On my way to the Lakes recently I saw a Guardian review for ‘City’ – the new album by guitarist Stuart McCallum. I hadn’t known he was the guitarist in The Cinematic Orchestra, who I love, so I downloaded the album on Spotify. I had a great weekend climbing Scafell Pike and Harter Fell with a group of friends and ‘City’ was my soundtrack. I thought I’d take a look and see if Stuart was touring. He was and a few days ago I saw him play at Gumbles Jazz Club in Stafford with legendary jazz guitarist Mike Walker. There weren’t many there but it was a wonderful gig…with wonderful stories from Mike about his childhood in Salford. I’m hoping they’ll both come and play at one of our house concerts soon in Ettington.
So here are three tracks featuring Stuart. The first is ‘Lament for Levenshulme’ from his 2011 album ‘Distilled’
The second is the title track from his 2014 album ‘Beholden’ with Mike Walker.
The third is Familiar Ground from the 2007 album ‘Ma Fleur’ with The Cinematic Orchestra.
Evolution of a band
Apart from Hawkwind and Roy Harper the act I have seen live most often is Portico Quartet……well they’re now just plain old Portico. They were the token jazz band in the Mercury Music Prize nominations in 2009 and I saw a tiny clip of them playing at the awards do on Channel 4. I saw them live for the first time on 22nd May 2009 at (the sadly now defunct) Coventry Jazz Festival in the intimate Taylor John’s House. That night was all about the hang drum and Nick Mulvey who sat centre stage and seemed to be voice of the band. Each time I saw them after that a different musician seemed to dominate and the electronics started to come more and more into the fore. Nick Mulvey’s departure was announced at Cheltenham Jazz Festival and much of the set was played as a trio, without their trademark hang and we even saw the use of an electric bass. Keir Vine joined as a replacement hang drum player but was pushed to the sidelines and it was no surprise when he left altogether and Portico Quartet became plain Portico for their eponymous album of 2015.
‘Knee Deep in the North Sea’ recorded in 2008 and title track of their first album.
‘Line’ from second album ‘Isla’ that already started to be more experimental in all sorts of ways. The hang still very up front.
An untitled piece from the first part of their Cheltenham Festival set when there was no sign of Nick Mulvey but a clear sign that the band were ready to evolve into something beyond their jazz roots.
‘Ruins’ from the third and final studio album. The development continues with electronics playing a far bigger part and the hang put firmly in its place. Even the drum kit is becoming increasingly electronic.
The first appearance of vocals on a Portico track was on ‘Steepless’ also on their third album. The elements of the track were put out on Soundcloud and remixes were invited. Scores were made and the best were put out as an EP.
After the release of the ‘Live/Remix’ album the hang was abandoned completely. After a fairly long silence the band re-emerged as a trio – Portico – with the album Living Fields which had a very different sound and featured a numbe of vocalists including Jono McCleery on ‘Bright Luck’.
Sweet Billy Pilgrim
Named after the narrator of one of my favourite books (Slaughterhouse 5) Sweet Billy Pilgrim are a wonderful yet criminally unsuccessful band that I stumbled upon completely by accident on a double bill with Portico Quartet (at least they were a quartet at the time) at the CBSO Centre in November 2009. The link was that they’d both been shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize. Their last album (Crown and Treaty) got great reviews but sold so badly they ended up giving it away as a free download from their website for ages. There’s a new album due out soon but they’re having to crowdsourse the funding and it seems to be taking a desperately long time to see the light of day. When it does emerge it will be called Motorcade Amnesiacs. It can be pre-ordered here. In the meantime here is about half the band playing Future Perfect Tense (from the album Twice Born Men)….enough time changes to please any old Prog Rockers out there.
Dessert Island Discs
Every now and again a few friends get together to eat puddings and listen to LP records (mostly) that we like and want to share with others. We call this Dessert Island Discs. Sometimes there is a theme. The last DID theme was ‘Uplifting’. I couldn’t think of anything more uplifting than this live version of ‘Race for the Prize’ by The Flaming Lips:
Speeded up Urban Footage
I don’t think you can beat a bit of speeded up urban footage. Three of my favourite examples here.
Part of the Philip Glass soundtrack to the wonderful film Koyaanisqatsi.
One of my real finds following an extensive trawl of my brother-in-law’s extensive Greek music collection. Notis Sfakianakis and Guftissa Mera.
The violinist Jean-Luc Ponty at his creative peak. Perfect mix of violin and electronics from his 1983 album Individual Choice.