the minutiae of the solo Thomas oeuvre - b-sides, rare tracks etc - in these posts but rather to talk about individual album tracks. But things get messy, particularly as the uncovering of the tracks is something of a journey of discovery or rediscovery. I discovered the online Sound of the Sand outtakes a few weeks ago and figured I could hardly ignore them, particularly as they (now) form a legitimate release. And I had been rueing the absence of my copy of the 12" Vocal Performances until, a few days ago - I found it. Both of these recordings are missing links of differing stripes. We need them to understand the bridges and chasms between Pere Ubu and David Thomas solo, particularly given the recording release schedules involved:

June 1980 release of Pere Ubu's The Art of Walking
Jan 1981 first (?) recordings for Sound of the Sand (Atom Mind/ As Shoes Go By/Happy to See You)
March 1981 release of Pere Ubu's 390 Degrees of Simulated Stereo (archival late 70s recordings)
October 1981 release of Sound of the Sand
August 1981-Jan 1982 recording of Song of the Bailing Man 
September 1982 release of Pere Ubu's Song of the Bailing Man
1982 release of Vocal Performances 
1982 release of Winter Comes Home 

I have to concede I cobbled the above list together from the internet grabbing every month/year release date I could - which probably in the scheme of things isn't such a reliable approach. Nevertheless these records had to be made some time and plainly there's a crossover between the first David Thomas solo forays and the 'last' Pere Ubu album (last for eight years, at any rate). While Sound of the Sand and Song of the Bailing Man were released 11 months apart, the recording sessions for the two were apparently quite close together (and involved at four of the same participants, if you count Mayo Thompson - Tony Maimone must have been wondering what he'd done wrong).

I propose herewith to deal with the actual Vocal Performances tracks thus: 'Sloop John B' has been discussed a few weeks back, in its augmented incarnation as a track on Sound of the Sand. Easy. 'Petrified' I will discuss in a few weeks' time, when I talk about the inclusion of another version of a comparable 'vocal performance' of the song on the Winter Comes Home album.

Winter Comes Home is a seven-track LP (with a lot of banter), and six of the seven tracks are versions of songs from Song of the Bailing Man. Winter Comes Home is so stark and word-heavy, that one way into it is to make comparison with Song of the Bailing Man's band arrangements. Which is what I plan to do.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

having some work done

I always liked this concrete sewer cover with the old Broadmeadows City Council initials on it, smashed and useless and dangerous as it was. Well, that highlighting suggests to me that its days are numbered, and possibly numbered in less than four figures.
As for whatever's here - a bit of erosion by a kerb I think - it's obviously been given high priority status by someone with some yellow paint and orange plastic fencing material.
Shopping trolley for scale. It was hard to get it into place, and harder to take it back.
 Perhaps the next project will be the big concrete mushroom, who knows.
Barry having a larf. Or as autocorrect says, 'a lard' - cruel.
 Ferdy
 The gaily painted, um, sewer thing I suppose.
 What indeed
 This was the burnt patch from earlier this year. It looks almost fine now. Actually it looks like someone was buried there but I doubt they were.
 'Bye Ferdy

Saturday, September 20, 2014

walk to strathmore this morning




The wetlands area just south of the ring road, quite clogged with weed. 




I heard a bird making a grumpy sound and looked around and here it was. Not sure if you can see it though.
New graffiti at the point where Moonee Ponds Creek comes out from its short experimentation with undergrounding. 

Summer's on its way, someone washed their enormous pants.


Sex Pistols graffiti and even some vintage Foo aka Kilroy 
So many dogs to meet on this trip, I didn't photograph many interactions because the polite thing to do is stand around and look like a responsible dog owner.

These guys are such country gents
 Cool sculpture


And this is where my battery went dead. So much more 20 September, 2014 magic to capture! Well to cut a long story short, we went to Strathmore, I ordered a big breakfast at the Corner Cafe but they didn't give me enough toast (no-one ever does) and so I gave my poached eggs to the boys, win/win probably since I shouldn't really eat eggs and I don't even really like them that much, I was just too tired and footsore to start negotiating. We took the train back to Jacana and walked from there. Now they are s l e e p i n g.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

1969

It has occurred to me the last few days how entitled I really feel and how much I need taking down some pegs. It is true, as has been pointed out to me not a few times in the last year, that I have a tendency to tease and ridicule people around me. When I consider why this might be, well, of course in part it is down to being insecure - just like everyone is, to a greater or lesser extent, it's a holding position between fight or flight, isn't it.

When I was a boy, in the 70s, we all loved Monty Python (well, boys did. Girls often less so. Why was that?). I think I have blogged about this before. The misogyny in MP was one thing. But there was also a not unrelated element of MP which involved 'cutting through the shit' of politeness and pleasantness and being 'real'. The underlying - no, overlaying! - message of MP was that social intercourse was all platitudes and niceties, and what people really wanted to do was abuse and use each other. It was pretty 'punk' in that regard, and fairly nihilistic, unless I'm misunderstanding what nihilism is. From this I got a hankering to always imagine the worst-case-scenario of the social faux pas. What is the worst thing anyone could say to someone to either burst their bubble, or clear away the falseness?

I was talking to Danny Butt about this last night, in regards firstly to the Bulletin cartoons I blogged about a few months ago, and this reminded me in an atypical cultural-reference leap of the film Big, in which Tom Hanks' character Josh reveals the truth of his situation to Elizabeth Perkins' character Susan, that he is just a little boy. In the case of the Bulletin cartoons I wondered out loud, the first time I'd considered this, whether perhaps the reason white middle-class Bulletin readers found the notion of 'primitive' people putting forward 'sophisticated' ideas funny, was not that they hated Aboriginals (though undoubtedly they did) but that they might be attracted to the idea of themselves as, on some level, 'primitive' or base. In Big, Josh's protestation that he is just a little boy is interpreted by Susan as a ploy to get out of a committed relationship. But she also agrees that, underneath, we are all children. I've had the same feeling - particularly when talking to certain friends and acquaintances - that whatever the subtlety or nuance or even sophistication of their words, they are really just screaming 'me - me'. Of course, when people get drunk, it's even more the case. See it a lot.

Anyway. It has also become clear to me that what is tolerable, perhaps even appealing, in a 10, 20, 30, even 40 year old male, is perhaps less appealing in a 50 year old one. So behaviour modification begins today (actually, it began yesterday). I am going to put the anxiety over the possibility that I might appear less interesting or witty (ha) on the back burner in favour of being polite and encouraging. No-one really likes being teased, and of course I hate it pretty much more than anything you can imagine. It's a bad scene. 

What has this to do with 1969, you may ask. Well, it's the year my world turned upside down, and shortly after, the world turned upside down. My brother Michael was born in January 1969, and I was no longer the only child with all the attention of my parents, grandparents and for all I knew everyone else on the planet, bestowed upon me. I am glad I had that 3 years 9 months of the spotlight, I guess, although perhaps if I hadn't had it I would have a little more humility... who knows. But it was certainly character forming. Then later in 1969 the rest of the world got to know what I had been through, because you know, Altamont. Also, 1969 is an amazing song by the Stooges which I always enjoy. But it's only taken me 45 years to appreciate what impact 1969 had on me, and one of those impacts is to feel like I should be the centre of attention and always deflating those around me lest they suddenly seem more interesting to someone else or themselves. That's probably why I love blogging too, you have been warned. 

More confezzional character suicide later peepz. 

when life gives you lemons, make time to walk in the long grass with beagles




Nature Prance: David Thomas' solo albums 1981-1987


A few weeks ago I searched through the Hearpen records online releases looking for any David Thomas live recordings which might exist from this period (he was certainly playing live shows) aside from the Winter Comes Home album. I found the three-songs-for-two-dollars release of the above named songs, which don't really come under the 'solo album' mantle because they were only released a few years ago, and they're not on an album. However, it seems pertinent to discuss them here as they answer some questions (and raise a few others) regarding the period during which Sound of the Sand was recorded.

These are three songs, credited to Thomas, and which were recorded by the band Thomas would later (?) christen The Eggs. Only one of these songs finally emerged on Sound of the Sand; 'Happy to See You'. It appears here in a slightly different version from the cornerstone song on Sound of the Sand. The line-up for the sessions is Paul Hamann, Alan Greene, Ralph Carney, Allen Ravenstine and Scott Krauss. 

Hamann (and his father, Ken) recorded/produced a lot of Pere Ubu/David Thomas material. Greene is a well-known Ohio guitarist, who at this time was a member of a band called Breathless – hence his credit appended with ‘courtesy EMI.’ Carney was (and is) a member of Tin Huey (his intro really makes ‘Happy to See You’ the marvel it is). He and Thomas were also on a track called ‘Sunset Over Hibernia’ with other Tin Huey members, included on a kind of a compilation album called Bowling Balls from Hell; the lyrics on that track were re-used for another song on the Pere Ubu album Song of the Bailing Man.

‘Atom Mind’ is a far more straightforward song instrumentally than most found on Sound of the Sand; it harks back to the earlier Pere Ubu material (eg, ‘Modern Dance’ – particularly the sound of the anvil strikes), harks forward, if such a thing is possible, to stabs at the pop charts like ‘Waiting for Mary’, as well as referencing songs like ‘Working in a Coal Mine.’ Devo’s cover of that song, incidentally, does not sound a million miles removed from this one: you could credibly describe Devo’s  ‘Working in a Coal Mine’ as a cross between the original song, ‘Modern Dance’ and a pre-rock syncopated song like, for instance, Elvis Presley’s ‘Wooden Heart’.

Alan Greene (presumably – and as an aside, I note that Thomas credits him under his ‘real’ name, Alan Greenblatt, on the download details) contributes the guitar figure that runs throughout the song, and Scott Krauss adds a very solid, four-on-the-floor beat; considering that when Pere Ubu, by contrast, made a single at roughly the same time it was the loping, sing-song ‘Not Happy’ – let’s just say that ‘Atom Mind’ is a disco sparkler by contrast. Had one heard songs such as this one as examples of David Thomas’ solo direction in 1981, the assumption would surely be that the new direction would be unchallengeably commercial. Of course, this was not to be, though whether personnel are responsible rather than concerted decisions on Thomas’ part is probably unknowable.

What is the song about? Very few snatches of lyric are discernable. The second verse seems to reference ‘River Deep Mountain High’, or perhaps it doesn’t. There is also some confusion about whether the song is called ‘Atom Mind’ or ‘Atom Mine’ (the lyrics are very topographical, and do seem to be essentially concerned with a mine rather than a mind, though there are lines suggesting – if I’m hearing correctly – that ‘in my mind there’s the name of a town…’

The second song amongst these outtakes is ‘As Shoes Go By’, a more ragbag affair that, like ‘Atom Mind’, references another element of pre-avant garde Pere Ubu, the first album and its associated singles, and winks in the direction of ‘Drinking Wine (Spodyody)’ too. Like a lot of earlier Pere Ubu songs, the other musicians (presumably – or David Thomas singing very conventionally) on the recording provide backing vocals, singing ‘who’s that, who’s that’. The song breaks down a couple of times to showcase what sounds like a piece of found spoken word. Ravenstine is very much in evidence on this track, too (not so much on the others). It’s upbeat and throwaway – indeed, ‘Atom Mind’ and ‘As Shoes Go By’ would have made a great single A- and B-side.

Which just leaves us with the ‘Happy to See You’ version. I am going to stick my neck out and say that in fact this is a rough mix – Krauss’ count-ins and the abrupt ending (common enough practice for a rough, when all you need is a general indication of how things will sound when it’s done properly). The count-ins initially struck me as a piece of good-humoured anti-percussion, until I was reminded of Ralph Carney’s testimonial that he was a late-in-the-piece overdub; if Krauss’ eight seconds at the beginning are attempts to start the song (more likely an indication that someone else in the band was not ready, rather than that Krauss was in error) Carney apparently begins at precisely the first count, suggesting that this was indeed a talented musician making the best use of a ‘blank’ space at the beginning of a recording to create an extremely powerful and exciting intro. The only other bits left in for this version that aren’t on the final are around the 2 minute mark, where there is some very subtle guitar/amp noise and more count-in.


If I may just propose one more possibility:  perhaps this was an attempt to make a new Pere Ubu after Tom Herman left but before Mayo Thompson joined? Imagine Alan Greene, who was perhaps trying out for the newly remade group, wanting to take the band back to its late 70s, far more rock ‘n’ roll, roots. I admit this theory would hold a lot more water if Tony Maimone, not Paul Hamann, was on these tracks. He isn’t.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

mascot


Hi from Mascot. I am getting an early Tiger flight - the first of the day actually - back to Melbourne from Sydney where I cam specifically to attend a wonderful musical event you see advertised above. Sound was great. Bands were spectacular. Venue was tremendous. Food was pretty good too! Drinks were reasonably cheap. Company was very fine.

I have to sort through a hundred really low-quality phone pics, to find you a handful of very low-quality phone pics. But that may not happen till I get back to Melbourne, and since I'm flying Tiger, I may not get back to Melbourne in one piece but many. If so, let it just be said that I had a very vivid and real last day on earth, thank you to all involved, and the new music discoveries of 13 Sept 2014 for me were spectacular, and I would also like to say, look: shizzle is shizzle, and even shizzletacular shizzle doesn't have to shizzle everyone's futz for all time. A bientot!


Too many people sayin' sorry these days. Don't be sorry. You did great to sell out.
 I was just thrilled by the ceiling in the Marrickville Bowling Club, as will be made clear by the following pics.

Below is Jane Grant with a young lady who, if I remember correctly, was called Ari (spelling? not sure). They were talking about the right age to have babies I think.
I don't know these people. They were at the bar. I was just taking this picture thinking, 'this is happening NOW'
This band is called Melon Melon Melon. The man in the short-sleeved shirt is Jack Lee, and while I have never met the woman on the right I believe she is Stephanie. The man in the middle I don't know. They were all great, but it was particularly good when Stephanie got on the drums, she is a great drummer.

 People getting food. Under the amazing ceiling.

The rest of the pictures are interesting to me but so ridiculously dark... I'll chuck a couple in just for, um, what might arguably be called 'interest's sake'.
These are, of course, people watching the band. There was a column to the side of the stage which had a mirror on it and from where I was standing this mirror gave a great insight into what people are like when they are in public, but are relatively unselfconscious and not aware they are visible front-on. I don't know if it's unethical to photograph them. What do you think?  (I took quite a few pics but most didn't turn out)

Below- Dick Diver, who were really great. The girl in the green dress with the brown jacket was way cool and with people she adored.
This guy in the Lobby Loyde t-shirt was singled out for discussion by a number of people. Great idea. I want one.
 Outside at the bowling club, late in the night.