If you’re in or around Brighton this weekend with kids on your hands, and if you quite like the idea of them growing up to be lateral-thinking and freaky (I’d quite like that myself), here’s an all-ages event for you at a local community centre. No booze on offer, but you can bring your own.
Blurt date back to 1979, when restless self-styled “colonial brat” Ted Milton (by then in his mid-thirties) became disillusioned with his longstanding work as a professional puppeteer, which his restless and non-conformist spirit had been increasingly warping into audience-alienating Jarry-esque provocateur moves. Forming a Situationist rock trio presented a better opportunity for him to realize his aims for spontaneous expression, incorporating his neophyte Ornette Coleman-inspired sax playing, his improvised dancing and his spoken-word poetry (inspired by the Beats, the 1960s Liverpool scene and the Soviet school).
A strange mixture of sharp existentialist grit and whimsical Dada self-indulgence, Blurt have been out on a limb of their own ever since. Post-punk veterans who possess deeper roots in 1960s consciousness expansion and anti-authoritarianism, they joined the post-punk scene through chance, time and circumstance rather than affinity. Their music is a mixture of simple, jabbing musical figures and nail-tight drumming, with space for Ted to declaim or improvise freely on top. Now in his seventies, he’s still declaiming, dancing and blowing at the front of a lineup which currently features guitarist Steve Eagles and drummer Dave Aylward.
In support are a collection of kindred-spirit Brightonians offering a variety of music from the straight to the out. At the straighter end, The Sticks provide cheery, spindly country-garage, but beyond that things become a little more eccentric. Coming across like the Sylvanian Families as abducted by Captain Beefheart, The Glugg perform in animal masks and sound like a threshing querulous lo-fi blues disaster that can’t be bothered to get out of bed. Variously described as “a local industrial complex” and “a noise-punk charter team” their racketing guitar, china-pig organ and wino vocals stumble over saxophone, harmonica, biscuit-tin drums and broken-telegraph slide in a welter of fake spaghetti themes and disintegrating rhythms.
Completing the bill, husband-and-wife tape-and-voice duo Dylan Nyoukis and Karen Constance make an appearance in their intermittent Dada-sound-experimentalist Blood Stereo guise. They’re like a Krautrock take on Ligeti: eerie sonic backdrops merge with pastoral electronic squiggles (a touch of the Cluster-ine), panting/yammering vocal sounds and carefully-recorded disruptions of function (violins with cello strings, incomplete mechanisms).
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Back in London, there’s still a few tickets left for this one…
Terminal Cheesecake were amongst the protagonists in the “arsequake” movement of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in which chaotic bass-heavy British and European bands, inspired by the acid-juddered noisework and unhinged stage shows of American hardcore acts like Butthole Surfers or Jesus Lizard, grabbed that noisy baton and vigorously rammed it upwards through sampling, dub, hip hop and homegrown psychedelia. Standing out even amongst the hedonism and loud-living of their contemporaries for an exceptionally druggy, “fools at the gates of excess and wisdom” image (and sometimes falling foul of venue chains who didn’t appreciate their orgiastic performances and following), the band originally ground to a halt in 1995 – a mixture of too many chemical indulgences, not enough appreciation.
Since 2013, they’ve been back in action, with original-run members Russell Smith, Gordon Watson and John Jobbagy joined by Head Of David’s bass player Dave Cochrane (and with original fried howler Gary Boniface replaced by a contemporary psychedelic voyager, Gnod’s Neil Francis). Having played their own part in influencing a host of younger bands and musicians on the current psychedelic noise movement, the band are reaping the fruit of their original work- new concert opportunities, collaboration options, the pride of an actual living legacy.
Terminal Cheesecake have taken a lot of stick for their silly name, both then and now, but to me it encapsulated many of the qualities of arsequake: often ludicrous and tongue-in-cheek, yet stubbornly committed to art even to the point of ruination. The fact that they nicked that name from a list of fictional bands, cooked up in a spoofing mood by neo-psychedelic outlier Nick Saloman, somehow fits in with their plunderphonic psych ethos.
Monickers aside, it’s the music that speaks. With one foot enmired in rockabilly and ’60s psych and the other in the east London 80s scene that also birthed Bark Psychosis, M.A.A.R.S and A.R. Kane (and with the whole band effectively face-down, staring into a chaos pool) Terminal Cheesecake were exemplars of arsequake’s instincts and wildness, and the sloppy, overwhelming guitar noise of their early years was ameliorated on later recordings (most notably 1990s ‘Angels In Pigtails’ with its multi-levelled production approach of layers, samples, psychedelic loops and unusual instrumentation). The current band favours a return to the guitar stewings, but whether they’ve been thundering down a primitive or a sophisticated route there’s little doubt as to TC’s integrity regarding making a constructive racket, blowing open envelopes, or creating an atmosphere of free and uninhibited options at the rougher end of psychedelia.
Support comes from necro-psych band Taman Shud, who trail their influences and comparisons like heavy cerements (Killing Joke, “Hawkwind meets the Birthday Party”). With that doomy screech of hoarse vocal delivering lyrics of ziggurats and arcane diabolism and their taste for distorted grandeur and crashing rock guitars, they sound like an appointment with murder down at the end of a winding street, under crumbling Turkish battlements and harsh Mediterranean stars.
Dragging open the gates for the evening are Newcastle supergroup (or infragroup) Khünnt, whose members also play in various interrelated Toon heavy bands, predominantly power trio Blown Out and concrete-psych quintet Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. If Taman Shud lean towards the grand, Khünnt deliberately aim low. Theirs is an agonised, droning, thickened-trickle of a noise, a browned-out early Swans slithering into an oppressive doom-metal crush, Steven Palmer’s chord-shredding ghoul howls entangled with guitar riffs like dying hands clutching at a sewage outfall. The umlaut is important, too. Don’t ignore the umlaut.
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The following night, there’s an evening of rumbling post-prog and post-metal:
Nightshift Promotions and Rock-A-Rolla Magazine present:
O.R.k. + Thumpermonkey + Landskap + The Earls Of Mars + Komara
The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 0NE, England
Sunday 21st February 2016, 7.00pm – more information
O.R.k. are an intercontinental quartet of prog, post-prog and art-rock stars: two Italians, one Anglo-Australian, one American. Colin Edwin provides bass bedrock, Carmelo Pipitone adds an impressive assortment of guitar tones, Pat Mastelotto sets up his usual whirl of drums and electronic triggers, and Lorenzo Esposito “LEF” Fornasari sings and handles the odd drapes and strikes of keyboard and synthesizer. Their debut album, ‘Inflamed Rides’, has been attracting quite a bit of attention since its release last year.
They’ve certainly got the credentials, but to my ears O.R.k. remains a band searching for an identity of their own, still trying on various mix-and-match suits beneath which to flex their impressive collective muscle. There’s certainly a strong flavour of other projects which the various members have been involved with (including the clunk-and-cigarette art-rock croon of David Sylvian and Robert Fripp’s ‘The First Day’, which Pat toured around the world, prior to getting the drum slot in King Crimson, and the interim soundscapes of Colin’s work with Porcupine Tree and latterday Ex-Wise Heads) and LEF sings and emotes in a variety of familiar tones recalling Sylvian, Maynard James Keenan and Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt, as well as Mike Patton (with whom he shares extreme flexibility and a sense of skewed drama). Having said that, O.R.k. are accomplished setters of mood and tone, transforming gracefully from folk-prog delicacy to death-metal rasp and ambient billows. Carmelo in particular is emerging as a superb and chameleonic rock polystylist (incorporating but transcending the punk-edged folk guitar webwork he shows with his main band Marta sui Tubi via electric drones, sheet-lightning riffage, and stress-damage lead lines).
All in all, the band are possibly closest to LEF’s work with Fourth World polyfusion project Berserk! a few years ago, but restrained by a thicker wall of progressive metal and possessing less of the jazz, lightness of touch or overall flexibility, as if it were being grappled around the knees by the arty sludge-rock of LEF’s other main recent project, Obake. There’s plenty of latent promise, especially since LEF’s a genuine musical polymath whose other collaborations span work with Bill Laswell, Nils Petter Molvaer, Italian post-hardcore heroes Ephel Duath and even singing in Nino Rota operas. If there’s a problem, it’s just that O.R.k. are still groping in the dark for the elusive, necessary spark to shock them into fully being themselves. Come along and perhaps you’ll get to see the moment when they catch it. Meanwhile, here’s a chop-and-change video of live snippets from Milan earlier in the month, plus a few more album tracks:
Assuming that my mixed reactions to O.R.k. haven’t put you off, I should add that the support bands are at least as much of a draw. Pat Mastelotto makes another appearance in the opening act, Komara – a heady and ferocious live-fusion trio which draw equally on the steely tendons of Crimson/Tool art rock, scintillating sheens of club electronica, and the balance of supple inventiveness fiery plasticity in Scandinavian nu-jazz acts such as Jaga Jazzist. Always one of the most inventive yet undervalued drummers of latterday prog, Pat is on particularly stirring form in this collaboration, which hooks him up with Italian electrophonic trumpeter Paolo Raineri (a collaborator with Stefano Battaglia, Junkfood and Blessed Beat, and with LEF in Berserk!) and Slovakian everything-guitarist David Kollar (an audacious polydisciplinary musician, playing his homemade instrument through an unusual array of pedals, effects and electronics). Described disarmingly by David as “punky, ambient, electronic and avant-garde stuff”, Komara is actually much less of a spass-jazz kickaround than that would suggest. Informed by David’s work in film and dance projects . Paolo’s love for rock and free improv, and Pat’s knack for surging heavy polyrhythms, it has a sense of dark flamboyant drama: filled with kaleidoscopic brass and guitar textures and burning electrical energy, it flows and seethes more along the lines of David Torn’s still-arresting ‘Cloud About Mercury’ or of Andy Diagram’s work with Spaceheads.
The three London bands that make up the rest of the bill are all headliner-worthy, too. I’ve written plenty already about the mordant, tricksy brilliance of Thumpermonkey, whose melodious heavy-progressive songs are packed with mood and texture changes, rich vocals, gruff punk-and-metal-sourced energy and sly, literate lyric puzzles. They’re a band whose work you can stomp and head-bang to, yet spend a happy age unpicking.
The Earls of Mars plough a similarly playful furrow, though in a skinnier and more oblique vein. A morbidly humourous alliance between Harry Armstrong (once of early Noughties prog-metal stoners End Of Level Boss, and ‘90s doom metallers Decomposed and Hangnail) and Dan Hardingham (from horrorscape project Onethirtyeight), plus stand-up bassist Si McCarthy and drummer Dave Newman, they offer curdled cabaret dramatics and Tom Waits-ian/Mike Patton-esque takes on heavy metal, weird fiction and burlesque. The jokes swim under the surface of the music, like lurking alligators.
Landskap are a more sober slow-welling affair altogether. If you’ve ever felt that Elbow are what happens when a band steeped in pastoral prog hits the mainstream, you might feel that Landskap is what might happen if it were coaxed back again. Although they cite late ‘60s and early ‘70s psychedelic rock as key influences, I’m more inclined to hear Isaac Hayes, Portishead or no-man in their sound. With that funk swing to the drumming, the bluesy smears, the clusters of electric piano and the solidity in the whole package, they sound more like a prog band who dream of being a soul or rhythm-and-blues band (as many of them did, back then, at the start). There’s also an authoritative, earthy ache in Jake Harding’s stern singing tones – a little of Jim Morrison, a little of Ian McCulloch – making him an earthbound anchor to the band’s flights. In an evening which has more than its fair share of cosmic jazz blurs, Gothic artifice and mischievous humour, Landskap are likely to add a little human depth and straightforwardness.
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Finally… something good ending too soon? Only a few posts ago I was urging you all towards my neighbourhood venue Forks & Corks, the deli venue at the foot of Archway Tower, and its developing series of jazz gigs: I even took my own advice and made it to to the Jonny Gee quartet show the other Friday, bringing along a group of friends to have their feelings soothed in the wake of a funeral. In a swirl of Parker, Ellington and Porter interpretations, plus the quartet’s own originals, the job was done, buoyed up by the warmth of a Forks & Corks full house drawn from around the community and friends, plus the feeling that something was being built up in this unprepossessing but lovingly inhabited, carefully decorated space.
Now I hear that the latest gig there is likely to be the last Forks & Corks jazz show for a while. Quiet and ominous rumours suggest that it will be the last jazz show there ever, and that the venue itself (which was always sitting on a questionable future in the heart of an Archway redevelopment that’s increasingly out of control) is going to quietly close. I’ve no idea what will crop up in its place: presumably it will be yet another coffee shop to go with the newly-announced Coffee Republic a few doors down and the eight or ten other coffee joints scattered around the junction. Part of the scenario for a regenerated Archway appears to be encouraging us Archway residents to circulate, grinning, from well-furnished caffeine pump to well-furnished caffeine pump, pretending we’re in a ceaseless round of ‘Friends’ re-runs.
Anyway, here’s the information for that last gig.
A quick scuffle around the search engines turned up a bit of information on the band. It’s co-led by London jazz-noir singer Kate Daniels. and composer/multi-instrumentalist Graham Pike (who can play chromatic harmonica, trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone and keyboards); guitarist Phil Danter leads the jazz-pop octet Straight On Red and generally seems to live the dream, while bass player Kevin Dunford’s been a London fusion mainstay for years and plays with The Incredibly Strange Film Band. There’s not much news on the quartet as a whole, but that shouldn’t count against them. London jazz is full of obscurities, word-of-mouth and ad-hoc teamups: this may well be the start of another one.
As for Forks & Corks, if anything replaces its original spirit and its jazz initiative, I’ll post up that news whenever I get to hear about it. Whatever the future for the venue itself, its manager’s passion for jazz is heartfelt, so I wouldn’t write him off yet… Meanwhile, if you’re passing the deli, drop in for a snack while you still can.