Gravity Serpent has been going as a blog for some time. We were once a fanzine, and shortly, the spinoff sister magazine GRAVITY will be hitting the shelves. Which shelves those will be are yet to be discovered, but it will exist and that is the important thing. Contributions have been flying in and the whole thing is being tied up as we speak. Keep your ears to the ground and your eyes peeled. The whole thing will be up online at somepoint too.
Gravity Serpent turned up to see rakish troubadour Toby Parker perform at Ledbury’s lovely Shell House Gallery. The event was a festive affair with mince pies, mulled wine by the ladle and music and art in plentiful enough supply to satisfy the hungriest eyes and ears. Toby rattled through a strong set of songs from his new self-titled EP with a confident command of his instrument and echoes of Robert Johnson and his beloved Bob Dylan. Gallery owner David Savager was called up on a couple of occasions for cowbell duty, but most of the time Toby played any percussion one man band style with a foot tambourine or good old fashioned stomping. The finale was a rendition of Fairytale of New York with one of the other singers from the night, who had previously poached the song for his own set. We are glad they were coaxed by the crowd into playing it again.
After the gig he was good enough to talk to us about busking and the blues…
Gravity Serpent: Hi Toby.
Toby Parker: Hello.
GS: Thank you for the gig, very much enjoyed it. Good to hear the new songs
TP: Thank you
GS: What’s your favourite key?
TP: Probably G. I think it’s a lot of people’s.
GS: Notice you play a lot of what people call the blues. Could you tell us what the blues is?
TP: I think the blues really explores emotions. The songs are about the grey areas people have, jealousy, anger and sadness. It explores the bits imbetween.
GS: Do you think there’s a sort of strength in it? From the bottom of the well so to speak.,,
TP: Yes I do, and it certainly has a lot of bearing on other music. It’s the root of popular music in its modern form.
GS: What’s your favourite blues musician at the moment?
TP: I’ve been listening to a lot of Eric Clapton recently – Derek and the Dominoes, Layla and other assorted love songs. I’ve been caning that.
GS: Would you describe yourself as a troubadour?
TP: A troubadour? Well it’s slightly more flattering than a busker. In the sense of being a musician and a troubadour, you have to be flexible, and as such if somebody asks you to do a gig in Scotland in two days you can do that and that whole tradition does flow into what a modern solo musician does. I’ve been in bands before, everything’s by committee. You have to discuss it with everyone, whether something is a good idea, whether you think they’ll paint us in a good light, everything else.
GS: Do you miss being in bands or do you prefer being solo?
TP: I did feel a great sense of freedom when I decided to seriously go solo. I did reservedly perform about a year ago but I thought, I’m going to do this, because it’s what I wanted to do. I did have this ambition to be a band leader, but I didn’t feel I was technically where I wanted to be. Now if I’m in a band I could still have that option of doing the solo thing.
GS: Would you recommend being a busker as an apprenticeship for a solo recording and gigging artist?
TP: Yeah I really do. I really, really do. But you have to be careful, because busking is seen to be a money-spinner by a lot of people, and I suppose it is, but I don’t see it that way. I see it as a means to an end. A lot of people identify what makes the most money, which is I suppose more muzaky stuff. I talk to ‘real’ musicians who say I made about 200 quid that day but I was really whacking out the cheese, tears in heaven on accordion or something. But I think it’s a really good apprenticeship. I did acoustic busking for a long time, which teaches you to project your voice and to play with a good energy. It makes you a lot tighter. I personally have taken quite an all or nothing approach, pursued it almost bloody mindedly and busked for less than minimum wage. I wouldn’t ask everyone to do that but you do get the practice in. People say you have to have another trade, be a teacher or something, it’s scary to some people but you can just go out on the street and play, make a living.
GS: What do you hope next year will bring for you as a musician?
TP: I want to get into a band situation again, and I want to travel round more. I’ve been very local. Going to towns is great fun but it’s unsustainable. I went to London in October and I got my travel paid but you can blink and be swindled in London. You’re always out of pocket. If you’re out of pocket you’re really fucked because you don’t earn that much to begin with.
GS: Well Toby, thanks for talking to Gravity Serpent and we wish you all the best with your ambitions for 2013.
Every Christmas I get my Low ‘Christmas’ E.P. out (Kranky 1999). I’m on my second copy, Saint Nick having kindly brought me a second copy from his miraculous toyshop in the North Pole after I wore my first one out. Yes, you can wear out CDs. It’s about due to get put on the CD player again, and with a vinyl reissue about you may as well treat yourself to this best of Christmas gifts. Or you could get it for someone else, in the festive spirit, then listen to it with them.
Low are ‘in to’ Christmas. They’re Mormons, so they really dig Jesus. The true meaning of Christmas features heavily on this CD, which is good if you’re fed up of hearing about Mommy kissing Santa Claus, if red nosed reindeers make you go ‘oh dear’, or if Frosty the snowman leaves you cold… They do a lovely Silent Night, and the EP is just a picturesque snowscene of melancholic beauty.
Low are described as slowcore, somewhat against their will. This ‘snowcore’ (see what they make of that description) foray of theirs stands up as one of the greatest ever Christmas releases, along with Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift to You, an eighties reissue sifted from the charity shop gets a spin every year too. But Low are better. They do Blue Christmas with a perfect yearning. And their original compositions are superb too – Just Like Christmas is not traditionally Christmassy – “you said it was just like Christmas, you were wrong…” – and for that sums up the true Christmas experience. Taking Down the Tree is a perfect soundtrack to that most pitiful but necessary festive deconstruction.
I went with a friend to see a Low Christmas show a couple of years ago. It was a strange event. I was expecting mulled wine and minced pies style all out Christmasness. In reality, their single was more terrifying than anything else, and the B side was weirdly reggae inflected. They played all the tunes, and it would have been superb if it were not for a persistent heckler who spoilt it for everybody. Shame on them. In the end they were provoked into saying ‘you probably gather by now that we hate you as much as we love you’. I didn’t blame them. No surprise perhaps that they are spending Christmas in their home turf, touring the United States instead. But they will come back to us in the new year, with a new album. We are looking forward to hearing it.
Good driving albums have not ever been compiled by Top Gear’s merchandising department. They do not involve bands like Deep Purple, or Chris Rea’s overproduced output. They are albums you like that work as well or better in the car, enhancing the experience of driving and listening to the album. Engaging but not distracting. Intriguing but not alarming. They can take any form, but they have one thing in common. They make any journey a joy. Read on…
Good driving albums 1 – Primal Scream: Vanishing Point
The word ‘eclectic’ is overused to the point of nausea, but is rightfully applicable in the case of this incredibly varied and surprisingly coherent album. The tracks are in turn dubby, motorik, ambient and overall every shade of brilliant. It is also a great driving album. Why? Because for all the variety it is held together by the high strength epoxy resin adhesive that is Primal Scream, who as a band can genre hop but still own the sound. And the songs jam out like a road towards a distant horizon that is ever approaching but never finishes. Motorway gold.
Good driving albums 2 – Aphrodite’s Child: 666
This is an odd one. It’s a concept album about the Apocalypse. By all rights it should be a distraction from the road. All I have to say in its defence is these few words – the guitar solo on Four Horsemen. It’s superb, and more so yet when you hear it while rattling down an undulating A-road. Seriously, I cannot think of enough superlatives for this most spot-on of solos. You have to hear it.
The album is a trip, in a good way. It’s like hearing an audiobook crossed with an experimental musical theatre soundtrack. Again, in a good way. Check it out, it’s an underrated classic.
Good driving albums 3 – Galaxie 500: This Is Our Music
A great album, and also perfect complement to autoflaneurie, which is a silly word for driving about for no reason. It’s also good for driving somewhere on purpose, but lacks the urgency you may wish for such an experience. Actually, it’s a versatile record for the melancholic, who could find it as uplifting – as much as it indulges the bluer feelings, it quietly transcends drab reality towards an astral beauty. This is really good if you like pretending you’re piloting a spaceship rather than a Ford Escort. And if you’re not this childish you might still enjoy the fuzzy, plaintive ambience. Good for a meander.
Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon
Ironically, any album that attempts to take you on a ‘journey’ is bad news for driving. These sort of prog albums demand your attention, and this one is no exception. It is not just the interesting textures, production, unconventional songcraft, and calculated use of pedal effects that draw your mind from the road, but the themes of death, madness, capital, and whatever else these old stoners rattle on about (in an interesting and expert fashion of course). The variety of sounds literally draws you in through their progressive nature. You’d probably end up driving at four miles an hour staring at the trees and the pretty red brakelights in front.
Jeff Buckley: Grace
This album packs a host of intense emotion into its duration, and its too much for a driver to bear. From Buckley’s powerful voice, his literate and personal words, and his expert and characteristic guitar playing it’s too heavy in an emotional sense, too involving, and just too sad. You’ll end up drifting into it as you drift into a ditch, floods of tears cleaning your steering wheel. Not ideal.
Wire: Pink Flag
Punk isn’t good for driving. You go too fast. Post punk is worse. You are too erratic, too distracted, you are thrown around by the music. This is a superb album of course, just don’t play it on the motorway.
To be continued….
We’ve dived head first into the spectacle.
Classic Sleeve Design – New Order: Power, Corruption and Lies
On any such list, it would be criminal to ignore this album. Fearing repetition, but proceeding heedless nonetheless, allow us to present another Factory Records album, another Peter Saville cover, featuring the remaining members of the aforementioned Joy Division in their incarnation as a band inimitable and difficult to categorise. A bit New Wave, quite electronic, melancholy, ethereal, beautiful and stark. The sound is definitely of the time but somehow enduring. So, the cover…
It’s an old painting of flowers, with a colour swatch in the corner that looks like a printers error. So what’s the fuss? Well, the colour swatch isn’t random, it’s a colour-based code signifying the band name and release, and codes are fun to be in on for the nerdily inclined. The codes, featured on the back of the sleeve, also pick apart hidden information on other releases, notably the Blue Monday single. And the flowers? There’s an anecdote about Saville’s girlfriend picking the postcard up as a joke and him realising that the flowers were perfect. The concept is flowers are alluring, and it is through seduction that corruption can operate, or something. But more than that, the combination of the ordered graphic simplicity of the colour coding with the more organic dominant imagery suggests a juxtaposition of the natural with the synthetic that personifies the content wonderfully. Progressive and future faced, but rooted in a lost but not forgotten past. The spiral type on the centre of the record may be a bugger to read but it looks superb. The artwork has an austere minimalism and melancholy around it, a space where aesthetic is the thread of hope that must be clung on to. Buy two copies, one for the wall and one for the turntable. Enough said.