He’s got all the best tunes, you know.

It has often been said that the Devil has all the best tunes. There is also supposed to be something diabolic about certain types of music and there is the interval known as diabolus in musica (the Devil in Music) a.k.a the tritone, an interval known for dissonance.

Diabolic and Satanic imagery has long been associated with heavy metal and Goth has always been as much about decaying ruins, vampires and death as it has about music.

Jimmy Page was, at one time, deeply interested in Aleister Crowley, the so-called Wickedest Man Alive and founder of the occult religion of Thelema (motto – Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law) and the late Graham Bond was so obsesed with Crowley that he formed a band called Holy Magick and believed himself to be Crowley’s son.

Earlier still, it was said that Robert Johnson bacame a blues guitar phenomenon because of a pact with the Devil, signed at midnight, down at the crossroads. This idea later spawned a film about the same subject, culminating in a guitar battle between the Devil’s guitar hero, played by Steve Vai and the hero of the film, Eugene (guitar work by Ry Cooder).

So, music has a long tradition of dealing in the Black Arts and this playlist covers all the bases from posession and exorcism, through witchcraft, occult ceremonies and the Undead athrough to Hell and Damnation.

As you can see, we have 11 tracks. The task here is to decide which one will be saved from the Pit and which one will be cast into the Outer Dark forever.

The track listing is:

Charlie Daniels Band – The Devil Went Down To Georgia
Siousxie and the Banshees – Spellbound
David Byrne and Brian Eno – The Jezebel Spirit
Dr John – Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya
Black Widow – Come To The Sabbat
Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead
Cassandra Wilson – Hellhound On My Trail
John Martyn – I’d Rather Be The Devil
King Crimson – The Devil’s Triangle
The Clash – Straight To Hell
AC/DC – Highway To Hell

So, it is a case of Farewell, Voyager

It was reported this week that NASA’s venerable Voyager I probe has finally left the Solar System and is heading off out into the cold lonely reaches of interstellar space.

Launched in 1977, Voyager has gone further and faster than any other man-made object and will continue to send data back to Earth until its plutonium energy supply runs out in a few decades time.

So, I decided to put together a playlist that is in the spirit of space, the vast unknown, although not all the tracks are actually directly about space travel.

To keep it fun, the playlist is anonymous and therefore, ‘Spill points are available for those of you who can identify what is what.

The Crimson-Yes Axis

This post was inspired by those Pete Frame “Rock Family Trees” diagrams that I’ve always found so engrossing and which are a great way to waste an afternoon.

The idea for this particular one came from me listening to the first, eponymous album by the band UK, which featured Bill Bruford, John Wetton, Eddie Jobson and Alan Holdsworth, with Bruford and Wetton being the rhythm section that powered the great “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic”, “Starless And Bible Black” and “Red” incarnation of King Crimson. The presence of Eddie Jobson reminded me that he did some violin overdubs for the KC live album from this period, “USA”.

Then I wandered mentally from UK and USA to Asia, another band that featured John Wetton and which also had Steve Howe from Yes, the band where Bill Bruford started out. You can see where this leads, can’t you?

So, I thought I’d put together a playlist that had one rule; the music must feature at least one member of either Yes or King Crimson playing under a different banner.

The musicians I have used are Greg Lake (KC’s original bassist/ELP), Ian McDonald and Michael Giles(also from the original KC line-up/McDonald and Giles), Bill Bruford (Yes and KC/Bruford/AWBH), John Wetton (KC/Asia – also played live with Roxy Music), Robert Fripp (KC – obviously/David Bowie/Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins), Mel Collins (KC/Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins), Steve Howe, Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman (all Yes/AWBH), Vangelis (Yes/Aphrodite’s Child), Boz Burrell (KC/Bad Company and Eddie Jobson (KC in the studio/Roxy Music)

So, the track listing is;

Emerson, Lake and Palmer – The Barbarian
McDonald and Giles – Flight Of The Ibis
Asia – Only Time Will Tell
Aphrodite’s Child – The Four Horsemen
Roxy Music – Out Of The Blue
David Bowie – “Heroes”
Bill Bruford – Beelzebub
John Wetton – New Star Rising
Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins – The Other Man
Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe – Order Of The Universe
Bad Company – Bad Company

There are lots of other connections that you can find if you are an obsessive about such things. If you wanted to branch out, you could link Yes to UK to Soft Machine and to Gong via Bill Bruford and Alan Holdsworth (because Holdsworth played with UK, the Softs and Gong). You can also link King Crimson to Gong via Theo Travis, who has played live with Robert Fripp. There are also links via Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn, Tony Levin and Adrian Belew. You can even link King Crimson to Hall and Oates via Fripp and his work on Darryl Hall’s first solo album, “Sacred Songs”. It goes on and on. I am sure that people can find other links.

Incidentally, the only reason I don’t have a UK track here is that for some reason I don’t understand, my PC was unable to open the CD.

Yes at the Colston Hall 16th November 2011

So, when was the last time I saw Yes? Well, it was in 1975 actually, at the Reading Festival when they were one of the biggest acts on the planet.

Since then, they have shed and regained members in a kind of revolving door policy, released a slew of increasingly less proggy and less artistically and commercially successful albums, had acrimonious splits, been Buggled, re-united, split and re-united again and have still managed to retain a hardcore following.

Since 2008, they have a new singer, Benoît David, who has played in a Yes tribute act called Close To The Edge and in a Canadian prog band called Mystery, and are once again playing with Geoff Downes on keyboards. They also have a new album, Fly from Here, which I shall admit to not having heard. Apart from these two, the current Yes line-up includes original bassist Chris Squire and classic period members Steve Howe and Alan White.

Tonight it was really all about the classic songs, plus some stuff from the new album.

I’d bought the tickets for this gig was back in January and it seemed for a while like it would never come around but tonight we were ensconced in our seats before the band appeared to the inevitable classical intro music and went straight into the classic Yours Is No Disgrace.

The band sound good, there are plenty of opportunities for Steve Howe to display his fretboard skills and they are in the groove immediately. They follow this with a track I don’t recognise and work through a set that gets in some things from the new album, which sound fine, seeing as I don’t know them at all, and enough classics to keep the punters happy. Benoît David has the right vocal range for the songs and has enough stage presence to not be overshadowed by Steve Howe and Chris Squire, who are definitely the dominant forces in the band. Geoff Downes has the musical skills but is definitely the hired help and Alan White is marooned behind a kit that seems to have pretty much everything you could imagine hitting with a stick.

For me the highlights are a magisterial And You and I, which leaves me quite moist-eyed and the long-time crowd pleaser Heart Of The Sunrise which is the closest Yes ever got to the menacing off-kilter dynamics of King Crimson. The band close on an absolute high with Starship Trooper, with an almost Spinal Tap jam at the end, with Geoff Downes on a keytar and a really rocking encore of Roundabout. I’d have loved a second encore of America, but the guys are getting on a bit now and probably wanted their cocoa and slippers.

A long time ago Charles Shaar Murray wrote a one word review of Yes. The word was “Maybe”. I think that the answer now is a definite “Yes”.

They have still got what it takes.

Why I’m not buying any of those Pink Floyd box sets

I see there’s a shock-and-awe advertising campaign for the reissues of the classic 70s albums by Pink Floyd. Prominent position in HMV, staff wearing t-shirts bearing Storm Thorgenson’s iconic artwork, the works. And I’m not buying.

Yes, an album like Dark Side of the Moon is all-time classic which has stood the test of time and has finally emerged from the long shadow cast by of Punk to take its rightful place in the British Rock Canon. But let’s face it, if you really cared about the album, you’d already have it on CD, right?

September has been one of the best months for new progressive rock releases I can remember for a long, long time. In the space of two weeks there have been new releases by Dream Theater, Opeth, Anathema, Matt Stevens, Mastodon, Steve Hackett and Steve Wilson. Amazingly two of those releases even got four-star reviews in The Guardian! That’s one hell of a lot of new music, and you can have all of it for the price of just one of the ridiculously overpriced “Immersion editions” that you’ll probably only ever listen to the once.

I realise the target market for these things is the middle-aged bloke who stopped caring about new music when he got married and had kids decades ago, and now in the throes of his mid-life crisis is desperately trying to reconnect with his long lost youth. He’s probably never even heard of Opeth. His loss.

Don’t be that guy. Don’t buy the box sets. Pink Floyd really don’t need your money. And EMI certainly don’t deserve it.

Stolen Earth – Tuscany Sun

Stolen Earth are the band that emerged from the ashes of Breathing Space, they York-based progressive rock band who split at the beginning of the year. With four members of the final lineup of Breathing Space on board, including lead singer Heidi Widdop, it’s inevitable that the new band would have something of the spirit of Breathing Space, and this song, written by bassist Paul Teasdale, has a very strong echo of Breathing Space’s distinctive sound. Though there’s definitely a hint of latter-day Marillion in there somewhere as well.

Stolen Earth will make their live debut at the Cambridge Rock Festival on 6th of August, sharing a bill with Panic Room, Chantel McGregor, Larry Miller and headliners The Quireboys.