These are recordings from rehearsals, and one radio show, recorded between October 1988 and February 1989. They show the band working its way through various arrangements and songs, many of which would eventually disappear from the set by even the time of our first club date, at Be-Bop Records on 2/8/89.
Here are notes by myself and Hyam Sosnow on individual tracks. George Radai's recollections of his time in Cold Sky follows below.
1. Clear Day (11/?/88).
GS: There are lots of recorded versions of "Clear Day" by the 3-piece version of Cold Sky, many of them good. Some are favorites because they show off the structure of the song beautifully; others because one or all of us were particularly on the ball that day, and played something memorable and worth making available for repeated listens. The structure is open to improvisation, the solos change most of the time, and there would never be two identical versions. Even so, I didn't want to pick one unless it stood out in some way. In this case, the structural representation is pretty mushy, not solid enough that I would consider it "definitive"; not a big deal though, since that has been handled well elsewhere. There is something of historical note, in that Hyam hadn't yet decided he was going to compose and repeat the same 16-bar drum solo; that came later, and survives as part of the song to this day. Beyond historical differences, the band's energy here is very high with the three of us just tearing through the piece, which I think will make it an enjoyable listen for people. I think the standout on it is George's bass solo, which is probably the best we ever got on tape. It's lyrical and inventive and also, thankfully, totally audible.
HS: Even though this is early in our history of playing the song, I’m surprised at how closely this version of “Clear Day” sticks to the way Greg and I have played it in various bands ever since. Regarding the 16-bar drum break, after listening to dozens of versions of the song on tape during the Cold Sky and early Dog Neutral days I felt that it required a drum break with a definite structure and musical shape that would form a natural bridge back into the head at the very end. Most of the time my improvised solos simply didn’t cut it (they tended to be musically too unfocused) so I composed a solo that I thought worked and have played it verbatim ever since.
2. Nothing New (11/??88).
GS: We did this and "Delusions" run together (as on "A Man Who Was Here"), all the way through the history of the band, but in my opinion it rarely worked. This particular recording of "Nothing New" is an absolute butt-kicker, and I thought it deserved to be available.
HS: This is as close to punk drumming that you’ll ever hear me play. (I’ve never been never fond of punk music — basically a bunch of no-talent fakers who succeeded in selling anger as art.) There’s lots of energy here, and it's fun to listen to, especially for the contrast it makes with most of the other music Greg and I have created together over the last 20(!) years.
3. Please Say You'll Stay (#1) (10/8/88).
GS: I had always intended for Cold Sky to cover a lot of territory, including shorter, pop type material. (Think Cream or Hendrix; you have great radio friendly songs, and when you play live, you stretch out. There are no conceptual limits on your territory.) Yes, this is kind of hard-edged for a pop song, but then again if it came out today nobody'd think twice about that. The lyrics are definitely the work of a much younger man; but everybody can look back and shake their heads at things if they live long enough. (Bear in mind that as far as I'm concerned, if they're making somebody happy today, it doesn't matter what I currently think of them; and I hope said hypothetical person keeps on enjoying them.) This version features: some pretty decent straight playing from all of us; shaky-but-almost-there harmony vocals; a very questionable choice to sing high in the middle section; and one of my better pop guitar solos. I think Hyam and George are really good on this. But this song, and others of its type, really ran against the dynamic of the band, and eventually, this would show.
HS: I guess it’s mostly my fault that Cold Sky never sounded quite comfortable playing, as Greg says: “shorter, pop type material”. You can plainly hear that I’m just not locking-into any sort of groove with George on this song. Rather than keeping things simple, I’m playing a boogaloo-type beat that’s way too busy for the song (and way too busy to gel with George’s completely appropriate bass line). This is certainly one instance when my quest not to play what’s expected has been detrimental to the success of the music. Live and loin.
4. Energetic (2/??89).
GS: This is an improv from a tape recorded shortly after the 2/8/89 Be-Bop Records show. We wanted to just relax and unwind and do some jamming. As usual, we recorded, hoping to catch something which could later be turned into a piece, or to capture some bit of once-only magic. I don't know if this is magic but I think it's pretty damned good; at very least, it deserves better than to stay sitting unheard on a shelf.
HS: For my money I think that the standout element of this is definitely Greg’s playing — you can hear how his ideas are germinating one after the other, especially during the first five minutes or so. Once we break-free from the strict 5/4 meter things really loosen-up and flow. The quarter-note walking that George begins at around 6:43 really creates lots of musical space in which we roam free, yet it firmly anchors everything.
5. intro at KXLU (11/20/88).
GS: This gig...oh man. Lots to tell. Most of it bad.
This was to be our first public performance, after a very long time rehearsing. I had booked it way in advance, before I knew that a friend of mine was going to be getting married earlier that day. This was a good friend and I agreed to go to the wedding, despite liking to keep gig days open; and even worse, being asked to wear all white to the beach, in keeping with the wedding's sweet new age theme. Wearing all white may not seem like an odd or particularly difficult request for most people; but to anyone who knows me, it wouldn't be far off from asking me to wear raw chickens on my feet and glittery silver underwear. (In fact, I might have preferred that.) A white shirt, OK- beyond that, are you kidding? But, this was a good friend, so I did it. It was a long drive out from North Hollywood to Malibu in my somewhat unreliable car. I arrived with my hair down, in white everything, hoping to look enlightened but more probably looking somewhat like a demented orderly. I figured if I managed not to scare anybody I was doing all right. (The white polyester pants I wore definitely scared me.) The ceremony went well and everyone went back to Topanga Canyon for the reception. Here I had my first taste of macrobiotic food. I liked it, but for some reason it didn't like me. (Could have been a clash with all those years of cheap Ramen, 7-11 Slim-Jims and tubs of ice cream.) I was going to have to head back home to get ready for the gig anyway, but this made my need to get home a little more dire. I wished the bride and groom well, and drove home screaming and pounding the dashboard as the contents of my intestines fought hard to come out for some air. The cramps got bad shortly after I left and it was something like a 45 minute drive home. I managed to make it but to say it was exhausting doesn't quite do the experience justice. (I think at the time I described it as being like passing a lit skyrocket with a Brillo pad on the end.)
Once the macrobiotic laxative left me hollowed out, I decided to skip dinner (too risky), and get a move on for the gig, which was fast approaching. I changed clothes, carted my several hundred pounds of gear down two flights of stairs and security doors, and drove the hour out to KXLU. Luckily they had an elevator, and most of the time it worked. I don't recall if it worked that night. But this was the state I was in for our first live show.
As we were setting up, we discussed the band name. I had booked us as "Night Circus", which was our second name for a while (the first being "TFX"). None of us actually wanted to use it, but we couldn't come up with an alternative. We ran through some of the old alternatives again, and seconds before we went on the air, we discovered none of us had any problem with "Cold Sky". So I ran in to tell the host what our new name was, and that's how we were announced. Hyam hadn't been up there before (unlike George and I who had been there uncountable times in the preceding 5 years), so his full name wasn't known as we were going on. I got back into the booth just in time to grab my guitar for the first song.
That's Howlin' M. Segal offering slightly off-mic commentary from the background, in the control booth.
The playing that night was rough, and the mix that went out over the air was even worse. The vocals were way too loud, and the guitar was most often the lowest thing in the mix- bad news for a trio that does a lot of instrumental work.
6. The Invasion (11/20/88).
GS: This is, in my opinion, the sole usable piece from that show. I wanted to include an early version of this, because instead of the martial section (as heard on "Cold Sky Live At Be-Bop Records 2/8/89"), there was a very tribal-sounding drum solo. There's a rehearsal version that has what might be an even better solo, but the rest of the piece isn't performed as well; this drum solo is excellent, mixed right up front, and that, in addition to the song being the only thing I could see using from the gig, put it over the top for inclusion on this CD. At some point in the "latin" section, the Van Der Hammill influence briefly took full possession of my vocal chords, and growled for everyone out there in radioland.
HS: I have almost no memory whatsoever of this gig, save for Greg’s running-into the studio just in time to begin playing and how cramped we all were in that tiny performance space (“Curse you, o’ large drum setup! Thou wicked temptress has led me down the path to perdition yet again!”). Judging from the recording, it’s clear that the station engineer was mixing us “on the fly”, with the drums ridiculously loud at the very beginning. I definitely prefer this song with the martial section (as heard on the “Live At Be-Bop Records” CD, recorded 2-1/2 months after this broadcast) to the plain vanilla drum solo we have here. Although it’s not a bad drum solo, it really brings little to the song, while the martial section adds a whole other sinister dimension to Greg’s deliciously sinister composition. Comparing the earlier version of this piece here with the one available on “Live At Be-Bop Records” really shows how Cold Sky was evolving with an ear towards making the music stronger.
7. KXLU banter (11/20/88).
GS: At this point there was some dead air, and the DJ came in to announce who we were, what we were doing, etc., not realizing that Hyam was preparing to introduce the band from one of his overhead mics. He reveals his full name. Brother M. joins the chant. Hyam then cues us up for "Under The Bridge"....
8. Under The Bridge (10/8/88)
GS:....but of course, this is from a session other than KXLU, since there was no point in anthologizing a 7-minute trio instrumental with a too-distant guitar. Besides, this version from over a month previous is way better. As in the version of Clear Day presented here, the structure is just OK, but the rest shreds. It also features the 12-string much more audibly than the version from the 2/8/89 Be Bop gig, and includes a section with a slide which was later dropped in favor of the melodic bar chord bit from later versions. And check out George's melodic playing at the end...ultra cool. With this piece, even moreso than with Clear Day, the basic cues and sections are known, but their arrangement and content are highly improvisational. So, yes...yet another version of this, and more to come too.
HS: This is a good, solid version of this song. By this time we had the structure nailed-down (slide being exchanged for bar chords notwithstanding), and except for one absolutely extraordinary recorded version (coming very soon on "Jugalbandi Classic"), whether played by Cold Sky, Dog Neutral or Jugalbandi, “Under The Bridge” has remained pretty much as you hear it here.
9. Nights Without Time (2/?/89).
GS: Here's a creepy, moody improvisation from our "stretching out" day. I think this and "Energetic" really show that this band was capable of the same kinds of things Hyam and I would later do with Jugalbandi. Of course- we had Paper Bag's bass player, obviously no stranger to improvising. George does a whole lot of the driving on this one.
HS: Boy, this one is really reminiscent of King Crimson during their Red period. (Can ‘cha tell that we’re all big KC fans?) George is indeed in the driver’s seat for most of this, and he shows just how capable a driver he is, pulling-out chops and ideas that would do Wetton proud.
10. Please Say You'll Stay (#2) (11/?/88).
GS: As you may have noticed, this rehearsal yielded a lot of material for this CD. It was the last rehearsal before the 11/20 KXLU show, and I can tell you we played a whole lot better here than there. We may also have been trying to show off for company- old pal Richard Derrick was hanging out in the studio with us that night.
By this time, a mere month and a couple of weeks after the one on track 3, the song had grown noticeably bigger balls: check out Hyam's double bass drums on the chorus, George's fills, and my much less restrained solo and vocals. Everything works well all the way up to that last vocal harmony- a horrible, hanging-out-there mess.
11. The Please Say You'll Stay Variations (11/?/88).
GS: Unfortunately, that little bit of botched vocal was the last straw for this tune, for all of us. Amongst the post-song banter here, you can hear Hyam say we'd worked on this one more than any other piece, and he was right. I might have been willing to keep going with it, but I felt so completely demoralized by not being able to nail everything after this much time that the doubts were difficult to shake. The other guys were, I think, only too willing to let it go- it was just a little too pop. While the band may have originated around my songwriting and my vision, no band can really stay that way, and will always become a blend of the players' tastes and tendencies. It's my opinion that as a unit, when it came down to it we were fundamentally more comfortable playing less mainstream music, and would inevitably drift in that direction (as we did). On this track we basically parody the song to death. At the time it was just some silly fun, but the bits of "Over The Rainbow" I noodle during discussion were ultimately prophetic. We decided it wasn't ready for the KXLU show, and despite mention of working on it at a future rehearsal, we never played it again.
(In retrospect: despite how it seemed then, there really wasn't that much time spent on this, if you count actual time played. We rehearsed once a week, whenever possible- George and I were very, very busy gigging and recording with Paper Bag, and Hyam traveled a lot as part of his job. Needless to say, there were quite a few gaps in the alleged "once a week" schedule. So we relied on our semi-regular rehearsals and raw talent to pull tight renditions out of the proverbial hat. I think we needed at least a solid two rehearsals a week, if not more, in order to pull off properly tight material. That never happened but I think we did pretty well, all things considered.)
HS (on Please Say You'll Stay #2): I must disagree with Greg about the botched vocal being this tune’s last straw. I think that what really killed it was my failure to come-up with an appropriate drum feel, which caused the song never to properly gel. (Although my double-bass pattern on the chorus does add some balls, it still doesn’t really fit, and shows that I was heading in what turned-out to be the completely wrong direction for the song.) Whatever the official cause, here you have the opportunity to hear a song’s death knell. And what’s a death knell without a eulogy, which brings us to...
(The Please Say You'll Stay Variations): I’m SO glad that Greg included this little gem on this disc. The post-mortem bossa-nova and march versions of the song are hilarious. (You think that Springsteen or U2 screw-around like this during rehearsals? I sure hope so; their music is certainly ripe for parody.)
George Radai on Cold Sky:
Cold Sky was for me a sort of a transitional phase. It always had the feel of a temporary project, partially because as I recall rehearsals were kind of sporadic, gigs were few and far between, and it being Greg’s first band-leader outing, it had a lot of that ‘making it up as I go along’ sort of feel. Don’t misunderstand me; Greg always knew what he wanted and how he wanted it—what was informal was the way to present the material. Because this band kept me playing during PB’s hiatus I really enjoyed it, and it was the first composed music project I had been in for quite some time, even though there was lots of jamming involved.
I had many personal challenges in my life at the time, so I am afraid that I was often not as committed to the project in spirit as I might have been. However, Greg’s material was so good, and his playing and Hyam’s and (later) Leon’s so inspired, that even though I would moan about the work involved in the project, once we started playing I forgot all my cares and dug in with the rest, and we would shred until our fingers bled.
I had some technical challenges to overcome too, as I recall. My basses and amps were wearing out and I was trying to get by without using masses of effects as I had with PB. This band called for a more direct, more in-your-face rock approach. Greg is something of a rock ‘classicist’ and really knows how to milk the genre for all it’s worth.
His guitar playing in CS is like an unholy melding of Pete Townshend, Robert Fripp, & Frank Zappa. Hyam was this drum chameleon—his playing was this seamless blend of rock, jazz, and tribal elements, and I always envied how effortless his great playing seemed. I was just trying to keep up and be solid, but add some harmonic ideas and fill out whatever space was left! In any 3-piece band, the bass role is both more and less confined than in any other configuration—you have to fill more space, but you also have to have a very solid foundation for the other two guys to play over. You have to know when to speak and when to stay out of the way. In CS, since the emphasis was on instrumental interaction and tightly-knit arrangements, this was always a challenge, and I love a challenge. I tried to use all the experience I had accrued from improvising with PB, and all the controlled chops that I had copped off of practicing to prog and jazz fusion records for years, and make something cool out of it. As I am fond of saying, I always tried to build basslines that would be memorable and meaningful in and of themselves, so that even if you took them out of the context of the band they would still have musicality to them. Cold Sky was always a workout.
In terms of the variety of the material, I was divided on which I liked better—the longer jam-filled pieces or the short pop-ish songs. I think Greg’s greatest compositional strength showed best in those tightly-crafted shorter songs—I always felt that with the right production they had “hit record” all over them. The jams, however, were the crowd-pleasers. I’d have been very interested to take this material into a pro recording environment to see how it would have translated, because I really think that CS was not a studio band, per se. It was a live energy-packed steamroller, and found its best example in front of a crowd, as few times as that was.