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Dr Didg
 Out of the Woods, Hannibal/Rykodisc CD HNCD 1384

 Trippy didgeridoo pop

If you're familiar with the band Outback (I'm not), then you'll probably recognize Dr Didg, didgeridoo-ist Graham Wiggins, and his rhythmic alter ego, drummer Ian Campbell. They're joined here by guitarist Mark Revell and a handful of guest percussionists and bassists on the mostly instrumental Out of the Woods, which seems like a pretty optimistic assessment, if you ask me. The tunes tend to start out seductively enough, drawing you in with restless, loping rhythmic patterns built of layers of live and sampled didgeridoo, drums and percussion. In Wiggins' hands, mouth and sampler, the didgeridoo is at once a rhythm guitar, bass, drum and bagpipe. He and Campbell simmer up a smoky, trance-inducing stew, brought just to the edge of boil. Inevitably, though, the spell is broken by a weepy melodica or overly enthusiastic guitar, both unbelievably unable to find purchase in the fertile huskiness of the rhythm tracks.

Unfortunately, much of the album goes this way. When I say much, I mean the first nine of ten tracks, mostly Wiggins/Revell/Campbell compositions, in various proportions. Of these, "King Tut" is the most promising, featuring Tim Harries playing a string bass part punctuated with electric bass slaps. I was hopeful that the final track, "Brolga," a traditional Aborigine tune, would break the formula. It opens encouragingly, with a didgeridoo intro by Dhakalin Burarrawanga and some pretty mournful vocals by Litalita Ganambarr. But just as it peeks through the bush, it retreats and fades seamlessly back into more modal melodica musings.

One of the things that really started bugging me after repeated listenings is that the entire album is in the same key, brief excursions into the minor excepted. There's some relief on "Sun Tan," which features a keyed didgeridoo, a Wiggins invention that adds saxophone-like keys to enable the instrument to play "...melodies instead of the usual single note drone." (Hey, he said "usual," I didn't.) Originally a jazz piano player and composer, Wiggins also turns in a simple rhythmic piano comp on this cut. This tidbit is curiously at odds with the liner notes, which emphasize that his only keyboard work is with "the melodica...[which] bridges the gap between the didgeridoo and the piano." I don't want to argue, but let's just say that the gap between the didgeridoo and the piano is considerably wider than the noblest of all plastic wind instruments, the melodica.

The biggest disappointment on the record has to be the song "Ever Increasing Circles." This one promises that the "didgeridoo goes heavy metal." I couldn't wait. As far as I could tell, though, Mark Revell plugged his guitar into a Scholz Rockman and stole a few vintage Boston-era licks. This is synchro-sonic guitar wanking punctuated by didgeridoo hiccups. It stands out pretty sorely to my ear, and the fact that it's the first cut on the record to fade out confirms its guitar wankiness for me. I have to say, too, that the liner notes for this track read pretty apologetically. Wiggins cops a plea, saying, "This tune is mainly written by Mark, our guitarist. It's built around a guitar riff...."

My guess is that if you're looking for a great introduction to the didgeridoo, this isn't it. If you're looking for a record to listen to through headphones while otherwise occupying your mind, this might be ticket. The Doctor makes liberal use of ping-pong delay effects to set up swirling figures that tumble back and forth over themselves. Add in some digitally-delayed electric guitar flatpickin' and you get an interesting, but unobtrusive wash of a soundscape. --  Jason Staczek

 Glenn Brooks says... Dr. Didg sprang out of Outback, as Jason mentioned. Outback started life as a street-busking duo with Wiggins and Martin Cradick on guitar. Their first album, "Baka," is an exhilirating romp. On their second album, "Dance the Devil Away," they added extraneous drums, percussion, and violin. Now, Dr. Didg gets even more elaborate to even less effect. Sometimes, simpler is better.

An earlier English didgeridoo-based group was Lights in a Fat City. Their CD "Somewhere" leans toward ambient background music, with the didg as part of a swirling texture created with percussion and electronics.

production notes
Graham Wiggins, didgeridoo, melodica, samples, percussion, piano; Ian Campbell, drums, percussion; Mark Revell, electric guitar.
Produced by Graham Wiggins, with engineering assistance by Richard Haines. 1995 release. (48:12)

song titles
Street Music
King Tut
Ever Increasing Circles
Under the Influence
Say What You Like
Rave On
Sun Tan

of related interest

Baka, 1990, Hannibal CD HNCD1357
Dance The Devil Away, 1991, Hannibal CD HNCD 1369

Lights in a Fat City
Somewhere, 1988, These CD 3 (import)

Copyright © 1995 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.