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Träd Gräs och Stenar and Voice Of The Seven Thunders, The Luminaire, Kilburn, April 30th 2010

May 1, 2010

Voice Of The Seven Thunders is the alter ego of Mancunian guitar-picking wiz Rick Tomlinson and his sometime band-mates. Previously called Voice Of The Seven Woods, he’s always impressed me, not just with his Fahey-esque ‘American Primitive’ style, but also with his slightly ‘f*ck you’ attitude – you know, that Mancunian slackness when you’re not quite sure if they’re being offhandedly rude to you… It normally riles me, but in the world of acoustic guitar playing it’s strangely refreshing. Anyway, he started his set (very late as it turned out, allowing The Suit and me to enjoy a few extra Sierra Nevadas), picking a fantastic solo path through a folk-drenched semi-improvisation which turned into a raga-tinged acoustic epic as he exploited the modal tuning for all it was worth, bringing forth mysterious drones, ominous runs and beautiful flights of fancy, aided by lots of loops and delays. Very fine indeed.

He then invited his band-mates on stage, including Keith Wood from Hush Arbors, whose birthday it was (no song, though) for half an hour of thrilling, driving, droning psych-folk-rock. I was somewhat familiar with this material, which was mostly from the new album, and I’d seen him support Six Organs Of Admittance last December, but tonight I was mightily impressed by the power the four of them generated on stage – very tight, but with enough digressions and holes in it to be continually fascinating. You should go and them or, at the very least, buy or steal the album. I’d previously thought that changing his/the band’s name had been a capricious whim, but there’s some sense to it. His first album had been much more acoustic (and solo), even though he was fond of his loops and feedback, so Voice Of The Seven Woods was appropriate then, while now ….Thunders is just right, suggesting the ominous excitement of a storm in full flow.

After about twenty minutes’ break, the old fella with crutches who we’d seen near the merch earlier took to the stage and started fiddling with the bass amp. It turned out he’s the bass player with Träd Gräs och Stenar, which goes to show we’re dealing with a band with a serious history. The name is Swedish for ‘Trees, Grass and Stones’ and their website describes what they do as ‘Swedish natural music, improvised and boundless’. They grew out of the late 60s counter-culture and have been described as ‘prog’, so it’s a miracle I’m here at all – if you’d told me I’d be going to a gig by a Swedish prog-rock group, I’d have run screaming out of the room, but thankfully these days we have the Internet. When I saw them listed on the Luminaire’s website, I was curious, checked out their MySpace page and loved what I heard – a laid-back but driving psychedelic soundscape, with none of the annoying twiddles, bombastic sweeps and pointless key-changes that infest ‘prog’.

Here’s how Psychedelic Magazine described their origins:
Long tours in Scandinavia, mostly outside the established channels. The band was trying to create a free and co-creating situation through the music, dance, light show of slides and film, serving food and letting people play on instruments they brought with them. They were participating in actions people did to change their common situation. They lived like their audience. More – you are the music, we are just the band, the Spela Själv (‘Play It Yourself’) movement.

How genuinely cool is that? And check out this photo of them (left) in Copenhagen in 1971. Ah, I can just smell the cheap hash and the damp Afghan coats… Meanwhile, back at the Luminaire in 2010, they began their set with a slow burning drone, adding layers on top until it pulsed to a fine conclusion. Next was one of the songs I’d liked on their MySpace page, Punkrocker, although they don’t really do many songs as such – and it isn’t a punk rock song, though I can see the sympathies they must have had with that ‘movement’ in the late 70s. Their longevity compared to punk, however, must be down to the relative simplicity of their improvisations, giving them a timelessness that’s not quite rock, not quite blues and not quite folk. They’re keen to tie their music to Sweden, though, and introduced the bracing tune Polskan as a variation on a lively Swedish dance.

They also described one song as a traditional nursery tale, but it sounded to me like a long and fine sonic guitar exploration, showing that they have a lot in common with Voice Of The Seven Thunders in their love of slowly unfolding sounds and droning beats. What’s more, they lasted well past by bedtime, despite their advancing years, so I made my excuses and left, impressed by an evening of fine music.

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