Tag Archives: John Cale

John Cale “When Past and Future Collide”

John Cale “When Past and Future Collide” was part of the Melbourne Festival 2010. John Cale + Band + Orchestra Victoria performed Paris 1919 live (not that I am familiar with that album) and a few other songs.

Many rock musicians like to play with orchestras, it fills out the sound and makes them look sophisticated and/or rehabilitated. But John Cale is different because he can write for an orchestra and all those years studying with the British composer Cornelius Cardew, means that this is not some trite, conventional orchestration. (“When I was studying composition I was completely unaware that the Rolling Stones were playing in some nearby pub. Instead, I met Cornelius Cardew, who opened up to me the world of the London base of the Fluxus movement…” John Cale, Autobiography). The orchestration was excellent and the combination of the string section with the electric guitar was exceptional. There was a very big string section (to be expected from John Cale, who plays the viola), no woodwind and a small brass section consisting of two French horns, a trumpet and trombone player who played an excellent gutsy part in one song. It wasn’t just John Cale and songs with complete orchestration. After the intermission he did return to playing more rocking numbers with just the band.

I’m a fan of John Cale and I played his parts in a Velvet Underground tribute band that I was in with Ron Rude, Frank Borg and others back in the 1990s. I have seen him in concert before; John Cale performances are always cathartic (cathartic I must note is a medicine that causes the emptying of the bowels). There is something cathartic about a great musician playing Jonathon Richmond’s “Picasso” at the State Theatre and repeatedly singing: “Nobody called Pablo Picasso an arsehole”. Maybe I needed the therapy after this week but that’s another story.

John Cale is the dictionary definition of punk – look up The Complete Oxford English Dictionary. A quote from NME: “John Cale was the first punk”, or some such phrase, is the example of how the word ‘punk’ is used (don’t quote me on this in your school work, look up the dictionary for yourself). John Cale was still looking like a punk, even though he was wearing a coat and tie, with peroxide blond hair with a large pink patch on one side.

The concert was like a collision between past and future. There was an intermission, unheard of in rock’n’roll (“We can play one long set or two sort sets” Lou Reed – Velvet Underground Live 69) but there were two encores (strange in the world of classical music but typical of a rock concert). The stage manager brought out a big bouquet of flowers to John Cale at the start of the second encore. I would have liked the lead guitarist and conductor shake hands, like the tradition of the lead violin and conductor shaking hands, to complete this collision between past and future traditions. The final encore was Chorale from Sabotage Live – a beautiful song that proved, even at the end of the concert, that age hasn’t weakened Cale’s fine Welsh singing voice.

The audience spanned all generations from the very young to people that made me feel young. Such is the attraction of this punk. I was glad to be among them.



The Velvet Underground film

After about twenty minutes into the film parts of the audience started to walk out. Either the camera work had got to them or it was clear to them that the Velvets weren’t about to break into a chorus of Sweet Jane. What did these people expect from an Andy Warhol film? Hadn’t they heard The Velvet Underground playing Sister Ray? People continued to walk out throughout the film. I was chilled in the front row with TC, tranced out with the droning electric guitars that seemed to have more in common with the dust and scratches on the film than the black and white images of Nico or Lou Reed.

The Velvet Underground and Nico: a Symphony of Sound was filmed at the Factory in January 1966. Even though music video clips had not been invented yet this 67min film features many of what have now become clichés of music videos, including the use of rapid zooming and panning in time with the music. Even the plot for a music video is remarkably familiar: band is playing live and the cops turn up. One NYC police officer suddenly appears in shot, smiles at the camera and turns the music down. The band plays for a bit more – “that’s still too loud” says a voice off camera. The cops talk to Andy and Gerard Malanga, his studio assistant, And the band packs up.

Eventually the camera runs out of film, end of film. Although the camera remains in a fixed position throughout the film and there is only one shot. It appears that Andy, or who ever was behind the camera (because Andy is in front of the camera at the end), was endlessly playing with the camera rather than doing what Andy Warhol was famous for a static shot with no pans or zooms. If only they had done a fixed shot the film would have been a lot better.

The Velvet Underground and Nico: a Symphony of Sound was part of a series of films by Andy Warhol showing at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). I went with my old friend TC who played guitar in a garage band with me. We are both fans of the Velvets; we used to play cover versions of Sweet Jane and Venus in Furs. Later I played in a Velvet Underground cover band, Edie Sedgwick’s Overdose with Ron Rude. Although, we were both fans of the Velvets, neither TC nor myself had seen the film nor heard the music. This was a rare screening of the film. Except for footage from their revival tour I have never before seen The Velvet Underground playing. I have seen a few still images from this film but never the moving picture.

Although I had never heard the “symphony of sound” before the music was not unfamiliar. It was not unlike Sister Ray but without any vocals and an hour long – something like the performances that the Velvets would later do in the afternoons of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Mo Tucker’s ever steady drumming was holding the droning sound of guitars and electric viola together. At one stage John Cage appeared to play some amplified long steel springs with a table knife but it was difficult to see what he was doing as the camera was mostly on Nico (tambourine) or her 3-year old son, Ari (maraca).

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