ZAPPA AT THE ROUNDHOUSE
To use one of Mr Thunes’ fave phrases, this was an awesome festival and I was glad to have opted for a golden ticket to see all events, check out a few sound checks, and take home a free copy of the new Hammersmith Odeon CD (which is clearly linked to this whole bash, discs one and three sporting the London Underground logos for Hammersmith and Chalk Farm respectively). And wasn’t it nice that Canadian John and I were asked to help with the Roundhouse’s official Twitter blog, as “superfans”? The place was decked out with 83 large album covers, various familiar FZ quotes and a toilet on which to sit and have your photo taken - with the family Z freely mingling with the hoi polloi (the first people we saw when entering the place for the first time were Moon and her daughter Mathilda Plum Doucette; that was just after witnessing an overweight Camdenite lady nonchalantly hoiking up her leggings after pissing in the street). The first event, which took place in the intimate confines of the Studio Theatre, was Gail Zappa in conversation Ali N Askin, Todd Yvega & Frank Filipetti who, as the sole person not to have actually worked with Frank, spoke most passionately about how FZ’s oeuvre had reawakened his interest in real music by real people and of his future endeavours to ensure Frank’s musical legacy gets the best audio treatment possible. This actually turned into a Q&A with the audience, and so Gail revealed that Mothermania will be released on vinyl soon; that Dance Me This and The Rage And The Fury should be out by 2012. She also mentioned the recent discovery of an unreleased album Frank had put together that no one knew about. Todd talked about the difficulties of transferring the numerous unreleased compositions trapped inside FZ’s now obsolete Synclavier onto a playable format; the ZFT hopes that a University or some similar place of learning might offer help with this huge task. Regarding Dance Me This, Todd spoke about the final track, which came about from what Frank referred to as ‘burglar music’; he’d frequently ask Todd to use algorithms to create new pieces, but told him not to spend more than five minutes on them (a quick in-and-out, see?). Calculus is one such piece. GZ reiterated that Frank considered Official Releases 3, 4 and 63 to be his masterwork, with everything else an extension of that. The final question (from Martin Ahrens via Amaretto Mick): when will we see The Roxy Performances DVD? “Not never,” said Gail.
Next some actual music, with The Roundhouse Music Collective and their Wild Imaginings. I hadn’t noticed, but apparently their keyboard player was a dead ringer for the young Frank. They slipped in a Louie, Louie quote, before making way for some slightly bigger boys (& girls): The London Contemporary Orchestra. GZ came out to introduce proceedings, and got a little emotional when announcing the first piece: Varèse’s Integrales. A pretty good rendition it was too. Ali N Askin then appeared to introduce the Music From The Yellow Shark. The LCO made a fairly good fist of things – from Dog Meat to Get Whitey via Those Fucking Pigeons (sic) - but sadly no Food Gathering In Post-Industrial America or Welcome To The United Kingdom. There was an annoying monitor buzz/air conditioning hum throughout, and the band never really raised the roof...until G-Spot Tornado. Thankfully, they repeated the Be-Bop Tango for an encore (I’d had to slip out to splash me boots for the first play through).
Jeff Simmons ambles on
Up bright and early to present Barfly The Hard Way the next day, just across the road. We had a quiz (which was a little too hard, on reflection) and a raffle to win copies of my book signed by Mike Keneally. We played a little book promoting fillum that my son had skilfully knocked up for the event, featuring music from Cordelia’s forthcoming On Broadway CD. Big thanks to all who attended; you may have noted that I’m not particularly comfortable doing such things, but never mind. Oh, and for those that left before two, Deepinder Cheema came and kindly read Vincent Beldon’s L.A. Night Piece. Back at the ‘House, we checked out DZPZ rehearsing The Gumbo Variations, and then Dumb All Over with Scott Thunes on bass and FZ (from The Torture Never Stops DVD) on vox. I hadn’t previously fully appreciated that when they play along with Frank, everything is stripped from the audio track but FZ’s voice and/or guitar. There’s summat a little odd about this sort of inverted lip-synching, but they’re certainly more unforgettable than Natalie Cole’s virtual duets with her dead dad. Time for the Q&A/Demo session with Gail Zappa, Dweezil Zappa, Joe Travers, Ian Underwood, Jeff Simmons & Scott Thunes. Only there’s no Underwood. Or, for a short time, Simmons (“he’s left the group again,” joked Mrs Z). And no demos, either. As expected, Scott was a hoot. He modestly said he got the Clonemeister job because he had least to do in the band; that he just didn’t get FZ when he saw him in 1975 and 1980, because he wanted more of a Billy Mundi/Roy Estrada vibe; that the 1984 band had needlessly rehearsed 15 songs to be played with the Polish National Orchestra; and that his actual bass on Cocaine Decisions was his audition for Frank. Jeff Simmons seemed totally wired and extremely happy to be there, praising the absent Ian Underwood for acting as his concierge when he first joined the Mothers. It all looked very promising for tomorrow’s Q&A with Scott. Gail revealed that, all being well, the good Captain’s original Bat Chain Puller should be released in January and, when asked about the absence of downloadable FZ albums, told us to expect a big announcement in the next few months. Could this have anything to do with her re-acquisition of the Ryko catalogue? Let’s wait and see. Liked her comment about how Frank’s music brought you to reality, whereas most artists try to take you away from it. Next was the turn of The Mighty Boosh Band, of whom I don’t think too many FZ fans were expecting that much, but must have been pleasantly surprised by the band’s proficiency. Opening with a bluesy I’m Old Greg/My Name is Greggory, they quickly endeared themselves with a fine version of Willie The Pimp before thundering through Charlie (with Diva in the Charlie costume), a Nannageddon mash-up and the great punk finale of I Did A Shit. Short and sweet. Loved ‘em, boy-boy. A nice warm up for Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa plus very special guests, who opened with Gumbo before playing Apostrophe (’) in its entirety. For Cosmik Debris, Frank joined them from the KCET studios to trade licks with his son. The departure of Pete Griffin to make way for a definitely up for it Scott Thunes raised the excitement levels a fair bit; enjoyed Pick Me, I’m Clean especially. Peter returned for RDNZL, and then it was time for the next special guest, Jeff Simmons. He sang Wino Man, and was still tuning his rental axe after his solo! A New York Cruisin’ For Burgers ended the set proper nicely, thank you. The encores were a blast: I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth, Baby Snakes, Valley Girl (with Moon singing and Mathilda Plum twirling), and finally Muffin Man incorporating a clip of FZ from the Baby Snakes movie. Overall, a great show but I think ZPZ will get better as the tour progresses: the summer tour featured a very different set list, and probably didn’t represent a fair rehearsal for this event.
Moon Unit, Mathilda Plum, Ben Thomas, Dweezil and Diva snapping
Well, blow me: I didn’t expect this to be the best of days (so far). After some films (it was good to see Henning Lohner's Peefeeyatko again), Gail and Thorsten Schütte came to the Studio Theatre to show us unseen, lost and forgotten film footage and discuss FZ’s role as a film maker. Thorsten is currently putting together FZ footage for an official release, with ZAPPED as the working title. Gail promised us a special surprise at the end of this session. The disappointing thing was that they only showed us three of six film clips from ZAPPED, one of which is up on YouTube, and the surprise was Bunny Bunny Bunny, the failed pilot for a post-punk sitcom Frank made of Moon, cousin Lala and their friend Kyle in the dangerous kitchen in the mid-80s. Frankly, this home movie should stay there. But GZ thinks it has merit as something the man himself completed, and plans to release it. As the father of twin teenage daughters, I could certainly live without seeing it again I’m afraid. Of greater note was Gail’s claim that she recorded Tony Palmer threatening to burn the master tapes for 200 Motels, which she wants to include on a future CD release. And she also wanted to make two points before leaving: one was about her latest attempt to stop the Arf Society using her married surname, after two failed attempts. Can’t remember what the other was, but the Zappanale thing was greeted with a great round of silence. John and I decided to press her on this during the ‘Cheezy Champagne Reception’, away from an audience. But she refused point blank to discuss it further. So. On to what was for me the highlight of the weekend: An audience with Scott Thunes & Jeff Simmons moderated by official biographer Alan Clayson. This was a blast: the two alums unfettered. There were references to Napi’s HMS Pinafore stylings, a possible tour by Jeff next year with Ray Collins (he later mentioned to us a possible album: Blues Extensions, featuring Ray and Howard Kaylan), Scott’s relationship with Ike (and his fondness for the vox of Ray White and Toots), an unexpected plug for my book, using the same bass as Tom Fowler to get the same sound, and all sorts of fun. Not sure if SkyArts will broadcast any of this, but they really should. Mr Clayson is also an entertaining orator, and I’m looking forward to Project X (another working title?), though it’s early days yet. Okay, back to the Main Stage for to see the London Sinfonietta and special guests perform the UK premiere of The Adventures of Greggery Peccary...in this form, anyway: we’d obviously had it played here in 1972 by the Mothers of Invention/Hot Rats/Grand Wazoo 20-piece big band at The Oval. And what a surprise this was: the Sinfonietta is a great band, and I thoroughly enjoyed their trot through Revised Music For Low Budget Orchestra and Edgard’s Octandre, and Mitch Benn and Tim Dickinson (a last minute replacement for actor Kwame Kwei-Armah) did a sterling job of narrating and bringing Greggery to life. This was way better than the Ensemble Modern’s recorded performance, and a great way to end the first weekend. Yes, there were some not so special things along the way (as well as those mentioned above, Gail’s unnecessary dig at bar bands playing Frank’s music and the unexplained disappearance of the Boosh’s reading of dialogue from the ‘Old Bailey Obscenity Trial’ were a disappointment), but here’s to them learning from their mistakes and getting it all right in ‘Year Two’.
Gail Zappa rambles on
Saturday some more
After all of the above in Camden, some of us returned the following week to Marylebone for to see the young musicians of the Manson Ensemble try and keep the 70th birthday party vibe going. With no GZ, no chat, no light show, no intermission, and no bar - just a young orchestra whipping through some of Uncle Frankie's finest in a church like venue – this was though far more low-key. Four percussionists dominated the program, which was nice. And Faye Treacy honked some fine trombone during Big Swifty. I also enjoyed the two grand pianos hammering away during Dupree’s Paradise. And while Low Budget and Little House were both horribly foreshortened, it was a nice touch that rather than do the obvious and repeat G-Spot for an encore, they reprised St. Alfonzo’s and Peaches instead. The pieces were played far from perfectly, however (the grand prize for this whole event goes to the Sinfonietta), which – as a ZFT authorized performance – makes you wonder about the validity of GZ’s beef with other cover bands. As if you hadn’t previously. Ho! Ho! Ho!