The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Friday, August 30, 2002
Currently playing: "Mafia" by Kelis.

Kaleidoscope - or at least its first eight tracks, before disastrously tailing off as per most R&B albums - is one of the more remarkable pop records of recent times, and one of these days I will write fully about it.

But this song. Sumptuous yet simple, almost medieval - the music could have come straight from Treasure by the Cocteau Twins - but what is she singing about? Decomposing bodies. I'd testify for you. I would FRY for you, she says emphatically. The tragedy buried beneath.

There is certain music about which I will not yet write on CoM. I do not feel comfortable writing about Joy Division, or the Cocteau Twins, or the Jam, or Kitchens of Distinction, or 14th century medieval music, or Hector Villa Lobos, or Pulp, or Mogwai, or the Who, or Northern soul. This music is at present beyond my criticism for it is not my music - it was OUR music, with all that implies. Laura's music as much as mine. And I won't sing of them while I'm still crying.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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And while I’m ranting on about The Wire – what about that “Epiphanies” piece on Westbrook’s Marching Song? Where was the blasted epiphany? Drear, dour DESCRIPTION (and mostly inaccurate description at that) accompanied by an alleged photo of Westbrook’s late ‘60s Concert Band in concert which was clearly the Brass Band performing Mama Chicago – by the personnel and look, I’d guess about 1983. When you think that they could have had a ready-made definitive piece on Marching Song (see my entry for 5 February 2002), it makes you want to…
..write for them?
Beg pardon?
Look you’re straining at the leash, gagging to write for The Wire. That’s why you’re annoyed, isn’t it?
And who the hell are you?
Hemingway’s Old Lady, I’m afraid.
Christ my inspiration really is at rock bottom at the moment isn’t it? Reduced to ripping off Death In The Afternoon.
And I expect you expect me to go and listen to all Westbrook records ever made before reading the next chapter?
More than that, I expect you already to have done it without prompting.
And I expect you’re wondering why I’m here?
Banal reasons, of course. Alter ego, internal dialogue…
The approach lacks chetif.
Well no one else seems to want to chat with me at the moment.
And whose fault is that?
With regard to Mike Westbrook…
Crap of course. Self-righteous jazz Benny Britten with shades of dank Dankworth.
He has tended to surround himself with unworthy people these last 30 years. But before that he could have been…well, a great facilitator.
Unworthy people? You mean compliant sidemen who won’t answer him back, like Keith Rowe and Lou Gare did back in the day. Or like…
…Yes I’ll come to him in a moment. But consider the chasm between Marching Song and everything else he has done. Or indeed his work pre- and post-…
…John Surman.
He was the real genius in the band, no?
Oh yes. Him and Mike Osborne. Listen to the dull Ellington/Evans/Mingus block plags which litter Westbrook’s ’67 debut Celebration. They in themselves are worthless. It is only the extraordinary commitment and passion PUNCTUMING the façade which Surman and Osborne’s saxophones provide. Anyone could see it. Without it – well, a track like “Echoes and Heroics” echoes too closely the heroics of Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.
Paul Rutherford and George Khan are very noticeably not on Celebration. Was he deliberately freezing them out to please the tentative punter?
Rutherford missed the session as he was on tour with the SME at the time. Khan was spending a year in New York, taking saxophone lessons from Sam Rivers and hanging out with Archie Shepp. Their absence was useful for the imagined listener’s foothold to be gained without obstruction.
And look at the musicians on the sleeve! All kitted out in regulation studio suits and ties, largely looking uncomfortable. Surman in particular looks as though he’s fit to burst!
And then – a release: ‘68’s Release!
Yes. Posing defiantly with a kid in front of a Churchill tank in the Imperial War Museum. Suits and ties are out, as are the french horn and tuba. Rutherford and Khan are defiantly in. The band audibly loosens up.
Chris McGregor’s influence?
Incalculable. Any surviving musician of the period will say so. The South Africans, with some prior assistance from the West Indians, injected the punctum into British jazz. Without them, it would have been too polite for consumption. But of course you can hear it all through Release. Jo’burg’s Harry Miller on bass – the umbilical link between the two operatives.
And it sounds so much more fun too!
Probably the nearest approximation you could get of how the band would have sounded live. It’s a shame they never made a live album.
That piece in the Wire – I would have loved to have seen even a photo of the band in action, never mind a film of them!
Or is it nearer the truth that we exult the Concert Band’s greatness, as with that of their mirror images and braver cousins the People Band, on the grounds that their history is so poorly documented? It exists as a glorious memory – the theatrical elements which were integral to Westbrook’s ideas. What would you think if you could obtain archive footage of them? Wouldn’t you be disappointed to find a token juggler and half a dozen naff slides? Isn’t it perfect because it is unrecorded?
I have heard the People Band album. As with most improv records, it lacks a dimension. You feel you are only getting half the story. What are they getting so excited about? You needed to be in the same studio as them, breathe the same oxygen as them, maybe even BE them.
Which was the concept of the People Band, anyway – the erosion of division between artists and audience; the exact reverse of the self-reverent AMM. Anyway, as far as Westbrook’s Release is concerned, it certainly sows the seeds of everything he went on to do thereafter; a scratch mix of free improv, jazz standards, pop tunes and impassioned instrumental soliloquies.
But here he had musicians capable of taking his vision elsewhere, and perhaps improving it.
No argument there. Surman and Osborne are again crucial throughout, Khan is the postmodern jester who nearly steals the record with his excoriating tenor assault on “Flying Home”…
One of the pieces of music which started you off on this trail, I believe.
I’ll never forget Ken Sykora on Radio Clyde in the late ‘70s playing this track and hastily fading it, commenting that “the saxophone noises on that track were bleated by Nisar Ahmad Khan…” It was the aesthetic equivalent of not throwing stones at this notice.
Philip Larkin liked it, but described it as “tarted up Debroy Somers.”
You have to remember that Larkin, towards the end of his jazz reviewing tenure at the Telegraph, tended to be diplomatic about then contemporary jazz instead of slagging it off outright. Nevertheless he seems genuinely to have liked Westbrook’s stuff.
And this is a bad thing?
Possibly. In any event…Malcolm Griffiths and Paul Rutherford are present, one of the great Britjazz trombone tag teams (the other being Nick Evans and Radu Malfatti in the Brotherhood of Breath throughout the ‘70s), and Rutherford is first on record with his multiphonics on “Folk Song,” a full six months before Mangelsdorff, as he never fails to remind me whenever I see him.
Namedropping will cut no ice with Mr Young.
Harry Miller and Alan Jackson; an indelible rhythm section. Unsung heroes like trumpeter Dave Holdsworth and mentalist Kiwi altoist Bernie Living. The latter’s tempestuous demolition of “Girl From Ipanema” still has the power to shock.
Khan and Living, of course, are better known for their work in the rock field. Westbrook seemed to struggle without that direct input.
Chris Spedding played guitar in the Concert Band whenever a guitar was required. But Westbrook’s rapproachment with rock never really came across as…
Go on, say it…
I wasn’t going to say “hard won.” It just didn’t seem felt. Older friends of mine recall having seen the Concert Band in the ‘60s (with Rowe and Gare on board) and confirm that at that stage it was essentially an Ellington tribute band.
And he can’t let go here, can he? Yes there are free excursions, but at the bottom of it all…”Sugar.” “Lover Man.” “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You.”
The music he really liked.
Solid Gold Cadillac?
That memorably failed enterprise of pop entryism has been documented so well elsewhere that there is no need to repeat the obvious here.
Oh no, you’re not getting away with that one. You’ve used that for Interpol and the Rapture!
Well, that’s how the late Ralph J Gleason got round it, and he was syndicated across hundreds of American newspapers, so it must be an OK technique. Anyway I have sat through both Solid Gold Cadillac albums on enough occasions and they are simply unconvincing. Phil Minton squealing about the machines taking over! You really do NOT need to know.
And then… Marching Song.
Which I have already discussed in detail.
And then…Surman leaves and Westbrook essentially falls apart.
There were arguments and Surman did not part from Westbrook on good terms. It took six years to mend the split and for Surman to return triumphantly for Citadel/Room 315. But you can tell the great divide between the first three albums and what came afterwards…Love Songs, and especially Metropolis. The latter using the same instrumentation (double rhythm section, etc.) as Marching Song, and which admittedly blows your mind for its first ten minutes and last ten minutes, and I would never get rid of it, but – the production’s all over the place. The band is sloppy and sounds uncoordinated. There is no central linchpin to hold the disparate elements together.
Surman was more or less the de facto day to day coordinator of the band, was he not?
Kind of. And he contributed to the writing on both Celebration and Marching Song. And there is a great hole in Metropolis where, frankly, he should be. Then again, listen to what Surman was doing at the time – the early Trio albums, Where Fortune Smiles with John McLaughlin and Karl Berger – he was continents ahead of Westbrook, who has to this day never quite managed to shed the persona of an eager but naff youth club organiser desperately trying to be hip with the kids. And of course the Brotherhood of Breath were steamrolling all this miserable politesse into the ground, with the notable assistance of a lot of frustrated Westbrookians – Surman, Osborne, Griffiths, Miller were all key members at that stage.
I expect you are going to talk about the Brotherhood of Breath and the Blue Notes now.
Steady on…I have to save something for The Wire. Rob, let me write that Primer!

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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