Gone Reason – that’s what we used to call Ron Geesin, me and my pals in Mott (especially Overend Watts), mad as we were for Spoonerisms (the Wiki page on this subject will have you laughing out loud as you read it – if you value your computer’s screen, do not drink anything while doing so!). Life on the road *does* drive you crazy – those long boring journeys in vans, taxis, buses, and planes, between the massive highs of great gigs, bring out the unique zany humour of most bands. So in Mott, we would go Shawn Popping, avoid women if they were Blither Woke, or share our homemade recordings even if they were Denly an Omo, or Tame Hopes. And in a kind of double Spoonerism, when making an album we would studiously listen to the Winwood Brians (= Muff Rixes).
Ron’s reason isn’t really Gone, but he has a wonderfully original way of looking at the world. In a solo show I saw him perform in a room above a pub in North London in about 1980, he spent the first five minutes standing on a chair trying to rub the shadow of a chandelier off the flock wallpaper on the back wall of the stage. Then into a dazzling, lunatic show with explosive playing on banjo, on piano, and on any object he fancied, interspersed with jokes, poems, anecdotes, delivered in his rapid-fire Scots brogue. Marvellous. Ron describes people’s views of the world as (and I paraphrase) – like a vast 3D matrix of boiled eggs cut through at different angles. You see different amounts of yolk, or none at all (yes, some people just don’t get the yolk – Ed.).
Always a fringe genius, ploughing his own left field in the general scheme of things, Ron’s lateral musical thinking brought new textures to as major a band as Pink Floyd, who were fans of his (as they were of Ivor Cutler, another Miniatures artist – whose lounge at home, by the way, contained a number of pieces of ivory cutlery, intended as a pun on his name). He not only transformed “Atom Heart Mother” dramatically with his extraordinary brass and choir arrangements (in similar fashion to the way George Martin did with, say, “Strawberry Fields Forever”), he also added his truly manic Scottish raving (actually he didn’t – see Ron’s comment – Ed.) to their “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict” (his presumably off-the-cuff lyrics of this rant are online, inexplicably ending with a quote from one of Jimi Hendrix’s most beautiful singles). Then there was “The Body” (1971), a proper collaboration this time, with Floyd’s Roger Waters, creating the soundtrack for a remarkable film, the music ranging from the expected eccentricity and whacky sound design to tranquil ballads and modern-classical etudes. I guess it was the first time I had seen group nudity of a non-sexual kind in a film, in the extraordinarily moving sequence that slowly tracks from a newly-born babe all through the ages ending at a very, very old man. I freely give the youtube link to the full film as it is, disgracefully, still not out on DVD. Fortunately, the soundtrack is out on CD.
Then there was Bridget. Bridget St. John’s album “Songs for the Gentle Man” has some of the loveliest arrangements I have ever heard on a singer-songwriter’s album (another was James Taylor’s debut album). It was a magic time when delicate, colourful chamber music arrangements were filling the air (at least in my bedroom), from records by The Beatles, Donovan, and so on. Ron, without a lot of formal training, but a great ear and a sheer love of sonic beauty, as an arranger is up there with the best of them. Now, with that Bridget link, we have finally entered Ron’s website, a treasure trove of creativity. “Composer, performer, sound architect, interactive designer, broadcaster, writer and lecturer” it says. He missed out poet, comedian, arranger, and expert collector of numerous adjustable wrenches.
Ron’s latest album is “Roncycle1: The Journey of a Melody.” 25 (!) years in the making, it is a powerful, dense, sometimes dark musical experience that as well as Floyd lovers, might appeal to those enamoured of Scott Walker’s recent output (but with less of the relentless gloom). In all likelihood Ron, a Scot rather than a Scott, has had a family life that has been a great support to him, and with that in mind he has named his house and studio in the country – Headrest. His son Joe is a noted music journalist, and his other two sons Dan and Fraser are fine musicians and have produced an album deftly titled “Music by Post.”
As the opening track of side 2 of the original Miniatures LP, Ron’s “Enterbrain Exit” was magnificent, perfect. People ask me if it was a hellish task trying to sort out the running order of 51 tracks. Well, it took about 3 hours and 51 little bits of paper with titles on them, moved around on my bedsit carpet. The task was made a lot easier by tracks like Ron’s that fairly leapt off the carpet at me saying “I need to go HERE!” Ron’s music and words summed up what this whole mad album was about. Here’s what Ron recites in his musical diptych:
(first half, over rousingly powerful modern synth chords)
WE ARE INTERESTED, STIMULATED, ENTERTAINED AND AMUSED
BY SEEING HOW NEW PATTERNS ARE CREATED
BY PLACING NEW MATTER OVER OLD
(second half, a rapturous kind of 1920’s circus banjo orchestra)
It feels delightfully appropriate to upload this blog post on the day that President Obama got re-elected, and hope and positivity is in the air. Ron is a true original, a shining human, a restless, quivering roving mind combined with real craftsmanship. I have sung his praises today – now I rest my case. And my head. And wonder with bated breath what his next extraordinary piece of music/writing/art/adjustable wrench will be…
*Late Addition* – here’s a rare and wonderful 1962 film of one of Ron’s first bands – the Original Downtown Syncopators, travelling the land in their custom van (complete with kitchen) and doing a hot gig for some cool beatniks.
Next up: IRCAM’s something to knock your socks off.