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Vinyl Sessions: Frank Zappa - Apostrophe (')

This week's Vinyl Sessions is curated by Graham & Emma. 

Vinyl Sessions running order:
Album playback
Q&A session
short break
'Dead'Wax' session - bring along a vinyl disc of your choice and hear a track from it played through the venue PA. This can be anything you like, for any reason – the more ‘out there’ the better. 

The bar is open throughout. 
Doors 12pm, Starts 12.30pm 
Tickets £3

When Frank Zappa, shall we say, “punctuated” the '70s with his Apostrophe (‘) album, it was, amazingly, already his eighteenth studio or live release over a span not quite as long as a decade. Any way you look at it, this was a monumental feat of prolific creativity largely unmatched in the rock milieu. And yet, for all of those albums, their hundreds of songs, and the jaw-dropping variety of musical genres they encompassed, Zappa had never actually charted a single in the US which still merited a judgement in those far off days of the US Billboard chart.

For Apostrophe (‘), released on March 22nd, 1974, became, and remains, Zappa’s commercial high-water mark, Hardcore fans (of which there are a great number) probably have other favourites, but a newcomer to the Frank Zappa world could do a lot worse than start with this album. Continuing the approach that worked wonders on his successful earlier album, "Over- nite Sensation", Frank keeps up the bent humour and rock-pop accessibility (relatively, of course) to balance the instrumental prowess and compositional intricacies.

The opening suite is one of the greatest musical interpretations of a dream sequence - surreal, funny, full of strange references, compositional left turns, and red herrings (or, rather, mud sharks). It tells the story of Nanook the Eskimo Boy, while the second half is about who knows what. Opener “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” has come to represent Zappa’s essentially abstract sense of humour and was a standard riposte to all manner of hippie cliché catchphrases in the early 1970s.

“Nanook Rubs It” features some astounding guitar rips — Zappa, whatever else can be said about him, was one of the greatest rock guitarists ever — and a fantastic solo, more great backing vocals doing this and that, and some funny lyrics.

“St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast” is everything it is okay to like or loath about Zappa crammed into one song. Reminiscent of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, the xylophone intro, big orchestral jazz flourishes, and a section that can only be described as ELP-like prog all collude to expose Zappa’s vast aura of influence. Throw in the fact that there must be six thousand tempo changes in its one minute and fifty-one seconds and what you have is a song guaranteed to blow you away, if you’re on acid, or, for the casual listener, it is a baffling rollercoaster cacophony of sound.

“Father O’Blivion,” races along like an Eskimo on a rocket-powered dog sled. Oodles of tempo changes, a brief synthesizer interlude, talk of leprechauns and “rock around the crock”, Zappa presents the listener with a sensory overload that either leaves you within the Zappa mind-set or mesmerizingly outside.

"Cosmik Debris" is a classic sleazy track with incredible performances; if for some strange reason the sounds of Jean- Luc Ponty don't impress you, how about Tina Turner and her backup singers, the Ikettes?

"Excentrifugal Forz" is a "Hot Rats" leftover, but sounds more at home here, providing a good jazzy contrast with the rest of the album.

"Apostrophe" is simply outstanding; a funky, heavy jam - even if Zappa and Jack Bruce had a difficult time working together, the result is on a par with Zappa's better rock jams.

"Uncle Remus" is a portrait of the conflicted emotions of the Afro-American of the era; "Stink -foot" returns us to classic over-the-top territory - a song about bromhidrosis featuring a dialogue from a dog. It's also a great slow bluesy way to wrap up the album. There's a telling credit on the back of the LP cover that reads "Produced, Arranged & Struggled with: Frank Zappa."

Despite the relative success of this album I think even Frank knew this "novelty" angle was taking him too far away from his avant-garde passions and purpose. His next offerings would show him stepping back into the sublime strangeness that he loved (i.e. "Bongo Fury" with Captain Beefheart). And, while "Apostrophe (‘)" wasn't as consistent and clever as some of his previous albums, it still succeeded in bringing him out of the underground realm and into wider acceptance along with his eclectic music.

Doors 12pm, Starts 12.30pm
Tickets £3

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