This is a list with descriptions of a number of bands and artists that are of importance to me, more or less sorted from important to less important.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is a bizarre sounding band from California that was formed in 1999 and has made three albums with rough, extreme and complicated music (and one live album). I only know them since around 2006. They play some kind of a cross between free-style jazz, heavy metal and improvisations. They perform in cabarestesque-theatrical shows, without getting to be too ponderous. They sound like some fascinating sort of controlled lunacy. Many of their instruments were designed and built by themselves. Their debut, Grand Opening And Closing (2001), is not to be missed, but the other albums are masterpieces as well, Live (2003), Of Natural History (2004) and In Glorious Times (2007). In 2012 violin-player Carla Kihlstedt and drummer Matthias Bossi formed the band Rabbit Rabbit, and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's other members started the band Free Salamander Exhibit.
I think Sleepytime Gorilla Museum are extra nice because on their website they explicitly state: "Recording shows with microphones is permitted." There's an ftp-server that enables people to download a large number of their live shows, bunglefever. Each one of these shows is wonderful, and the audio quality of them (of course) is too. I have seen them perform live three times in 2007 and once in 2010. Here you'll find a review of their concert in the Bimhuis in Amsterdam in April 2007. The members of the band are very easily approachable; at the end of a concert they simply walk into the audience.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is the official Sleepytime Gorilla Museum website.
It has taken me way too long before I first heard music by Judge Smith (1948-). He hasn't written much, but the things he wrote, stand out because of their humour and honesty. Judge Smith and Peter Hammill in 1967 were the founders of Van der Graaf Generator together, and although Smith left the band in 1968 already, they've stayed in contact ever since. For almost twenty years on they got together at least once a year to write their magnificent opera The Fall Of The House Of Usher (1991), based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe. My first Judge Smith album was Democrazy (1991), a collection of old demo-recordings, which sadly is not available anymore. The Full English (2005) I think is the best album to start off with. He made at least three masterpieces, not to be missed, Curly's Airships (2000), The Climber (2010) and Orfeas (2011). Other albums are Dome Of Discovery (1993), of which I would especially like to recommend the remastered version (2006), L-RAD (2008), a crazy and beautiful cooperation with Steve Defoe, and his most recent album, Zoot Suit (2013).
Judge Smith performs very rarely live. I was lucky enough to be present at one of his few live concerts, in May 2005, which was an unforgettable experience. There's a review of that concert here. Judge (it really is one of his first names) is a sympathetic and very friendly person, who convinced me of his talent and sincerity from the very first moment I saw him walk onto the stage. In May 2009 Laura and I saw Judge and a choir perform his songstory The Climber in Bergen, Norway. You'll find a page with photos here. In September 2010 Judge performed in Hall's Green with John Ellis. You'll find a page with photos here.
Judge Smith is the official Judge Smith website. There's also the website Curly's Airships, which only deals with the album Curly's Airships. With great pride I mention that since September 2007 Laura is the webmaster for both these websites.
Tall Dwarfs and Chris Knox
I have been following the Tall Dwarfs since the beginning of the nineties. The group is made up of Chris Knox (1952-) and Alec Bathgate, and originates from New-Zealand. I started off with an album by Chris Knox, called Meat (1993, a compilation of previous EP's), and ever since I have slowly collected all albums by Knox and the Tall Dwarfs. Especially Stumpy (1997) by the Tall Dwarfs is worth mentioning, but each one of their albums is special and beautiful, just like Chris Knox' solo-albums. Also Alec Bathgate has made two solo-albums. The Tall Dwarfs are a source of inspiration for numerous lo-fi (indie) bands of later date, amongst which are Elf Power, Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control.
I have seen the Tall Dwarfs perform live about three times, at least in April 1994 in Nijmegen and in Amsterdam, and every time I was charmed by their moving clumsiness. They write fragile songs and perform them in a rough and savage way. They sometimes end a song by simply pressing the off-button of their casiotone to create a sudden silence. I have also once seen Chris Knox perform solo, which was very impressive.
Flying Nun Records is the Tall Dwarfs record company's website.
A Finnish band that has released six albums, Vasaraasia (2000), Käärmelautakunta (2003), Kinaporin Kalifaatti (2005), Maahan (2007), Huuro Kolkko (2009) and Valta (2012), all of which are very beautiful and great fun. Maybe I would describe them as a combination of klezmer, jazz and metal (they themselves say they make "kebab-kosher-jazz-film-traffic-punk-music"). They play with drums, cello, trumpet, saxophones and melodica, and they are even more freaky than their line-up. I have seen them perform live twice now, once in May 2009 in Rotterdam and once in June 2014 in Tilburg, and both were overwhelming, miraculous and bizarre events. Here you'll find a review of the concert in 2009.
Alamaailman Vasarat is their official website.
Initially The Ex were a punk band, but they have been experimenting more and more over the years. I am especially interested since the end of the eighties, when they got to be less punk and more experimental. They became less angry, they had more fun, and they felt less of a need to convey their political message. The musical quality benefited from that, I think. All of the albums since their collaboration with Tom Cora, Scrabbling At The Lock (1991), are interesting.
Especially live concerts by The Ex are real parties. Mostly they introduce unknown musicians from hardly known countries to their western audiences. I saw a concert by The Ex in Utrecht with Konono, a band from Kongo (Kinshasa), who at that time were in a western country for the first time of their lives (and who have since acquired some fame). I have a number of live recordings by The Ex, that again and again show their dedication as one of their strongest features.
The Ex is the official The Ex website.
Zea is Arnold de Boer's band. Since 2009 he has also been The Ex's frontman. Zea's music is some sort of electronic folk, danceable, weird and melodic. There are five albums, each one a lot of fun. I think Today I Forgot To Complain (2003) and Insert Parallel Universe (2006) are the two most beautiful ones.
At live concerts the enthousiasm is palpable. I have seen Zea perform live three times now, in an art gallery in De Bilt in 2013, and in Utrecht and Rotterdam in 2014. There are no live abums by Zea (yet), but I'd love to hear a live recording sometime.
The band's website is Zea.
Guv'ner is a less well-known band that does not exist anymore. It started when the two prime band-members got involved in a romantic relationship. They made three albums, Hard For Measy For You (1994), The Hunt (1996) en Spectral Worship (1998), all three of which are painfully beautiful. Their music is perhaps best described as compositions too difficult for the musical abilities of the band-members, which makes it sound messy and childish, in all very touching to me.
I know of only one live concert by Guv'ner, for Dutch VPRO radio in 1996, a thorougly enjoyable gig.
I know no website by or about Guv'ner.
Gastr Del Sol
With the exception of their debut album The Serpentine Similar (1993) Gastr Del Sol was a collaboration between David Grubbs and Jim O'Rourke (1969-). Wikipedia describes them as a combination of post-rock, avant-garde jazz and musique concrète. The band existed between 1991 and 1998, and made six albums, each one of them extremely beautiful. Crookt, crackt, or fly (1994) might be the most beautiful one.
Improvisation plays a key role in all of the few live concerts I know by Gastr Del Sol.
I know no website by or about Gastr Del Sol.
Orange Wasteland is not well-known, but they made wonderful, dark music with a screaming guitar and horns, some sort of combination of punk and fanfare. The band is from Austin, Texas, and the singer, guitarist and most prolific songwriter is David Colwyn. Orange Wasteland made two albums, Simplifying Cues (2005) and Too Many Words (2008). I do not know if they still exist.
I know of no live shows by or website about Orange Wasteland.
Cop Shoot Cop
A bizarre band from New York, that existed between 1987 and 1996, and performed using two bass-players and no guitarist. According to a review that is quoted in Wikipedia, Cop Shoot Cop used to tell "stories of pathetic losers and maniac outsiders who believe they are the sane ones." If a certain band is not crazy, then I am mostly not interested. The stories that Quentin Tarantino tells using film, Cop Shoot Cop tells using music. I found myself enthralled by a song I heard on the radio, It Only Hurts When I Breathe. The most interesting of their albums possibly is Ask Questions Later (1993), but all of their albums are very good.
I have a number of live recordings by Cop Shoot Cop, that attract attention because of the rough, savage sounds that are mlodic nonetheless.
I know no website by or about Cop Shoot Cop.
Pete Brown (1940-) was a composer and writer of lyrics for Cream, and some referred to him as "the fourth member of Cream." The albums he made with Battered Ornaments, A Meal You Can Shake Hands With In The Dark (1969) and Mantle-Piece (1969), and with Piblokto!, Things May Come And Things May Go, But The Art School Dance Goes On Forever (1970) and Thousands On A Raft (1970), are fantastically beautiful, all four of them. I also must recommend his collaboration with Graham Bond, Two Heads Are Better Than One (1972). Very few recordings of old live concerts exist by him or his bands.
Mr Averell is a stage-name for singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist René van Commenée. He has made two albums, Out Of My Mind (2006) and Gridlock (2013), and contributed to albums by David Jackson and Judge Smith. I have seen him perform live several times, in various line-ups. There is a review of a Mr Averell concert at the Crossing Border Festival in Den Haag in 2005 here, and here is a review of a concert by Mr Averell, Hugh Banton and John Ellis in Amsterdam in 2008. Here is a page with photos of a concert by Mr Averell in Utrecht in 2010.
Mr Averell is the official Mr Averell website.
It has also taken too long before I discovered music by Arthur Brown (1942-). I think I first heard his music thanks to Judge Smith. Brown is an impressive personality, both on and off the stage. I was addicted after just one concert. I first got to know Arthur Brown through the self-titled album by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown (1968), but the most beautiful of his albums I think is Galactic Zoo Dossier (1971) by his band Kingdom Come (not to be confused with the much more well-known American hardrock-band of the same name). All albums he released under his own name, all albums by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, all three albums by Kingdom Come, and all collaborations are enormously beautiful. I should especially mention his collaboration with Vincent Crane, the organist in The Crazy World, Faster Than The Speed Of Light (1979). Many years now Arthur Brown has been a close friend of Judge Smith, and he is one of many guest musicians on the album Curly's Airships (2000) by Judge Smith.
Although he is an icon of the sixties and therefore nowadays isn't so very young anymore, Arthur Brown continues to perform live on a regular basis, the past few years mostly accompagnied by multi-instrumentalist Nick Pynn. In 2002 a very beautiful live album was released, The Legboot Album. I saw Arthur Brown perform live twice, once in May 2006 in Verviers (you'll find a review of that concert here) and once in September 2006 in Haarlem, both times accompagnied by Nick Pynn. Arthur Brown is a sparkling enthusiast, who at the end of the sixties rose to fame partly because when he performed the hit-song Fire! with his band The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, he went on stage wearing a helmet with a real burning fire within it. He is also known for having performed some of his shows in the nude (something he got arrested for). He is a very theatrical performer, but nowadays he tries to do that with a mimimum of means, so that it immediately becomes apparent that he is not too serious about it.
Arthur Brown music is a fansite about Arthur Brown.
Van der Graaf Generator
I got to know the music by Van der Graaf Generator when I was seventeen, thanks to the biography about Genesis by Armando Gallo. The public music-library in Utrecht had the album H to He - Who Am The Only One? (1970), and I was hooked instantly. It didn't take me long to collect all albums. Van der Graaf Generator was the band around singer-writer Peter Hammill (1948-), which existed from 1967 until 1972 and from 1975 until 1978 in an ever changing line-up. The line-up consisting of voice, saxophone, organ and drums is often called the 'classical' one. In 2005 this line-up got together again. I would advise to start off with The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other (1970), and I'd say Pawn Hearts (1971) is the most interesting of their albums. But each of the albums by Van der Graaf Generator is brilliant, each in its own way.
I had never seen Van der Graaf Generator perform live until 2005, but I have a rather huge collection of live recordings. The band was known for its adventurous attitude towards live concerts, and played different songs each night, making each concert a new and sursprising experience for those present. Musical quality varied a lot, thanks to this adventurous approach. Some concerts weren't particularly great, but others were magnificent. The band recorded only one live album, Vital (1978), a double-album set that metaphorically speaking has the words 'dedication' and 'fire' written all over them. Because the line-up then was not the 'classical' one, but rather voice, guitar, piano, violin, cello, bass and drums, the true value of the album was lost on some listeners, I'm afraid. I went to see the reunion-concert in London in May 2005, and also saw concerts in Amsterdam in July 2005 and in Den Haag in November 2005 (there is a review about the Den Haag gig here). After that saxofonist David Jackson was not a part of the band anymore, and I've seen them perform as a trio a number of times.
Van der Graaf Generator is a good (although slightly chaotic) fansite about Van der Graaf Generator.
Not long after having discovered Van der Graaf Generator, I also started to collect music by Peter Hammill. I found it was impossible to buy an album by Hammill that was less than good. Each of his albums is somewhere in the range between good and brilliant, at least up until around 2000. I can't remember which was my first Peter Hammill album, and it is hard for me to say which one is the most interesting. At least The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage (1974), In Camera (1974), A Black Box (1980) and the opera The Fall of The House Of Usher (1991) deserve to be mentioned. Maybe The Future Now (1978) is a good album to start off with.
In the course of time Peter Hammill performed solo concerts on piano and guitar, but also with other musicians, accompagnied by guitar or violin, with a complete band, or other still. His concerts are characterised by a total devotion to his music and to the role he needs to play in order to perform each of the songs, and because of that the concerts are very intense. There's a total of six live albums, which (with the exception of one) sadly all are compilations of different concerts. Luckily there's a large quantity of unofficial live recordings, almost all of which are very interesting (as long as the audience keeps silent, in order to fully enjoy all subtle changes in musical emotion). It isn't enough to listen to (or describe) his concerts. You need to be present to fully experience the magic of a live concert by Peter Hammill. Here you'll find a review of a concert by Peter Hammill in Utrecht in 2000, and a list of concerts by Peter Hammill.
Sofa Sound is the official Peter Hammill website.
Heligoland is the name of the project Tim Friese-Greene started after Talk Talk had disbanded. The two final albums by Talk Talk, Spirit Of Eden (1988) and Laughing Stock (1991), were real gems. Heligoland shows just how much Friese-Greene had made Talk Talk sound that way. Heligoland has released an EP, Creosote & Tar (1998), and two full-length albums, Heligoland (2000) and Pitcher, Flask & Foxy Moxie (2006). Each one of those is beautiful.
I know nothing of live concerts by Heligoland. Talk Talk did not perform live in the final years of their existence, because they were afraid to be unable to reproduce the sound of the two final albums. Maybe they were afraid to go and re-arrange their compositions, or afraid to improvise. Live concerts shouldn't be about reproducing studio-sounds, I think. I fear they missed a great opportunity here.
Heligoland is the official Heligoland website.
Shellac is a project of Steve Albini's (1962-), who, apart from his work in Shellac, is famous as a producer for countless bands. Shellac is a trio, consisting of Albini on guitar, and bass and drums.
I mostly like to listen to their live concerts, but sadly I couldn't attend each of their concerts in May 2007 and May 2009 in Amsterdam. In 2010 I saw them for the first time, twice in a row, in Nijmegen and Utrecht. Their drummer is in the middle, at the front of the stage. At almost each of their concerts in between the songs they do two or three sessions with questions and answers. If they do understand what's being asked, the questions almost always are nonsense-questions.
Ali Farka Touré
Ali Farka Touré (1939-2006) is a Malinese guitarist who has become very famous. Like no one else he succeeded in making a fusion of African rhythms and bluesy guitar-playing. Live concerts by Ali Farka Touré are wonderful, but I never had the honour to be present at one of them.
Thorns Of The Future
Thorns Of The Future were an obscure British band from the 1960s, that made three albums, The Art Of Silence (1968), Yer Private Clown (1969) and Yellow Bees (1971). Especially the first two of these are beautiful albums. The music by Thorns Of The Future is a combination of soul, jazz and improvisation.
I know of only one (not very good) live recording of Thorns Of The Future.
Gong are masters in psychedelic music, a French-English band who in the seventies made a handful of brilliant albums, amongst others Camembert Electrique (1971), Flying Teapot (1973), Angel's Egg (1973) and You (1974). Their albums together tell mythological stories about a planet called Gong. In the mid-seventies the then leader Daevid Allen (1938-) decided it had been enough, and he quit the band. They continued without him, and countless new incarnations of Gong arose.
Since the late eighties Gong sometimes performs live again, sounding more spacey than ever. Nowadays live concerts have become something of a rarity, but in November 2006 I was lucky to watch the band and a large number of related bands play for three days in a row in Amsterdam, at what was called the Gong Family Unconvention. There's a review of the Unconvention here.
Planet Gong is the official Gong website.
Robert Wyatt (1945-) hardly needs any introduction. He is rightly regarded as a great master by many experimental and lo-fi musicians. He was the drummer for the first incarnation of the Soft Machine in 1967, but has been releasing solo-albums since the mid-seventies. Any music-collection without his first album Rock Bottom (1974), I think is incomplete (although I have to admit that it took years before I myself first heard the album...). I do not yet know everything he ever made, but all that I have is wonderful.
The only live recording I really know by Robert Wyatt is the officially released album Theatre Royal Drury Lane 8 September 1974 (2005). I know hardly any or no bootleg albums at all. Robert Wyatt hardly ever performs live. Drury Lane is wonderful.
I know a fansite about Robert Wyatt exists, but I don't know it well.
My favourite album is The Dreaming (1982), which I think is incomparable and confusing and continues to fascinate, somewhere between pop and experiment. Kate Bush (1958-) toured in 1978, but has since only very rarely done live performances (just a few appearances as a guest), but toured again in 2014. The only other example of performers who stopped performing that I know of are the Beatles, but maybe there's some more examples.
King Crimson is master-guitarist Robert Fripp's band (1946-). I especially like them live, but I've never actually seen them perform live (I once did see The League Of Crafty Guitarists perform, with Fripp). I find it hard to name one favorite album of theirs.
Elephant Talk is a fansite about King Crimson in the form of a wiki.
My favourite album is The Man Who Sold The World (1970), but I also very much like Space Oddity (1969), Hunky Dory (1971) and Low (1977). I have seen David Bowie (1947-) perform live once, in De Goffert in Nijmegen, but as far as I'm concerned that is a far too large venue to go and see a live performance. The major feature I remember were the large video-screens, to give those in the back a view at the stage.
Syd Barrett (1946-2006) was the leader of the early, psychedelic Pink Floyd (the band started to sound a lot more spacey after his departure). In the course of the year 1967 Syd Barrett grew to be more and more eccentric and disturbed, until he was unkindly kicked out of the band. Members of Pink Floyd afterwards collaborated on his two solo-albums, The Madcap Laughs (1970) and Barrett (1970). These two albums are as brilliant as the famous debut-album by Pink Floyd was, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967), which for the largest part was devised by Syd Barrett. In the seventies he withdrew from public life, but he became a living legend. His influence on music history has been enormous. He was one of the very first to demonstrate that recording techniques and a producer are of minor importance compared to the quality of the compositions and the conviction of the performing artist.
After having left Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett only rarely performed live. But both his albums had hardly any production done to them, and sound as if they were recorded live in the studio. The one well-known bootleg of a solo-concert, 6 June 1970 in London, sounds horrible.
I direct you to wikipedia for all online information about Syd Barrett.
Shock Headed Peters
Everything they ever made, is good fun, although sometimes I get somewhat tired of listening to them. After their first album the band fell apart, and since then it was a solo-project by Karl Blake (1956-), aided by various guests. Blake is an extremely angry Briton, angry with the music-industry, record-labels and pop-music. His weapon is a demented form of heavy metal. Unfortunately Blake has not been very active lately.
I think especially The Beatles (1968) (or The White Album) and Abbey Road (1969) are wonderful albums. I am not at all interested in the first years (let's say up until Help!).
Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails is the metal/industrial project by Trent Reznor (1965-). I especially like Broken (1992) and its companion Fixed (1992), but I must admit I also agree with those millions who think The Downward Spiral (1994) is a masterpiece.
Three Friends (1972), In A Glass House (1973) and The Power And The Glory (1974) are my favourite albums. I am not so very much impressed by their qualities live, because they try to perform their songs exactly like they recorded them and they hardly improvise.
Gentle Giant is a good and comprehensive fansite about Gentle Giant.
Everthing by Frank Zappa (1940-1993) is great fun, although I do not have or know everything. Less fun I'd say are his 'modern classical' compositions, although I heard only two of those.
Sol Invictus is the project around Tony Wakeford. He is a Briton and you can almost hear him shake his head as he transforms melancholy and disappointment into music, often aided by Karl Blake on bassguitar. Wakeford himself describes Sol Invictus as "a cabaret band from hell for the fin-de-siècle" and the music as "folk noir". I recommend Trees In Winter (1990), but I'd say all their albums are somewhere in the range between beautiful and very beautiful. The earlier albums sound more experimental, the later ones more folk.
In live performances Sol Invictus doesn't always satisfy me. The albums In Europa (1998) and Brugge (2001) are alright, but I'm not so much interested in Let Us Prey (1992). I have only one witnessed a live concert by Sol Invictus, in August 2008 in Ekko in Utrecht during the Summer Darkness Festival.
Tursa Records is the official website of Tursa Records, Tony Wakeford's record company.
Townes Van Zandt
Townes Van Zandt (1944-1997) is a gifted composer of music that might be best described as a combination of folk, country and blues. As no other he succeeds in conveying how awful everything is (...). He strongly identifies with the seamy side of life, and has been a part of that for all his life. His studio-albums aren't half as interesting as his concerts. His live album Live At The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas (1977) is absolutely indispensable. I saw Townes Van Zandt perform live once in my life, in 1996. A famous quote by Steve Earle (who himself is a talented composer and musician as well) about Townes Van Zandt is: "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that."
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