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Medical Grade Music

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Steve Davis first met Kavus Torabi - guitarist with Gong, Guapo, Cardiacs and Knifeworld - in the mid-2000's at a gig by French underground rock legends Magma. Over the next few years, this unlikely duo's shared affinity for visionary psychedelic music would become the foundation of not only a firm friendship, but also the most infectiously inclusive broadcasting style sin Steve Davis first met Kavus Torabi - guitarist with Gong, Guapo, Cardiacs and Knifeworld - in the mid-2000's at a gig by French underground rock legends Magma. Over the next few years, this unlikely duo's shared affinity for visionary psychedelic music would become the foundation of not only a firm friendship, but also the most infectiously inclusive broadcasting style since the much-mourned death of John Peel. In their weekly radio shows and a one-of-a-kind live DJ roadshow which included a legendary appearance at Glastonbury, Steve and Kavus mapped out a musical landscape of rare enchantment, where the only passport needed was a pair of open ears. No-one, least of all Davis and Torabi themselves, was expecting the 6-time former World Snooker champion and a British-Iranian underground rock musician to become one of the most trusted brands in British alternative music. As Steve and Kavus were starting to get to grips with the challenge of their newfound status, events took a further unexpected turn. Suddenly they found themselves in a band together. And not just any band ... as two thirds of Britain's (if not the world's) leading harmonium, guitar and analogue synth power-trio (with Michael J.York of Coil)The Utopia Strong, the two friends found themselves plunging into a vortex of spontaneous compositional excitement. How Steve and Kavus pulled this off is just one of the many questions MEDICAL GRADE MUSIC will try to answer. Part sonic memoir, part Socratic dialogue, part gonzo mission to the heart of what makes music truly psychedelic this book is the first work of joint autobiography to ever trace the evolution of a life-changing friendship through the discographies of Gentle Giant and Voivod. From the chip-shops of Plumstead to the the wildest shores of Plymouth's nineties thrash scene. it's a funny and fearless buddy movie of the soul, with a soundtrack that will make your eyes bleed.


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Steve Davis first met Kavus Torabi - guitarist with Gong, Guapo, Cardiacs and Knifeworld - in the mid-2000's at a gig by French underground rock legends Magma. Over the next few years, this unlikely duo's shared affinity for visionary psychedelic music would become the foundation of not only a firm friendship, but also the most infectiously inclusive broadcasting style sin Steve Davis first met Kavus Torabi - guitarist with Gong, Guapo, Cardiacs and Knifeworld - in the mid-2000's at a gig by French underground rock legends Magma. Over the next few years, this unlikely duo's shared affinity for visionary psychedelic music would become the foundation of not only a firm friendship, but also the most infectiously inclusive broadcasting style since the much-mourned death of John Peel. In their weekly radio shows and a one-of-a-kind live DJ roadshow which included a legendary appearance at Glastonbury, Steve and Kavus mapped out a musical landscape of rare enchantment, where the only passport needed was a pair of open ears. No-one, least of all Davis and Torabi themselves, was expecting the 6-time former World Snooker champion and a British-Iranian underground rock musician to become one of the most trusted brands in British alternative music. As Steve and Kavus were starting to get to grips with the challenge of their newfound status, events took a further unexpected turn. Suddenly they found themselves in a band together. And not just any band ... as two thirds of Britain's (if not the world's) leading harmonium, guitar and analogue synth power-trio (with Michael J.York of Coil)The Utopia Strong, the two friends found themselves plunging into a vortex of spontaneous compositional excitement. How Steve and Kavus pulled this off is just one of the many questions MEDICAL GRADE MUSIC will try to answer. Part sonic memoir, part Socratic dialogue, part gonzo mission to the heart of what makes music truly psychedelic this book is the first work of joint autobiography to ever trace the evolution of a life-changing friendship through the discographies of Gentle Giant and Voivod. From the chip-shops of Plumstead to the the wildest shores of Plymouth's nineties thrash scene. it's a funny and fearless buddy movie of the soul, with a soundtrack that will make your eyes bleed.

30 review for Medical Grade Music

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Dembina

    Well, this is a first. Finally a book that bucks the trend of starting out as a 5* job before gradually sliding down to a 3 by the time its completed. Initially I was not impressed by the writing quality, especially the Steve Davis sections but was soon won over by their sheer enthusiasm for the music they love so much and musicians that have inspired them. Steve Davis's transition from world champion sportsman to left-field DJ and then on to actually playing with the Utopia Strong is incredible. Well, this is a first. Finally a book that bucks the trend of starting out as a 5* job before gradually sliding down to a 3 by the time its completed. Initially I was not impressed by the writing quality, especially the Steve Davis sections but was soon won over by their sheer enthusiasm for the music they love so much and musicians that have inspired them. Steve Davis's transition from world champion sportsman to left-field DJ and then on to actually playing with the Utopia Strong is incredible. Not just playing along but contributing in an improvisational trio. All credit to the man.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ray Smillie

    I had been contemplating buying this book but it was the appearance of Steve Davis and Kavus Torabi on Sunday Brunch (a programme I generally avoid tbh) that gave me the impetus to actually purchase it. Steve Davis is wonderfully irreverent at times and shows a good knowledge of music and not just in the prog rock genre, whilst Kavus Torabi just bleeds music which is his life. The layout is chronological, starting with the first chapter by Steve Davis, the second by Kavus Torabi, third Steve Davi I had been contemplating buying this book but it was the appearance of Steve Davis and Kavus Torabi on Sunday Brunch (a programme I generally avoid tbh) that gave me the impetus to actually purchase it. Steve Davis is wonderfully irreverent at times and shows a good knowledge of music and not just in the prog rock genre, whilst Kavus Torabi just bleeds music which is his life. The layout is chronological, starting with the first chapter by Steve Davis, the second by Kavus Torabi, third Steve Davis then, well you get the picture. A few chapters has them both making contributions. Sounds potentially dull however it is far from boring whilst interesting is an understatement. Thanks to them both (said through gritted teeth) I have a number of bands and albums i need to check out, when I have the spare cash. You are drawn into their world from the first page and my interest did not wane. Kavus speaks about Cardiacs' Garage concerts of which we had tickets for the first two of three. Due to a family funeral we never made the first gig but did get to the second to experience the best ever rendition of Dirty Boy, which can be found on YouTube. Watch it. It still moves me to tears. Did I enjoy Medical Grade Music? What do you think?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Peter Draper

    Ex-snooker player meets touring musician and ex-Gong member (amongst other groups) and hosts a show on Phoenix FM before creating a new band themselves. Thanks for 1) pointing me at more music than I'll ever be able to listen to 2) telling me about a show which I'd have loved to listen to (but at least there's a wealth of archived shows online) 3) reminding me of the Henry Cow LP someone lent me at school in my teenage years and I never got round to hearing again - until now! P.S. Please bring T Ex-snooker player meets touring musician and ex-Gong member (amongst other groups) and hosts a show on Phoenix FM before creating a new band themselves. Thanks for 1) pointing me at more music than I'll ever be able to listen to 2) telling me about a show which I'd have loved to listen to (but at least there's a wealth of archived shows online) 3) reminding me of the Henry Cow LP someone lent me at school in my teenage years and I never got round to hearing again - until now! P.S. Please bring The Utopia Strong to Malvern in Worcestershire.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Joe Richards

    To preface my review with a personal disclaimer: I feel I very much fit the niche demographic of this book. It's written by two people whom I've had the privilege to befriend over the past six years. The chapter list reads like an insight into my own personal music collection and the content reflects my own transition from music fan to musician. I'll try to maintain objectivity where I can, but I make no promises. First and foremost: Medical Grade Music is a book written primarily and passionate To preface my review with a personal disclaimer: I feel I very much fit the niche demographic of this book. It's written by two people whom I've had the privilege to befriend over the past six years. The chapter list reads like an insight into my own personal music collection and the content reflects my own transition from music fan to musician. I'll try to maintain objectivity where I can, but I make no promises. First and foremost: Medical Grade Music is a book written primarily and passionately about music, packed with care, consideration, wit, wisdom, emotional investment and attention to detail. Each chapter bears the title of a musical group or artist who appears in some scale or degree throughout the corresponding chapter, generally acting as a pebble in the pond from which the book's more autobiographical elements ripple outwards. These artists range from French Zeuhl legends Magma to underground British electronic maestro The Gasman, and of course to the band(s) our writers themselves have been involved with. If these are names you haven't heard before, prepare for a crash course in the interesting alternative. Structurally, we have two timelines operating at entirely different meters, ultimately synchronising in a fittingly Reichian manner. Kavus' chapters flow as you might expect of a musician's autobiography - a chronology of musical endeavours punctuating a thoroughly colourful lifetime of creativity, relationships, friendships, a sizeable portion of hedonism and a healthy helping of happenstance. Having already published an autobiography called 'Interesting', Steve's chapters are more of a reflection on what he calls his 'second life' - a collection of events that naturally led towards music taking central stage in a life more famously known for something completely unrelated. Both accounts detail the respective authors' enthusiasm for organised sound, but follow wildly different trajectories and bear notably different tones; Kavus is self-critical, occasionally reconciliatory and, whilst having generally aligned with the free spirits, is ultimately goal-driven, bursting with vision, focus and capability. Steve, on the other hand, speaks lightly with the joie de vivre of a man born anew as he voyages into what he previously considered an untouchable plane; although not without his own reflections of times, relationships and lives now gone by, Steve is perhaps more keen to look to the future as Kavus accounts for the past. Having found each other, however, their perspectives align in an inspiring appreciation of the present. One aspect of the book I found particularly enticing was the contrasting musical self-analysis of our pop-pickers. Kavus isn't afraid to don his theory hat, enthusing about the magical qualities of the Lydian mode, intertwining polyrhythms and odd time signatures (all close to my own heart so personally electrifying to read about). On the other hand, Steve talks about his initial forays, misgivings, developing live experiences and steep learning curve of his 'second life' as a musician after 60-odd years as a music fan. The characterful writing of each narrator avoids the potential for these sections to lose a non-musician; instead we are gifted with engaging and valuable exploratory insights into their creative psyches, compositional approaches, artistic visions, pools of inspiration, and ruminations on the nature of live performance and the moments which surround it. Eventually, Tim Smith of Cardiacs naturally takes the spotlight. It's hard to imagine that this book's readership would lack even basic awareness of Tim and the effect his music (indeed his mere presence) has had on countless lives, crucially that of Kavus. Perhaps said uninformed reader is here for snooker rather than music; this will only present an issue insomuch as the rest of the book is almost entirely music-focused, so you may have already abandoned the cause for its apparent lack of positional techniques or baulk cushion safety tactics. The ultimate tragedy of Tim's tale is handled with a quiet yet heart-wrenching tenderness, balanced with both the adulation and positivity that such a brightly shining star clearly deserved, as well as a loving observation of his flaws. The book ends with an afterword which roundly accounts for the infectious friendship Steve and Kavus have developed, culminating of course in The Utopia Strong (yes, of Sunday Brunch fame). Written during the uncertain times of 2020, there is an air of speculation, but this is overshadowed by an eagerness to return to the lives they - indeed, everyone - long to experience once again. It's a book I honestly didn't want to end; each chapter felt like a treat I would reward myself with at the end of a day well-lived - appropriately, perhaps, as time is clearly a precious commodity to the authors. More than a musical journal, Medical Grade Music is a book so full of appreciation for life itself that simply reading it makes it worth living in those small hours of the evening.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Seán

    An interesting dive into the personally significant bands of both Steve and Kavus. Not only did this provide an eclectic list of new music for me to check out, but it was also an entertaining, and sometimes emotional read (or listen in my case). Thoroughly recommended to any music lover. 5/5

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ronny

    Starts of great but gets increasingly dull. I gave up on the chapter about YouTube tutorials on how to play modular synths...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Fantastic fun. This is a kind of dual-narrative autobiography about how the authors came to meet and start making music together. As such, it probably helps to have an interest in one, or both, of Steve and Kavus. I came into this from the Steve-Davis-snooker-legend angle. I knew that Steve was into prog-rock and modular synths from various bits of media coverage but I wasn't familiar with the duo's music (with bandmate Michael York) as The Utopia Strong. While I probably can't call myself a 'he Fantastic fun. This is a kind of dual-narrative autobiography about how the authors came to meet and start making music together. As such, it probably helps to have an interest in one, or both, of Steve and Kavus. I came into this from the Steve-Davis-snooker-legend angle. I knew that Steve was into prog-rock and modular synths from various bits of media coverage but I wasn't familiar with the duo's music (with bandmate Michael York) as The Utopia Strong. While I probably can't call myself a 'head', as the authors describe their particular kind of passionate music fan, I like enough left-field music to know that I should enjoy this journey. And, Lo!, what a delight it was to find, alongside the entertaining biographical journey, a shedload of wonderful music recommendations. I grew up listening to my dad's King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, etc, records but I had no more than a passing familiarity with the more unconventional prog of the Canterbury scene, krautrock, never mind zeuhl! In my own later years I got into the weirder side of electronic music but the sheer size of that 'genre' means that there's always more gold to be unearthed. Both Steve and Kavus are passionate proselytisers for these sorts of psychedelic sounds and I'm pleased to say that, if I wasn't already, I'm now fully converted. (The back catalogue of the pair's 'Interesting Alternative Show' on Phoenix FM is a godsend.) Highlights, for me, included Steve's own starstruck moment at bumping into Rob from Autechre at a party and the story of how Kavus ended up joining Gong. I must also add that listening to the audiobook, read by both authors, was a further delight: they both come across as eager, excitable, and a great laugh.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Roger Irish

    This is a book I'd wanted to read ever since I saw the pre-publication announcement: what could be more interesting (!), a book from legendary snooker player Steve Davis and renowned guitarist, musician and songwriter Kavus Torabi, member of the bands Cardiacs, Knifeworld and Gong, amongst others. Many people don't probably realise that Steve has a second career as a DJ and member of the band The Utopia Strong with Kavus and Michael York, though he always was a huge music fan - a veritable 'crate This is a book I'd wanted to read ever since I saw the pre-publication announcement: what could be more interesting (!), a book from legendary snooker player Steve Davis and renowned guitarist, musician and songwriter Kavus Torabi, member of the bands Cardiacs, Knifeworld and Gong, amongst others. Many people don't probably realise that Steve has a second career as a DJ and member of the band The Utopia Strong with Kavus and Michael York, though he always was a huge music fan - a veritable 'crate digger' for soul, R'n'B and rare groove - back when he was a world champion snooker player. Nowadays Steve and Kavus' musical tastes centre on a shared love of French band Magma's music and all the music you might imagine that Magma would lead to in the genres of prog, RIO, electronica, leftfield, modern classical, free jazz, and the experimental. We have overlapping musical tastes and - as in all the best music books - there is much new music I've discovered and have yet to listen to, the discovery supported by separate top 50 album lists selected by each of them. The book is part autobiography with the chapters alternating between Kavus and Steve and so it's not all about music, but sets the scene for their respective musical journeys and their meeting at a Magma gig in Paris in 2006. Kavus' journey was musical from his teenage years in Plymouth through to his membership of legendary band Cardiacs and the time spent playing guitar with Daevid Allen of Gong, before Allen asked Kavus to lead Gong after his death. Steve's journey followed a rather different path, as many of you will know. Whilst the musical journeys are especially interesting to a fanatic like me, the bits where life intervenes, most especially after Tim Smith (of Cardiacs) ironically suffers cardiac arrest and Kavus visits him through the resulting chronic illness (dystonia) which leads ultimately to Tim's death from a heart attack in 2020. Above all else, the book tells the story of a wonderfully unlikely friendship, which is told with warmth, humour and love. If you read this book, you'll never think of Steve as Steve 'Interesting' Davis ironically again. All that being said, the book isn't for everyone! No one puts it better than Barry Hearn, sports promoter and Steve's former manager: "I couldn't get past the intro". High praise indeed. It's a brilliant book - read it!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cathie

    Such a fun book! While my music tastes are somewhat different (never will be into metal) I still thoughly enjoyed the descriptions of what their favorite bands and musicians meant to them. And some of the bands I am now listening to and really enjoy: Magma, Henry Cow, their band The Utopia Strong, and Kavus Torabi's solo work too. Both write and narrate their stories in a fun (and funny) off the cuff way, that is nevertheless full of self-reflection and a decided lack of hybris. Anyone into musi Such a fun book! While my music tastes are somewhat different (never will be into metal) I still thoughly enjoyed the descriptions of what their favorite bands and musicians meant to them. And some of the bands I am now listening to and really enjoy: Magma, Henry Cow, their band The Utopia Strong, and Kavus Torabi's solo work too. Both write and narrate their stories in a fun (and funny) off the cuff way, that is nevertheless full of self-reflection and a decided lack of hybris. Anyone into music (especially of the prog rock and post-punk variety) will enjoy this one for sure. Thank you Roberto for telling me/us about this book!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Allan Heron

    Including a chapter on the Manband meant I was certain to investigate this book. Steve Davis's journey from the green baize to the DJ decks at Glastonbury was also intriguing. It's a wonderful read and a journey through lots of music and bands that I'm not very familiar with, but this is likely to change over time. Essentially a dual narrative from Steve and Kavus that takes you up to the almost present day there's a lot of great stories along the way. And a hugely bittersweet conclusion that had Including a chapter on the Manband meant I was certain to investigate this book. Steve Davis's journey from the green baize to the DJ decks at Glastonbury was also intriguing. It's a wonderful read and a journey through lots of music and bands that I'm not very familiar with, but this is likely to change over time. Essentially a dual narrative from Steve and Kavus that takes you up to the almost present day there's a lot of great stories along the way. And a hugely bittersweet conclusion that had me in bits.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Fraser

    Just a great, entertaining read start to finish. If you are a ‘head’ and not a ‘haircut’ likely this is the book for you. A buddy story intertwined with an incredible discography from youth to the present day, this was fun, in part laugh out loud, slightly surreal but alternatively laser sharp and poignant in places. Above all, it was interesting! One of the best books on music and friendship you will likely ever find.

  12. 5 out of 5

    DR22

    Excellent read - both entertaining and highly informative. I was alerted to this book by the fabulous Louder Than War site. I had thought my taste in music was eclectic and extensive. But it seems I was wrong. I learnt about a heap of great music through this book, plus it's a great story and well written. Recommended Excellent read - both entertaining and highly informative. I was alerted to this book by the fabulous Louder Than War site. I had thought my taste in music was eclectic and extensive. But it seems I was wrong. I learnt about a heap of great music through this book, plus it's a great story and well written. Recommended

  13. 4 out of 5

    Adrian Nicholls

    A magnificent ride out into the hinterlands of exceptional and none mainstream music with two committed ‘heads’. I’ve discovers a dozen new points of interest and have been touched by their emotional personal journeys from niche to outsider. A must read for anyone who really cares about originality & artistry.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Russell Barton

    Informative and entertaining, this is a journey into two very different musical minds. Via a few bands I’d heard of and loads I hadn’t it charts the course of a friendship built on a mutual love of music and life. Mr Davis is by turns hilarious, geeky and charming while Mr Torabi has clearly made more records and consumed more psychedelics than most of the rest of us put together.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris Picton

    Excellent and entertaining read from both authors especially if you’re into music that isn’t considered main stream. I’ve already started to listen to many of the artists mentioned and hopefully will discover more great medical grade music

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Really two books and stories running concurrently. No less enjoyable for it. A great doorway into the “progier” end of the musical spectrum.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Warburton

    A highly entertaining romp through a couple of lifetimes of wild and wonderful music

  18. 4 out of 5

    Malcolm Pinch

    Music nerds; my kind of book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    Two middle aged men talk about music, the part it's played in their lives and their parts in making it. And that's it, really. Kavus's contributions form a kind of autobigraphy while Steve tends to focus more on the parts of his life that music has touched but this is essentially a joint love letter to the joy, tears, highs and lows that music brings to us. The music itself leans heavily towards the esoteric if not outright weird - I consider myself to have an in depth knowledge of music and it' Two middle aged men talk about music, the part it's played in their lives and their parts in making it. And that's it, really. Kavus's contributions form a kind of autobigraphy while Steve tends to focus more on the parts of his life that music has touched but this is essentially a joint love letter to the joy, tears, highs and lows that music brings to us. The music itself leans heavily towards the esoteric if not outright weird - I consider myself to have an in depth knowledge of music and it's myriad forms, and indeed have listened to or am at least aware of many of the groups discussed, but I never thought I would willingly learn so much about Christian Vander, his band Magma and its attendant Zeuhl philosophy. What makes it all so enthralling is the sheer passion that shines from the pages of this book - music was the path Kavus chose to escape his humdrum, outsider life in Plymouth, and the single minded obsession perhaps to be expected from Davis the snooker perfectionist. They met by chance when Kavus spotted Steve at several Magma gigs in the mid-noughties, a friendship developed over their shared love of prog and experiemental music and they ended up first DJ-ing together before forming an experimental group of their own, The Utopia Strong. Yep, Steve Davis is now the player of modular synths on four (to date) albums, something which still seems to (joyfully) surprise even him. I'm not gonna sugar coat it, the music this pair of heads love might be off putting in its sheer breadth and outright weirdness but the undoubted love and passion they share, and their very readable styles of writing, made this a very enjoyable journey for me and may even find an audience outside of music geeks.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Inge Hoeve

    Don't really remember how I found out about this book, but it was a 'what?! my fav snooker player is in a band?! and there's a book!' so I had to have it. It does not disappoint. Both writers have a sense of humour I appreciate muchly. Also I am not a music-nitwit but there are so many names in this book that mean nothing to me but sound worth listening to: it's great. For anyone interested in non-mainstream-music (which is I think most of my friends): read it, laugh, learn. Don't really remember how I found out about this book, but it was a 'what?! my fav snooker player is in a band?! and there's a book!' so I had to have it. It does not disappoint. Both writers have a sense of humour I appreciate muchly. Also I am not a music-nitwit but there are so many names in this book that mean nothing to me but sound worth listening to: it's great. For anyone interested in non-mainstream-music (which is I think most of my friends): read it, laugh, learn.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alex Atkinson

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ed Day

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lewis Edwards

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mr Christian Homersley

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andy

  26. 4 out of 5

    David Lamerton

  27. 4 out of 5

    Neil Taylor

  28. 5 out of 5

    Justin

  29. 5 out of 5

    Benb

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mick

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