Friday, 20 July 2012

Jon Lord 1941 - 2012

It barely seems like five minutes ago that I was writing a post about the role of the extraordinary Hammond Organ in my musical apprenticeship (in fact it was over two years ago) and now here we are mourning the passing of one of its greatest exponents, Jon Lord.  Along with the likes of Stevie Winwood, Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman, Jon Lord was a master of the instrument and his signature jazz/rock licks can be heard underpinning music from Deep Purple, Whitesnake and his various collaborative bands from the sixties to the point when he became ill with cancer a year or so ago.

Weirdly, I never owned a Deep Purple studio album, opting for the ‘Live in Japan’ set and the rare ‘Marks I and II’ compilation but always kept a batch of taped DP singles recorded from the radio and TV.  More particularly, and in my usual manner of going for the fringe projects, I bought Deep Purple’s 1969 ‘Concerto For Group and Orchestra’ written by Lord, which I enjoyed then and still like today.  It speaks volumes of the man that he could encompass all forms of music from the discipline of classical composition to the unstructured improvisation of jazz and the sheer brutality of heavy rock.  In his mind, it was all just music and for that I applaud him.  It was a concept that he understood completely yet my music teachers at school failed to grasp.  As a consequence, I was instructed to believe that anything that wasn’t classical wasn’t really music.  What piffle – yet this was the late sixties when such views were rife.  This attitude has changed, thankfully, and today I can attend my daughter’s school concert and hear pieces by Mendelssohn, Bach, Lennon & McCartney and Journey (!)

In 1969 the idea of a ‘Rock Concerto’ was uncharted territory and tantamount to suicide artistically as the audiences for classical and rock music were utterly divided by both generation and attitude.  Rather than try to gloss over this chasm, Lord cleverly treated the rock band as the Concerto ‘soloist’ in place of the usual single instrument and rather than try to blend rock and orchestral instruments together, actually accentuated their differences by making the band loud and raucous thus creating a musical war that is full of drama and conflict.  The live recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Malcolm Arnold is stirring stuff, full of great orchestral themes juxtaposed with bluesy fuzzed up guitar solos.

I admired Jon Lord both as a composer and a musician and if you don’t like his Concerto (or subsequent Gemini Suite) just go and listen to his solos on ’Highway Star’ or ‘Burn’.  After all, it’s just music.

RIP Jon.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Doris Brendel - Not Utopia

I’d just got my USB turntable working properly with Windows 7 (thanks to v2.0 of Audacity) and was busy converting King Crimson’s awesome 1974 offering, ‘Red’ to MP3 when what should pop up in my Inbox but a message from that purveyor of eclectic pop, Doris Brendel. Would I like to review her latest album, ‘Not Utopia’? I would. So here it is on my ipod and it takes some dogged scepticism in fate to believe that Messrs Fripp, Wetton and Bruford didn’t deliberately act as a portent to the arrival of this CD as the opening track, ‘No Lonely Girl’ essays the sort of metal guitar riff and pumping bass that could’ve been lifted from ‘Red’. Spooky.

As the daughter of a celebrated concert pianist and lead singer of cult 90s nu-progressive pop band, The Violet Hour, you’d expect a certain degree of musical nous from Ms Brendel and this album certainly delivers, especially in the areas that matter: variety and arrangement. Let’s take the latter first. What is it about musical arrangement that it seems to have such stigma attached to it? These days, all chart singles sound the same and for the very good reason that they use the same recipe. Take equal amounts of ‘beats’ and synths, chuck them into a computer and regurgitate at c120 bpm. Add auto-tuned vocals to taste. But it wasn’t always like this.

In the pre-digital days of Fripp/Wetton/Bruford, musicians who looked to produce anything outside of the 3 minute single were forced to arrange music in almost classical style (try all 12 minutes of ‘Starless’ from the aforementioned ‘Red’). Perhaps this is why ‘arrangement’ doesn’t figure these days – it has the taint of ‘Prog – do not touch with barge-pole’ indelibly stamped on it. But Brendel and her multi-instrumentalist collaborator, Lee Dunham, care little for prejudice and have stuffed NU with as many different instrument combinations as it will take, from Doris’s own haunting flageolet to rampant guitars, pastoral keyboards, plaintive oboes and String Quartets. As a result, each track has its own sonic identity and surprises you at every turn with its tonal intricacy – thus leading us neatly to point 2.

Variety. Rather than sounding like a current chart album bulging with cloned and ultimately boring, yet hopeful money-spinners, NU sounds wonderfully out of step in today’s market place in that every track is wilfully different. This type of madness was once the norm but not these days and Brendel should be applauded for her bravery. The album displays a multitude of styles from the Blondie pop/rock of ‘Going Out’ to the beautifully orchestrated ‘Kind To Be Cruel’ and the proggy overtones of my current favourite, ‘Passionate Weekend’ (which I would’ve loved to have heard developed to about twice its length!). In amongst these are acoustic ballads, bluesey laments and mad pseudo-metal all of which are imbued with her own brand of lyrical quirkiness and Dunham’s virtuoso playing (which is excellent, although I could’ve done without the drum machine – where’s Bill Bruford when you need him?)

Rising above this tapestry of sound is Brendel’s unique voice, all husk and bluesy emotion – a voice steeped in the sort of life experience that the likes of Katy Perry can only read about. As the blurb that accompanies the CD states, ‘There’s something for everyone’ and it’s true, but the other side of that particular coin is a slight lack of production consistency and the very real possibility that an audience bred on monotony is not going to like all of it. But then the White Album never hurt those scousers, did it? Personally, I love it, well the majority of it, anyway and by today’s standards that’s a firm recommendation. It’s not often that you get to hear an album like this in today’s blanded out world. Enjoy it while you can.

‘Not Utopia’ is available through Sky-Rocket Records. For more information visit Doris’s websites at or  In the meantime, here's 'Going Out' with Sophie Patrick (as if).