Google Tag

Sunday 21 October 2018

Sgt Kipper : The Advent Of Todd Dillingham

At ASH, we have always been long term admirers of the magnificent Todd Dillingham. So I'm delighted that his brother Mick has written this article about how the musical adventures began.

Mick is a dear friend of mine. As a journalist, he is outstanding. People often complement me on the music I recommend and how much I know. Well I know less than half of what Mick knows. His consistent uncovering of great bands and artists is awe inspiring.

He has also been involved in all things ASH related from the very beginning, approaching nine years now. Mick hasn't been writing as much lately, which is a crying shame, I'm hoping this is about to change. You can find more of his work here

There is no better person to write about the beginnings of Todd's psychedelic delights than Mick.

Todd was always the classic bedroom musician, first and foremost. An eccentric outsider not really built for this big bad world of ours. He always loved music and for his fifth birthday got the latest Beatles album and by his teens he had a big record collection and went to a lot of gigs. He taught himself how to play guitar and was quite a superb player, but Todd being Todd, he never really did anything with it other than entertain us all with his ability to make up silly songs on the spot.

In his mid twenties he wrote a few songs, The Summer, Fading Just For You which he went into a tiny studio to record. But then one day he won a couple of hundred quid on the horses and went and bought himself a four track Tascam recorder. More brilliant songs started pouring out, matched by musical invention and quality playing. These home recordings, most of which remained unreleased, though a handful turned up on various releases, were staggering stuff and eventually brought him to the attention of Nick Saloman.

Art Into Dust was Todd’s first album, the bulk of which was recorded in a couple of days up at Mick Crossley’s (Flight Reaction) place in Saffron Walden with Nick Saloman (Bevis Frond), for release on the man’s Woronozow label.

Todd’s song Lament has already appeared on the fourth Ptolemaic Terrascope EP, given away free with the magazine (and played on the John Peel show!). Another track Reality appeared on the Woronziod sampler. Todd also played his first (of only ever two) live appearances with a short acoustic set supporting The Bevis Frond at an all dayer at The Dome in Tufnell Park. He was very nervous and sat on a stool during his four song set.

Twink, the legendary drummer from Tomorrow, The Pretty Things and The Pink Fairies who happened to be in attendance that day and aware of Todd’s nervousness beforehand very kindly and spontaneously grabbed maracas and a tambourine and joined him on stage to play along. The crowd also got behind him and cheered and clapped after each number with warm appreciation.

Saloman had been dragging his heels for a few years over doing the album by then, so it was a relief when he finally decided it was time. No sooner had the recording been completed then Todd was given the chance to record down in Canterbury with the legendary Richard Sinclair, Andy Ward and Jimmy Hastings.

With some money from our Father, we headed down the Canterbury to spend five days recording at the same studio as Sinclair was using for the Caravan of Dreams album. In retrospect the studio was too big for the task, but an album’s worth of tunes was captured.

When Saloman found out about this, his nose got out of joint and he decided not to release Art Into Dust after all. A few months later, Voiceprint came on board wanting to release Wilde Canterbury Dream. On hearing about the unreleased debut they decided that it would be cool to release that as well, a few weeks after Wilde Canterbury Dreams. So Todd went from nothing to two albums just like that.

Expanding the original album for the Voiceprint release, Todd added a home demo, Am I Alone and two tracks recorded recently with Andy Ward in East London. Little Green Pears, with a young Canterbury based guitar player Nicky Johns and a mind bending 24 minute version of the Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive on which Andy shines like a thousand stars on the drums. This then was Todd’s second but really first album Art Into Dust.

Todd was very prolific at this point and the thousand pounds or so made from the first two Voiceprint albums was ploughed back into recording using small studios, first in East London and then another in West London.

Andy Ward (Camel, Caravan Of Dreams and later Bevis Frond) was the only constant, not only was he a lovely bloke to hang out with ,but one of the best drummers this country ever produced. The brilliant Terry Burrows a.k.a Yukio Yung of Chrysanthemums fame often came down over the next few years to lay some superb stuff down.

Andy got electric violin player Anthony Aldridge down to the studio a couple of times, one of them on  the same day that Rob Ayling of Voiceprint arranged Mike Wedgewood of Caravan/Curved Air fame to join in. First Mike and Anthony overdubbed their parts onto the Vast Empty Spaces suite that Todd and Andy had been working on that dominates the album of the same name.

Then Todd and Mike recorded Little Sister together that also made it to the third album. The musical highlight of the session was the epic prog monster Janus At The Gates of War, recorded live in one take, Todd and Anthony in the main room, Andy and Mike in the drum room. Peter Giles was the engineer (no not the Crimson bloke) and he was also a fine keyboard player always up for playing along.

Todd was never really Rock Star material but if you plopped him down in a modest studio, boy could he create, sometimes recording and mixing four or five songs at a session. Andy Ward was amazing and there was a synergy between him and Todd that meant that he easily and brilliantly kept up with the breakneck pace. 

Andy actually found refreshing when recalling the often interminable time spent in the studio with Camel. Like the three days spent sitting around in some big expensive studio, bored to distraction, while the engineer miked up the drums.  Todd’s approach to all the talented musicians he was fortunate enough to record with was straight forward and clear: just play entirely what you want to play and that was it.

Vast Empty Spaces came out on Voiceprint soon enough and sold out within a few months and the money from that helped continue the recording.

Todd had so many songs at this point and was writing more every week. As the recording sessions mounted up he would sort through the pool of recordings and compile the next album from them. With Bevis Frond’s offer to put out Sgt. Kipper on Woronzow and with so much great stuff to choose from, far too much for Kipper alone, the idea of self releasing Astral Whelks was born. It was released in a limited edition of 450 copies and was very much the sister album to Sgt. Kipper. With its potent blend of Psych, Prog and Folk Pop it remains many folk's favourite album by the man.

The opening three songs had already seen the light of day on various vinyl singles, but all were noticeably alternative mixes done at the time of recording. The next three tracks were from the same sessions with Andy and Terry blazing away. Janus also made its debut. While it and the title track were long prog epics, The Turquoise Mountain with Peter, Andy and Anthony was the biggest of all.

Based on the adventures of Brian Blessed’s attempt to climb Everest, the vocal version did not quite work, so most of the vocals were stripped away in a second mix (and the song redone as The Blessed One, which remains unreleased).

The Summer was one of Todd’s oldest songs and had already appeared on the Wilde Canterbury Dream album, dating from the very first real studio session Todd ever did a few years before. The version on Whelks was all new with Andy on drums and the only appearance of younger brother, Peter, on bass.

As a teenager Peter had been in Todd’s first and only attempt at forming a band, Coloured Rain (This was when Todd had just started writing songs seriously and he had a dozen or more gems already home demoed.) Unfortunately the other two members of the band (on drums and rhythm guitar) were low on talent and high on delusions of grandeur. After three or four rehearsals it became clear that Todd’s songs and those of the drummer, (who was a big Police fan and insisted on singing his third rate Police knock offs in a fourth rate Sting voice) where not really sitting well together

What sealed the band’s inevitable fate was a really useless, amateurish day up on Hampstead Heath spent "filming a video" or two with nothing more than a rented home video camera and with no thought of how it was going to be edited or any such important issues. Let's hire a camera and go up the Heath was the plan in its naive entirety. It really was a hopeless shambles. At one point two Italian girls who were there with a friend taking glamour photos wandered over to see what was going on with the video camera (quite a novelty in those days). The drummer basically bigged up the whole thing up and told them they could be in the video if they wanted, dancing along to one of his songs.

So while the band mimed along, these two dumb girls gave it their sexy dancing all. The other two band members thought it was great, (it wasn’t), the Dillingham brothers wanted to curl up and die with embarrassment. Later it started to rain and as they sheltered from it, the non-Dillingham members of the band started going on about the certainty of being on Top Of The Pops and playing Wembley within the year.

Todd and Peter left the band a few days after. Peter moved up north a while later and on one of his visits back to London, Todd thought it would be nice for him to pop down the studio and play bass on one of those Coloured Rain songs, The Summer, from all those years before.

Sgt. Kipper was the main focus though and a lot of the best recordings were earmarked for that. It was to be a full length cd and a double album on vinyl . Unfortunately some sort of technical snafu on the vinyl art meant that Todd made not one penny from the release.  

With no money forthcoming, the next studio was an even smaller affair and though some amazing recordings were produced, in the end we couldn’t even scrape together enough to continue even that. There was a EP and a ten inch for Pink Lemon but there was little money to be made from them.  A while later Todd got married and moved to the States and stopped making music until a few years back when he started up again.

Friday 19 October 2018

Modern Space - Flip For It

It will be no shock that I like an album by a Canadian band, what is most newsworthy is that a major label has got hold of a half decent band. Modern Space are not necessarily aimed at out demographic and Warners probably normally think that we buy all our stuff from Cherry Red and await the new "return to form" Paul Weller album.

So let's enjoy the fact that a band that we'll like will get some decent promotion and celebrate the fact that Flip For It will be right up our street. It's chock full of hooks that largely work. It is a tad shouty at times, but it is splendid pop.

Sean Graham's Ontario outfit are now a five piece and that has expanded the sound. There's plenty of hints of the likes of The Vaccines and The Killers in earlier time. Graham's vocals are suitably diverse enough to pull in an older crowd and the songs romp along.

Kaiser Chiefs spring to mind, although there is far more depth to Modern Space. Surprisingly to these ears, the single and title track is probably the weakest song amongst some really strong songs. The Strokes like riff on A Small Pocket adds to a great lyric. Just Quick starts with a great riff and develops into almost rockabilly.

There's plenty to enjoy here and Flip For It is well worth your attention. You can buy and listen to it everywhere. You can find out more about the band here.

Thursday 18 October 2018

Andy Bopp - Wherewithal

I mentioned how great Myracle Brah were in the review of Andy Bopp's previous album. Blisters And Thorns. That solo album is great, you can read the review here. But the even better news is that Bopp has moved on a pace since then and Wherewithal might just be the best thing that he's ever done.

The album reminds me a lot of Ian McNabb's latest, Our Future In Space. There are plenty of similarities. Melting Into Velveteen is interchangeable, it could be either's song. But the comparison is deeper, both will be compared to their previous band.

Yet their solo work is far deeper, far more fulfilling, but will get less attention than what's gone before. Bopp leans more towards Psych Pop. McNabb to Classic Rock, but the charm and ability is equal.Both have produced exceptional albums this year.

Sure And True is a wonderful example of how good Bopp is now, it's a killer Beatlesque chorus. Lonely Driver is Indie Joy, built around a funky bass riff. Push And Pull is pure Bowie, complete with Sax and some incendiary Guitar. It's a belter. Even the moody piano instrumental. April Is Near.

There really is so much here. The closer, Stranger Is Strange is all twangy moodiness, think Ian Hunter's The Outsider. Blind Faith is a haunting strum, it could make you weep, it's inspired. Shadow is anthemic in a Lennon manner.

These 10 songs contain so much in them, so many twists and turns in each. Beautifully arranged with some outstanding Guitar playing. You even find yourself singing along to the slower numbers. This is nothing like Myracle Brah and you wouldn't want it to be. Andy Bopp is at the top of his game. Wherewithal is a definite inclusion in my Top 10 of the year. Moody. yet incredibly melodic.

I can't recommend the album highly enough. You can buy it everywhere, including the likes of Amazon here. You really should!

Henry Chadwick - Marlin Fisher

I could say more about how great the Henry Chadwick is, but my great friend Dennis covered Marlin Fisher beautifully on his excellent Pop Record Blog. You can read his review here. I urge you to give the album a listen, you will be hooked. The album is right up our street.

You can listen to the album here. Buy it here and everywhere. You can find out more about Henry Chadwick here.

The National Reserve - Motel La Grange

I'm all up for surprises, there are too few of them and Motel La Grange caught me by surprise. It's a wonderfully constructed mainstream album and that caught me unawares. I'd suspected quite a bit of yee haw and what I got was a splendid album that resides more in Classic Rock territory.

Why surprised? Well usually as soon as I see a cowboy hat and a guitar, I run for the hills, hoping to avoid cliche after cliche of good ole boy lost love. Well I should shed my preconceptions, as I'm delighted to tell you that this is a cracking 38 minutes.I was sad when it ended and on it went again.

Yes there are country tinges, but these aren't many and are more than compensated by the rocking and ace song arrangements. Indeed the opener, No More, is a fantastic thing. It resides in some place between Springsteen and Del Amitri, it's a corker of a song.

The National Reserve are from New York, although you'd think that the five piece are more acquainted with Southern California or Nashville. Motel La Grange is a very American album, a real nod to the 70's. It's also a fine testament to the leadership of Sean Walsh. Great songwriting, a commanding vocal and some fine Guitar rock outs.

Although there are hints at times of a rocked up Eagles or a fleshed out Hootie And The Blowfish, the whole album stands firmly on the quality of the playing and some great Organ breaks. New Love smacks of The Outlaws, in fact there's a lot here that compares to that band without the excess.

I should open a closed mind a bit more. This album is a great listen, something that makes me wish I'd discovered it a little earlier. I can't wait for the follow up. You can find listen to and buy the album here. You can find out more about The National Reserve here.

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Cursed Arrows - Rebirth

I've always had an admiration for Cursed Arrows. The Ontario Guitar And Drum duo of Jackie And Ryan Stanley have always come across well as a sort of Roots Folk Buckingham Nicks. This is their sixth album and things have changed, hence the album title.

The expansion into a trio with the addition of Scott Gray has sent the band into a different direction. It's not a major diversion, but the arrangements are bigger, the soundscape, whilst still wonderfully eclectic, veers more towards a rock canvas and it works beautifully.

The rocking is at a gentle pace, a song like Dusty Old Soul up front is all jaunty, but behind the eyes are some weird and wonderful instrumental diversions including a cracking Psych Guitar Riff. The songs are very piano led, but it's what is going on in the spaces that makes the album so effective.

A song like Rebirth is duet that feels dark, but the 60's synths and haunting guitar refrain makes it wonderfully moody. There's plenty that's familiar here if you've been on the Cursed Arrows journey for a while. But Rebirth, just takes it on massively. There seems so much in each song and more every time you listen.

This is an incredibly good album. Power Pop it is not, but it's a body of work that deserves your attention. It's a belting listen. You can buy and listen to the album here.

Summer Magic - Sharks And Other Dangers

There's a real 80's Pop feel to Kevin Bachmann's Summer Magic. Not in the twee or SAW way, but in a really innovative mix of eight songs. The two album openers show that strength in very different ways. Hey! is pure Power Pop whilst Tracing A Bird On Construction Paper is a noisier synth led Sheffield pop.

Charles De Gaulle In The Afternoon is Glam Rock that even includes a Roxy Music like Sax refrain. New Years Day is Bubblegum until the fuzzed solo nods to Glasgow 88. By Your Side is a cracking slab of Psych Pop.

The main surprise is that this delightful album comes out of St Louis, it sounds very English. It's also really hard to pick track selections as each is so different. The closer, Running Game is mesmerising, a sort of George Harrison All Things Must Pass dream soundscape.

A Certain Little Chord feels a bit like Doves doing The Beach Boys with some ace harmonies. Attraction Corridors heads straight for the Byrds / TFC slot and jangles straight to the Bullseye. That's the beauty of this album. No song is overdone, say what you've got to say and move on to the next.

Sharks And Other Dangers is one of the best debut albums that I've heard in a long time.

Sunday 14 October 2018

The Posies Are Coming To Town

Here in the UK, we look at the live Power Pop and Pop Rock happenings in the States with a mixture of longing and an opportunity to moan. Most of all of it is financial of course, more would come across of course, if people bought more albums or supported tours by attending.

So when a band do make the effort, it is essential that they are supported and The Posies do support the UK Scene. They are becoming Elder Statesmen of Power Pop and remain one of the finest live acts that you could witness.

2018 has been a really exciting time in Posies land culminating in this 30th Anniversary World Tour with the original Frosting On The Beater Line Up. It's a wet dream for fans and builds on the 2 Disc Deluxe Edition Release of the album.

Some of us will be attending as fans at different tour dates. I'm at Manchester, so there's also a chance to catch up on what is going on in the IDHAS world. Keep up on Facebook and Twitter to find out who and where.

The Four UK Dates are as follows :

Friday 19 October       The Garage London
Saturday 20 October   Brudenell Social Club Leeds
Sunday 21 October     King Tut's Wah Wah Hut
Tuesday 23 October   The Deaf Institute Manchester

The band then head off to Germany and Scandinavia to complete the Tour. You can find tour dates and buy tickets here. The splendid Omnivore label has reissued the three Geffen albums as double disc editions. Two have been released, Amazing Disgrace is coming up very shortly.

You can find details and tracklisting in the following links :

Frosting On The Beater

Dear 23

Amazing Disgrace

The albums are also available at all the usual retail emporiums.