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2004 was the year when the Stella Maris Drone Orchestra started to find its feet. Of the original cast, Tim continued to play with us for the duration of the band’s existence; Deo played with us for a few more gigs but as the band became noisier, amplifying his tablas adequately became more difficult and his frustration at getting heard caused him to leave. Jim didn’t play any gigs after the first one; his flight back from Cork was delayed and he missed the second gig, which was being organised by Mark Pilkington, who joined the band to fill his place. In a similar fashion, Al Robertson, who had put us on at Brixton Alive, became our regular bassist. Of the old Platform Five(5) posse: Richard and Seth were regular players in the Stellas. The other Richard, Richard Guest, was another regular, as was Giles Narang, who was mostly drumming with Now at the time.
Richard and I established The Drones Club at The Eye in Stoke Newington, and the Stellas became the house band, something which I wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about. Then again Richard put in most of the hard work in organising these nights; I did little more than come up with the name, the ethos and the first poster. Many of the Stellas, both Richards and Mark, were also involved in the Kosmische club.
While the Stellas was an exciting project, I often had misgivings about the musical results of the experiment and I lacked the experience, and perhaps the charisma, to fully communicate how I would like the band to develop. So, once again, the Skillzy album, or to give it its full name, Skillzy Krishna & The Vorticist Bar Combo Featuring The Original Entropy Circus All Stars, became a vent for this frustration. Indeed one of the key tracks on the album, Raga Jalfrezi, would become the blueprint for my first solo gigs later in the year.
The key element of Raga Jalfrezi is the Jerry Jones Baby Sitar. This instrument is a high grade reproduction of the Danelectro Sitar built by the Nashville based luthier, Jerry Jones. It has a guitar neck and a jivari bridge rather than a standard guitar bridge. The jivari is lower than a guitar bridge and is angled to coax harmonics out of the strings; the sitar tone of the instrument is entirely mechanical. Raga Jalfrezi is a fake raga played against tabla loops from Cool Edit and electronic bubbles from the Red Sound Darkstar. It is the logical conclusion of many drone based guitar experiments that I had made over the years; I had the action on my Danelectro set particularly low to get some of this harmonic twang.
The Baby Sitar appears on three tracks on this album: Raga Jalfrezi, Baba Drone und der Mittlesex Fuzz and It Was The Day of the Dagenham Prawns. In addition, the humbucker sound of a Daisyrock flower-shaped guitar features on many of the rockier tracks here. The opening track, Lord of the Air, takes its cues from the proggier Sabbath Bloody Sabbath compositions by Black Sabbath, with a touch of Can in the mid-section. Lyrically it is a gnostic take on Paradise Lost from the viewpoint of Satan. It’s at least fifty per cent tongue in cheek.
There are also two reinterpretations of the motorik final section of Headkickers Revival Church here. These are both quite short and make a feature of tightly filtered frequency ranges in the mix, as well as surface glitches in the output from my laptop’s soundcard. There are two other instrumental rock-outs here: Riffin’, which is largely a set of piss-takes on pentatonic rock posturing, and Complex Heavy Place, which is a more serious examination of rock dynamics of the Mixolydian mode. Complex Heavy Place was named after a genius loci that Jim and I had discovered near the Lea Bridge Road.
The new version of Piece’o’Shit, originally from Paddington Hardstare five years earlier, is perhaps the key indication of my dissatisfaction here. There were things that I couldn’t do in the larger context of the Stella Maris Drone Orchestra, a band that was growing faster in terms of quantity of members than in terms of musical competence. I remember complaining at a band meeting that I wanted to be able to do “all that pretty shit” and the wall of sound, that the band had become, made that near impossible.
The title of the album was partly derived from my nom de guerre in the band. I had adopted the name Skillzy Stella after finding the word Skillzy sprayed on a wall near the river in North Woolwich. The implied multitude of players, The Vorticist Bar Combo and The Original Entropy Circus All Stars, was clearly an ironic comment upon the ever-expanding drone orchestra.
By the winter I would be playing Raga Jalfrezi solo anywhere that would take me. It was often a terrifying experience getting onto a stage without a gang behind me. Sometimes the results were unsatisfying but I was in a constant, rapid process of improvement, gaining confidence and experience so that I could feel that I had the authority to explain my ideas in a live context. For this and many other reasons, it would be another four years before I completed another album.
Skillzy Krishna & The Vorticist Bar Combo Featuring The Original Entropy Circus All Stars can be downloaded from archive.org.
Next: Nand Gate.