Sunday, 24 June 2012

Museum Abteiberg and a tour of Studio Roma

Well, this weekend has definitely not been wasted, as I've been busy working on a piece describing my tour of Manuel Gottsching's Studio Roma a couple of weeks ago. Although this is a very late addition to the book I think it promises to present one of the most interesting sections.
Progress on the road to publication for the book continues and although there are significant developments on this front I won't say anything just yet. All will be revealed in due course...
Before I go here are a few stills taken from the live feed of MG's fantastic performance of E2-E4 last night at Monchengladbach's iconic Museum Abteiberg.
By the way, while I type this a record with a nice little green label is spinning around on my turntable. It's a practically pristine French Virgin pressing of Blackouts. Lovely stuff! More soon...

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Time travel: Ashra live in Berlin - June 2012

Thursday 8th June 2012 @ the UFA Fabrik, Tempelhof, Berlin. There is a certain circularity to the event planned for tomorrow evening. It was here, 34 years ago that Ashra rehearsed before recording the Correlations album and here they are once more, about to play their first live date in Berlin for 12 years.
I arrive a little jetlagged and more than a little disoriented, having woken up at 3:30am, slept through most of my two flights and arrived eight hours later in Berlin. Although I knew what to expect on arrival at the UFA I am still surprised by how green and leafy it looks when compared with my last visit almost two-and-a-half years ago.
The summer largely denied us back in Britain is very definitely in full swing here in Germany and throughout the day I get a chance to have a drink and a chat with Ashra and friends. Later that evening we have a lovely meal together and I unintentionally supply a few laughs when it becomes clear that I can't understand or pronounce most of the items on the menu. Clueless doesn't even begin to cover it.
Friday 9th June is the day of the concert and in the morning Harald Grosskopf and Steve Baltes take several of us along to Cafe Einstein, their favourite Berlin breakfast venue. The adrenaline is kicking in for the guys now, as showtime approaches and I head off alone to explore the now defunct Tempelhof Airport whilst Grosskopf and Baltes return to the UFA to start to assemble their equipment.
Later, during pre-concert conversation Mick Glossop, producer of Ashra's Correlations album and here as a special guest suggests we get something to eat. It is a great privilege to hear his memories of a career in music including his recollections of work with Ashra many years ago. Correlations engineer Eberhard Panne of Panne-Paulsen Studios is also here tonight and later on I manage to have a brief chat with him. It has to be said that both he and Glossop are really nice guys.
The show itself is predictably marvellous without being predictable. The UFA Fabrik has a brand new all weather venue: a large canopy in the garden, designed to shield spectators and performers from the elements whilst allowing in enough light along its large arched sides to provide the show with the atmosphere of an open air event.
The setlist perfectly compliments the offerings from the @shra live albums recorded in 1997, presenting almost no overlap, whilst bringing the Correlations album back to the location where it all started many years ago. All but one of the tracks from the record are resurrected with electronics worked on collaboratively by Baltes and Gottsching.
For the curious here is the full setlist: Ice Train, Flying Turtles, Morgana da Capo, Kazoo, Pas de Trois, Phantasus, Congo Bongo, Oasis and Club Cannibal with two encores: Blackouts, followed by Midnight on Mars.  
Shortly after the show Mick Glossop comments on the improvisational nature of the performance and the fact that there aren't many non-jazz bands around now that would dare to play off one another and take the music wherever the moment suggests. Watching the concert there is a sense that although the electronic backings (which offer a contemporary take on classic tracks) are preprepared the rest of the interplay is fairly spontaneous. Sure, the band know what to include and Gottsching plays the right riffs or licks in the right place or retains elements of well-known solos but some of the content and even the lengths of many of the tracks remains undecided right up to the point at which they are delivered. This certainly keeps things fresh and gives the performance a spirit of adventure.     
I'm really pleased that Kazoo, one of my all time favourite Ashra/MG tracks is included tonight. It's a beautiful performance and includes a lengthy intro and outro, played by Gottsching on keyboard. This is not a million miles removed from Six Voices from the Walkin' the Desert album. Congo Bongo is a wonderfully moody, swampy track originally performed by Ashra in the late '70s and updated by Baltes for a new take. While Gottsching plays gentle, atmospheric almost surf-like guitar Grosskopf is free to decorate the fizzing electronics with crisp, clicking-clacking electronic drum fills. He also provides plenty of fills for a percussive version of Blackouts towards the end of the set. 
It seems obvious to me that Gottsching, Grosskopf and Baltes have a big respect for one another. This comes across in a musical interplay partially based on  visual cues and also towards the end of the set when before each of the encores and after the very last track, the band gather together in big Ashra embraces. Job done - a fantastic show in the bag!
Saturday 10th June is a date I won't be forgetting in a hurry. The day after the tremendous Ashra concert Manuel Gottsching invites me for a tour of his Studio Roma. There I see his meticulously organised master tapes, including both familiar and unreleased titles. My jaw drops repeatedly as he shows me the actual master for Sunrain, the reel-to-reel tape machine with which he recorded Inventions for Electric Guitar and New Age of Earth, the EKO Computerhythm - an early drum machine used on his late '70s albums, many of his analog synths and sequencers, not to mention the space where the legendary E2-E4 was recorded back in 1981. I will save the full detail of this incredible visit for the book. As we leave the flat Gottsching says: "A little time travel," gently laughing. What a journey!
For their kindness and hospitality during my short stay in Berlin I want to thank Mr. and Mrs. Grosskopf, Steve Baltes, Sophie, Markus Schickel, Heiko Neumann, Lennart Koschella, Mick Glossop, the good folk of the UFA Fabrik and extra big thanks to Mr. Manuel Gottsching and Ilona Ziok. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

MG at The Spill

Manuel Gottsching will be playing E2-E4 live at Monchengladbach's famous Museum Abteiberg on Saturday 23rd June. For more information please see the Guardian Newspaper spin-off blog The Spill here. Oh, and there's also a bit of something about some bloke from the North of England who's writing a book...

Coming very soon: news of the awesome Ashra concert in Berlin last Friday, along with some photographs. Watch this space!