Tomorrow would have been Frank Zappa's 70th birthday. To celebrate his I've put together a playlist of 70 songs which I'm listening to as I write this.

The first FZ album I heard was 'Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch' and I didn't fully get it at the time. Some years passed and then I heard the Yellow Shark album. This was orchestral music recorded when Frank was sick and near death. This album had a huge effect on me. It wasn't music I could imagine making myself and it pushed all sorts of buttons I hadn't been aware of before. When I checked the recording details I found Yellow Shark had been recorded at the Alter Oper in Frankfurt at a time when I was living in Neu Isenburg, on the city's outskirts. Every weekend I went to the Alter Oper to see whoever was playing there. One weekend I decided not to go, to save some money. To make sure I didn't go I avoided seeing who was on. It was, of course, the weekend the Ensemble Modern were playing and recording this amazing disc. I am still kicking myself.

After listening to Yellow Shark about four hundred times I started buying almost the whole FZ catalogue, working my way from the beginning, through the incredible stages of this insane canon. At one point I was in Cambridge, to buy a bass from the charming and talented Thomas Fichter. He was the bassist in the Ensemble Modern and, over dinner, told me fascinating stories about Yellow Shark and the experiences of working with Frank.

This week Frank Zappa's old classmate and occasional musical companion. Don Van Vliet (alias Captain Beefheart) died. So it's appropriate that I've included tracks from the wonderful 'Bongo Fury' which features both of them.

Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart are much missed, but they've left a lot to remember them by.


Goodbye Captain Beefheart

Are you with me on this people?

The man with the woman head
Polynesian wallpaper made the face stand out,
A mixture of oriental and early vaudeville jazz poofter,
Forming a hard, beetle-like triangular chin much like a praying mantis.
Smoky razor-cut, low on the ear neck profile.
The face the color of a nicotine-stained hand.
Dark circles collected under the wrinkled, folded eyes,
Map-like from too much turquoise eyepaint.

He showed his old tongue through ill-fitting wooden teeth,
Stained from too much opium, chipped from the years.
The feet, brown wrinkles above straw loafers.
A piece of cocoanut in a pink seashell caught the tongue
And knotted into thin white strings.
Charcoal grey eisenhower jacket zipped into a load of green ascot.
A coil of ashes collected on the white-on-yellow dacs.
Four slender bones with rings and nails
Endured the weight of a hard fast black rubber cigarette holder.
I could just make out ace as he carried the tray and mouthed,
"you cheap son of a bitch"
As a straw fell out of a coke, cartwheeled into the gutter.
So this was a drive-in restaurant in hollywood,
So this was a drive-in restaurant in hollywood,
So this was a drive-in restaurant in hollywood.

(Lyrics from Man with the Woman Head from Bongo Fury)


Rising & Falling

And here's the album. There was a little drama with one day to go to release when I noticed a problem on one of the tracks. Some late night editing and a glass of wine later and it's all complete.

This was one of the more satisfying recordings I've worked on. It's almost always a better experience to work with someone else, even if that person is in San Antonio while you're in deepest Oxfordshire. So, thank you internet for making this possible without either John Marcell or I having to spend a fortune on airfare.

Update: I'm delighted to say the album is already selling but, if you're short of cash, feel free to download it for nothing.


At last!

So, after a long time writing, recording, editing, mixing and mastering - the album I've been working on with John Marcell will finally arrive on 9th December. It will be available as a 'pay what you want' download (with extra track art and pdf booklet) until the new year, when we'll put a fair price on it. I'll put a link here on the 9th.

John has provided standard and new standard guitar work, loops, soundscapes and a ton or two of inspiration. I've played fretless bass, touch guitar and manipulated sounds and voices until everything sounded right. This time I've also had my producer hat on too, which has been a challenge, albeit a fascinating one.

Since the album is yours for what you want to pay for it, I would urge you, gentle reader, to give it a go if you're open to new music. More on the 9th.