2004 in Review: From John Cage to John Peel

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Having overcome endless computer virus problems, London Calling is back. Here is a brief overview of some of the things that should have been covered this year.

January

Its John Cage weekend confirmed the Barbican as the most adventurous and innovative concert venue in London. The highlight of the weekend was Musicircus, a vast, free extravaganza featuring 433 musicians, which filled every nook and cranny of the Barbican's labyrinthine foyer spaces. The diversity of musicians and styles was overwhelming; Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones playing by John Tilbury of AAM on prepared piano, who was near the Cat and Fiddle Band on fiddles and accordion, next to the Trinity College of Music Composers' Ensemble... and so on. This was the spirit of Cage in action, every sound having value, and meriting attention. And that is even before they start combining in one's head into something else again. Musicircus was well named; it was a three ring circus that completely overwhelmed the senses. The time flew by far too rapidly; we would have liked it to go on all day and all night. Bravo to the Barbican for staging it, and to Cage confidant Stephen Montague who curated it.

February We were sad to hear of the death of Trevor Mainwaring, the driving force behind the Chronoscope and Paratactile record labels, both of which reflected his own particular musical taste. Trevor was always his own man, with strongly-held views about music—views that he was only too happy to share, often in trenchant, Anglo Saxon speech! He was an unforgettable character who will be missed by all who knew him.

Elsewhere, SMiLE gladdened the heart of anyone who was lucky enough to see Brian Wilson at the Royal Festival Hall.

March In a year marked by the deaths of too many of the good guys, one of the most sadly missed is Alistair Cooke, a great broadcaster.

April Back in your town started as a monthly event at the Red Rose club in Seven Sisters Road, curated by Ashley Wales and Ian R. Watson. Its sense of fun and experimentation soon established it as an event to attend regularly. Wales and Watson were joined by bassist Pete Marsh and drummer Pete Flood plus a pool of occasional musicians that reads like Who's Who: Steve Beresford, Tony Bevan, Lol Coxhill, John Coxon, Rhodri Davies , John Edwards, Steve Noble, Eddie Prevost, Paul Rutherford, Mark Sanders David Toop, Mark Wastell, Alan Wilkinson... Currently on a break, it should resume early in 2005.

May

The annual Freedom of the City festival combined its best music ever with bad news about its finances. As it receives no grant from the Arts Council (or anywhere else), the festival is financed solely from ticket sales and/or the goodwill of the musicians. This year, the latter was too much in evidence, with some musicians playing for nothing, which is criminal. Let us hope that this wonderful annual celebration can survive, as the atmosphere and the music is second to none. Come on sponsors, let's see you put your hands in your pockets!

Freedom of the City is also a rich source of recordings:

Gail Brand & Morgan Guberman Ballgames & Crazy (Emanem 4103)

Brand and Guberman were one of the more surprising delights of the festival this year, Guberman's frankly eccentric vocals combining perfectly with Brand's trombone This studio-recorded album perfectly captures their interaction.

Sandell/Stackenas/Parker/Guy/Lytton Gubbrora (Psi 04.10)

Pianist Sten Sandell and guitarist David Stackenas are not well known outside of their native Sweden, which is one reason why Evan Parker chose to showcase them at the festival. They played a set as a duo and then later joined Parker's own trio for a quintet performance, their quieter approach making a fascinating contrast with the trio's more full-on style. All is captured here. Incidentally, "Gubbrora" is a traditional Swedish appetiser made from eggs and anchovies. The recipe is included, to serve 4. Enjoy.

Freedom of the City 2003 Small Groups (Emanem 4212)

These festival compilations are a handy way to sample the small group playing of many musicians on one album, and never fail to delight and surprise. This one is from 2003. The 2004 version is being prepared for the new year.

Phil Minton & Roger Turner Drainage (Emanem 4211)

Another astonishing vocalist in another fine duo setting. One CD is studio recorded, another is live, including their set from the 2002 festival.

Furt Dead or Alive (Psi 04.09)

Using sampling keyboards in real time, Richard Barrett and Paul Obermayer—Furt—weave electronic tapestries that are both complex and beautiful. Here is a studio session from June 2004, coupled with their 2002 festival set.

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