Archive for Art Bears

RECOMMENDED RECORDS: THE RAY GUN COMMEMORATIVE CATALOG

Posted in Albert Marcoeur, Art Bears, Chris Cutler, Eskaton, Henry Cow, L. Voag, Ray Gun Commemorative, Recommended Records, Red Balune, ReR Megacorp, Rock in Opposition, The Work, The World As it is Today with tags , , , , , on January 5, 2011 by candymachine

In my previous post, I wrote about the Rock in Opposition collective as it emerged in the late 1970s.  I wished to emphasize that it was rather short-lived and by the end of 1979 the R.I.O collective had already dissolved as a formal body. Perhaps some members of the original Rock in Opposition circle would say that it never actually reached a formalized form. The term, however, has lived on and is liberally used in various circles as a descriptive for bands working in the more avant or radical ends of the progressive rock music spectrum.

 If the spirit and raison d’etre of the Rock in Opposition movement was properly bequeathed anywhere, though, it was to Recommended Records (UK). This was an ‘unbusiness’ founded by Chris Cutler (Henry Cow & Art Bears drummer, and participant in Rock in Opposition), dedicated to working outside the established parameters of the corporate music business, making independent releases available, and to cultivating a catalog of excellence selected on the basis of musical merit alone.

 I became aware of Recommended Records (ReR) in the last months of the 70s, probably at the same time I had become aware of Rock in Opposition. The first ReR catalog I received was the March 1981 Ray Gun Commemorative catalog.  (That’s the cover printed above). It was a goldmine of superb recordings, some by artists I had already come across and many others by bands I had never heard of. I started with a small order, followed by another, then another, then another. Each successive order was riding the wave of enthusiasm which rolled in with the previous order.  Soon, I had picked up every title in the catalog and kept up with most new releases in successive catalogs. Some of the releases from that particular catalog which became early instant favorites for me were the eps by The Work and Red Balune, Albert Marcoeur’s first two albums, L. Voag’s The Way Out, Eskaton’s Ardeur, and the subscription item for that issue, The Art Bears’ The World as it is Today.

 If it’s not clear from the catalog title or image above, Ray Gun is a reference to then US president Ronald Reagan. The UK’s Margaret Thatcher appears on the back cover sporting Nazi regalia. A timely political rant in the form of an editorial introduced the catalog and preceded the music selections. As you can see from the catalog excerpt below, the whole thing was done ‘homemade’ style, hand written and accompanied by hand drawn illustrations. I read the small catalog cover-to-cover a zillion times. At 30 years old this year, the Ray Gun Commemorative has also become one of my longest held possessions. I still keep all of the pre-internet catalogs as cherished keepsakes.

 Recommended Records, now known as ReR Megacorp,  is alive and well today, continuing along its own unique path, still offering a treasure trove of music that is cutting, innovative and independent.  Do yourself a favor and check them out.

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BUT WHAT IS ROCK IN OPPOSITION?

Posted in Aksak Maboul, Art Bears, Art Zoyd, Chris Cutler, Guapo, Henry Cow, Picchio Dal Pozzo, Present, Rock in Opposition, Samlas Mannas Manna, Stormy Six, The Work, Thinking Plague, Univers Zero with tags , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2010 by candymachine

Or rather, what was Rock in Opposition?

 Today, I want to draw in closer to ‘Rock in Opposition’ and outline what it is –or was.  So, this post is something of a rough n’ ready primer. Those that are already familiar with Rock in Opposition can sit this one out and look forward to the next post, which will look back and celebrate the 1981 Raygun Commemorative Recommended Records catalogue.

 So, to begin at the beginning, one might jump back to March 12, 1978. This was the date of the first Rock in Opposition festival, held in London, England at the New London Theatre, and as such was the first public unveiling of Rock in Opposition. The festival was the first sprouting of a new tree, but the tree already had roots; the life of the oppositional tree had taken root underground and out of sight before March 12 ever rolled around.

 As the 1970s unfolded, the English band Henry Cow increasingly organized its touring schedule around mainland Europe. Back home in the UK, audiences were largely uninterested in their existence, primarily because they were unaware of their existence. The radicalized experimentation of Henry Cow’s contemporary rock-art didn’t fit well into the commercial categories that the corporate record industry was trying to nurture and develop. Consequently, Henry Cow, and bands like them, were filed in a bottom drawer and rarely saw the light of day. Virgin Records was to eventually drop Henry Cow from their roster because the Cows were not generating enough income for Virgin to warrant any substantial promotion. These cows were not cash cows. As a further consequence, Henry Cow began to take their own affairs into their own hands and started to carve out small networks and personal contacts around Europe on their own. These networks and contacts were inevitably forged with other bands who were also ‘not fitting’ neatly into the categories being developed, marketed and promoted by corporate industry. The ensuing result was that a small grouping of bands and like-minded co-conspirators were able to circumvent the corporate industry altogether and record, perform and distribute their music as they intended it, free of the programming dictates and ‘artist and repertoire’ concerns of a large record company. Remember that this is transpiring before the DIY ethos of the punk and new wave movements had washed in.

 And so it was, on March 12, 1978, that the initiatives and cooperative efforts of these ‘outside’ bands coalesced into a full blown festival (called ‘Rock in Opposition’) and subsequently a functioning collective. The five bands that performed at this first festival were Henry Cow, Samlas Mammas Manna (from Sweden), Etron Fou Leloublan (from France), Stormy Six (from Italy), and UniversZero (from Belgium). It’s difficult to describe this ‘Rock in Opposition’ music, as it pertained to these five groups, precisely because the groups were not musically homogeneous.  One could argue that the similarities they did share were more political and social in character than musical, except to say that musically each group was steeped in its own national cultural character rather than draped in the Anglo-American garb prevalent in the corporate commercial music world. I suppose that this too, however, could be counted as a political trait rather than a musical one.

 Following the festival, the bands continued to assist each other by setting up tours and contacts for each other in their respective countries. Then, in December of 1978, members of the five bands gathered together at Sunrise Studios in Switzerland (where a good number of records by Rock in Opposition bands were recorded) to discuss possibilities for the future. It was here that a sense of a formalized collective took shape. It was decided that new groups could be admitted into the collective under the following conditions – and here I am being skeletal:  1) musical excellence, as determined by the collective, 2) working outside the established, corporate music industry, 3) bearing a social commitment to rock music.  Given these conditions, three new bands were admitted into the Rock in Opposition collective. They were Aksak Maboul, the Art Bears and Art Zoyd. By this time, Henry Cow had split up, so the collective stood at seven members.  A second festival was held in late April-early May,1979 in Milan, Italy, at which all seven bands performed.

 Following the festival in Milan, the various member groups continued to assist each other in securing gigs and stayed in touch. But, since all of the bands involved were busy and heavily involved in their respective musical projects, the formalized aspects of being a collective began to loosen. I believe the Milan festival was the last time all of the RIO groups would be in attendance. In the words of Chris Cutler (Henry Cow, Art Bears), by the end of 1979 Rock in Opposition as a formal collective had slowly slipped away.

 The formal life of the Rock in Opposition movement, then, was relatively short. The name, however, would take on a life of its own and be used in various ways, usually to designate a particular kind of music, almost as if Rock in Opposition had been a genre. Bands such as Guapo, Thinking Plague, Present, or Miriodor have all been referred to as Rock in Opposition. Actually, many “progressive rock” bands exhibiting avant garde or experimental tendencies get labeled “RIO.” So, in the end, Rock in Opposition, or “RIO”,  floats free, unhinged from the collective which originally ushered it into existence, and detached from any articulated program of social and political concerns, which is what sparked the original collective into being in the first place.

 Having said that, a recent annual Rock in Opposition festival in Carmaux, France seems to have picked up the torch and some of the rhetoric of the early manifestoes. There are bands emerging who have been nurtured by the music of the early Rock in Opposition bands, and it doesn’t hurt the cause that there have been recent re-stagings of the Art Bears, a resurgence of UniversZero and CD archival releases by bands with extended family links like The Work, Picchio Dal Pozzo and Radar Favourites. From all of these, old threads may be picked up anew.

 For those wanting to investigate Rock in Opposition and its history in greater detail, a more substantial and authoritative account can be found at ccutler.com (click on ‘interviews’). Also, back in 1979, the long-gone Impetus magazine devoted an entire issue (#9) to Rock in Opposition and the five original groups which constituted the collective. Good luck finding that though.

SUBLIME BEAUTY WITH A JAGGED EDGE

Posted in Art Bears, Carla Kihlstedt, Chris Cutler, Cosa Brava, Dagmar Krauss, Dave Kerrman, FIMAV, Fred Frith, Jewlia Eisenberg, Kristin Slipp, News From Babel, Rock in Opposition, Skelton Crew, the Norman Conquest, Winter Songs, Zeena Parkins with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2010 by candymachine

Part Three of Three: The Art Bears Songbook in Victoriaville, May 2008 and in Carmaux, Sept. 2010.

When I heard that the Art Bears Songbook would close the 25th edition of the FIMAV festival in May 2008, I immediately phoned Victoriaville to secure a ticket and booked a flight for Quebec. After all, it had been more than 25 years since the Art Bears called it a day. The very idea was audacious. The bar had been set so high by the albums! How could the performance do anything but disappoint? Hopes ran as high as the expectations.

Much work had been done in rehearsal time leading up to the performance, which took place, I believe, in a closed-down wing of the Colibri Hotel. I suspect that the job of writing the material into concert-ready form fell largely on the shoulders of Fred Frith, although I equally suspect that the final form of things was crunched out by the group on the rehearsal room floor. I saw Frith and Cutler, and Dave Kerman too, sitting in the lobby of the Colibri Hotel, sheet music spilling over a table, ironing out last details. A friend and I took the opportunity to drop off a few bottles of wine to the table, for the band, as a (silly?) kind of thank you gift for everything that had come before.

But, as is well known now, the band delivered a performance for the ages at FIMAV, one that rose even higher than the high hopes and expectations of those in attendance. For me, it was not only the highlight of the festival, but my own favourite concert ever! I was so enthralled that afterwards I said I’d travel anywhere to see it all again. Hence, in September 2010, I found myself in Carmaux, France, at the Rock in Opposition festival, where the Art Bears Songbook would take the stage for a second time.

The performance in Quebec had the cachet of being the first, but the show in Carmaux would have something the FIMAV show didn’t – Dagmar Krause would join the band in France! In Victoriaville, Jewlia Eisenberg, Kristin Slipp and Carla Kihlstedt did a very fine job handling the vocals. They didn’t attempt to emulate the stylings and delivery of Krauss, but rather played to their own considerable strengths to set the songs. Eisenberg was ill and could not participate in Carmaux, which set the stage for Krauss to join the group. And she was in fine form. The singing that left you breathless when listening to the albums left you breathless live as well.

There were some technical difficulties to be overcome in the beginning stages of the show; the vocalists seemed to be having some trouble with getting the right balance in their monitors and may have had trouble hearing themselves, but this was not an issue out front in the audience. We were too busy being awe-struck at how the band pulled off performing parts of songs that were originally studio constructions. The instrumental sections of Rats and Monkeys, for example, were jaw-dropping. If you weren’t at either concert, go listen to this piece (from Winter Songs) and imagine that being rendered live. Or, what do you do with something like the backwards / manipulated vocals that begin First Things First? (from Winter Songs) You could bypass them altogether and do something different, or just play a tape alongside the band, as some groups would, or if you’re Dagmar Krauss and Kristin Slipp, you learn to sing the backwards / manipulated vocals in real time! And that drumming? If you thought that Chris Cutler’s drum kit sound could only exist in a studio, you were wrong. The sound, the tension, the breath and space, the rhythms, the colours – it was all there in real time, right before our ears. Zeena Parkins and Carla Kihlstedt are essential too. I can’t imagine the band without them. Both (as well as the Norman Conquest) are members of Frith’s Cosa Brava, and the time, energy, and fun, that they’ve poured into playing together is clearly audible. (Parkins, of course, also played with Frith in Skeleton Crew and with Cutler in News From Babel, as well as many other groupings, improvised or otherwise, over the years).

And what more can be said of Fred Frith? He continues to be where he has been for close to 40 years now – at the forefront of cutting new music. He bounced from electric guitars to bass to piano and also provided some vocals, and at the end of the night he probably breathed a great sigh of relief and, I hope, a great smile too. I certainly did. This was the best concert I’ve seen since the last time I saw the band in Victoriaville. It’s not so often you see a show end with the audience standing, clapping, hollering and then booing the stage crew when they start dismantling the stage. This crowd wanted more, and I hope they get it. The Art Bears Songbook is a wild, artistic success and I hope their day is not yet done. 

Photo courtesy of FIMAV.

These two very cool images from the Carmaux concert were taken from a blog called The Clock That Went Backwards

SUBLIME BEAUTY WITH A JAGGED EDGE

Posted in Art Bears, Carla Kihlstedt, Chris Cutler, Dagmar Krauss, Henry Cow, Hopes and Fears, Jewlia Eisenberg, Kristin Slipp, Marc Hollander, Peter Blegvad, the Norman Conquest, The World As it is Today, Zeena Parkins with tags , , , , , , , on November 8, 2010 by candymachine

Part Two of Three: From the Art Bears to the Art Bears Songbook

Once upon a time, in the 1970s, there was a seminal and superb band called Henry Cow. Fred Frith and Chris Cutler were members of that illustrious band.  In early 1978, they set upon the task of writing some new material for the next Henry Cow album. What they wrote were songs, which were recorded by Henry Cow, but subsequently considered to be unsuitable for the band.  So, Frith and Cutler  – and Henry Cow’s inimitable vocalist, Dagmar Krauss – took the songs and worked the material into an album that would be released under the banner of the Art Bears.

 So, in a sense the Art Bears came into existence as an organic outgrowth of Henry Cow. In fact, the other members of Henry Cow, Lindsay Cooper, Tim Hodgkinson and Georgie Born, can all be heard on the first Art Bears album, titled Hopes and Fears (1978). Two more albums followed before the Art Bears called it a day: Winter Songs (1979) and The World As it is Today (1981). There was a short tour of Europe in the spring of 1979, with Marc Hollander (Aksak Maboul) and Peter Blegvad (Slapp Happy/Henry Cow) along as guests.

 Their three albums still stand as high water marks of so-named avant rock / RIO / progressive music. Let’s put aside these labels and just call these albums three of the most compelling, unflinching and breathtaking recordings yet to be released by homo sapiens sapiens! Make An effort to seek out these recordings if you are not familiar with them!  Then, almost as fast as they had come, they were gone. They called it a day in 1981, but in short order, the Art Bears acquired legendary status in their field.

 Fast forward more than two decades and a young and frighteningly formidable violinist by the name of Carla Kihlstedt and vocalist extraordinaire Jewlia Eisenberg were playing in a band that included Art Bears songs in their repertoire. They asked Fred Frith to join them, which he did, once. The results prompted Eisenberg to invite both Frith and Chris Cutler to participate at a later gig. The intent was there, but the gig never happened. Still, the seeds for the Art Bears Songbook were sown here. A few years later, the idea re-emerged and then the 25th edition of the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville provided an opportunity.

 But the FIMAV performance was not intended to be Rock in Opposition’s version of an Eagles Reunion. This was to be a contemporary revisiting of the Art Bears’ work, an approach to the material that would move forward as it looked back. To this end, an enhanced and expanded line-up would take to the stage in Victoriaville. Nobody likes the phrase ‘supergroup ,‘ but let’s face it – Zeena Parkins (keyboards, accordion), Carla Kihlstedt (violin, vocals), Jewlia Eisenberg (vocals), Kristin Slipp (vocals) and the Norman Conquest (sound manipulation), in addition to originals Fred Frith (guitar, bass, piano) and Chris Cutler (drums). The Art Bears’ original siren / singer, Dagmar Krauss, did not participate at FIMAV.

 

 

 

 

Art Bears audio samples can be heard at  ReRMegacorp.com

Next time: The Art Bears Songbook in Victoriaville, May 2008 and in Carmaux, Sept. 2010.

Part One of Three: The Art Bears n’ Me

Posted in Aksak Maboul, Art Bears, Art Zoyd, Etron Fou Leloublan, Fred Frith, Henry Cow, Rock in Opposition, Samlas Mannas Manna, Stormy Six, Univers Zero, Western Culture, Winter Songs with tags , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2010 by candymachine

Discovering the Art Bears’ Winter Songs (1978) and Henry Cow’s Western Culture (1979) was a ground zero experience for me.

Back in the late 70s, I had on occasion come across Henry Cow in print and they always sounded interesting. They were on my list of groups to check out — if I could ever find one of their records. I had never even seen one before. I had also heard of the Art Bears. They were an offshoot of Henry Cow and one of their albums received a 5 star review in Downbeat magazine. They were also on my list of groups to check out — if I could ever find one of their records.

 I was living in Victoria, BC in the late 70s, but would occasionally take the ferry over to Vancouver for some record shopping. On my very first expedition to the legendary, but now extinct, Black Swan Records, I walked away with both the Art Bears’ Winter Songs and Henry Cow’s Western Culture.  Hearing these two records was nothing short of a revelation. So dramatic was my reaction to hearing these two records that I started carting off most of my record collection to the local used record store in Victoria. At a stroke, I turned the page on a lot of the music I had been listening to. The Art Bears and Henry Cow killed my record collection!

 Shortly after buying the albums, I learned of their involvement in Rock in Opposition, a collective instigated by Henry Cow and which also included bands Samlas Mammas Manna from Sweden, Univers Zero from Belgium, Etron Fou Leloublan from France and Stormy Six from Italy. It was later expanded to include the Art Bears, Art Zoyd and Aksak Maboul. The Rock in Opposition groups existed outside of the recording industry and its marketing and distribution networks. (No wonder I could never find any of their records). Their uncompromising approaches and refusal to fit themselves into market-friendly musical forms virtually guaranteed that the industry would not be interested in them. They therefore banded together and created their own network to help each other set up tours, release records and find new audiences. Through learning about Rock in Opposition, I developed a greater understanding of the political economy of the recording industry, and of the consequences for groups who were unable to, or chose not to, work within the parameters of the industry. Discovering the Art Bears and Henry Cow, then, led to a politicization of music for me. As a direct result, it wasn’t long before I left my job at a major record retailer just because I didn’t want to be a cog in the workings of the industry. I also shifted the bulk of my record shopping to independent record shops and labels.

 As well, my interest in philosophy and history developed as a result of being engaged in these social and cultural issues. This eventually led to attending college courses and going on to university. The music and working examples of these two bands, and then the other bands involved in Rock in Opposition, affected my ideas of the social world and my place in it.  Life itself became different after the Art Bears & Henry Cow. When I look back and contemplate this time of my life (from a comfy armchair, espresso in hand), I sometimes think of George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. Where would I be today if I never heard Winter Songs or Western Culture? Who would I be?

The above is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Music Is Rapid Transportation …from the Beatles to Xenakis, available soon from Charivari Press

The Art Bears, back in the day, (photo source unknown, sorry).

 

 

WELCOME TO CANDY MACHINE!

Posted in Art Bears, Fred Frith with tags , , , , , on November 1, 2010 by candymachine

Welcome to Candy Machine.  I took the name from one of Fred Frith’s titles. You can find it on the CD (or DVD), Step Across the Border. Actually, you can hear the piece ‘Candy Machine’ on the cd, but you can also see the actual machine that the piece is named for on the DVD. If you don’t know who Fred Frith is, you will after visiting this blog a few times. He’ll show up frequently. Better yet, make an effort to check out his music. It might change the way you listen to the world.

 A candy machine is also one of those ‘machines’ you often see in the foyers of supermarkets or shopping malls (in North America anyway) which look like over-sized gumball machines, and which will dispense a treat – after you first shove some money into it. I liked the idea of the candy machine as a metaphor for gaining access to music. It’s oddly appropriate for today’s download music culture. I also love the piece by Frith.  I even used it as the intro music to a college radio show I once hosted many years ago. So, the title offered itself, and I took it.

 What will you find here? Mostly celebrations of music that I enjoy: musings, meanderings, meditations, reflections, explications.  So, this is my first post, but really it just serves as an introduction and handshake. The actual inauguration begins with the next post….the first of a three-part look at the Art Bears and the Art Bears Songbook!