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VARIOUS ARTISTS – MINIATURES (2020) (2 x CD) (part one)

Following on from Morgan Fisher’s first 1980 “Miniatures” here we are, 40 years later, with over 120 one-minute musical vignettes in a lavishly packaged 2 x CD set with 64-page glossy booklet, a rare collectors’ item if there ever was one.

Now, from a reviewer’s point of view this is not an easy task. First of all, I assure you I have listened to every single minute and this compilation has served me in the following ways: a) I will certainly be returning to it with a couple of stiff drinks b) I will certainly be checking out some of the more obscure artists contained within and c) It is a nice thing to have and hold. So, thank you, Project Manager Barry Lamb for sending me a copy.

Where to start – well, I had two choices: either take one side of music at a time (Two sides equals an LP with an imaginary needle drop as a demarcation – a pause on the CD that is) or take three sides at a time (The equivalent of a CD), and I opted for the former. So here goes:

SIDES 1 & 2: Ah, ha! Some big names jump out: There is DAVID JACKSON with his ‘Still Spinning’ based on a theme from the song ‘Watching it Spin’ by Howard Moon and Ian McMillan on which David plays soprano sax, flutes and keys and SONJA KRISTINA with Curved Air keyboardist Robert Norton with a song called ‘Dead Violin’ that she sang in 1967 at the Psychedelic Wednesday Club nights she ran at the Troubadour in London. RIC SANDERS is there on an electric violin with his “hopelessly romantic” ditty ‘Angel in Blue’. Then my eyes fell on GEOFF LEIGH in an extract from a mixed media project with Cristiana Vignatelli Bruni on which he plays also flute and Cristiana singing. Then there’s ANDY ELLISON (See the little article on JOHN’S CHILDREN in DISS) about a lost friend and fellow music, ‘Was He Pushed?’ TOM ROBINSON is there with his lockdown song ‘Group Hug’ and JOHN ELLIS with his ‘One Way Street’ (Corona mix). Now, I had heard GARY CLAIL SOUNDSYSTEM before and enjoyed his ‘Divide Dub’ however little of it there was, an unused out-take from a forthcoming LP “Violence”.

What I have really liked so far is the vast range of styles. Take Phil Doleman for example a banjo player who has apparently played on ‘Top of the Pops’ with a one-man jug band busking. Then there’s some Vaudeville with a version of ‘I’m Henry the VIII, I Am’ by Half Japanese and Dot Wiggin. Rapoon (Robin Storey) was another familiar name, thanks I think to the Census of Hallucinations crew, with a song apparently inspired by Ivor Cutler in his sleep. Chris Cutler of HENRY COW fame, provides a snazzy track called ‘4:5:9’ with organ, trumpet, guitar, trombone, violin and drums. A completely new name Alahuta (Aurélie Vivier) provided a nice little excerpt of her solo work with ‘L’adieu au cerf’. There’s a music hall song by The Jaded Teatime Orchestra called ‘The Dentist’ (Ouch!) and they would have won my best band name award if it were not for Lobby Lud & The Luddites. Ukeleles and kazoos are apparently part of the self-proclaimed ‘the World’s only One-Man Big Band’, a claim that is disputed.

SHERWOOD & PINCH’s brand of Dub also had its appeal to me (I used to listen when I am going through my Dub phase –-you know when you want to hear everything and nearly kill yourself in the process!) and ‘Stowaway’ was a welcome little snippet. Ezio is a band I intend to check out as they proudly proclaim they don’t use samples or loops and it is revealed that Tony Blair used to listen their song ‘Cancel Today’ before Prime Minister’s Questions and that it as one of his Desert Island discs. I thought it was a joke but it is true! Without intending to be at all dismissive of all the other fantastical creations I was also intrigued by Elena Theodorou’s ‘Layers’; apparently, she is a film and games composer. Barry Lamb plays sax on Greta Aurora’s ‘Roses’ who is not only into French symbolism, surrealist art and psychedelic and progressive rock (Got to be worth checking out!) DAS RAD’s ’60 second Man’ was a definite highlight and as you might expect, a band containing Discus Music’s Martin Archer and the rest of the guys through everything in to the 60 seconds.

Now, you see my dilemma, and it’s a nice one to have. How can a review possibly do justice to such a volume of work? Which is why I have had to make an extraordinary departure by writing a review in three parts.

Before I start writing part two though, I realise the reason why I am attracted to such a project despite the inherent challenge for musicians, who let’s face it like to make a noise and usually for more than one minute: despite the mind-boggling variability and homespun nature of the contributions the project is so well coordinated and the sound so good (Remember the cassette culture days - still alive by the way) and the whole thing so daft on the surface that , for me it is compulsive and needs to be cherished precisely because it as at the edge and is so inclusive. There are some great musicians and established artists over many decades on here, but you don’t need to be that: being creative and having ideas is the key.

I see the roots of some of the music here in daring and jocular music from the 40s to 60s that has endured and been curated, notably by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and from across the Atlantic Frank Zappa’s early music, Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica”, Wild Man Fischer and all that crazy stuff, a time when it was true that “anything goes”. Having said that I would like to add a d) to my list of purposes that “Miniatures” serves: as an inspiration to anyone out there who thinks they don’t have the musical ability to make music when in fact YOU DO! As John Ellis # says in the booklet:

Sometimes the wind carries the groaning of shifting stones up into my room. Everything makes music.”

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