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Review: John Cale presents The Velvet Underground and Nico, at Liverpool Sound City (26th May 2017)

30 May

Velvets John Cale

Of all the revered groups of the ‘60s, none probably deserve the accolade of most influential group like The Velvet Underground. An east coast contrast to the (superficially) loved up Summer of Love, mainly concentrated on the sunny west coast, The Velvets were a very uncommercial consideration in 1967. But, years later, Brian Eno famously quipped that although their debut album had only sold 30, 000 copies, every one of those people formed their own band.

Fast forward fifty years, and the band’s most famous and successful member is no longer with us. Lou Reed’s death, and that of Sterling Morrison and chanteuse Nico, leaves only founding member John Cale and drummer Mo Tucker. Not one to get overly nostalgic, Cale felt an overwhelming urge to pay recognition to The Velvet’s legacy and fans by celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of The Velvet Underground and Nico, which leads us to this first of two celebratory concerts (the second to take place, quite naturally, in New York).

My first reaction to the music was how strange it was to hear it at what was essentially a stadium gig. The album’s dark and insular themes are perhaps best suited to a more intimate environment, most likely an indoor one, so hearing The Velvet’s music in a stadium setting was a surprise to the senses, but not a completely unwelcome or unsuccessful one.



Taking place on the first night of Liverpool’s annual Sound City urban festival, Cale’s performance took place in a post-industrial wasteland not entirely in tune with The Velvet’s nilisitic and bleak New York origins, but not entirely at odds with it either. The dead pan cool of the band’s hey day was reinforced through a selection of images projected onto the huge screens at either side of the stage. What didn’t serve the music as well were a less than dominant sound system and a rosta of supporting players who were of variable quality. Cale started proceedings with a decent performance of ‘Waiting for the man’, although he would struggle to replicate Reed’s scornful vocals throughout, but would return to the microphone at several points in the concert. In-between, however, appeared a mixture of the very good to the mediocre. The Kills’ Alison Mossheart in memorable leather clad rock chick glory, contrasted with my favourite Velvet’s song ‘All tomorrow’s Parties’ , unfortunately diluted by Lias Saoudi from The Fat White Family. Far better when Saoudi tackled the glorious cacophony that is ‘Heroin’, with a lot more verve, and Nadije Shah delivered a pleasing ‘Femme Fatale’. None of the album’s songs were played in original order, but mixed up with other Velvets tracks. I didn’t mind this; any pretence to presenting these songs as some first heard them in 1967 or actually on disc, was quickly abandoned. That was wise; rather than a note by note reproduction, this was more of a celebration of that music’s essence, in a setting unfamiliar to the ‘60s Factory crowd.

The concert ended with an epic version of ‘Sister Ray’, where the numerous guests appeared to surrender to the music and offer their best. Cale was present throughout, an obvious talent and occasionally eager to show off his viola skills. Cutting a stylish and relatively youthful looking figure, despite his white hair, Cale remains the only original Velvets band member to remain musically active. While this might not be his finest hour, it was still an engrossing presentation of a songbook that continues to influence and inspire. While Cale is not a man who usually looks back with obvious nostalgia, and despite any weaknesses in the presentation, I was very glad he had made an exception.


From Rolling Stone Magazine:

John Cale will also perform The Velvet Underground and Nico with The Wordless Music Orchestra, at The Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City, on November 16th and 17th.


Photograph used with respect from Liverpool ECHO site.

A splendid time was photographed for all.

30 Mar


My first post since January. So, as a toe dip back in the blogging water, I’ll keep it short! It came to my attention that there was a significant pop cultural anniversary coming up and that even today it would be apt to mention part of its creation. The 30th March 2017 marks 50 years since the photography shoot of The Beatles’ iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. An era defining musical game changer or more of a curate’s egg? I have much more to say about that album, but for now, here is some excellent information on that day:


Not Fade Away…The Rolling Stones at Glastonbury and why age is not a barrier to good rock performance.

5 Jul


This last weekend, in a (very huge) field in Somerset, the Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts raised the bar once again on exciting things to do in a field. I’m echoing several other bloggers here, when I say that too much has probably been made of the event’s corporate nature, which in comparison to something such as V Festival, for example, isn’t really the case. Glastonbury has got huge, and has to operate as a viable business to survive. It’s a gargantuan undertaking; the erection of marquees, tents, stages, stalls, even buildings, to make up a temporary small town. That’s before we come to the almost countless performance artists and other contributors at work there. However well organised Glastonbury is, there is always someone, somewhere, moaning about how it doesn’t compare to smaller events (which should be obvious) and how it can’t compete with the memory of the counter-cultural happenings of the sixties. Well, no, it probably can’t; times have changed, and we didn’t really have a festival like Glastonbury back then anyway, if we’re to be completely honest. It’s origins lie in that culturally seismic era, but here we are today with a rather different beast; and it’s great. A huge English garden party in acres of farm land, with music and performance, with a subtle edge of suspect but ambient mysticism. Look, it’s summer. What could be better than live music, fun and games in a field with that great British sense of surreal humour and a background touch of the Arthurian?? Don’t knock it, it’s a great summer tradition.. Continue reading

‘The music is your special friend, dance on fire as it intends’: RIP Ray Manzarek (1939- 2013).

21 May


I’m up to my proverbial eyeballs in Masters Dissertation work, not to mention the other paid kind (which I just did), but a quick blog post is needed today I feel. One of my music idols passed away yesterday, and what a surprise it was. I thought he was in the rudest of health. Ray Manzarek, best known as the keyboardist and one of the founding members of The Doors, died after a battle with cancer. Continue reading

The generation who had a new explanation. Remembering the decade I never knew…Destination Sixties.

24 Feb


I didn’t live through the 1960s; I wasn’t even born during that decade and yet that era has had such a big impact on me that I feel I should share some thoughts on the subject. Of course this is where I should define exactly what the subject is. One decade is a fairly big subject; and just what aspect of a ten year period am I considering and is it really ten years. Is it really so clear cut?

To be precise, I’m talking about the Sixties as a creative influence, a constant reference for what has come afterwards in the Arts. It’s an odd thing, since nobody ever taught me that there was something ‘special’ about the 1960s in the context of the 20th century, although that would appear to be the latter day suggestion- I kind of taught myself that truth. If indeed it is one. Growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s involved lots of good cultural reference points for one to reminisce about in later yeas, but the ‘70s seemed grimmer and more about ‘making do’. Like the morning after a great party. Or is that just the way I chose to see it? Continue reading

The Pink Floyd albums: Saucerful of Secrets (1968)

13 Dec

A belated (some might say) second post to follow my The Piper at the Gates of Dawn review. Not very seasonal I suppose, but there is something Christmas-esque in the whimsy of Syd Barrett era Floyd, even though his impact was largely superseded by this album, Saucerful of Secrets. For Floyd novices, this is the difficult second album after their former leader left (and went a little ‘strange’). By posting this I feel as if I’ve now committed to writing about all of this seminal rock band’s albums (at least the studio offerings). A brave move! So, with no further delay….I give you 1968’s Saucerful of Secrets!


Saucerful of Secrets (1968)

In 1968 Pink Floyd must have felt like a band with a very uncertain future. It had become clear that founder Syd Barrett was not a well man, and was finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the pressures of fame, success and being in a high profile group. As Syd was Pink Floyd’s lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter this was a worrying state of affairs. Everyone was looking at him to deliver new songs and it was clear that he just wasn’t up to the challenge.
It’s difficult to imagine where Pink Floyd may have gone if Syd had managed to stay with the band, although its perhaps unlikely. Even without the aggravating effects of LSD and other substances, Syd may have still gone the way he did.

Roger Waters has spoken about the last time he played with Syd. It was a new song Syd had written called “Have you got it yet?” After changing the structure of the song every time Waters tried to play it, thus making sure Waters got it wrong, Waters finally got the joke and put his guitar down. By the time of his last live appearances with the band Syd would just stand there strumming one chord. One famous anecdote has him crushing Mandrax (a sedative) into Brylcreem and spreading it all over his head. Other stories tell of psychotic behaviour to people outside the band, such as girlfriends. It had become obvious to the other band members that he wasn’t right of mind.
Either way, Syd Barrett’s place in Pink Floyd was as good as over. Continue reading

The Pink Floyd albums: ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’

16 May

One of the perennial great British rock bands, Pink Floyd have long been the favourite of ‘serious’ album fans the world over, and my recent re-introduction to their canon felt like a good subject for discussion. I personally cite their early ‘60s incarnation as my favourite, far removed from the long slow soundscapes of later years, but I’d argue far more edgy and subversive and more engaging for me as a result.

Before listening to their debut album, there’s nowhere better to start than “Arnold Layne”, which is a great single and a decent example of British psychedelia. Us Brits were arguably always more surreal and witty with our pop music and our version of psychedelia has a different feel to it than the sun kissed visions that came out of California. Like much Brit Pop the subject matter is more down to Earth (although absurd and amusing), but all wrapped up in a wonderful trip down the rabbit hole. Continue reading

Trout Mask Replica

24 Jan

Some of the best things in life are challenging, there’s no doubt, and you don’t often realise their brilliance until it’s almost too late. Now, Trout Mask Replica may well be one of those things. Don’t get me wrong here, Trout Mask… is not a music album you would find in many music fan’s top 50 albums of all time. Well, not your average fan at any rate. It was recorded by the recently deceased Captain Beefheart (not his real name, funnily enough) and his so called “Magic band”.

This experimental opus, released in 1969, was a fusion of delta blues, free style Jazz, avant-garde strangeness and general out of tune clarinets and sax, brain rattling repitition and plenty of enthusiastic banging. The whole album sounds like a bunch of stoned freaks broke into your garage with lots of random instruments (which they’d forgotten how to play), and decided to record an album. Which it kind of is.

Its brilliance lies in its unashamed exuberance. It’s not a joke. The Magic Band really meant it. It has tracks which border on all out lunacy and have you wondering what the hell they were all on (shouts of “Fast and bulbous!” are sure to get your neighbours interested, in the wrong way). But hey, one man’s lunacy is another’s psychological mecca. Even the album cover art gives the casual viewer cause for concern. The guy on the cover has a fish’s face. Not normal, that. By all accounts, the photo shoot was a very unpleasant experience, as that trout wasn’t a particularly new trout (and from what I’ve heard, they smell pretty bad as soon as you take ’em out of the water). A small price to pay for art I suppose.

Don Glen Vliet (for that was Beefheart’s real name) passed away just over a month ago, in his native California, and it’s solely because of this weird and wonderful double album of experimental noise that I can honestly say that I’ll mourn his passing. Both him, his band and this album have been on my mind today because last night I had to explain to my Dad who Beefheart was. He’d read some obituary some weeks back and had ended up reading about the guy’s life (and his friendship with the late Frank Zappa). My Dad’s experience of the ’60s is very much one of the generation gap- he was the wrong side of thirty when this racket came out, and didn’t have a cat in hell’s chance of hearing it. He might have got to hear Engelbert Humperdinck’s latest at the time, though, if you see what I’m saying.

Still, Mr. Vliet can rest easy in his grave knowing that in the end even my Dad got to know who he was. Pity he had to die first, but that’s show business for you. However, I’m not quite ready to play my Dad ANY of  Trout Mask Replica yet. He thinks I’m quite weird enough as it is.

Fast and bulbous!