Magma – 40th Anniversary Concerts

Le Casino de Paris 12 – 14th February 2009

Here is a review wot I wrote that was destined for the aborted Ork Alarm! # 30. I thought that now we are up and running as a blog it might be nice to reminisce a little:
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I’ve been pretty fortunate over my 51 years on this planet. I’ve generally fallen “butter side up”, been in the right place at the right time career wise and from a musical perspective, even though I wasn’t blessed with any creative genes, I have had the pleasure to have witnessed “The Greatest Band on Earth”, Magma and Christian Vander, perform on a scattering of occasions over a period spanning four decades.

I was lucky enough to see Magma a couple of times in London “first time around” during the 70′s. Had accrued enough spare cash to finance some concerts in London of Offering (billed as Magma!) in 1988/89.Witnessed the 30 year celebrations at Le Trianon, Paris in 2000, the Retrospective 4 weeks at Le Triton in 2005 and now this! The 40 year Anniversary Concerts at Le Casino de Paris. Luckily my day job didn’t clash in anyway with this historic occasion, so with tickets in hand, well … waiting for pick up (hopefully) at the box office, we were off to Paris.

I say “we” as I was about to break the unwritten rule. Actually it is a written rule, from a 70′s review of a Magma concert. “Never bring your girlfriend to a Magma concert” was the advice. It’s like an 11th commandment. The one they missed out. We’ve been to loads of concerts, not my choices, but thanks to her, I’ve been exposed to an abundance of great bands that I would never have given the time of day to otherwise. However, whilst her musical bent is far removed from MOR, Magma are no small step for man or woman kind. They are the musical equivalent of Marmite. You either love them or hate them, or possibly don’t persevere long enough to acquire the taste. So here we go, February 14th (Valentine’s Day) in Paris, what more could a girl ask for? Well instead of a top quality meal, a bottle of bubbly, a walk up the Champs Elysees and a whiz up the old Tower, it’s turn left at the Red Light District, down La Rue De Clichy and a romantic evening watching Christian Vander beat seven bells of shit out of his drum kit! Fortunately, things went better than I could have possibly imagined and whilst Jeannie didn’t at any time rush off to the Magma concession shop to but a K.A. t-shirt, as the three days unfolded she “got it”. Most people don’t.

After an uneventful early morning trip through the Channel Tunnel, mentally tipping my hat to Paul Mummery, creator of the original Ork Alarm! fanzine, we arrived in Paris, Gare du Nord at around 2pm. I had Paul to thank, for two reasons. Firstly, for the inspiration he generated through his fanzine and Secondly, for helping to build the Channel Tunnel. I think he was involved in some of the technical design as a draughtsman. There were probably a few other people involved but his was an obvious choice. Being such a Magma fan, and of many other french bands for that matter, then why not create a train line from the South East of England straight through to Paris city centre? It’s a no brainer! I can imagine the meetings, “Look boss, Instead of Victoria – Ashford – Paris, wouldn’t a better route be Victoria – Erith – Paris?”

A Ten Euro taxi ride took us west from La Gare du Nord to our hotel. En route (notice how I’ve slid into the lingo seamlessly) we passed Le Trianon and La Cigale, two of Magma’s previous conquests. The 9em District is not the most salubrious part of town. It’s the “Soho” of Paris and the street on which both these Theatres lay is also host to Le Moulin Rouge and an overwhelming selection of “Le Porn” shops. This area of Paris really needs cleaning up. It felt disease ridden. There were also an alarming array of homeless folk camped out on the streets. Most of them seemed to own a dog which acted as an emotional small change magnet and a central heating system rolled into one. It was to be a bitterly cold few nights in Paris so it was with some concern that we witnessed a growing number of adult men walking around wearing skirts and long socks. Not even fashionable skirts. Pleated and with a check pattern! Le Perversion of the highest order if you ask me.

3076054602_9e7bef9f92After a 15 minute “reccy” walk to Le Rue De Clichy we stumbled upon the unassuming entrance to Le Casino de Paris. After being told that we couldn’t pick our tickets up until an hour before the 8pm start time, we bumped into long time Magma fan Steve Ashworth who likewise had checked out the area and also had broken the unwritten rule! The lovely Sue was in tow and it was also to be her Magma initiation. Through the closed doors we could hear Magma rehearsing. It sounded a bit like Hhaï, but it wasn’t, perhaps it was one of their new pieces? Steve and I resisted the temptation to gatecrash and we all arranged to meet up in an average looking bar across the street before the show. Then it was back to the hotel area for a late pub lunch, a bottle of red wine (when in Rome?!) and an afternoon recharge of the batteries. “Le Vrai” was a nice pub, friendly staff, food ok, wine ok (glasses too small), toilets shit! This was to follow a trend as the 3 days unfolded. While we were there, guzzling the wine, we noticed the Scottish flag being hoisted up a street lamppost by the staff. Apparently the “sweaties” were in town and France were hosting Scotland in the 6 nations Rugby. OK, so perhaps it wasn’t such a perverted area after all, although we did wonder how many kilts would also be hoisted in the line of duty, that weekend.

I always get a nervous feeling before a Magma concert. Not nervous excitement, but more that I get nervous for them, hoping that it all goes well. Perhaps it was my experience in 1988 and remembering George Besnier, the then Seventh road manager, coming up to me on the afternoon of the first show and telling me that the Bloomsbury Theater “House” Piano was rubbish and that it needed changing before the evening! Help! All I was doing was paying the bill! I wasn’t a real promoter! Where do you buy a grand Piano at short notice! It was sorted by Chappels of London to who I’m eternally grateful. I continue to buy all my Yamaha Grand Pianos from them to this day. It was alright on the night. but old scars never really heal and It obviously still hasn’t dawned on me that after 40 years in the buisness, there is the outside possibility that Christian and the Band are total professionals and that even a bad day from their perspective is a brilliant one from mine. However, I still get nervous for them!

As we walked down Le rue de Clichy an hour before the advertised 8pm start I was hoping that the concert would be well attended. Le Casino de Paris has a capacity of about a 1000, which is much larger than the intimacy of Le Triton. Would Magma be able to sell out a 1k seater venue? We picked up the tickets from the ever growing throng around the box office, dropped off 1000 tea bags, A bottle of 1970 Taylor’s Vintage Port and a jar of Marmite.at the stage door, briefly shaking hands with Francis Linon, before hot footing it over to the bar to meet up with Steve and Sue for a beer or two. Francis doesn’t seem to age! The curious case of Benjamin Button sprung to mind.

If you’re wondering about the stage door bit, I’m sure that I’m not breaking any confidences, so here goes. The Port was a present for Christian.1970 was a fantastic year for Port, I think only surpassed by 1977. 1969 was not in the same league, so regardless of the exact date of Magma’s 40 year anniversary, I thought that Taylor’s 1970 was the correct choice of birthday present! The tea bags and Marmite were for Stella and not one tea bag for each member of the sell out crowd as you may have thought. Apparently you can’t buy good British tea (in Le high street at least) in France so Stella asked me to bring some over. I got a selection of Marks and Spencer’s finest, went a bit mad on quantity and smuggled them through the French border, disguising them as … tea bags. The Marmite was my idea. I wait to find out if Stella is a lover or a hater.

After a couple of swift 1664′s it was over to Le Casino (never did see a roulette table!) de Paris in time for Jannick Top and his band Infernal Machina. Our tickets were “torn” and we were shown upstairs to our seats in the balcony section and then directed further back to row L, not cheap, but actually rubbish! The main brunt of the balcony section is too far removed from the action here for my liking. Seats quality and prices never seem to correlate at all at music venues! From now on I’m buying crap tickets and standing. Let’s face facts, you can’t actually “sit” at any concert and truly enjoy the music anyway! The interior of the venue was relatively plush and a bit of a “Red” experience. A bit “Reddy”. Not for people who like the colour Blue. Red Seats, Red soundproofing material on the walls and Red Carpets. I’m sure there were other colours but I don’t remember them, nobody ever does. Thankfully, as most Magma fans wouldn’t be seen dead in anything else but black, nobody was found to be clashing with the decor. After not too long a wait, the curtain lifted (or did they part?) and Jannick Top, Klaus Blasquiz and the Infernal Machina troupe were unleashed upon us. Obviously if you’re aware of their recent CD Infernal Machina, you would have known what to have expected.

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An atmospheric start, with a Piano accompaniment, lead to a seated Jannick Top on the Cello. This section was haunting and gave the audience (including Steve Ashworth’s girlfriend, Sue) no clue as to the onslaught that was about to ensue. The near subsonic vocal overlaying sound track was quite amazing. I heard others dismissing it during the interval, but I must admit I quite liked it. This, added to Klaus Blasquiz’, still wonderful, vocal range created a violent, machine like quality to the sound. In contrast, the Female vocalist, Natalia Ermilova, seemed a little drowned out. There was already a “Female” overlaying sound track and she was attempting to compliment this. I suppose the idea was to create a credit crunching choral section. I doubt that she was a last minute replacement, but she held a paper “song sheet” whilst singing, (upgraded to a clip board by the second evening) the need of which was puzzling and perhaps drew unwanted attention to her plight. Considering that the words on her song sheet were at a conservative estimate “Ah aaah, ah, ah aaaaah, ah ah aaaah …etc.” I can only surmise that, as artist rider’s go, a song sheet was a cheaper option than a winnebago. I’d have loved to have watched Jannick writing out the lyrics for her though!

And then the first signs of danger (for Sue at least) started to rear their ugly head! Jannick discarded the Cello in favour of his trusted bass and the thrashing of the drums started. It conjured up images of a crazed funeral procession. It is, like Jannick’s most famous composition ‘De Futura’, a plodding opener. And then, true to form, it kicks up a few notches and whilst it’s not a Magma style track, it’s is unmistakably “Zeuhl”. Visually the band are impressive. Jannick, centre right with single ear muffler, on what was obviously a very chilly evening! Klaus and his big “fuck off” Drum spearheading the attack, smashing away at the exact spot, time after time, so much so that he had stuck some duck tape on the drum to repair earlier damage. I’m not sure why he couldn’t have picked another part of the skin to whack, but that’s musicians for you! The Drummer, Jon Grandcamp, was positioned on the right wing and was a star! It was a shame that he wasn’t centre stage. I assume this was due to the obstacle of the Christian Vander drum kit lurking behind a backdrop curtain. On the left flank, Percussionist, Marcus Linon, Francis and Stella’s young upstart, was a revelation and his unrelenting enthusiasm was a joy to watch, check out his excellent modern take on ‘Zess’ on the recent HUR double CD! A young guitarist Jim Grandcamp (too much of a coincidence not to be related to the drummer) was centre left and played a largely supporting role but also out on the left field was the all important Keyboardist, Aurore Chevalier. The person however given the “floating role” was Miss Ermilova who was up and down more often than a Moulin Rouge girl’s G-String. Admittedly, when she wasn’t reading out the “Ah Ah’s” she was surplus to requirements (apart from an occasional one fingered synth note) and it was necessary for her to avoid obscuring Jannick Top, but she spent so much time happily on her haunches, that as the three days unfolded, many people, unfairly in my opinion, started to intimate that Jannick might have actually hired her from Le Moulin Rouge! I’m not sure what a casting couch looks like but unfortunately I kept getting images of what Jannick might have looked like from her perspective on that fateful day! These rumours of her “day job” were not helped by an ever decreasing amount of attire on her part (or not on her parts) as the three days unfolded. Day one it was “Cat woman” and relatively demure, but by day three she’d mutated into “Barbarella”. Judging by the disapproval of many fans, Zeuhl and Sex were never meant to overlap in a Venn Diagram.

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Some vocal interchanges sprung up between the Keyboard and Klaus and we were dragged screaming into a pure Magma/Zeuhl 70′s moment that then led straight into a ‘De Futura’ clone section. This is the one major criticism I have of the whole piece, in as much as it feels like an attempt to cash in (not sure how much cash is involved though) on the ‘De Futura’ bandwagon. What I do like though is the much slower “tease” in the build up from the plodding bass riff into its more frantic conclusion. ‘Infernal Machina’ may actually be a better composition than ‘De Futura’, the only problem was that there’s only so much ‘DF’ a boy can take in one evening, and we still had the promise of Magma joining forces with Jannick Top’s band for a ‘De Futura’ finale to the evening. It crossed my mind that this style of music would never have evolved in the UK. France seems a much better melting pot for alternative genres of music. But then on the other hand, what would the “butterfly effect” have done to Zeuhl? What if you could go back in a time machine and (god forbid) wipe out CV, JT, and KB? I wonder who, or what type of music, would have filled that vacuum in France?

Regardless of the similarity to Jannick Top’s (perceived) finest moment, I was beginning to think that perhaps ‘Infernal Machina’ was one of those pieces that in years to come will be hailed as a Zeuhl masterpiece.

The astonishing musicianship of Jannick Top was evident to all and as the piece picked up in tempo (I can’t remember which night) all of a sudden, at a time when mere mortal bass players would have had both hands firmly on the steering wheel, Jannick reached into his left breast pocket of his trademark leather waistcoat with his right hand (left hand still a complete blur! A knighthood for Les Paul!) and pulled out a few scraps of paper. It was either a shopping list or more lyrics for the singer … and then.. respite! The frantic intensity evaporated and the welcome, sparse, keyboard phrasing started to stamp it’s authority on the second half of the performance. This part of the piece really is superb, and for me, more Magma in “spirit” than anything thing else that had preceded it. It reminded me of a “Tous les Enfants” track for some reason. Then a bass synthesizer started and the track grew once again into a monster! If ever I had doubts about Jannick Top as a composer then, for just this section alone, I bow down to a Zeuhl God! To the outsider, what we were now listening to could have been Magma ala 1975 and to reinforce this, a few familiar riffs started to seep in. Like much (initially dismissed) music before it, what appears to be forgettable on first listening, grows to become essential with multiple auditions. For skeptics of Infernal Machina then all I would say is, judge it against Guapo’s best “Heavy” moments. While the British band are great, they are not at this “Premier league” level of pure Zeuhl. And then after a superb climactic dismount, with Klaus coming to the fore, it was all over. Jon Grandcamp, Klaus and of course Jannick got the most response from the very appreciative audience.

Infernal Machina are treading a parallel path of a genre that continues to inspire new fans around the world. Where the future of Zeuhl is heading is anybody’s guess, but it’s so amazing that these two strands (CV and JT ) have in recent years taken up the challenge again. I must admit to having been neither smitten nor turned off by the ‘Infernal Machina’ CD on first hearing, but over the course of the 3 days, the band and the music grew on me. I think I’ll be giving the CD a few more spins before I even consider where to file it in the Zeuhl drawer.

At this point I really have to give a mention to the beer ’1664′. Whilst I prefer “Real Ale”, It had once again come up trumps at a concert, this time by allowing me to choose where best to watch the second half of the show from, and also for the subsequent two nights. To explain … This particular French delicacy had “kicked in” halfway through ‘Infernal Machina’ and the “seal” had been broken, so, down the Upper Circle stairs I trotted. My weak bladder embarrassment was a stroke of pure genius on two counts. Firstly, a Magma concert is the only place on earth where there is a queue for “Les Hommes” as opposed to “Las Dames”. Halfway through one of Natalia’s many stage squats, the Homme’s toilets were empty. It was to be a totally different story at the intermission. Secondly, as I left my seat and descended, I noticed a rapid improvement in the sound quality, and with it a perceived increase in the energy of the music. I realised that the balcony was not necessarily the place to be listening from. Apparently it was better on the Friday and Saturday evenings but we never set foot upstairs for the rest of the week.

At the Interval I checked out the Stalls area, discovered that it was OK to stand behind the mixing desk and then we grabbed a beer and joined the throng in the foyer. It was good to finally meet up with long time Magma fan Marc Adler. Marc had made this event a truly special occasion by adding a Continental dimension to the anniversary concerts. Marc works in the financial sector and had made the trip all the way from the USA, dropping everything, leaving Wall Street teetering on the edge, just to get a fix of Ëmëhntëht-Rê. I’d promised him a spare copy of the “Magma Family Tree” poster that Paul Mummery had, quite amazingly, pieced together as an essential collectors supplement back in the Ork Alarm! Fanzine days. Apparently it created a bit of interest amongst the French Magma fans who had not been aware of Ork Alarm! at the time. The place was a buzz with discussion over Infernal Machina. It certainly attracted polarized opinion. Duncan Lane (Bass player and ex Metabolist member), who is a big Magma fan from all eras was pretty critical on the Friday evening after being exposed to it for the first time, stating that at the very least he had had a comfy seat! Not everyone agreed about the seats though. His brother Malcolm (also of Metabolist) was much more accepting of the effort and pointed out that not everyone in the audience had as much “baggage” with which to judge this new piece. The fact that they are both musicians was quite comforting! However the final analysis must go to Steve Ashworth’s girlfriend Sue. I’ll never forget Sue’s slightly tearful eyes as she tried to recover her composure during the intermission, whilst trying to imaginewhat incarnations of the devil were going to be unleashed on her with the main act loomin and the dawning realization that this was just the first of three nights.

While most people’s taste in music is not as extreme as the good folk who read Ork Alarm! I’ve never really thought of the people who attend a Magma concert as “‘abnormal”. Zeuhl music attracts a cross section of fans. Admittedly more of those fans are Male rather than than Female and perhaps there is a slight cult following of the group so it’s always good to observe the fans in their preferred habitat. After the concerts, many of the hardcore Magma fans assembled for a beer and in-depth analysis of the performance. The “Average” bar (soon to be named the “Breathe through your mouth bar”) across the road was the choice and a selection of Magma memorabilia took their seats for a 1664 fest! Not content with wearing a “Batman” T-Shirt many of the cognoscenti had obviously gone one step further and a selection jewelry and of earrings were on full show. OK, it was a Magma logo, but if you have a girlfriend who is new to the Magma scene and who likes taking the piss, then a Batman T-shirt it was! Mind you the body piercing’s were not as severe as some of the metalwork adorning some of the “stranger” folk in the foyer earlier in the evening and it did cross our minds as to how far some of these people may have taken this mutilation to. I mean. is there someone out there who loves the band enough to have the ultimate Magma “big bolt” shoved through his wedding tackle? It is a thought isn’t it? After all you don’t get to sing in a high pitched falsetto voice without some sort of helping hand!

Seriously though, one person who does need a helping hand is ex Offering drummer Jean Claude Buire who was seen attending the concert on the last evening. Unfortunately he was the wrong side of drunk and not for the first time had been making a nuisance of himself at a concert. I briefly said hello to him and wished him well although I very much doubt that he remembered me from his time at the Bloomsbury Theatre in 1988. We wish him well and hope that he can get back to what he does best as soon as possible.

Generally, the prices across the board in Paris are no different from any other major European city. I did manage to get a double espresso coffee at the knock down price of 8 euros in one restaurant, but then the waiter assured me that the Arabian beans had been hand picked and rolled between the thighs of a young Cuban virgin. So that was OK, but the “breathe through the mouth bar” was far more down to earth. They’d obviously cut costs (and hence prices) by integrating the Male and Female luxury washrooms that they had started out with into a much smaller, mix and match, cesspit style arrangement. One step up from a hole in the ground. My girlfriend Jeannie was doing an impression of a Japanese TV Endurance competitor. Knees together and everything clenched in an attempt to not have to go through the door marked Beelzebub once again, when all of a sudden she cracked. As she disappeared into Hell’s Kitchen with a waft of ammonia filling the rest of the bar. Marc Adler shouted out “Breathe through your mouth Jeannie!”. An old trick he’d learned during the Vietnam war. It worked, and it was once again proof that you do learn something new every day! With a pleasantly surprised smile on her face she sat down to thank Marc and then rue previous times at many “V Festival’s” in Chelmsford that she had not been armed with that gem of knowledge.

The Seventh concession stand seemed to be doing great business and it’s good to know that Magma are branching out in all merchandising areas. This year you can buy a Magma calendar or ‘Kalënstahl’. It’s a lovely work of art with images by Georges Besnier and photos by Marie-Emannuelle Bretel. The dates are in French, English and Japanese? and all present and past members of the band have their birth dates marked with their Kobaïan names. Also, akin to a normal diary, there is help on the possible prevalence of Werewolves on certain nights, little Magma Logos are scattered throughout. Some full, some, half full and some not coloured in at all. It would have been more fun to publish the Kobaïan moons cycles instead (all 4 of them?) and then waited for some Magma (forum posting) mathematical genius to plot their orbits. The Batman t-shirts seemed to be selling well and I thought that the original double LP ‘Magma’ (aka Kobaïa) logo looked pretty cool. So much so that I bought one during the last show and subsequently dropped it on the drunken walk back to the hotel later that evening. Somewhere in the 9em District is a Tramp with a central heating system complete with “Batman lagging”

Before Sue’s tears could dry the 5 minute warning bell sounded and we took our places, now standing at the back of the stalls behind the technicians. There was a much better sound here. I suppose this was only to be expected, but more importantly there was a better atmosphere and more a feeling of being part of the concert. My specific memories of this position were three fold. Firstly, I stood relatively still on the Friday evening (due to being a little under the weather with alcohol poisoning) and the result was massive calf cramp for the next two days. I was unaware that after standing at a concert you needed to stretch out afterwards! Secondly, seeing Jannick and Klaus behind the sound desk enjoying ‘Hhaï’ unfold during ‘Ëmëhntëht-Rê’ was just fantastic to witness. And thirdly, my attention was drawn to the intensity and enthusiasm of the lighting guy. He was “playing” the lighting board as if it were an unseen musical instrument. He was living the concert! It was a real joy to be feel so close to the action.

The Curtains parted, or did they raise? With this much beer perhaps they just evaporated. And Magma were on their starting blocks. Christian, centre stage behind his familiar Drum kit. flanked by James Mac Gaw and Philippe Bussonnet. Benoît Alizary top left on Vibraphone with Stella on keyboards in front of him and Bruno Ruder front right on Keyboards with staging on the right wing for the Choral section to stand.

The opening piece ‘Slag Tanz’ had a very ‘One Shot’ feel to it. Day one got off to a false start when Philippe Bussonnet’s amp wouldn’t play ball, and the piece was aborted early on. This was my introduction to Herve Aknin, having not watched any You Tube footage for fear of spoiling the occasion. It was a strange choice of clothes on his part. The concert pianist tuxedo tails clashed somewhat with the”Batman T-Shirt”. On the first night I must admit to being a bit disappointed by Herve Aknin and missed the passing of Antoine Paganotti but as the 3 days unfolded not only did I warm to him, but actually preferred him to the son of the legendry Bassist. Initially He didn’t appear have the intensity and commitment of Paganotti, and his presentation was perhaps not as “earthy” as the former lead vocalist, but what he does bring is more of a genuine operatic performance to the occasion. This is “Operatic” stylesomething Magma has always excelled at. Reflecting on the old line up, perhaps Antoine was “trying” to be a Magma vocalist whereas Herve is just being himself. By the end of the weekend I was a convert! I felt Herve was much more of a “team player” than Paganotti and for me this had brought more of a 70′s Magma feel to the group. Hopefully I am completely off the mark here, but if I had to sum up Antoine Paganotti’s tenur in Magma, I would now say in heindsight, after experiencing Aknin in the driving seat, that I now get the feeling that I was listening to a Magma appreciation band, rather than the real thing with Antoine. I don’t know what the general concensus is among the hard core fans is and it’s certainly not meant as an insult as I thoughroughly enjoyed watching Antoine perform. It’s just one of those things you can’t quite put your finger on.

As the first piece reached it’s conclusion I was hooked, and even though the ‘One Shot’ feel never left, I felt it augured well for what was to follow. A rapid guitar note by James Mac Gaw announced the finish of ‘Slag Tanz’ and after a brief applause we were into the second piece.

‘Felicite Thosz’ seemed lighter in style and quickly took on the feel of an Offering number, or at the very least it harked back to the “Voix de Magma” era. Whilst many die hard Magma fans may have a problem with this period and style, I accept it and treasure it in equal measure to all the other eras. Then a strange thing happened, a Japanese style vocal section unfolded, with Stella centre stage. it was a bit of a Kobaian culture shock and unlike any vocal section Magma had ever produced in the past. It was superbly crafted however, with great vocal interplay and beautiful harmonies, which in my book is exactly why Magma are the ONLY Zeuhl band out there.. (well perhaps there are a few others! Eskaton perhap?) Then possibly my least favourite section of the piece started to take shape. A call and answer section between Stella and the chorus of Isabelle and Herve that was once again very “Offering” but that started to wander into a bit of a film score “love scene, finale, meet up” sort of weepy thing. It was still brilliant but it’s just that we’ve come to expect so much from Magma that anything slightly “normal” is jumped upon and kicked to pieces!. But before this part had outstayed its welcome, it ceased and then a moment of pure magic arrived!! Bruno Ruder was given the spotlight for a mid section keyboard solo and I suddenly got the deja vu goose bumps! I think these goose bumps are by far the the best type! My heart had dropped when I had heard the news that Emmanuel Borghi had left the band and I wondered how Magma would continue without someone like him. Someone who seemed to fit perfectly into the Magma psyche with his intensely committed style! But here I was witnessing a seemingly purer Magma keyboard solo than anything Borghi had ever produced! In exactly the same way as I had thought Antoine Paganotti had become indispensable, along comes a band member who, for me, encapsulates the spirit of the band more that I could ever have imagined. The Keyboard King is dead! Long live the Keyboard King! And what a “Magma” Keyboard solo it was! Full of originality and most important, full of passion! I wonder what he would have done to the keyboard solo in part 3 of K.A.?

And when he finished there was warm genuine applause for a master craftsman and then Chorus sprung to life again and seamlessly we were thrown straight into a typical vocal section as Herve Aknin took the piece by the scruff of the neck, and wrung it dry. The whole thing conjured up Russian Dancers with arms defiantly crossed! The second half of ‘Felicite Thosz’ is where the piece starts to shine! Stella cooled it down again with her haunting vocals and we were floating through the air, then Bosch! Straight back to the Cossacks! A very operatic feel and I must say that on occasions during this section I got a tempting waft of Prokofiev. I suppose it was the sleigh bells! I think this is destined to become a big centre piece of Magma’s concerts. And then if you thought it couldn’t get any better, to add the icing to the top of an already three tier effort, Christian Vander stood and we were treated to a ‘Hhaï’ like lecture from the great man. It was superb, and the crowd responded! I couldn’t get the moment out of my head for the whole weekend. Christian standing, overhead mic in place, playing the drums as an apparent afterthought while he sung his heart out. If he isn’t the best Drummer in the world then I’ll have a Magma helmet bolt attatched! It’s less demonstrable than his Hhaï soap box onslaught, but just as inspirational. As the 3 days unfolded, I found myself humming this piece endlessly. And then CV sat and the Chorus repeated his vocal riffs and the band built up to a brilliant, very original climax.

Before we could recover we were transported from Russia straight to Egypt, with the opening vocal interplay of Ëmëhntëht-Rê, which, for me, has always conjured up the 1930′s “Hammer House of Horror” Mummy films. I was wondering what Ëmëhntëht-Rê would sound like as a complete piece and I was about to find out. I once read on the yahoo avant-progressive chat room that one of the ‘posters in the forum’ dismissed Christian Vander as just a plagiarist, citing snippets of Stravinsky and other classical composers with k’s and y’s and other letters in their names as evidence. I wonder how that person could resolve KA, Köhntarkösz, Ëmëhntëht-Rê, Attahk and Üdü Wüdü into a continuation of this polarized view? And then before I knew it we were into Rindë with Benoît Alizary demanding attention on the Vibraphone. For some reason he reminds me of a crazed professor concocting some villainous poison! I got a little confused at this point because I thought that Rindë was part of Attahk? And while nothing was actually new to my ears I was off balance on my Magma “time line”. I’m not a Magma Anorak, I bow to the hardened fans who know the music inside out but I wasn’t that aware of Ëmëhntëht-Rê and what it entailed. Then Rindë finished and I wondered what would follow. Christian Vander sprung to life and James Mac Gaw kicked it up a few notches and the pace and intensity increased and we were taken into mid 70′s oblivion, but still unaware of what was about to unfold! Waiting .. no lurking, was another slight change of tempo and I knew instantly that ‘Hhaï’ was about to be unleashed on the audience! What a superb introduction to the piece! As the first riffs started, the crowd erupted and when Christian stood, once again, to hold court, they exploded again. Apparently ‘Hhaï’ is a piece about death although I alway felt it encapsulated life, but regardless it fills the listener with a feeling of “pride”. ‘Hhaï has always been my favourite Magma piece. If I had to try and sell “Magma” to an outsider I would always pick ‘Hhaï’ as a starting point. When Magma appeared at Le Trianon for their 30th anniversary concerts, they had an online poll to determine which piece the fans would most like to hear as an encore. It was ‘Hhaï’. Christian Vander had the crowd by the absolute bollocks! The intensity was unbearable and then “court” was over and the Master sat to rapturous applause, followed by a great, jazzier than the 70′s ‘Hhaï’ jamming session. I thought it was a superb, albeit unexpected, contrast to the raw energy of the earlier part. It has added another dimension to a section of ‘Hhaï’ that could have become jaded had they decided to go for a straight translation from 1975. But before you could catch your breath James Mac Gaw brought us back to the original score and heads were nodding all over the room in appreciation. And then ‘Hhaï’ was over, but this wasn’t the end of Ëmëhntëht-Rê.

It’s like the Lois Lane line to Superman “you’re a tough act to follow”. Question. How do you follow ‘Hhaï’? …. Zombies is how! With the chanting and monster bass lines. Philippe Bussonnet is as much “Zeuhl” as any Magma bassist. Zombies certainly has more energy than De Futura. More momentum, more urgency. If Magma tracks were sold like collectors cards, I’d swap 10 ‘De Futura’s’ for one ‘Zombies’. ‘De Futura’ Plods but ‘Zombies’ rocks! would be my car sticker. It’s nothing personal but as far as I’m concerned but there’s a league of difference. Zombies has drama and suspense and builds and builds, then lets you down and then builds you up again. Zombies is like a good lover, exciting and teasing, to a point where you just can’t stand it anymore. In this case a blistering bass riff with Philippe showing off his skills finally brings the crowd to its knees and when Zombies had finished I was exhausted.

Finally I had arrived at uncharted territory in Ëmëhntëht-Rê. Stella, serenely, laid an introduction before some urgent off beat vocals took over and a more operatic feel eventually came to the forefront while Herve, Stella and Isabelle then took centre stage. It had a 70′s feel but with a modern Magma presentation. Quite amazing! Then the music started to build once again with Philippe Bussonnet going absolutely fucking ape shit! This incredible section of music is followed by a vocal part that totally hits the spot!

I’m not sure if this is new material or not but it really does fits the bill. I questioned K.A.and its authenticity to whatever was originally conceived in a recent Ork Alarm! Continued article, ignorant of the fact that K.A. was rehearsed (albeit not committed to disc at the time) in the 70′s. I assume that Ëmëhntëht-Rê is exactly the same. I just marvel at how CV keeps his music in his head … or on his tapes? Oh, how we’d love to listen to those tapes! With the passing of time who knows what will occur. Christian Vander is 61 years old now and a mellower character, likewise, Klaus and Jannick . Like many bands who split up and have their differences, time heals the unhealable. I’m not sure of the history and reasons for the various splits in Magma, and apart from mild inquisitiveness I don’t really care. What is certain though is that François de la Rochefoucauld was spot on! The only constant in life is Change. Who would have thought 20 years ago that we’d have seen these three legends all on the same stage again, but now it seems only natural. I wonder if before too long the same thing will happen to the un-issued concert material that must be floating around. Hardcore fans speak in hushed corners of soundboard recordings of concerts and 70′s demos, that if to be believe, are just begging to be officially committed to AKT disc. Word has it that Christian and Klaus have all sorts of juicy items festering away on a shelf somewhere near somewhere. Obviously the issuing of the Vander/Top items by Jannick were of great interest. Whilst not completely authorized from Magma standpoint a “laissez faire” attitude prevailed and “Kobaïa” is more the merrier for them. The outstanding Henry Cow Box set is a shining ray of hope at the end of the tunnel. We’ve seen sporadic issues from AKT including the recent Bourges 1979 concert as well as the additional material on the recent Studio Zünd box set. But oh! We’d all sell our souls for a Henry Cow size effort. Let’s be objective. None of us are getting any younger. Downloads are killing CD sales anyway and Magma are touring more often and hopefully making ends meet so why not flood the market with High Quality Archive concert recordings? What would you stand to lose? Why not capture the market on such items. Obviously there are only so many people who are going to buy them, but what a collectors item! The Complete 70′s Concert edition and then a Demos edition to follow! Handpicked by the Gods themselves. It couldn’t get any better than that. We live in hope.

On the first evening I had felt like the piece had started to enter a long winded end game, but it wasn’t an ending at all, just new stuff to my ears! On the first evening the finale seemed to take a lifetime to reach, but by Saturday evening the whole piece seemed to gel together much more and the actual finale saw CV flailing at his cymbals in slow motion mimicking desperation. I wonder when the finished studio piece is laid down. How it will all pan out? The crowd applauded, a bit shell shocked at first! Either not totally convinced or perhaps just overawed. It’s too much for most, especially first time around. But then the appreciation kicked in (as usual) and a dawning realization of what a fantastic experience they had just witnessed and I ran over to Francis Linon on the Soundboard as the crowd’s applase intensified and shouted to him “was it shorter tonight or did I just know the piece better?” “you just knew it better!” he smiled.

Another masterpiece has finally been delivered and it awaits to be etched in plastic as a Studio Album. If you ever get the chance to go to a Magma concert, then PLEASE go! Go for at least two shows, even better, three. The first you may struggle with, the second your brain will just be coming to grips with the enormity of the compositions and then, by day three? Well perhaps, just perhaps you will have got it. Perhaps you will have tuned in to the Magma experience.

And then after a relatively short delay to place a few more microphones and equipment on stage it was into ‘De Futura’ with 45 musicians on stage. It might have been 15 though and as the opening whistling synth note pervaded through the room, and the now legendary riff kicked into life and the gruff vocals started their chant, we were off and running on what, for many Magma fans, encapsulates the “Magma” sound.

By general concencus this was not the ideal setup for ‘ De Futura’ and many felt that it was overkill and messy but there was no doubting that the crowd loved it! And it certainly was a marvelous spectacle. I’m not sure what the fans wanted for a 40 year celebration, apart from getting the original 70 line up back together ala Blues Brothers (actually bit trickier) but this is about as good as it could have gotten. OK there was no pre concert video like in 2000 at Le Trianon, where former members gave inspiring sound bites, but I thought that this was a great celebration of all that is good about Zeuhl in 2009. 40 years ….. 40 years for god’s sake! 30 years after most of them had buggered off to Kobaïa and threatened never to return! Old and new. It’s a tough call for Christian Vander though and I think he balances it well. Reworking the golden years is a sound policy and the only sword hanging over him is “Father time”. Eventually I do feel that he will really open up the Magma Vaults and do some ultimate soundboard box sets that will just blow us away, but perhaps his interest is still in composing new Magma gems.

And all the time De Futura marched on, in all it’s strutting glory until we were at that moment when Jannick takes Centre stage, with Philippe complimenting him, and then there came the “riff” and it was seen that all was good and heads started to nod in approval. Stereo bass, stereo drums, stereo everything and the tempo increased violently until in the blink of an eye we were at a blistering bass pace and fingers were a blur and I’m sure I could smell burnt flesh but perhaps that was Sue’s brain incinerating! Klaus was in full control of the audience, dramatic and gesticulating. A true entertainer! The crowd were loving him. Everywhere around the room heads were nodding. The ‘De Futura’ trade mark nod, with a fractional shoulder thrust forward. And then it was all over and Klaus growled the piece to it’s finish and the audience went ballistic! Two bands colliding to reproduce a piece of Magma history! A worthy climax to a great night. The musicians took a theatrical bow while the crowd rose to their feet and continued to applaud for a full 5 minutes. The fans were stomping now even though they knew that there was more to come and that CV would send them home with a warm glow in their hearts. Christian appeared and spoke something in European and then prepared for his encore. Someone in the crowd shouted out “Happy Birthday Christian” and another started to sing and some of the audience followed into “Happy Birthday” but CV was not having any of it and cut them off with the opening lines of his ‘Ballade’. The crowd slowly sat back into their chairs to admire a genius at work. This ‘ballade’ has an Offering feel to it, but it’s also has the ‘Spirit of Magma’ inside its core. When the chorus sprung to life it threatened a “Les Voix de Magma” moment, very dramatic and very much an “end piece” like ‘Ehn Deiss’ but then all of a sudden I am transfixed! Bruno Ruder’s piano starts and James Mac Gaw’s guitar speaks and I’m transported back to my youth, facing Christian Vander at the Chalk Farm Roundhouse as he sung ‘Lïhns’ and my heart skipped a beat. It’s the Keyboard’s…. they make the memories come flooding back! And how good is Philippe Bussonnet during this moment? Sublime, superb, totally understated. This encore, for me, was as much “Magma” as anything that had preceded it in the concert and although Christian leans towards an “Offering” vocal style in this song, I am just on my little cloud, floating on the euphoria of a ‘Lïhns’ moment again. What a piece! Totally haunting and a fitting end to a brilliant evening.

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After the final show on the Saturday we were lucky enough to be invited back stage by Francis Linon along with Magma’s good friend Duncan Lane. This is something I always feel a little uncomfortable about doing, for two reasons. Firstly, “Backstage” is the Artist’s inner sanctum and a place where they should feel like they can relax after a performance rather than be “observed”. Secondly, I’m not sure that it is generally a good policy to meet your heroes! Fortunately I have had no detrimental experience in this department. However, I don’t know about you but I like my ‘Gods’ up there on an untouchable superhuman pedestal, not watching them have to eat real food and pop of to the lavatory halfway through a beer. I like to think that Magma musicians have bladders the size of balloons designed to recapture Patrick McGoohan! Regardless of my personal hang-up it was great to see the band and say hello again. The Magma wine was flowing! No, it really was! There were bottles of red wine with Magma labels on them, presumable issued by the theatre?! I was too drunk by this time to pick up any empty ones, but I’m sure that someone, somewhere will be knocking one out on Ebay in the future! We had a great chat with Klaus who reminisced on the past in great style. What a gentleman! As in fact all the band are, apart from the beautiful Stella and Isabelle of course! And it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that it is always an honour and privilege to meet Christian Vander. A true legend in his own lifetime.

And then it was the stagger back to the hotel, resisting the temptation to pop into a Pool club at the end of La rue du Clichy to supplement the weekend’s financial outlay. The following morning was obviously tainted by a mandatory hangover but we managed to drag our bodies out for a quick walk around the empty Sunday streets of Paris before the trip to the train station. It really is a beautiful city, even the dodgy parts! Our favourite street was La rue du Rone which is full of Violin and Cello makers. The three story Mausoleum next to our hotel was also a fascinating place, and generally Paris seems far more “relaxed” than my home city of London. The people appear to be more chilled out, apart from the obvious government directory that every citizen must buy and carry a baguette home from work. The most important part of the trip was of course being able to buy track suit jogging bottoms with a longer inside leg length than 34 inches. I will never forgive my Country for this short legged policy and will always support the French, regardless of how rude one restaurant waiter was to us. Fortunately we found some good restaurants, so if you are ever in the 9em district and want some good food, with friendly staff, then check out Le Coryllis at 85 rue des Martyrs. And make sure it coincides with a Magma concert. Hopefully their 50th anniversary!

 

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