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Jeremy Pearce - 23 Apr 2019
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"Its "Happy Hoffman Day "in the company of Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy Where we went from the subject of Gong .(Canterbury Scene ) to Branson to Syd Barrett.To Who is Doctor Stu ? to Baby Boomer Gammon They even had a Flying Tea Pot Class

 

It’s been a pretty special Easter bank holiday for me and on a very personal level. In fact, possibly the most special one ever. On the Friday I met up with two of my all time favourite musicians. Something that, if I hadn’t got involved with the Campfire and writing on the site when it was being developed; beta testing and sharing, within the warm confines of our growing, beautiful community. This would have never happened and I would have never gained the kind of confidence that I now have writing.

Over the bank holiday I also spent three days on and off up the historic Extinction Rebellion and ended up helping out in one of the food kitchens at Marble Arch. These make-shift kitchens were providing thousands and thousands of free vegan meals each day through generosity and human spirit and donation of fresh and dried produce both from suppliers and from people’s farms, gardens and allotments, brought here to share. Enriching the feeling of oneness, love and unity that I had never in all my years cooking professionally before or even in the normal cold segregated city that London has become and most probably always has been.Where everything is got a materialistic price on it ,including your dinner !.This felt like it was feeding into something much bigger than any idea present capitalism could ever fathom or comprehend , this was being part of something revolutionary.

This might possibly be what could have happened back in the 60s, but the more I think about it the seeds were meant to sprout now. Steve had sent me exact directions in the email, time and location and I had planned my journey almost perfectly to a sound track of Klaus Schultz (Tangerine Dream) Ambient Works, on my headphones. The directions involved tubes and buses in a part of London that I only ever have seemed to visit in the past during Carnival.

Finding the right bus stop in Notting Hill Gate, I climbed the stairs and took a seat two from the front and watched the stunning white painted, tall residential Georgian period architecture of the buildings and lines of blossoming spring trees pass by in the brilliant sunlight and watched pedestrians walking in the glorious glow.

Some of them were holding flags with the Extinction Rebellion motif, either going or returning from one of the sites the activists had made their own spaces in defiance to the government. I was taking everything in from behind the jet black light filter of my Rayban shades. I had 8 stops to go and the bus seemed to follow the course of Notting Hill Carnival and I was recognising places. The green taxi driver; Shelter; The Elgin Pub, where many years back a group of friends and I had stopped to watch the Carnival as a resting point and one of my friends spent the entire day on a mission to try and capture a policeman’s helmet. By now I had lost count of the stops but Kensal House appeared and I couldn't believe how relaxed I felt. I asked a couple of people to make sure this was the right direction and before I knew it I had reached the address and I was still about seven minutes early but couldn’t get into the building.

I tried to contact Steve on the number he had given, but when I phoned it someone else, who wasn’t Steve answered it and said I had a wrong number. My heart sank. I still had the email address and I decided to walk round the building to try and find another entrance, but it backed onto a play centre for kids. I was now getting a bit agitated and thought I would try emailing them, but as I looked up from my android screen, that I couldn’t see anyway because of the intense sunlight, there they were coming towards me as if by magic and I was about to meet up with my psychedelic heroes after all. I introduced myself and this is what happened...

They had said they had come from a bar called Mau Mau, had had a late one the night before, that they had an interview planned with someone else at midday, but he didn’t show and I mentioned that may be he had tried to phone but couldn’t contact. They didn’t seem upset at all and were in fine spirits.

The Studio.

This was in a ground floor unit, within the building and was self-contained. It had a self-contained kitchen and somewhere to crash out; an array of analog and digital keyboards and computer and sampling and recording software amps and speakers, some of it vintage, some of it modern, however, when I asked Miquette about it, I found out that the one nearest to where I sat was fifty years old; and of course Steve’s present, trade mark graphite black guitar, that he now uses live because of its superior resonance and tune holding qualities and sound. There was another guitar with a cream body and maple neck that had a shape nearer a vox teardrop with no cutaways like a conventional electric guitar shape Steve said what it was when I asked but the name I have forgotten. I half expected the battered Strat from live Herald but If I remember rightly I think he said that he no longer had it.

The interview

For a couple of days previously, I had been wondering how to go about the interview and had decided to base it on personal live and listening experiences, linking this back into the narrative. I had worked out that I must have watched them perform System 7 sets for well over 12 hours, most probably nearer 24 solid by now, since the first Orb gig at the Brixton academy in the early 90s and had no need to run the questions off a wiki profile, because I knew so much of the output on a personal level and own a vast quantity of Gong and 70s solo albums anyway, ( I have left the relevant System 7 wiki links on this if anyone wants to read more into the History).

Firstly, I briefly explained Campfire; how I got involved with it and the mission plan of the concept and what it is trying to achieve. They said they had joined the FB site (I know Steve was contributing on the NKOP site before it ceased to being a place of balanced debate because I had chatted with him on it). We both gave the same answer why we both don’t contribute anymore on it. They didn’t seem aware of the Campfire closed site and I advised them to take a deeper look into it and its endless possibilities and the concept of no data mining, tracking, cookies, selling data surplus and content ownership and how it’s like an online meeting place for free thinking, creative individuals who feel alienated from the mainstream, &" Big Other" social media platforms;.(A term used in the book Surviellance Capitalism ) I described it as an alternative media source not unlike the paper broadsheet ’International Times’ in the 60s and 70s, but with a much more universal appeal and member demographic, due to the internet's connectivity. Within the site we can form a framework for new political structures and create radical social and environmental change and it's attracting an almost endless variable membership of individuals who would have otherwise been unable to share and swap life skills and also the physical opportunities to meet up with fellow members and socialize and connect multi-nationally.

I opened my interview asking them about the similarities between the 60s and 70s underground psychedelic scene and the resurgence in the mid 80s with the mass underground youth movement that revolved around listening to repetitive dance music in large groups under the influences of traditional hallucinogenic drugs and stimulants both synthetic and organic and the new popularity of MDMA and Ketamine to a backdrop of psychedelic visual lighting and back projections and the fact that a lot of modern so called psychedelic bands and DJs don’t know how to do this properly. I gestured with my finger like I was drawing with a pencil in the air like a graph.  Peaks and flats and troughs and peaks again; and they agreed and that they had honed how to do this down to an art for over 45 years now, that what they are now doing with System 7 is really a continuation of what they had achieved in the past but using modern technologies and traditional analog methods and instrumentation used in loops along side the electronica.

I asked them, was the ambient side of ‘And not Or’ the signal to the new beginning in their creative output? They agreed that it was a landmark release. Next question Steve asked me, "Was I going to watch his live show up the Shepherds Bush Empire with the current Gong Line up?" and I replied that," I had bought a ticket as soon as they went on sale and had gone for a balcony one and was very excited about it." Steve said he would give me a wave and I said I would wave back. I also mentioned that my favourite LP of his 70s solo output was ‘Green’, and that I had watched them perform it up at Inspiral, (System 7), on Camden Lock a few years back with a questions and answers session similar to one they had done up at Hebden Bridge earlier that year, explaining how they evolved the sound and tech nerd stuff for the hardcore fans. Mixmaster Morris was doing the DJ set that night too. I said there were a lot of familiar faces in the crowd that night I recognized from the Club and Mega Dog I had attended from the start in the Robey to the Rocket and Academy nights and the Whirl-y-gig. They agreed.

My mentioning the Green album brought the conversation round to Syd Barrett and early Pink Floyd, because Nick Mason produced Green and Steve asked me If I had headed up to the V and A Pink Floyd exhibition last year. I said I hadn’t, but I had gone to the Counter Culture and Revolution’ one the year before and it had featured the UFO club and some Pink Floyd early artifacts. He also asked if I had gone and seen Nick Mason perform his homage to the beginning ‘Saucer Full Of Secrets’. I replied that I hadn’t, but I said that my favourite Pink Floyd was the Syd Barrett early stuff and that ‘Pipers’ for me is the one. Steve replied that he had seen him lots in the beginning and remarked on Syd’s amazing large brown eyes like it was yesterday. Steve told me how initally upset he had been when Dave Gilmour took over from him when Syd left and told me how relieved he had been on how good ‘Ummagumma’ turned out to be, (Saucers had Barrett as well as Gilmore and the other members material in its composition).

He also said that they were very excited to be booked on the same bill as Nick at a German Prog festival later in the year and I replied that it must be amazing meeting up again after so much time having both been making music from a very close proximity in experimentation at time that was breaking new boundaries. I mentioned that I was at a book launch for Nigel Lensmoir Gordon’s ‘Behind open Doors’, (see article), and Nigel’s short film ‘Syds 1st Trip’. Next, I asked them about System 7s cult Japanese status and the collaboration with a Japanese prog psychedelic band that they released the ‘Phoenix Rising’ album with in 2013 and that I had watched live up at the 02 Islington and how impressed I was with the show that night. I asked how the collaboration had come about and also if Rovo were still making music. He said Rovo had suggested the collaboration and that they were still playing. I commented that it was one of the most powerful psychedelic live visual experiences that I had ever witnessed. Rovo have two drummers, guitar: bass and electric, violin set up and synths and played a Rovo set. They then were joined by Steve and Miquette that night accompanied by a truly mind-stripping computer-generated back projection.

I asked them if they could turn me on to anymore Japanese psych because I am quite mad on it and they mentioned a band that I will email them back about because I forgot the name. I asked them whether they were familiar with Guguru BrainTimos label and his band Kikagu Moyo and they said no, Miquette
took their name on her phone. They knew about the Acid Mother Temple and that they sometimes drop Gong in their live sets.

Next, I asked them about Gong and how Richard Branson’s Virgin label  ended up signing them. They replied that Branson had started his record business importing kraut rock,  Gong had been signed on a French label that went bust and that Branson had signed them up shortly after. They said they parted company with Virgin when it went weird. They didn’t elaborate on this and I didn’t push for an answer. On the subject of Gong they said that it was Daevid Allen’s dying wish that the band continues and I said it was like a star fish; that even when bits of it might have died and snapped off the fragments would always regenerate and the band had always been a moving line-up anyway.

I mentioned the German band Embryo and of course the cult English space rock band Hawkwind too, I said to Miquette how special it must have been being in a band that incorporated the open structure of Free Jazz and how every live gig must have been different. She smiled and said "It was". I mentioned the cult English band The  Cardiacs to Steve because the current Gong line-up features members of it and I mentioned that I had watched Korvus spinning vinyl with Steve Davis about a month ago at a Teeth of the Sea gig.
 

Hawkwind s Cornet gig (The day after Bataclan )

I recounted my experience of this. System 7 were booked as support but the gig had been moved at short notice from the Shepherds Bush Empire, (due to structural renovation needed for balcony support), and I explained the nightmare getting in and the vicious strict security in the dystopian blackness and how I missed the System 7 set. Steve came on with Hawkwind that night and got into the groove with Orgone Accumulator and stayed for a few tracks. I said how much I enjoyed hearing his Psychedelic shred when he lead breaked, (he filled the hole in the space craft’s hull perfectly, something sadly missed since Langton passed away, (they are two
of my favourite space guitarists).

I asked him about the line-up upheavals in the band recently and that the one he was playing in that night was possibly the best since Calvert . He replied
that it had been, "Quite an upheaval’. Next, I mentioned that Ed Wynn was supporting the Oslo Gong gig coming up and how much Edd’s guitar sound had been influenced by Steve’s. Steve said that he knew Ed well and had done for years, I replied that I had first watched them when they started in the Crypt in Deptford
in the 80s and had continued to follow them and Merv Pemplers Ozric splinter, Eat static, also the Oroonies. I also mentioned ‘Planet Gong’ and ‘Here and Now’ and that the only time I had ever watched Gilli Smyth and David Allen was with them I also mentioned Steffie SharpStrings who also plays in Steve’s Style.

Who Is Doctor Stu? Anyone who listens to Resonance FM will be acquainted with the Naked Shorts Club show. A weekly hour long broadcast that is hosted by a man with an american accent. He is basically an anti-capitalist who interviews hedge fund managers and investment bankers about the financial markets and who has an imaginary brewery sponsor called Ponzi Beer and features poetry short breaks in between the hard hitting stock market analysis and only plays Gong System 7, Daevid Allen solo releases, sometimes Neu and Amon Dul and occasionally MC5 and Velvet Underground. I had become fascinated at the Under the Bridge gig last year, I knew he was there but what did he look like and who is he? Steve said he was quite fat, short and really Scottish and that he put the Lloyd Grossman accent on especially for
the radio broadcast. This made me even more inquisitive, but considering how twisted Stu’s broadcasts are it added to my listener pleasure.
 
Next, I asked them if they felt comfortable with the political climate here pre-referendum and pre-Brexit and did they think the country had changed in the last 10 years? They said that England is a very different entity now and Steve mentioned the "Baby Boomer Gammons"; of his generation and their distorted vision of the war and Europe. I replied saying about the shocking amount of people who are close friends of mine who posted Britain First click-bait on social media on the run up to the referendum without thinking about its purpose or the subliminal manipulation. I also asked them if they thought that they would be staying in the UK or moving they both seemed to find the current manufactured political climate uncomfortable and hostile.

As the interview drew to a close I mentioned that I was heading off to watch the cult New York based highly political afro-beat collective ‘Antibalas’ with one of my mates that evening in the Jazz Cafe Camden and they suggested that I took a stroll in the beautiful bright sunlight to Portobello Rd and check out Mau Mau’s, where Alex Patterson Youth and Jezz Colman were holding court with a label 3 day showcase. I did. Steve said Nik Turner was playing there on the Saturday and I was very disappointed that I had made other plans. On the way out Steve had all the System 7 releases on CD on a high shelf near the entrance and I told him all the
ones I had in my collection at home and he went and gave me a copy of N Port /Cafe 7/and X port.

I felt very humbled and didn’t expect this and I will always remember the day I met them both, every time that I play them. I had gone out and met my heroes and they had turned out to be cooler than my greatest expectations could have ever been. We had been chatting so much that I forgot I had bought them an Easter egg and had very nearly forgotten to give it to them, I would have left with it if I hadn’t have opened my bag to check that I had everything Miquette was over the moon and we all said goodbye.

It wasn’t until I was under the west way that it dawned on me that I had forgotten to take any pictures for the header piece, but I had some ‘Under the Bridge’ footage left on my camera still from last year, that saved the day. I did confide with them at the end that I had never interviewed anyone before and I asked them
If they thought that I should I do it more often? They both smiled and we all laughed.

Happy
Hoffman Day!
Campfire x

Post Script 

Last night I watched the current Gong line up. I missed Edd Wynne due to the door man not knowing the set times that really made me angry, because I reached Oslo early and had actually taken a day off work to make sure this didn't happen 7pm support ? 

My observation of the current Gong line up is that it is a natural linage progression. It's been sprinkled with the Cardiacs and they started with a track off Camembert Electric entitled "You Cant kill me "! Its Harder than the Jazz Gong period with no keyboard or synths - nearer "Planet Gong "but still definitely Gong and superb too.I spoke to Korvus up at the gig and he told me Daevid was very into the Cardiacs and I guess the complexity and detail of how they naturally make music does in fact run a natural cross pollination  Steve has got them backing him and Miquette at the Shepherds Bush gig next month .They are going to be seriously formidable..live and its not going to be like a Heritage 70s rock package .Steve had been rehearsing with  them and starting  getting the set together when I saw him .Its going to be a special night 

 

 

 

 

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