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‘She’s Your Lover Now’

Bob Dylan She's Your Lover Now“What do you want to call this, for now?” Bob Johnston asks Bob Dylan, whose reply to his producer is punctuated by giggles. “This is called… yes… we’ll call it ‘Just a Little Glass of Water’.” And, on January 21, 1966, in Columbia Records’ Seventh Avenue studio in New York City, Dylan and his musicians — Mike Bloomfield and Robbie Robertson on guitars, Garth Hudson on the organ, Richard Manuel on piano, Rick Danko on bass guitar and Sandy Konikoff on drums — launch into the first recorded pass at a song that would become known to bootleggers as “She’s Your Lover Now”.

What turned out to be the best version — which we now know to have been take 15 — was included on a couple of the early bootlegs I bought in 1969/70: Forty Red White & Blue Shoestrings and GWW: Seems Like a Freeze Out. It’s a song I quickly grew to love, seeing it as part of the “revenge” series that began with “Like a Rolling Stone” and continued with “Positively 4th Street” and “Can You Please Crawl  Out Your Window?”, although for years I wrongly imagined it to have been recorded in Nashville during the sessions than began on February 14 and yielded the bulk of what became Blonde on Blonde.

Now, thanks to the release of the $599 18-CD “collector’s edition” of The Bootleg Series Vol 12: The Cutting Edge, we know how hard Dylan worked on this song before abandoning it at the end of the day. Indeed, we know how hard he worked on many of his songs. The many takes that were needed before “Like a Rolling Stone” emerged from its chrysalis were not the exception. On this evidence, any idea of Dylan’s attitude to the recording process as being one based primarily on intuition and spontaneity would be seriously to underrate his interest in detailed development.

As with several of his songs, mostly notably “Like a Rolling Stone” , “She’s Your Lover Now” began life in a rather stately triple metre before finding its ultimate destiny in a fast 4/4. (The many takes of “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”, for example, begin with a voice-and-piano sketch in 6/8 before making the change almost immediately.)

In terms of format, “She’s Your Lover Now” probably the most complicated song he ever wrote: by my amateur calculation its structure settles on A-A-B-C-D-A-E, where A is 8 bars, B is 13 (yes!), C is 8, D is 10 and E is 8. The contrasting cadences and their associated harmonic suspensions make perfect sense, but they must have been hell for the musicians to remember, particularly while trying to keep up with Dylan’s constantly changing attitude to the song’s metre and tempo, which by take 4 has temporarily settled on a rather plodding rock backbeat.

Between takes 10 and 11, with Dylan having taken over at the piano, we hear Johnston, with Dylan’s approval, suggesting a “double beat”: a fast 8/8 instead of the soggy 4/4. Immediately the song reveals its true personality. But the take breaks down, and Dylan is not satisfied. “It’s not together, man,” he says. “Just play it together. Just make it all together. You don’t have to play anything fancy or nothing. Just together. Okay?”

He also massages the lyric as he works through the song, most significantly changing the key line from “You’re Her Lover Now” quite late in the process, while experimenting with different stresses in his phrasing. Take 15 goes further than its predecessors and builds a terrific momentum until breaking down as he sings “Now your mouth cries wolf…”, possibly having run out of words.

At the end of the session, clearly having abandoned hope of getting it right with the band that day, he lays down a version alone at the tack piano. “Last take, any time,” Johnston says. “Okay,” Dylan replies. “It’s not going to be really exactly right.” He’s still exploring, and we can hear how, left to his own devices, he finds a 12/8 feel that somehow synthesises and incorporates all previous metrical variants. He would never return to the song, leaving us with a fascinating work-in-progress document of one that didn’t quite make it.

* The photograph is by Jerry Schatzberg and is included in the Collector’s Edition of The Cutting Edge (purchase details: bobdylan.com).

Annette Peacock at Cafe Oto

Annette Peacock 2“I live alone,” Annette Peacock told the audience as she settled at the piano stool on Monday evening. “So I talk to myself.” The sense of a continuous interior monologue is always present in the work of this most original composer and performer, and so it was throughout the second of her two nights at Cafe Oto.

She took the stage in semi-darkness. Like Bob Dylan these days, she prefers to do without a frontal spotlight. Still slender and seemingly lithe at 74, she was wearing a grey fur hat pulled down to her eyebrows and a dark tailored jacket, possibly velvet, with ruched shoulders; she looked like something from Tolstoy, as though she’d just come indoors from a snow-covered St Petersburg street in the 1850s.

But this was Dalston in 2015, and the audience rewarded her hour-long set with such keen appreciation that it felt as though Annette Peacock’s time has come at last. Not that she is probably much concerned, having been through several brushes with fame since she arrived in Europe in 1971 with her then husband, the great Canadian jazz pianist Paul Bley, promoting the music in which they (mostly she) explored the possibilities of the Moog synthesiser.

Drawing on five decades’ worth of compositions, she dramatised her lyrics by alternating between her low speaking voice and that striking upper register. The ever-present sense of the erotic, explicit and implicit, was supercharged by the cold reverberations of her stark piano phrases, often picked out with the contrapuntal effect of a single-note line in each hand, sometimes against the background of digital string sounds from her Roland synthesiser — a pleasantly kitschy effect reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtracks — and the occasional rhythm pattern from a drum machine.

The set included “The Succubus” from 1979’s The Perfect Release and “b 4 u said” from An Acrobat’s Heart, the album with a string quartet released by ECM in 2000, and “Nothing Ever Was, Anyway”, first recorded by Paul Bley in 1968 and 28 years later by Marilyn Crispell (on both occasions with Gary Peacock, Annette’s first husband, on bass). There might also have been songs from 31:31, the album she quietly released on her own Ironic label in 2009, but since a new copy nowadays costs a minimum of £184 on Amazon, I’m unable to tell you that.

For her last song, she cued up a slow-jam backing track of funk bass and percussion. She sang for a while, then got up, and — while her pre-recorded voice and the instruments continued — walked quietly through the audience and away.

* The photograph was taken shortly after Annette Peacock had left the stage. Here is a track from 31:31, with an accompanying film directed by Dale Hoyt. Her first album, originally called Revenge, recorded in 1969, released in 1971 and then credited to the Bley-Peacock Synthesiser Show, has just been reissued by Peacock on her own label and under her own name, retitled I Belong to a World That’s Destroying Itself, after one of her songs. I would also recommend Annette, the album of her tunes played by Paul Bley, Gary Peacock and the trumpeter/flugelhornist Franz Koglmann, recorded in 1992 and most recently reissued on the HatHut label in 2010.

Turning Turtle

Peter EdenOf all the performances I was able to catch at this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival, the one that will probably stay with me longest was the evening at Cadogan Hall titled An Evocation of Kenny Wheeler, featuring Dave Holland, Norma Winstone, Ralph Towner, Stan Sulzmann, Nikki Iles, John Parricelli, Henry Lowther, Evan Parker, Steve Beresford, Percy Pursglove, Louis Moholo and others, including the members of the London Voice Project. The proceedings began with a group of half a dozen trumpeters playing from the gallery above the stage and closed with a poignant recording of Wheeler playing solo, that softly burnished trumpet sound and those vaulting phrases bringing tears to more than a few eyes.

A significant absentee was the pianist John Taylor, whose death in July came 10 months after that of the trumpeter, his collaborator for four and a half decades. I went home and played Taylor’s debut album, Pause, And Think Again, released in 1971 on the Turtle label. Wheeler is prominently featured on this elegant and still striking record, recently reissued as part of a box set called The Turtle Records Story: Pioneering British Jazz 1970-71.

As that subtitle suggests, the story of Turtle Records was a short one. The box contains its entire output: just three albums. Taylor’s is one; the others are Mike Osborne’s Outback and Howard Riley’s Flight. Together they provide a valuable snapshot of British modern jazz at a particularly interesting stage of its evolution.

If Taylor’s music is characteristically considered and lyrical, Osborne’s — with Harry Beckett on trumpet, Chris McGregor on piano, Harry Miller on bass and Louis Moholo on drums — is much looser and more overtly impassioned. Riley’s trio, with Barry Guy on bass and Tony Oxley on drums and electronics, is a more cerebral unit, its music offering a greater challenge than that heard on the pianist’s earlier albums for CBS, Angle and The Day Will Come.

Turtle was founded in London by Peter Eden (pictured above), a record producer whose credits already included the early Deram albums by Mike Westbrook, John Surman, Alan Skidmore and Mike Gibbs. He moved on to Dawn, a Pye subsidiary, where his artists included Mike Cooper, Mungo Jerry, and the Trio, as Surman, Barre Phillips and Stu Martin called their group. And then, frustrated by the inadequacies of the major labels, Eden made what must have seemed the logical next step, striking out on his own.

All three Turtle albums had the benefit of excellent recording quality, good pressings and almost excessively lavish packaging. The gatefold sleeves of the Riley and Taylor albums featured semi-abstract artwork, making them look like the products of the progressive rock bands of the time. Eventually, not surprisingly, they became collectors’ items. The new box set miniaturises the original artwork and contains a booklet featuring highly detailed sleeve notes by Colin Harper, incorporating the views of several of the participants.

Eden was a modest and unobtrusive man of great discernment. He chose to work with highly creative musicians and let them get on with it. The contents of the box set show how well he succeeded, even if the market did not agree.

* The Turtle Records Story is released by Cherry Red.

 

P.F. Sloan 1945-2015

P.F. Sloan 2The songwriter P.F. Sloan died this week, aged 70. More than 40 years ago, the record producer Lou Adler told me a story about him that still makes me smile, even though it had the polish of a tale that had been told many times and perhaps enhanced by the process of repetition.

It was in 1964 that Adler had signed the teenaged Sloan to his publishing company, along with his writing partner, Steve Barri. The duo’s early pop hits included “Secret Agent Man” for Johnny Rivers, “Summer Means Fun” for Bruce (Johnson) and Terry (Melcher), and “A Must to Avoid” for Herman’s Hermits.

But Adler had a new idea. He’d noted Bob Dylan’s growing celebrity and thought that Sloan might have potential in that direction. One day in 1965, he told me, he gave the 19-year-old a corduroy cap, an acoustic guitar and a copy of Dylan’s most recent album, shut him in a room — it might even have been a bungalow at the Beverly Hills hotel — for a weekend, and told him to write some songs. When Sloan emerged, it was with “Eve of Destruction”. After Barri had added a couple of lines (to be precise: “You may leave here for four days in space / But when you return it’s the same old place,” he told the New York Times‘s obituaries writer this week), it was ready for its destiny as a worldwide hit for Barry McGuire.

Sloan quickly came up with other soft-protest folk-rock songs, including “The Sins of a Family”, which became his own single, “Leave Me Be” for the Turtles, and “Take Me For What I’m Worth” for the Searchers. But after he returned from a trip to London with McGuire, during which they both appeared on Top of the Pops, Barri noted a change. “When he came back he was never really the same person,” he told Richard Cromelin of the LA Times. “There was no more joking around. Everything was very serious, and he was angry. After a while he just broke off all relationships with everybody and we lost contact for many, many years.”

Those lost years, which included addiction and mental illness, prompted Jimmy Webb to write “P.F. Sloan” in 1970. Sloan had re-emerged long before Rumer covered Webb’s song a couple of years ago, and in 2006 he re-recorded the biggest hit from his catalogue as part of an album for the Hightone label, produced by Jon Tiven. It’s a wonderful version, making “Eve of Destruction” sound like the serious song the 19-year-old composer had probably intended it to be. Here he is that year, performing the song in a Los Angeles club.

His original demo is on an album called Here’s Where I Belong, a selection of his recordings for Adler’s Dunhill label between 1965 and 1967, compiled by Tim Forster for Ace’s Big Beat label. As well as the better known songs, it reveals gems — previously unknown to me — like “From a Distance” and “I Can’t Help But Wonder, Elizabeth”, which he released under the name Philip Sloan. There’s also an album in Ace’s songwriters series devoted to the songs of Sloan and Barri. It’s called You Baby and it features, among many other goodies, the Mamas and the Papas’ version of the title track. Sloan had played one of the two acoustic guitars on intro to their “California Dreamin'”: another decent claim to immortality.

* The photograph of P.F Sloan is from the cover of Here’s Where I Belong, released in 2008.

Nico in London, 1971

I’ve spent a lot of time in Berlin over the past year, and every time I walk past the giant KaDeWe department store on the Ku’damm, I think of Nico. It’s where in 1953 she hung around one of the entrances, a beautiful blonde 15-year-old hoping to be spotted by someone from the fashion department. She got lucky, and from there her career took her to Paris, Rome, London (making a single for Andrew Loog Oldham’s new Immediate label in 1965), and New York, where she joined Andy Warhol’s troupe of “superstars”.

She returned to London in March 1970, her hair now the dark red favoured by her former lover, Jim Morrison. I arranged to meet her for an interview one Monday afternoon at her hotel, the Princess Lodge, off Kensington High Street. We went to a pub on Church Street, opposite Biba. She talked about going off to Ibiza, perhaps permanently (she would die there 18 years later). At some point during our conversation, a middle-aged man in a tweed suit came and sat down quite close to us. She didn’t seem to have met him before but soon she was saying goodbye and the two of them were leaving the pub together and disappearing down the street. I never quite worked that one out.

She was, of course, a marvellous enigma. Or not so marvellous, if you didn’t like the noise she made when she fired up her portable Indian harmonium and emitted that stentorian contralto, a voice like a church organ pipe. I loved it.

She made two appearances at the Roundhouse that month, and then vanished. A year later she was back, and a lot more people wanted to interview her. We were on the brink of the belated embrace of the Velvet Underground and all their works. So on February 2, 1971 she was in a BBC studio to record a session for John Peel.

This month the four songs she taped that day are released on a 12-inch 45rpm EP by Gearbox Records, the vinyl-only label based in King’s Cross, under the title Nico 1971: The BBC Session. The songs are “No One Is There” and “Frozen Warnings” (from The Marble Index), “Janitor of Lunacy” (from Desertshore) and “Secret Side”, which would be recorded three years later for The End, her Island album.

What these recordings allow us to appreciate is the strength of her performance. Her voice was always consistent in its accuracy and confidence; what also strikes one here is the strength of her playing of the small pump-organ. She was a very late starter in music: her soul-mate Morrison taught her how to write a lyric, and she bought the harmonium from a hippie in San Francisco in 1967.

According to her biographer Richard Witts (Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon, Virgin Books, 1993), Ornette Coleman told her that the normal way to approach a keyboard was to play the chords with the left hand in the lower register and the melody higher up with the right hand. He suggested that she might try reversing the process — which she did, with striking results.

Witts also reports Viva, another Warhol superstar, remembering that Nico practised the instrument incessantly: “She had this fucking harmonium… she would practise it for hours, simple things, chords — really annoying stuff — for hours on end. She was very serious about it, dreadfully serious, like a Nazi organist. She’d pull the curtains across and light candles around her and do this funereal singing all day long. It was like I was living in a funeral parlour.”

Whatever torture her housemates endured, it turned out to be a perfect combination, enabling Nico to perform in more or less any environment, with or without accompanying musicians, for the rest of her career. John Cale did a wonderful job of adding startlingly original arrangements to The Marble Index, Desertshore and The End, but it’s interesting to be reminded by these four tracks — broadcast on Peel’s Top Gear on Saturday, February 20, 1971 — of how she could manage perfectly well without that armature.

* The signature is from a letter Nico wrote me in 1974, shortly before the release of The End, asking — too late, alas — for certain minor modifications to the artwork, including a request to make the title look more like that on the sleeve of the Doors’ albums.

Julia Holter in Islington

julia-holter-2015When I told my friend Howard Thompson that I was going to see Julia Holter at the Islington Assembly Hall last night, he said: “You should listen to her cover of ‘Hello Stranger’.” Although Howard and I have been talking to each other about music for 40 years, he was unaware that the original “Hello Stranger”, by Barbara Lewis, has been among my very favourites since it came out in the summer of 1963. It’s a perfect record, and it has a lot of memories for me. So I was not necessarily open to the idea of a cover version by some young West Coast singer-songwriter, even if she did study composition at CalArts.

It’s on Holter’s fourth album, Loud City Song, the one before her new one, Have You in My Wilderness, which is just out. And Howard was right. Her cover of “Hello Stranger” is fascinatingly inventive, removing the metred rhythm and the “shoo-bop shoo-bop” motif, embedding an introspective vocal treatment within surges of sustained strings and effects, turning the song into a memory of itself. Here it is; it’s a strange and lovely thing.

The concert was rather wonderful. From the start it was obvious that Holter is not afraid of silence. She came on with her three excellent musicians (bassist Devin Hoff, drummer Corey Fogel and viola-player Dina Macabee) and when the applause had died down she spent a couple of thoughtful minutes adjusting the settings on her Nord keyboard before embarking on the first song.

What she does is art music with the occasional pop hook, like a gorgeous chord change in the mysterious “Vasquez” — the sort of thing that can suddenly pull you inside the music — and the stutter-skipping verses of “Feel You”. The textures produced by the four musicians ranged all over the place, from baroque viola and harpsichord intros to fragments of deep swing from drums and bass (a bodiless electric upright with a great sound). The contrasts, sharp but never jarring, are controlled by tight editing: an abundance of ideas, but no sprawl. Occasionally a piece will conclude with a perfectly formed coda containing new material; she clearly has no shortage of that. Her voice can change from song to song, the tone and attack manipulated in a variety of ways, the vowels and consonants subjected to different shaping and attack, creating a subtly new character for the piece in question. Not many singers do that.

Holter has a very compelling stage presence. She’s a bit of an actress, but in a good way. Her serious face breaks into sudden knowing smiles at unexpected moments, there’s a bit of business with the hair (although not too much), and she inhabits each song fully. So do we.

* The photograph of Julia Holter is by Tonje Thilesen.

Allen Toussaint 1938-2015

Allen Toussaint 2When someone like Allen Toussaint dies, you go straight to your record collection. In this case the first disc I pulled out was Lee Dorsey’s “Freedom for the Stallion”, one of the most quietly moving songs to come out of the civil rights era: “Big ships sailing / Slaves all chained and bound / Heading for a brand-new land / That some cat said he upped and found / Lord, have mercy, what you gonna do / About the people who are praying to you / They got men making laws that destroy other men / They made money, Lord, it’s a doggone sin / Oh Lord, you got to help us find a way.”

Toussaint’s mournful arrangement — the slow-drag snare and bass drum, the rolling piano, the funeral-band horns — creates the perfect setting for Dorsey’s reflective vocal. There’s a great little moment at 2:24 when the tenor player starts testifying, as though unable to help himself. Such beauty.

And then Betty Wright’s “Shoorah Shoorah”, which Toussaint didn’t produce or arrange. What a song, though, inspiring a performance from a singer in delicious torment: “I check you out from the corner of my eye / You and the Devil walking side by side / You ain’t changed, let’s be real about it / And I can’t change how I feel about it.” Like Curtis Mayfield, Toussaint had a deep and natural understanding of the human condition.

Finally, here’s one he arranged and produced but didn’t write: Lou Johnson’s version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Walk on By”, in which an uptown song is taken for a ride all the way down to the edge of town, right where the swamp begins.

I spent a couple of hours with Toussaint last year, at the behest of Uncut magazine. He was wonderful value as he talked about his long history, beginning with learning to play boogie-woogie on the piano during his New Orleans childhood. “I was brought up very Catholic – a lot of Bach and classical music,” he told me. “But I heard a lot of gospel music in the baptist and holy-roller churches around the neighbourhood, and I fell in love with it, just like boogie-woogie. I first heard Professor Longhair on record, and I thought, ‘Good heavens – this is the way I want to go.’ I knew he was from New Orleans, but I wasn’t of an age where I could be where he was performing. All the kids around who tinkered with the piano, we all tried to play like Professor Longhair. One kid would have a few more notes of his music than the rest, and we’d feed off each other. So we came up as his disciples. My mother listened to Strauss and so on, so I heard that, and on the radio there was a lot of hillbilly music with the tinkling saloon pianos, and I loved that, too. It wasn’t hard to get that kind of sound, once you knew the formula. And I loved polkas. So I just found myself having equal respect for all of the genres, and everything I heard, I began trying to play.”

It’s all there, from “Do-Re-Mi” through “Fortune Teller” and “Mother in Law” to “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky” and “Yes We Can”, and on to the fabulous Bright Mississippi album of 2009: the music of a very great man.

Winterreise

Loch_Siegfried_by_Barbara_EismannIn the full-fat era of the record industry, Siggi Loch was a very big cheese. Starting out as a teenaged Sidney Bechet fan in Hannover in the early 1950s, he played drums with his own band, the Red Onions, before taking a job as a sales rep with EMI-Electrola in 1960, aged 20. From there he became a label manager at Phonogram in Hamburg, making his first album as a producer with the saxophonist Klaus Doldinger in 1962. He moved on to Liberty/United Artists, where he was installed as managing director of a stable including Can and Amon Duul II, the pioneering German rock bands. In 1971 he joined WEA Hamburg, then the umbrella company for Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Elektra and their associated labels in Germany, becoming chairman of WEA International from 1983-87: an extremely powerful position within an industry then at the peak of its prosperity.

When he left WEA, it was with a plan that involved something more ambitious than staring at his collection of contemporary art. As he told me during a conversation over a cup of coffee in Berlin a few months ago, he wanted to return to jazz, his first love, and to put something back, via his own independent label. Based in Munich, ACT currently releases around two dozen albums a year, having become widely known for its successes with the Swedish trio of the late pianist Esbjörn Svensson and, more recently, the German piano prodigy Michael Wollny.

The obvious comparison is with another Munich-based label identified by three letters: Manfred Eicher’s ECM. But, despite their similarities (including a fondness for giving their artwork a unified look based on the founder’s personal aesthetic), the two diverge in important ways. ACT is less identified with a sound, or a particular way of recording. Loch’s taste — or at least his vision of what his label should present to the public — is looser and more eclectic. He also presents concerts, including the annual Jazz at the Philharmonie, which revives the old Berlin Jazz Festival tradition of staging events at the grand home of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

In recent months, while Loch has been celebrating his 75th birthday, ACT has put out two albums that, while unlikely to shift units in EST or Wollny quantities, seem to me to be among the year’s outstanding releases. As it happens, both are by quartets with similar instrumentation: saxophone, guitar, double bass and drums. Curiously — and, I’m sure, coincidentally — the two albums share a preoccupation more usually associated with the other Munich label: a desire to paint sound-pictures of winter landscapes.

Slow Snow is a set of quietly gorgeous tone poems that find the Norwegian saxophonist and composer Tore Brunborg accompanied by three compatriots: the guitarist Eivind Aarset, the bassist Steinar Raknes and the drummer Per Oddvar Johansen. Brunborg’s lovely melodies are enhanced by an almost subliminal but telling use of electronics (contributed by Aarset and Johansen), with the leader doubling to good effect on piano. On a piece like “Tune In” the air of restraint makes Aarset’s guitar distortion all the more telling, his chords creating a mood of suppressed hysteria as Brunborg deploys his fine tone in a solo against a background that rises and falls like a house-trained version of King Crimson’s “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic”. If this is the kind of jazz — calm, spacious, reflective, underplayed, sometimes pastoral in mood, with a muted but glowing lyricism — one has come to expect from Norwegians over the past 40 years, then the sheer brilliance of the writing and playing enables it to escape any charge of predictability with ease.

Winter Light is a more extrovert affair, under the leadership of the gifted American guitarist and composer Scott DuBois, who evokes the example of Claude Monet in his desire to capture shifting light in changing seasons. Completed by the German saxophonist Gebhard Ullmann, the double bassist Thomas Morgan and the drummer Kresten Osgood, the quartet has been together for eight years and its members show every sign of great familiarity with each other’s playing. DuBois’s compositions — with titles like “Late Morning Snow” and “Night Tundra” — are devised to make the most of the musicians’ ability to go from inside to outside with complete naturalness; on the opening “First Light Tundra”, in fact, the gentle textures of the main theme are occasionally and very effectively interrupted by squalls of free playing, most notably from the bass clarinet of the remarkable Ullmann, a veteran who deserves to be better known. My admiration of Morgan is underlined by his unflagging brilliance throughout this set, in partnership with Osgood’s vigorous drumming; together they rise to the challenge set by DuBois’s furiously inventive solo on “Early Morning Forest”.

If these albums certainly make a good accompaniment to the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere, it has to be said that they’d sound good in any season: the other quality that unites them, beneath their frost-bitten tune titles, is an underlying warmth. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

* The photograph of Siggi Loch is by Barbara Elsmann (c) ACT.