Haruki Murakami – Stories from the Soul

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It’s been a while since I looked at books that influenced me and continue  to challenge the non mainstream approach of writing. Haruki Murakami is one of the most intriguing men on the planet in my opinion.

He made a recent public appearance, and that is a rarity for  this man, so I was pleased to find some very current insights into a writer who’s influenced me for the last year after writing Kafka and Norwegian Book back to back.

Appearing at KORIYAMA, Fukushima for a literary conference he made a surprise guest appearance.  The most intriguing fact shared? Fried oysters may be the secret to his writing.  After years of writing in Japanese with his own authentic voice as his only guide, stories based on his own life that I so appreciate, have now put him up for the Nobel Prize in Literature this year.

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Haruki Murakami

It was Norwegian Wood that actually first caught my attention. I shared a quote for years from this book.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

Norwegian Wood made the top ten winter books to cuddle up to in Marie Claire’s blog released recently! You should visit that amazing blog to see what other books were on that list, stellar company to be in!

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Yes, I recommend this book if love and loss and redemption and honesty and the depth of our soul is something you yearn for in literature. This man has changed my life in some ways, and I think every great author should do just that.

Happy holiday reading!

 

Weird Soul Music Singer Baby Huey

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Always looking out for weird, obscure kind of news out of the music world., I recently read that ‘Baby Huey’  an American rock and soul singer was actually very influential in the development of hip hop music. The UK has produced  a number of soul acts like Dusty Springfield, but its just that Baby Huey was so ‘unlikely’  James Ramey as he was actually called., was a most unlikely musician. He weighed about 350 pounds when he was still young and this is what got him the stage name ‘Baby Huey’. He was a trumpeter and organist and formed the band ‘Baby Huey & the Babysitters’, releasing a number of 45 RPM singles.

Baby Huey & the Babysitters

Later on the guy started wearing an Afro and donned  psychedelic African-inspired robes. His bandmates reckon that his rhymes were similar to those popularized by rappers in hip-hop music. Later he got an audition with Curtom Records who wanted to sign him up but not the band. He died of a drug-related heart attack in a Chicago motel room at the age of just 26, weighing 400lbs. I just find it fascinating that so many young artists die young and that so many make more money when they’re dead. His album ‘The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend’ was released posthumously, and today it is considered a classic of its period.

                                                            Hemis Festival – India

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On my recent visit to India, I got to experience Hemis Festival. I was just awe-struck and my jaws dropped to say the least. It was a colourful festival of music and dance with its roots deeply connected to spirituality like any other festival for that reason.

Every state in India poses some or the other kind of regional festivals. Hemis festival is among those festivals celebrated in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a two-day festival commemorated as the birth anniversary of the Guru Padmasambhava who was the founder of the Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. Every year in the months of June or July this festival is celebrated at a very large-scale. The courtyard of 300- hundred year old Buddhist monastery of Hemis Jangchub Choling situated near Leh is chosen to be the ideal place for the celebrations. It is considered to be the largest and richest of all the Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh that carry a particular significance. This is the traditional festival for all the Buddhist monks living in this region and it is usually observed by them.

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Masked dance performances by the lamas, traditional music and other cultural activities become the highlight of the day. These performances illustrate the victory of good over evil and the fact that good always prevails over the bad. Most of the performers are well dressed in bright and bizarre costumes along with wearing the painted masks. The dance being very slow is very different from the other forms as it consists of monstrous facial expressions. Music is basically characterized by the traditional drum, cymbals and cumbersome trumpet sounds. Each and every mask worn in the festival depicts one or the other great legends. Leaving everything apart, the Padmasambhava dance consisting of portraying of the famous conquests of Ruta demons including the god of death and the black-hatted sorcerer subjugator of all demons is one of the most eye-catching elements of the festival.

Is there More to the Drummer who Kept Steady Time for the Beatles?

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In my pursuit of music and musicians who evade the mainstream, I’ve been thinking about some of the drummers who keep beats for their bands. Now I’ll be the first to admit that the Beatles were certainly no obscure band, they were world famous, the Fab Four,  but I keep wondering if Ringo Starr actually made a difference to the band and if it wasn’t just a case of being at the right place when the band were looking for a drummer.

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I know that Ringo influenced the way drummers hold their sticks so that these days most rock drummers played with a ‘matched’ grip now and not with the ‘traditional’ grip.

I’ve still got my doubts about Ringo Starr – I mean when legends like Buddy Rich say ‘Ringo Starr was adequate – no more than that ‘ and John Lennon said  ‘He’s not technically good, but I think Ringo’s drumming is underrated…’ then you begin to wonder about if he really was just one lucky drummer to be around at the right time for the Beatles.

One thing I have discovered though is that must have been something to his drumming because up and coming drummers at rehearsals are being instructed to ‘play it like Ringo’ so maybe he wasn’t just that smiley  happy-go-lucky guy who kept steady time for the most famous music band ever.

Shine On Lynyrd Skynyrd

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One has to offer congratulations to Lynyrd Skynyrd, after all this American rock band has made it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And why not when you consider that Skynyrd has been one of the most critically acclaimed Southern rock groups of the 70’s. I find it fascinating that the members of the band all went to school together in Florida. They had this teacher called Leonard Skinner and they named the band after Skinner but just changed some of the letters around.

Shine On Lynyrd Skynyrd

Just sometimes you get a musical force that actually changes the music scene and this is what Allen Collins, Gary Rossington and Ronnie VanZant did. Even decades after the original Skynyrd band was all but wiped out in a plane crash, millions of fans like myself are still buying the records. Yes, the new and reunited version of the band with little brother Johnny is still awesome but the early version of the band can simply never be matched.

Skynyrd’s first two albums known as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Second Helping had all the hits and favorites such as ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, ‘Needle and the Spoon’, ‘Tuesday’s Gone’, and ‘Free Bird’. In fact so many bands have tried to mimic the success of Free Bird with its lyrical start and hard rock ending, but I haven’t heard one that comes close.

Among some of the band’s more recent releases are Edge of Forever and The Last Rebel which are quite typical of the socially conscious songs that have made one sit and listen to Skynyrd’s lineup. The band has certainly known their fair share of tragedy and in 2009, keyboardist Billy Powell passed away of an apparent heart attack.

All is not lost though, and these rock legends have even announced details of a UK tour for 2015 and will feature original member Gary Rossington and joined by Johnny Van Zant, Rickey Medlock and others. The band claims it is about the legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd and of course for the fans who simply love the music.

Rock along to the Tremeloes

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Brian Poole and the Tremeloes is one of those bands that emerge when another band explodes on to the scene- in the Tremeloes’ case it was the Beatles. In fact, rediscovered my love for him after I managed to buy a rare LP record, thanks to Ferratum UK (no way I could have afforded that on my own, and thank god for short loans for certain well deserved indulgences. I have been in love with Brian Poole since I heard Twist and Shout for the first time- even though I did not realize that there was a Beatles song by the same name at the time. In fact, Decca Records, in the 1960s, auditioned the Tremeloes along with the Beatles, as they were looking for a Beat band to represent the company. They decided on the Tremeloes, which went on to have a successful musical life, even though they did not become as popular as the Beatles.

Brian Poole and the Tremeloes

The Tremeloes had a sound that was incredibly similar to the Beatles, in the sense that both of them were highly 60s, the musical progression used was similar and the themes tended to overlap as well. The Tremeloes also covered a number of popular songs by other bands. But I have always thought that Brian Poole is an incredibly talented person (I even like the work he did when he left the band to pursue a solo career). There is just something about a musical underdog story I cannot resist, I guess.

The most Mind-Blowing, Bizarrest Musician and Lyrics

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My love for obscure music has to include Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart. He was friends with songwriter, recording engineer and record producer Frank Zappa, sharing his love for Chicago Blues and R&B. Don Van Vliet always claimed the name Beefheart came from him having a beef in his heart towards the human race. Not the easiest guy to know, but give him chance, and his music grows on you. He had a rotating ensemble of musicians known as the Magic Band. He himself played the sax, harmonica and other wind instruments, playing rock, blues and psychedelia. Some claim Trout Mask Replica is his best release, with Beefheart being at his weirdest. I’d beg to differ though.

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TMR doesn’t feature any of Beefhearts best music or lyrics but it is pretty memorable for the marimba playing of Art Tripp. Speaking of lyrics; Beefhearts lyrics don’t mean much and are most times witty and hilarious. A promotional music video was made of its title song, as well as a bizarre television commercial being filmed with silent footage of masked Magic Band members using kitchen utensils as musical instruments.

If you’re not an exclusive-in-taste dude and you’re looking for some weird, freaky music, go with Shiny Beast rather, a more balanced album than TMR. Lick My Decals Off, Baby by Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band is the follow-up to TMR and is Van Vliet’s favourite.

Obscure Bands of the 70s: The Gentle Giants

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A lot of people have not heard of the Gentle Giant and they are certainly one of the most underappreciated prog rock bands of the 70s. Now, I can see a reason why this might be true. The Gentle Giant do not make music that would appeal to all. Their music has a rather eccentric quality that might not even appeal to the best prog rock fan sometimes. However, if you persevere, you might actually find some amazing songs from their discography.

John Weathers is the vocalist of the band, and he was the one I had the most difficulty loving. The Gentle Giant are one of my favourite bands now, but I still don’t think I’m a fan of the vocals. However, their music is extremely complicated and highly original. They are unlike any other bands of that decade, and this progressive nature of their music might have lent to their obscurity.

70's Gentle Giant

If you want to start listening to the Gentle Giant, do it slowly. You will have to listen to their songs multiple times to appreciate the nuances and the originality. They might seem rather raw and unfinished the first time you listen to them, but as I said, some surprising songs are waiting for you if you do persevere till the very end.

Porcupine Tree and the Evolution of Prog Rock

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I’ve never felt comfortable pigeonholing Porcupine Tree into the genre of progressive rock. Their music has a distinct hard rock flourish that is extremely hard to ignore- one does not have to look much beyond Voyage 34 or Stupid Dream to realize that a lot of the bands stylisation is inspired by Pink Floyd.

Stupid Dream by Porcupine Tree

I know there are a lot of people who would disagree with me, but I think Porcupine Tree breaking the mold of their prog rock background is proof of just how much the band has grown since their beginning days. Before Stupid Dream came out, people were struggling to consider PT a prog-rock band. In some ways, Stupid Dream is probably the band’s most influential work, for it shaped their existence at that point of time and 13 years later, made them into the band they are today.

Fear of a Blank Planet went further down the experimental road they had started on in In Absentia, and to a large extent, in Deadwing. They have certainly voyaged into the realms of psychedelic rock, more than a lot of prog rock bands dared to, and it has paid off for them. I cannot wait to see just how revolutionary their sound feels in their new album.

Budos Band – Afro Instrumental

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You can really tell when a new band has brought something interesting to the table. Their newest “Burnt Offering” album has a mix of 70’s dark metal and afrofunk inspired horns as well as being… doom metal. Yeah it’s a little different but it’s a really interesting album concept and you have to appreciate bands that aren’t locked into one type of music.

Budos band ´the cover says it all

This is why it is so interesting as it draws on so many different genre’s and generations of music. It’s not as repetitive and one dimension as other doom metal bands. It would be nice to see them in a live venue to see how they play together in contrast to a traditional doom metal band or other heavy guitar influenced band because they use horns and other instruments as well. Overall a really interesting find and something to look for if you find yourself stuck in a music rut. The other three albums that the band has come up with are more sincerely afrofunk albums and so you will find less of the guitar heavy attitude on them. However if this band caught your eye due to the afrofunk then run over to check out those albums as well and check out some of their tunes on youtube if you get the chance.