This blog began in 1997 as a single news page called Nucelus. In 2005, during a long wait to move into a new house, I decided to learn some php and MySQL and write my own blogging system, which became inkyBlog and which now powers this, my own Webbledegook blog.
Thank you to my brother, Murray Ewing, for help with some of the more challenging aspects!
Rasputina is really cellist Melora Creager with a changing cast of support players along the way. Her notability was bolstered after serving as cellist for Nirvana on their final European tour in 1994. Rasputina's first album, Thanks for the Ether, came in 1996, followed two years later by the much stronger How We Quit the Forest - both with Columbia. Their next two albums, Cabin Fever and Frustration Plantation, both very good, were released through Instinct.
Oh Perilous World (2007) was the third recording to be released through Creager's own label, Filthy Bonnet, the first being an excellent live album, A Radical Recital (2005). Besides Melora, the line-up included Jonathan TeBeest, on drums and percussion, who had also appeared on Frustration Plantation as well as Creager's first solo album, Perplexions, and Sarah Bowman on backing vocals (she was also second cello live, having been with Rasputina since 2006).
Oh Perilous World is a concept album telling of a world that exists in an alternate dimension, one where the Pitcairn Islands, overseen by Thursday October Christian, are under threat from an over-reaching United States ruled by Queen Mary Todd Lincoln. You get the feeling it could work as an avant-garde musical of some sort, the storytelling narrative is imaginative, clever, and entertaining.
The opening track, 1816, the Year Without a Summer, is a perfect assemblage of music, composition and lyrics - a work of art. Taking as its basis the freak climate events of 1816, it acquaints us with the disastrous crop failures of the late Little Ice Age ("so Mary Shelly had to stay inside and she wrote Frankenstein"), the conspiracy theories of the time ("Benjamin Franklin and his experiments with electricity"), and the later discovery of the real cause of it all - the eruption the previous year of Mount Tambora in the East Indies. No doubt the song has one eye also on the growing climate catastrophe we face today.
Subsequent tracks introduce us to the main narrative, taking us to the Pitcairns with creative use of overdriven cello and zinging dulcimer - the latter a characteristic sound of the record which, I admit, took me a while to acclimatise to. Throughout the album Creager's cello sounds awesome - wonderful woody tones, pizzicato arpeggios, deep drawn bass notes, and distorted riffs - the culmination of years of experience and experimentation all coming together.
Draconian Crackdown, featuring the American Queen in a post-9/11-type frenzy, has the feel of a Led Zeppelin rocker - I can imagine it fitting into Houses of the Holy or Physical Graffiti. Oh Bring Back the Egg Unbroken is a wonderful composition, based on the Rapa Nui tradition of the tangata manu - the race to swim out to a small rocky outcrop and return with the intact egg of the sooty tern.
Vying with 1816 for the best track on the album is In Old Yellowcake, a masterful composition with a nod to the forged Niger uranium documents that boosted the US and UK's case for war on Iraq, and more specifically about the assault on Fallujah. If the album had a single, this might be it, and Creager has hinted in live shows that it may have had the potential to be 'popular' - if they had been that kind of band.
A Retinue of Moons is a double-feature, enjoined to The Infidel In Me, yet another album highlight, particularly the latter piece, though both are wonderfully constructed arrangements, orchestral and dramatic with flowing changes in tempo and melody, epically cinematic in scope. I must also mention Melora's vocals - like her music unique, sublime, and full of character.
Oh Perilous World quickly became one of my very favourite albums, and one of the few for which I occasionally lie down and listen to, eyes closed, (hopefully) no distractions, to bathe in completely. I like every song; it remains highly original, lyrically brilliant, and eternally satisfying. I can certainly imagine this record won't be to everyone's taste, but for me it's a masterpiece.
I can't remember how I discovered The Groundhogs for myself. I was heavily into blues, both American artists such as Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and John Lee Hooker, and the British scene - particularly John Mayall, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, Rory Gallagher (yes, Irish), Free and Cream. I spied the double-album Groundhogs Best 1969-72 and it blew me away. Then a friend informed me the band were still going and sometimes played locally. Sure enough, just a few months later I think, The Groundhogs appeared at The Shelley Arms, Nutley, a venue I'd played many times with my own band.
It remains the best gig I've ever been to. The Shelley Arms was not a big venue, and I was stood right at the front, with McPhee standing directly in front of me, raised only a little by the tiny stage. It was almost like a private show and the energy was outstanding. I came away in shock.
I saw them several more times, from Brighton to London and in between. I got a job as a conference porter at a local hotel and was shown the ropes by the outgoing porter, Aaron. One day, as we sat down to lunch he asked me who my favourite bands were. "You've probably never heard of them", I said, "but I really love a band called The Groundhogs". He laughed - "Oh, Tony McPhee? He's my uncle!". And it was true - we went up to London together to see Tony play and I got introduced, a thrill (thanks, Aaron!).
Our band covered two Groundhogs songs - 3744 James Road and BDD, the first from the 1972 album Hogwash , and the latter from 1969's Blues Obituary . Both remain terrific classic albums, but even better are Thank Christ For The Bomb (1970) and the incredible Split (1971). Along with 1972's Who Will Save The World? The Mighty Groundhogs (complete with Neal Adams artwork), these five albums are the pinnacle of Tony's work (in my opinion), but he didn't let up, with many more gems on more albums from 1974 right up to the turn of the century and 1999's Muddy Waters Songbook and beyond - not to mention a rich library of official live recordings and solo projects.
Tony McPhee worked incredibly hard, put out strong, quality material, but undoubtedly did not quite have the wider reputation and recognition he deserved (though Paul Freestone's excellent Eccentric Man - A Biography & Discography of Tony (TS) McPhee is a worthy tribute). Maybe if he'd have joined John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in 1965, when he was asked to replace Eric Clapton, things might have been different, but I suspect not - McPhee was too much of an individual who had to do his own thing to thrive. He did that, and maybe with his sad passing some wider recognition will come. But his wonderful work is available, and if you haven't heard it before, now's the time.
Most of these are perennials - albums that are intertwined with my history, burned into my neural pathways in some way, or chained to particular times or emotions. It's a tough decision, and many favourites have been left behind. I worry there's not enough diversity here - because actually my music collection is very diverse. But from this I was formed, and that's the way it is.
Highlights included the taiko drummers (a form that swept me off my feet at the Japan Expo in L.A in 1985), the vacuum-tube bass sounds provided by Mixed Up (a troupe who bashed kitchen sinks and shopping trolleys), Sur-Taal (sitar, and I love the sound of a drone), and the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra who really stood out. The evening ended with Land of Hope and Glory and flag-waving, not my strong-point, but I joined in, of course.
I have put up a page that features tape recordings from a gig we played at The Ravenswood Inn, Sharpethorne, in May 1992 - those days were really enjoyable and happy times. Hope you enjoy the recordings.
They come complete with a Frank Frazetta cover (what could be more apt?) and it's nice to hear that the E-minor pentatonic scale is in pretty good hands and still doing what it does best.
Embarrassing moment no.327: while working as a porter at a Gatwick hotel, I asked one of the chambermaids if she wanted a pass to this new venue called the 101 Club (I was in promotion mode, not flirting - at least I don't think I was). It was quite noisy in the canteen and she was horrified to (mis)hear I was asking her to go to something called the One-on-one club! I don't think she ever looked me in the eye again.
And a little story about Bonx and his old band, Pump. When 5D organised a birthday bash at Clair Hall in Haywards Heath in 1992, we had 5 or 6 bands play. Someone had to go on first, and the band we felt were the least well-known of the bunch (and they were all top local bands) was chosen. Upon hearing this, the band refused to participate, as they felt it was too early in the evening and the crowd would not be large enough yet. So we had to get a new band in quickly, and asked Pump. They were professional to the hilt - it is true the crowd was small that early, and mostly round the corner in the bar, but Bonx didn't even mention it and played one of the best and tightest sets of the night.
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