Saturday, December 2, 2023

Review: Dave Sturt – The Queens Head

As part of psychedelic super group Gong you’re more likely to see Dave Sturt playing in the packed out venues of Paris, Oslo or Bremen than Belper; so it’s no surprise that the Top Bar of the Queen’s Head is standing room only.

Sturt has had a prolific career spanning over three decades which has seen him perform with experimental artists such as Gong, Steve Hillage, Cipher and Bill Nelson – to name but a few. He released ‘Dreams & Absurdities’, his first solo album, in 2015 and pulled in a an enviable roster of guest musicians to play on it from Theo Travis to the late Daevid Allen.

Live, support comes in the shape of guitarist Chris Ellis and Brian Boothby. Sturt opened with a trilogy of songs from the debut album. The first, ‘Mirage’, being an epoch of calming eastern textures and hypnotic loops revolving around a big central riff. Follow up ‘Transcendence’ is slower and sonorous, a floaty pastoral track with a soundtrack quality to it. You can see local film producer James Reader’s accompanying video of the track here:


‘Hollow Form’, the last in the trilogy, is slightly more portentous and perplexing, with a slow Latin riff played atmospherically against emerging waves of looped sound and bass notes.

A guest appearance by Julian Woodcock (Moon Bullet) on improvised track ‘London Fog’ split the instrumental set with his spoken word musings on a dark, dank and muddy journey through the grimy English capital of the Georgian era; the words becoming increasingly lyrical as the tempo of the track sped up.

Whilst a far cry from the Paris riots and subversive counter-culture of the 1960’s, there is a deep lay line of heritage connecting the bassist’s sound with that of his band Gong. This is most apparent in title track ‘Dreams and Absurdities’ on which the sound journeys seamlessly through cultures and locations as Sturt samples ambient noises on the road. You can hear snippets taken outside Asti Cathedral, Italy; a sound check by the late Gilli Smyth, of Gong; street noises from fish sellers in Asia and a multitude of instruments which overlap and crescendo to form new musical textures for the listener. As the set concluded, support act Andy Bole joined the three piece for the final tracks. They finished with an upbeat version of The Other Side’s ‘Down Shadow Street’.

Ambient or world music (or however you want to define Sturt’s sound) can – at its best – have the power to drill down and evoke a deep response in the listener; it is meditative, it asks you to step back and let the pulses and hums and bass slides take you out of the moment with the hope of placing you somewhere new. The genre as a whole can often balance on a razors edge between boredom and brilliance. Tonight though, in the swampy heat of the tiny room, Sturt sat firmly in the latter as he captivated the crowd with his unique and enthralling soundscapes.

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