Friday, July 28, 2006

strange things are happening

One of the most weirdly gratifying things to have happened since starting this blog has been how a post I did about Tim Hensley nearly a year ago still gets comments.

That post has become a kind of nerve centre for Tim Hensley/Neil Smythe/Victor Banana/Vic Hazelnut obsessives - strangely enough, there are a few out there.

Through the excellent comments, I've been able to get hold of a copy of the first Victor Banana album, "Split". This features a four-piece VB line-up, so it's a sparser affair than the more ornately orchestrated "Velvet Glove OST" - however, the 21 songs are still totally nuts and original. These are some of my favourites, including a dispatch from the Hensley dictionary corner, some jaunty pirates and the most evil Santa you'll ever hear:

Victor Banana - Strange Things Are Happening
Victor Banana - Here Comes Santa
Victor Banana - Shiver Me Timbers
Victor Banana - Iamatology Walking Through Lineal Theanthropism

Excitingly, the latest comment (received this morning!) mentions that Tim has uploaded a couple of VB videos to YouTube - as I type this post, however, the site is down for maintenance. If I find the videos, I'll stick the links in the comments. Could this possibly herald a return to music?! Let's hope so!

Three more slices of prime Hensley genius for your delectation:

Neil Smythe - Butterscotch Sunday
Neil Smythe - Onions Make Me Weep
April March & Vic Hazelnut - Kooky

Buy - Neil Smythe, 'Refrains' - still the only Tim Hensley CD currently in print
Read - my previous post about this great artist
Visit - April March and get the "Voodoo Doll / Kooky" single!

Hey THANKS for these, really, really.

Seeing VICTOR live, as nutty/great as it is . . . just doesn't seem . . . right. It's is a bit like catching a glimpse of CHARLIE (of CHARLIE'S ANGELS) - in NO WAY can the actual man live up to the image his voice/music has slowly built up in my head over the past 15-odd years.

(P.S.: I don't seem to remember "Iamatology Walking Through Lineal Theanthropism" as being on the SPLIT LP. BUT I'm aging and my memory's going, and I don't have the rec in front of me.)

AND Tim's got a MySpace site:

His most recent blog update vaguely hints (to me, anyway) that he might have SOMETHING NEW to give the world in the coming year. Shiver Me Timbers, indeed! 

Well, I'm vain enough to Google my name sometimes, and I seem to have come across likely
the five or six only fans of my music! Thanks for your interest. I vaguely remember Johnny Domino
from a decade ago. Glad you're still going; I've attempted to add you at MySpace! Here's a much too long
bunch of info--as noted in the comments posted, I might be more satisfying as an enigma...

My musical career, such as it was, was from when I lived with my parents. I used to wake up at two
in the morning for privacy and write and record on my Portastudio. My method was to create songwriting assignments for myself, things like picking a random word from the dictionary as a title. Victor Banana came together as a group to perform this material, the name derived from a schoolmate, Victor, who used to eat extremely ripe brownish-black bananas. We played at clubs and once on public access TV, where the YouTube clips are from. Splatco Records were some guys who came to our shows and just barely put up the money for Split.
I then sent a tape to Daniel Clowes asking him to do the cover, and we ended up becoming friends.

The band broke up, and it seemed less to ask of musicians to just learn parts temporarily, so I switched to saving up money for recording sessions paid for by office temp work. The idea that I then fell into writing stuff for Dan's Velvet Glove story as it was being serialized now seems totally crazy to me, but Eightball was a new thing in the world at the time. I remember that Dan put the character O'Herlihy in simply so I would use one of the songs he liked that I had lying around. At the same time, I was introduced to Elinor Blake through mutual acquaintances and ended up putting her first April March EP together. She paid for the sessions; I think it may have cost around $600? One memory I have is spending hours tracking her vocal on Stay Away from Robert Mitchum and realizing we had put it on the wrong take; we came back another day and redid it. "Acrid Marsh" was a song I wrote about the brief period I was writing songs for her, and I think it got me into huge trouble with her successful later collaborators...

Other things I did--
Two Ernest Noyes Brookings CDs--
"Why I Write Poetry," on Place of General Happiness and "The Wizard of Oz" on Outstandingly Ignited.
The Wizard of Oz is my favorite track of all my work.
Rube Ruben EP--two songs I wrote for my friend. He couldn't really sing, and the mandolin player cried mutiny when I showed him a part I had written for--gasp--his solo. Not that great either way.

Eventually, things reached a crisis for me. It was really time to move out of my parents house and find my own identity. I hadn't really dealt with being the sibling of a learning disabled (the polite term for "borderline mentally retarded"), mentally ill sister. I had the requisite nervous breakdown and went into therapy. At the same time, my grandmother died, and I used the money she left me to record the Neil Smythe album. The material was dark, but it was fun to make. (And luckily during this period I also met my wife! We've been married for six years, together for twelve.) It seemed much easier subsequently to concentrate on other things besides music--recordings of 57 songs sounds like enough to me! So I'm afraid I don't have any future musical plans, but I am having some work published recently as a cartoonist. I'm working on a story that will be serialized in the Fantagraphics' publication Mome; the first installment is due out in a month or two, so if you're interested look for it...

Whew. So there you have some background, for what it's worth.

AMAZING! So Tim Hensley DOES exist. And here, I thought even THAT name might be a pseudonym for something else . . . like an all-powerful military computer hidden underground somewhere in Idaho!

THANKS, kind sir, for your wonderous musical output. We here on this cozy blog-comment page just can't get enough of your tricky melodies and astute lyrical observations. I'll be buying your MOME comic fr sure. 

oh my goodness, i go away to get married and this happens while i'm away...


Thank you for your gracious response to these posts - far more preferable to a 'cease and desist'! For the people that love your work, your candid bio is a great insight. I hope we didn't rake up any bad memories in our enthusiasm and despite any desire I might personally have to hear more and more of your fantastic music, I also appreciate an artist who knows when enough is enough.

Your music will always mean a great deal to me, a completely original approach to songwriting and arranging. I'm glad to have been able to share that with others.

In other news, the two Ernest Noyes Brookings CDs Tim refers to are readily available here - I ordered mine a couple of weeks ago and they turned up almost immediately (with a free copy of volume 3 thrown in for good measure!)

Monday, July 24, 2006

spank the monkey (rocket)

A huge "Ta Very Much" has to go to SVC Records recording artist Victor Scott for leading me to the music of Coconut Monkeyrocket, through his contribution to the Contrast Podcast the other week. I got hold of as much as I could find and have been forcing it on people ever since!

Coconut Monkeyrocket - Shopping For Explosives

Coconut Monkeyrocket - Accidental Beatnik

Coconut Monkeyrocket is the work of one Jason Emmett and most of his output is available to download for free from Comfort Stand Recordings. This is genius fun music for the summer - I've been trying to come up with a decent description of this stuff but can't do better than the following from the Coconut Monkeyrocket website:
Welcome to the world of Coconut Monkeyrocket. It's a world where cartoon animals dance the Charleston to bangin' 808 beats at the wedding reception for Carl Stalling and George Clinton, where rows of liqueur bottles stacked behind a tiki bar sway back and forth to the beat like the would-be inanimate objects in a Max Fleischer cartoon... In Coconut Monkeyland, records grow like shiny, black fruit on the smiling, two-dimensional trees, and Jason skips merrily through this enchanted forest, sampling the tasty sounds they offer, until finally gorged to the limit, he vomits the sonic pulp into 3-minute puddles, mixed together into a marvellous new form. At least that's how I like to think of it. In reality, he just does it on a computer or something. - Chris Oliver, bon vivant

Download - The Coconut Monkeyrocket & Martinibomb - SPLIT!
Visit - Coconut Monkeyrocket
Befriend - Coconut Monkeyrocket on MySpace

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

miles ahead - part two

This is the second in an irregular series of posts about the late great Miles Davis. These posts aren't an attempt to relate his entire career or offer a comprehensive look at his life; rather they're a personal journey through some of the CDs and vinyl I own and my feelings about them. Part one can be found here.

I know that by starting this little series of posts with Miles' collaborations with Gil Evans that I missed a whole chunk of great jazz that he made with small bands so here are a couple of my absolute favourites, taken from 1958s Milestones.

Milestones is a great example of the up-tempo hard-bop style that Miles was playing at the point immediately before Kind Of Blue the following year. The rhythm section on the album is incredible throughout - Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums). But what I love about it is how each of the horn players has such a unique voice - Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane and Miles himself.

Miles Davis - Straight, No Chaser

You can really hear it on this version of Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" (which reminds me, I should really do a Monk post sometime...). Cannonball Adderley sounds like a bloke you'd like to go for a drink with, ebullient and vivacious, good humoured (from 0:31); Miles Davis is someone you'd need to watch yourself around, kind of reserved, stand-offish, urbane and "cool" (from 1:51); John Coltrane is incredibly intense, already swallowing endless notes, heading towards his trademark "sheets-of-sound", more abstract and aggressive than the other soloists (from 3:59). It's really psychologically fascinating! And besides all of that, I love the weird syncopation and angular phrasing that Monk has applied to the tune - it makes you forget that it's basically just a 12-bar blues.

Miles Davis - Milestones

This track is why the album is usually referred to as "transitional" (like a lot of Miles Davis albums!). There are no chords in this piece, the players just had two scales that they had to play over once the theme has been stated; scale A, scale B, scale A, repeat! There's no harmonic motion, so the players have to be inventive melodically - and again you hear the individual voices coming out when the horn players solo, probably even more so because they've got no chords to play against. Genius but simple!

Next time, we enter the heart of darkness with live recordings from The Plugged Nickel, 1965!

Buy - Milestones
Visit - Miles Davis (wikipedia)


Dan Johnson
Hi Steve. I've much enjoyed reading your Miles posts. Have you got the Monk/Coltrane Carnegie Hall concert that they uncovered recently? It's an incredible document of the beginning of the 'sheets of sound' style. Keep it up! 

Friday, July 14, 2006

mouth music

Petra Haden used to sing with That Dog. Back in the day when I would buy pretty much everything 4AD-related, I got their first album when it was issued on 4AD-offshoot Guernica.

FUN FACT!! Her dad is legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden - that's him looking and sounding "cool as" on Ornette Coleman's This Is Our Music.

These days, Petra spends her time as an in-demand session musician and re-interpreting classics from the pop and rock canon - a-cappella, of course. Check these out, they're gob-smacking! Kind of weird and technically impressive on first listen, but her lead vocal on "God Only Knows" is just lovely. Beautiful harmonies, too.

Petra Haden - God Only Knows 

Petra Haden - Armenia City In The Sky (The Who)

The second of these is from her complete re-recording of "The Who Sell Out", including ad-breaks - great recreation of the MANY guitar tracks. Visit her MySpace page and hear her great version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller".

First person to mention The Flying Pickets....

Visit - Petra Haden
Befriend - Petra Haden on MySpace
Buy - Petra Haden Sings The Who Sell Out

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Someone to drag me round Chelsea Girl

Recently a student from my old University rang me in the hope of getting a donation, instead the poor young woman was treated to the thoughts of Chairman Marc-o. I ranted about state funded education and the scab behaviour of students during the recent lecturers strike (since when was getting a dissertation marked more important than somebody’s livelihood, Thatcher’s children or what?) Anyway, before I’m off on one again this all set me thinking about the days when Student’s Unions would put bands on which you would drunkenly appreciate on subsidised beer. The next day you’d be off to the record shop to buy what was then my favoured format, the 4 track 12 inch EP. A nice big cover, 4 songs and cheap, I have lots of them but these tracks are some of my favourites from this period. None of these bands set the world alight musically but they provided me with fun nights out and tunes that have stayed with me.

Bob- Kirsty

Mighty Mighty- Is there anyone out there

Mighty Mighty- Built like a Car

The Jack Rubies- Lobster

It seems that the University circuit is all but gone today (forgive me if I'm wrong) and a large number of brand new Mini Coopers screech out of my local University these days...Ho Hum. You can keep your credit cards and the house bought by your Mum and Dad and give me a bottle of Newcastle Brown in each hand, a sticky dancefloor and some daft pop songs anyday.

Bob and The Jack Rubies are long deleted, try Ebay

Mighty Mighty can be found at Vinyl Japan



Thank you so much for posting these. I had my Mighty Mighty records (12inch records, 4 tunes, 79p, Hurrah!) pinched - well drukenly lent to someone, can't remember who, never returned, it's as good as pinched. I do remember watching the likes of Bob, The Brilliant Corners, The Soup Dragons, Mighty Mighty etc. for not much clutching a bottle of Double Maxim, dancing at the back of the bar at Newcastle Poly. Oh and you are so right about the state of studentdom. I went to see The Go Team at Newcastle Uni this year and even though my student days are 15 plus years ago I did not feel like an elder statesman at all. It was more lecturers than students. They were all out waxing their cars - either that or doing 3 jobs to try and pay off their debt.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

miles ahead - part one

In a frankly atypical effort to create continuity on the Rally, I'm planning an irregular series of posts about the late great Miles Davis. Long time readers will know how much I *heart* him. This year, Miles (as I feel I can call him) would have been 80 and Sony/Columbia are planning some major reissues. This stuff has been reissued and repackaged many times before. I own a lot of the 20/24-bit remastered CDs - what are they going to do next? Create a CD that takes you out to dinner as well? How clean can sound get?! Having said all that, I'll no doubt be parting with some cash to fill the holes in my collection.

These posts won't attempt to relate his entire career or offer a comprehensive look at his life; rather they'll be an entirely personal journey through some of the CDs and vinyl I own and my feelings about them. Hopefully they'll feature something that's new to you for you to look out for when the reissues start coming out.

Miles Davis (orchestration by Gil Evans) - My Ship

Miles Ahead from 1957 was the first collaboration between Miles and legendary arranger Gil Evans since the Birth Of The Cool recordings of the late 40s-early 50s. Similar to the earlier sessions, these were formally notated jazz compositions, rather than group improvisation. The only improvising player was Miles Davis.

Miles worked with Gil to create the score, so he knew the contexts in which he would be soloing. Similarly, because of their previous relationship, Gil knew how to create backgrounds that would support Miles' solos best.

Miles used the flugelhorn throughout the recording and it really emphasised the beautiful singing quality of his playing. Gil Evans' orchestration is amazing, too - every chord has something beautiful happening inside; totally unique combinations of different registers, sounds and notes. My Ship is my favourite from this "concerto for improvising soloist" - the brilliant (in the true sense of the word) orchestration brings out the soul of Miles' playing. The section at 3.40, when it almost resembles the playing of a colliery brass band, makes my head and heart go all funny every single time. Amazing stuff.

Miles Davis (orchestration by Gil Evans) - Summertime

The next time they worked together was the following year when they turned the songs from Gershwin's Porgy And Bess into a purely orchestral score. This time Miles was more up front and centre; as Ian Carr (Davis' biographer) said, the sound is more like the call and response of a preacher to his congregation.

Summertime is Desert Island Discs time - if I had to listen to a single piece of music for the rest of my life, this would be it. Anyone who thinks jazz is abstract, unemotional and impersonal should listen to this and tell me that it doesn't sound magical and incredibly human.

Buy - Miles Ahead
Buy - Porgy And Bess
Visit - Miles Davis (wikipedia)
Visit - Gil Evans (wikipedia)



first time here. thanks for the lovely post. i'm slowly working my way to buying more of miles music.

Dan Johnson
Right on the money there. My own preference from those sessions is "New Rhumba" (as well as all the others really)
The little riff the orchestra ends up playing is incredible. How Evans structures this with lots of repeats but never becoming boring is a great gift.
Top stuff!

Monday, July 03, 2006

pucka choons

Okay I'll admit that when I first heard 'Vehicles and Animals' by Athlete I thought it would be the perfect soundtrack to a Jamie Oliver barbecue, all those diamond geezers and geezer birds 'high fiving' and congratulating each other in mockney accents. However when the sun comes out, as it did when I bought this album about 3 years ago, such cynical thoughts vanish. You only have to listen to where Athlete are at these days to realise what an interesting album it is. They've become another 'rent-an-anthem' band competing with Coldplay and Keane, was this at the instigation of their label, ironic when 'El Salvador' is all about the silly games that major labels play with bands.

Athlete- El Salvador

The other thing that interested me at the time was the evident influence of the mighty Steely Dan. In the 80's, bands like Danny Wilson, Deacon Blue and Prefab Sprout messed with that template but along with the High Llamas, Athlete are one of the few recent bands to take on board the jazz-influenced chord changes and mellow funk of the Dan and filter them through British street culture as in 'You Got The Style'. No idea whether this was concious but it works for me.

Athlete- You got the Style

Basically the strength of Athlete on this album was that they were a British guitar band who cast their net a little wider than most when it came to looking for role models, this is a good thing, yes?

Buy 'Vehicles and Animals' by Athlete

Visit Athlete here

[poor Marc-o - this was bizarrely one of the most controversial posts we ever did - he really took a kicking in the comments - see below. stevedomino, 14/5/14]


hmmm.... hard to hear these without hearing the miserable, earnestly-emoting, furrowed-browed jockers that they became.

I can kind-of see a Steely Dan influence, but marc-o, you keep skirting around The Dan - when will you do a proper post???

go on - for me?!

and Francis - stay with us, our kid!

Great songs, both of these!
I was really into Athlete when I first heard You Got The Style. It really was something different at the time.

But now, like you said, they've become another sub-standard Coldplay clone, very boring but selling more copies. 

The Arch
I'm with Frankie on this one. Clearly the heat has got to Marc.

I knew this would be controversial with some of our chippier viewers....which was part of the fun. Dan soon Steve, picking the tracks is difficult.

Reminds me of the time pus trickled into my root canal.

El Salvador eh. Bit like when Simple Minds sang of the 'Belfast Child'. Had they gone on about a 'Scunthorpe Child' or the like, I would've respected them a bit more.

Having said that, many thanks for continuing to do your stuff.