Sunday, 14 December 2014

WIRE/ EDVARD GRAHAM LEWIS/ BRITISH SEA POWER/ SEA BASTARD + STILL MORE (DRILL FESTIVAL PART THE FIRST)

Pretty much everywhere in Brighton, Thurs 4th-Sun 7th Dec


This was apparently the third Drill festival, and the first to take place here in Brighton. Though curators Wiredidn't headline but played the opening night, then reappeared as a finale for the closing. Let's take 'em in turn...

When John Peel famously said “they are always different, they are always the same”, he was of course referring to the Fall. But he could, had he been around to see it, been thinking of this very set. Simon Reynolds characterised the legendary post-punk band by “their minimalism, their reductionist disdain for extraneous decoration”. (Which is itself a polysyllabic way of putting it. He should probably have just said “concision”.) And yet that short, spiky heritage is one of the few stretches of musical ground they don't cover.

For tonight tracks can stretch to infinity and beyond. Though there's often a strong Krautrock influence, instead of Neu's elegant glide things drive with a relentless intensity. In his stand-up set beforehand, Graham Duff referred to Peel's infamous habit of playing records at the wrong speed. And many numbers here would have tried him indeed. Though there's two guitars and bass, melody is often relegated to the keyboards.

Perhaps the night's best summed up by the closing number. Every Wire fan knows the story of how they found their sound when their first guitarist got invalided out. Continuing to rehearse without him they found less to be more, carried on not just by eliminating his parts but throwing all else out they considered extraneous. 'Pink Flag' the title track of their 1977 debut, was one of the few numbers from then to cross the three-minute barrier.

Here they perform an extended version of the track with an 'orchestra' of more than twenty guitars. As they didn't have so many spares in the back of the van, an array of other band members, friends and acquaintances crowd themselves on stage all sporting their own six-strings. The array was so motley and engaging it looked like a DIY version of the Beatles' 'Hey Jude' video. Whereas it sounded like a post-punk version of Terry Riley's 'In C', everyone left to do pretty much their own thing if it added to the party.

Swans closed the festival with their usual blistering set. Having now written about their sonic onslaught not once but twice, I won't linger on them this time but fast-forward to the encore. It's become a festival fixture for Wire to ally with another band to perform their track 'Drill', and this time it was Swans' turn.

If the Pink Flag orchestra is the band's 'In C','Drill' is their 'Sister Ray'. Its one of those pure-music tracks where you fear to talk about it will diminish its power. It's not a track that's about something, it doesn't refer to anything outside of its own existence. It's an ur-track, something to which everything else ultimately reduces. It exists to sweep you up in it.

It evokes that childhood fantasy of becoming a machine, of being perfectly dedicated to a function. Only instead of a train or a car its a sharp-tipped power tool. If the pleasure of the guitar orchestra was like a hippy happening, where everyone gets to do their own thing but within some overall accordance, the thrill of 'Drill' is in hearing so many musicians go at it as one. The pun on military drilling is surely a part-source of its name. It's one of those riffs that never really stops; it burrows in your brain and you find it still revolving round your head hours later.

This, the third time I've seen Wire, was quite possibly best. Rather than slipping into some quasi-reverential obscurity, like elder statesmen you obligingly doff your cap to, the band may even be getting better and better.

An earlier rendition of 'Drill' at the Seattle-based festival (I went to less nights of that one) with Earth...


The band's Edvard Graham Lewis staged what was effectively a mini-festival of impro and electronica within the Festival, at the Basement on Saturday afternoon. It was cool that such wayward stuff was incorporated rather than sticking to more crowd-pleasing fare. (Though there was perhaps some secret door behind which the alternative alternative festival was going on.) It did however follow the usual uneven trajectory of imrpo music. Notably, stage numbers accumulated as the afternoon wore on, ending with everybody on stage for 'Smoke On the Water'. (Actually, I may have mis-remembered the last part.) And quality went up with the numbers, with each performer having more to spark off against.

However, Lewis' own solo performance was more memorable than most, perhaps because he gave it a loose structure. These sometimes work best of all as they become enticing, your brain spotting their dotted lines and assuming there is a greater whole which is as yet not quite perceived.


Despite their being a longstanding Brighton-based band and despite their being rated by people I know to listen to, I have always previously failed to catch up with British Sea Power.

So, apart from the salubrious setting of All Saints Church, the unique selling point of this gig may well have been lost on me. For they come augmented by the brass section of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Were these already sumptuous melodies enhanced by the extended instrumentation, honey poured on sugar? I'm not someone who could tell you. But it all seemed to be working well from where I was sitting.

The songs have a delicacy at the same time as gusto. The Sea Power boys had the good sense to incorporate the brass relatively sparingly, only taking it to full blast for brief sections. I came to think of them as Sussex's answer to Love, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra substituted for those mariarchi horns, Shoreham harbour for Sunset Strip. All of which works surprisingly well. And the ornate, spacious church became the perfect setting for their sound.

I did, however, emerge wondering if I could now take to them without the horns. Would a regular gig now be like someone who had sampled vintage port, suddenly thrown back on supermarket wine? I suppose the only way to know is to try...

Not from Drill either...



And what better way to while away a sunny Sunday afternoon than cram yourself inside a sweaty room to take in some doom metal? In its way, its a genre which works a little like hardcore punk. Its not only music that its too easy to copy, the problem is that sort of thing even gets supported by scene stalwarts for “keeping it real” (or whatever). It leads to self-imposed ghettoisation, to conservatism, to stasis. You can end up thinking all the good in that music must have already been used up, that anything left now is just a dried husk too stupid to lie down like its supposed to.

Then along come a band like Sea Bastard who epitomise everything you loved about it back in the day. Like a thing undead, they spring from the ashes of Jovian. (Who I think were going a while but alas I only saw the once.) Their crashing chords exude intensity and power without ever becoming samey, even when tracks stretch out a while. (Which they do.) It gives them that all-important sense of tapping into something primal and vital. While at the same time there's no sense of them subsisting on the margins of music. Listening to them is like living off a very rich diet indeed. Purists will doubtless be aghast, but there's even something quite melodic about them.

Not from Brighton but – the effective home of this sort of music – Birmingham...


The mission statement of three-piece Zu would seem to be to find a breeding ground between noise rock and free jazz. And regular readers, despite their non-existence, will be unsurprised to hear that this induced a mixed reaction in me. Those saxophone squalls just seemed to indulge in free jazz cliches (an ironic term if ever there was one), and my favourite sections were when the churning bass and drums had the stage to themselves. At points the bass would stick to a sludgy riff while the drums did the moving around. But overall, put bluntly, not the cutting-edge outfit they seemed to think they were.

Coming soon: More from the Drill festival...

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

MARIANNE FAITHFULL/ GOMEZ (GIG-GOING ADVENTURES)

MARIANNE FAITHFULL
Royal Festival Hall, London, Sat 29th Nov


Now on her fiftieth anniversary tour, the Sixties survivor par excellence takes to the stage with a steadying cane (still recovering from a broken hip) and a rapturous round of applause only rivalled by Patti Smith. (She also seems to share Smith's deep wells of formidableness, slapping down a heckler who tries her patience.)

You tend to think of Faithfull as someone who came to inherit the chanteuse and diseuse tradition. But musically speaking only a couple of tracks take up Weill or Eisler's minor-key angularity. The music itself is much more straightforward and melodic. When it works is when the sandpaper of Faithfull's husky voice scrapes up against the softness of it.

And work it mostly does. Some of the time it strays too far into the non-stickness of soft rock for me. (Though mostly during solos, over which I guess I'm generally impatient.) And Faithfull has lately been doing some more living in that lived-in voice of hers. This was mostly evident in the older songs, some of which sounded like garments she couldn't really fit in any more. Singers do need to ruthlessly drop songs, however classic, once they stop reaching the notes.

However, even though the Sixties seem almost another world compared to her later music, there were some of the old songs which still cut it. These included a mesmerising version of 'Sister Morphine' (a song she co-wrote, though she had to go to court to prove it), perhaps given a greater poignancy by her tales of her recent drugged-up hospitalisation.

However she need to rely on her Sixties or even Seventies heritage, for a good few of the brand new songs are really very good indeed. They included a declamatory number in which she takes on the persona of Mother Wolf to give her verdict on humanity and how its been faring. (Summary version – must try harder.)

If the format of her music can tend to be sandpaper against fine cloth, then the tone and subject matter of her songs tend to be bittersweet. In fact, spending an evening listening to Faithfull, you come to realise how straightforward and certain most songs are. The singer is quite definitely in love, has quite definitely fallen out of love or is absolutely sure of something in both verse and chorus. Standard songs are standardised. Faithfull tends to let a little of the ambiguities and contradictions of the real world in. (It might seem the attitude of an older and wider person, though it even goes back to her first ever single, 'As Tears Go By'.)

In some of her best songs she sings not emotively but wearily, as if the song represents not a moment of clarity but an ever-pressing burden. She covers for example the Everley Brothers 'The Price of Love'. But in perhaps the best demonstration, she opens the night with 'Give My Love to London', taking home a song about the city which took her from swinging Sixties icon to Seventies homeless junkie. As she reveals, she cannot help but have mixed feelings about the place.

This, however, is from Vienna...


GOMEZ
Concorde 2, Brighton, Thurs 21st Nov


”I wear the same shoes as anyone,
I share the same blues as anyone”

While there's that adage about not judging a book by its cover, there's no corresponding saying to stop you judging a band by its look. The Velvets, the Magic Band, Joy Division... the shots of them, the record sleeves seem inseperable from their music. So strong is the link that even when bands don't have a look, that simply becomes their look.

It was more than a decade ago when I last saw Gomez, here in this very venue. I remember being struck by the discrepancy between how they looked and how they sounded. They looked avergae, blokey, like fresher students. But shut your eyes and they sounded lived-in and weathered, making a music so soulful and rootsy it surely must have been marinading through years of experience. In particular, the rich baritone voice of Ben Otewell must surely have been shipped in from elsewhere. And yet they made those Americana-inspired albumns from a garage in Southport and a studio in Portslade. (For non-native readers, Brighton's equivalent of New Jersey.) Sometimes it really all is just a matter of being in the blood.

A decade down the road, and while they inevitably look a little more lived-in, their sheer unspecialness still appeals. (Check the photo above, they look like they came third in an ordinariness competition.) Dali famously said the only difference between him and a madman was that he wasn't mad. While the only difference between Gomez and us regular folk is that they can make the music we all like to listen to. It somehow seems to deepen the rapport, with audience singalongs induced easily despite the infamous English reserve.

However, my memory does seem to have skippied over the Sixties pop element of their sound. Sprightlier, uptempo numbers contain memorable melodies and sharp, witty lyrics. Tijuana Ladies seem able to coexist with day-trips to Manchester, in some unlikely but virtuous combination.

Everybody, including at times me, does the lazy journo trick of finding a mirror to the Beatles and Stones in two modern bands. But perhaps Gomez are the Beatles and Stones at once – rootsy and urbane. As the gig continues, I even start to picture them as some successor to the Beatles. If Ottewell is Lennon, bouncier and poppier Tom Gray would be McCartney - leaving Ian Ball as George Harrison. Like Harrison, Ball seems quieter of temperament and has a thinner voice, but one with a pleasing ability to meld to the music. And like the Beatles their various vocal and songwriting styles combine into something greater than its parts.

Quite late in the gig, Gray cheerily confides that this is their first gig for over two years. And yet it sounded they'd played every single night for that amount of time. Here's hoping it won't be another decade before I get to see them again.

'Here Comes The Breeze', one of Otewell's songs. Not a lot to see for long stretches beyond the back of heads, but the sound quality's decent...


Coming soon! More gig-going adventures...

Saturday, 6 December 2014

PERE UBU + 'MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES'/ JUNO REACTOR + 'COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES' (LIVE SOUNDTRACKS)


'X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES' WITH PERE UBU UNDERSCORE
Duke of Yorks, Brighton, Sun 23rd Nov


”I've come to tell you what I see!”

As the record shows, Lucid Frenzy is a fan of David Thomas whether to be found performing with his parent 'avant-garage' cult outfit Pere Ubu or  branching out to provide live soundtracks. And here he was doing both at the same time!

The success of his approach may all be there in that word 'underscore'. The most successful film soundtracks are often the ones that work upon you the most subliminally, and there seems no reason to change all that just because the musicians are live and present. As I said of previous soundtrack to 'Carnival of Souls', “it worked almost as the film’s unconscious, worrying away beneath the surface”. For this reason Thomas may be deliberately working his way down the food chain, from respected movies such as 'Carnival Of Souls' and the Ray Bradbury-derived 'It Came From outer Space' to this 1963 Roger Corman shocker.

Thomas himself has commented “the amateurish enthusiasm and naive intention, as well as lack of budget, of the B-movie encourages a kind of communal abstraction that approaches folk culture, and the frequent lack of a coherent agenda leaves lots of wiggle room for whatever personalised context or agenda an audience or band chooses to overlay.”

And certainly the film makes not a whole lot of sense, either narratively or thematically. By playing up the arrogance and impatience of the central character, inevitably called Professor Xavier, the film seems to be be following the standard theme of hubris. He droppers his own eyes with the magic potion like Napoleon brashly crowning himself, and claims to be “closing in on the Gods”. (A plural form that probably wasn't there in the first draft.) But, like a tabloid kiss-and-tell, of course that pat morality is merely salacious. The film was probably pitched either in order to have that big 'X' on the poster, to allow some suggested nudity or - more likely - both.

But there is a suggestion, waiting to be carried by an underscore, that his (in an almost literal sense) insight is pitched as both revelation and curse. As well as looking through ladies' clothes, there's a sense he can see (in Eliot's phrase) the skull beneath the skin, a drug-induced vision of the petty parochialism of Fifties society. (And 1963 was still pretty deep in the Fifties.)

As you might expect, the film most exults in the proto-psychedelic X-ray-vision sequences. But it also follows a loose colour coding, from the reassuring clean white coats of the hospital (from where those dayglo X-ray sequences first make their outburst), to the lurid colours of the fairground, then to the more sombre tones of the bedsit as the powers become too much for him. His final claim to see “the eye that sees us all” at the centre of the universe seemingly comes from nowhere. (Though it is foreshadowed in the opening image.) But, as is typical, that kind of leaves the question open. Does he see the Sixties arriving with their cleansed doors of perception? Metafictionally spy the cinema projector Or a God that is not about judgement or intervention, but a science God who merely observes us like the universe is his petri dish? So instead of revelation or salvation you merely get stared back at? All or none of the above? We just need something to nudge us into perceiving incoherence as a kind of metaphysical mystery. Then, with nothing to hold back our sight, we can just keep looking.

Afterward the film it was hard to remember many actual musical incidents, but perhaps that should be taken as a sign of an underscore doing its job, of the thing working. If I've had more to say about the film than the music, then it was most likely the music that took me there. The mood of the music frames and filters the film, affecting you like a half-remembered dream. Music is also inherently a kind of an x-ray, you naturally hear sounds beneath others in a way you can't with sight. The music makes it feel impossible that those pristine hospital whites won't be ruptured.

There were points, however, where the underscore just didn't go under enough. Moments like a boom-tish on the symbol when an on-screen character makes a crap joke are reminiscent of the jokey captions early Channel 4 would add to trash classics. It feels like a snarky hipster commentary on the film, a distancing device to reassure everyone they're not really supposed to be taking this too seriously. Whereas the point of the exercise is surely the opposite, not being supposed to take it seriously is the very reason to try it – to X-ray-up our eyes, to take the ludicrous premise to the max just to see what's out there.



'THE COLOUR OF POMEGRANATES' WITH JUNO REACTOR SCORE
Duke of Yorks, Brighton, Thurs 27th Nov


...meanwhile Juno Reactor (aka Ben Watkins) performed their score to Sergei Parajanov's much-praised Aremenian film 'The Colour of Pomegranates' (1968).

Now, as the past history of this blog might have already given away, I am not in the least interested in fashion in music. If people are still making music in the key of the Nineties, mixing repetitive beats in with melting-pot globalism under the sway of Transglobal Underground or Dead Can Dance, it doesn't bother me in the slightest. But what wearies me is when someone attempts a piss poor imitation of that music, like they're aping last year's look. And my weariness multiplies when they stick that cheap copyism over a film such as this.

Its one redeeming feature might have been as a masterclass in how a live soundtrack should not be done. They played not just loudly but obtrusively. It was as if the film was being drowned out by a club night going on next door, but everyone was too polite to complain. It was as if you'd travelled to Armenia to sample the way of life, only to have the experience overwritten by some hippie-yuppie companion you couldn't shake, ceaselessly going on about how 'spiritual' and 'meaningful' he was finding everything. Just as New Agers treat foreign cultures as something which will look great hung up in their apartments, Juno Reactor treat this film as a backdrop for their pseudo-mystic muzak. I kept thinking it was like they were turning the film into their own rock video, only to discover later that's exactly how this project started. Satire is once more defeated by events.

Perhaps, with it's non-narrative progression of images and tableaus, the film becomes a natural victim for this sort of thing. It's more like passing through a sequence of paintings on a common theme than watching a regular movie. Though Parajanov was a compatriot of Tarkovsky the film's more like Jodorowsky's use of film as a form of ritual, if with less of his surrealist glee in sacrelige and more under the Eastern Orthodox sway of ceremony. Plus, as the film was in many ways a celebration of Armenian culture when it was under threat of Soviet homogenisation, without prior knowledge of that culture it can feel like looking at a set of symbols without a key. (Imagine an alien landing on Earth just in time to catch Easter Mass, with no context for what is going on.) Consequently it can look like a film waiting for someone to come along and complete it, like there's no existing text to overwrite. An exotic-looking placeholder, a templace for whatever's on your mind. And this 'place to find yourself' is of course the very way the Western world treats what it terms the 'undeveloped'.

But that is in fact precisely the reason why the film shouldn't be treated in this way. It's a kind of Jacobs Ladder, and needs the soundtrack of ambient sounds and indigenous folk music to act as an anchor between it's often-bewildering signifiers and the physical world. With those ties cut it literally loses integrity, it falls adrift on the sea of signs and becomes ripe for plunder. I listened to the original soundtrack (via the magic of YouTube) as I typed this up, and it sounded far more involving than Juno Reactor's shop-bought samplers.

In case I didn't make it obvious, I didn't care for this one much. You can, should you choose, hear the whole thing here. But me, I'm linking to the trailer for the film proper...

Friday, 28 November 2014

'BRITISH FOLK ART'

(Stop the presses! Still on at Compton Verney in Warwickshire until 14th Dec)


“Here in Britain... [we] are more concerned with the great country house and its contents, and the indigenous culture of the ordinary people has until lately been largely disregarded.”
- James Ayres, 'British Folk Art', (1977) as quoted in this exhibition

(Reader, can we pretend I posted this directly after the Comics Unmasked exhibition, as originally intended? Things might even make some sense that way.)

Against All Authenticity

On my blog page devoted to visual arts, I casually bundled together folk art, outsider art and comics into one group term. A bundle which perhaps needs unpicking, and this could even be a good place to start.

The connections are there, clearly enough. Folk art and comics are scarcely interchangeable. But, particularly before comics contained credits and came to be built around a fan base, there's a fair measure of overlap. Characters and motifs can leap from one to the other, such as cartoon waster Ali Sloper reappearing on a piece of embroidery here. And they align still closer when you get to the way 'proper' art treats them. Mostly they exist as fodder to be 'Lichtensteined', the act of appropriation from them becoming a sign of a great artist's individual genius.

But something happens along the way, where all those appropriations finally reach a critical mass and the source material itself finally reaches the curators' attention. It's like taking so many fish from the water that finally the river changes direction. The Tate have made a point of spinning this show as the first major gallery exhibition of folk art, like the villagers have finally broken into the great country house and left their muddy prints on the fine carpets. Which puts it several years behind their foray into comic art, something perhaps significant in itself.

Like folk music, folk art may suffer the most from its seeming friends. At it's worst it's merely part of the heritage industry. The patronising “it's so quaint” becomes the inevitable flip side of “aren't we so modern?” But let's keep the focus on how it fits into galleries. If its so often marginalised without ever quite being excluded, that may contain a logic of sorts. Folk art is taken to be the childhood or perhaps even the subconscious of art, something vibrant and unmediated, the creative hand untroubled by the brain, the doodle before it became the picture. Which of course is pretty much the way rock fans can regard folk, blues or any of its other cousins.

This can sometimes be expressed in the most celebratory of terms, how 'free' folk art is and so on. But it's like talking about how women can be so intuitive or how black people can be so emotionally expressive – its taken to be because at heart they're so irrational. Like all such apparent flatteries, what it actually does is corral – makes folk art into a mere adjunct or preparatory step towards other, more developed and sophisticated, styles of art.

Whereas it's 'freedom' is actually a matter of it playing by an altogether different set of rules. It's true that folk is too broad and amorphous to be seen as a movement in art, but that's because it's actually a meta-movement, like Romanticism or Modernism. It doesn't lack traditions or conventions, it has whole sets of them. So many that they can sometimes clash.

The exhibition opens with the words “folk art is an elusive, contradictory and contested term”, and a firm undertaking not to try and pin it down any further. This is effectively the curators throwing up their hands and saying all the works contained herein were labelled folk before we got here, so the management can't be held accountable. Which is exactly the correct approach to take. Attempting a clear-cut definition for folk art would be a classic fool's errand. Things are always going to blur around the edges, the ducks never lining up in a row.

Much of the impetus towards definitions, you can't help but suspect, comes from canonisation concealed as semantics. People try to build a club house which admits their mates while keeping out the riff raff. True, a whole lot of people make a living marketing kitsch crap under the label 'folk' which might more honestly be called 'folksy'. So the righteous sternly decide to exclude from the labelanything tainted by commercial production. But then you would also exclude many fine things from this exhibition. You'd need to strike out, for example, anything Alfred Wallis painted (see 'Blue Ship' (c.1934, below) after the moment Ben Nicholson discovered him.


But there's a neater solution. Just be straight up about it. Just like the stuff you like. The folk art which appeals to me isn't the whole of folk art. But then neither is the Modernism I like the entirety of Modernism.

Not only does it resolutely refuse to build up any definition of folk art, at times the show seems keen to break down any lingering notions you might have that such a definition might exist somewhere. It would rather test the borders of the term than obsess over the 'authentic'. We're shown (with, you can't help feeling, some glee) 'An Exact Representation of the Game of Cricket', a naive-looking Eighteenth century work now known to be an early Twentieth century forgery. Its like the aim is to disgorge you at the end feeling like you now know less about folk art than when you first went in. Which is – and I expect you are ahead of me here – exactly the right approach to take.

So instead of a historical overview the show promises “a series of encounters with different sorts of object that already have a history as folk art”. Which is in itself probably very folk. The hang is refreshingly disorderly, piling works up on walls rather than arranging them in neat numbered lines. They're patched and juxtaposed according to broad themes, but from there we're pretty much left to make up our own minds about them. Rather than the usual respectfully neutral cream the walls are bedecked with deep colours – luscious greens, salmon pinks, vibrant yellows.

Placing these works on the walls of the Tate inherently involves wrenching them from their original context. There is no way around that. But this slightly haphazard arrangement allows them to feel at least a little at home, like transplanting plants but leaving some of their home soil around their roots. The result is that folk art becomes presented as something bright and simple-seeming, but inherently indeterminate, awkward, slippery and even self-contradictory. Lovers of precision, enter at your peril.

That's Art, Folks

Fools rush in, however, so let's abandon the curator's sensible caution and look at what underpins folk art. If there's no fixed and discernable style, there may be at least a set of recurrent features which can be noted...

Folk art is perhaps most associated with it's naïve qualities. Black Adder once famously jeered at Baldrick “to you the Renaissance was just something that happened to other people”. And it often feels like folk art responded the same way when its refinements rewrote the basic rules of art. Which is to say not at all. The folk sky just carried on being opposite the folk ground. We may see it this way because we still see folk art through the prism of Modernism, which saw in it a route back to the primitive. It seemed a way to escape all those Renaissance conventions, which had become so entrenched they'd stopped seeming like conventions and were now almost inimical to seeing.

Whereas in fact, something stranger is afoot. The Renaissance had happened before most of these works were made. No small number of them are from the Twentieth century. So, and perhaps unsurprisingly, perspective isn't unknown - but its rules are considered to be eyepoppingly optional, often followed and then not in the very same picture. In for example 'The Hunt' (Anon, c. 1780) the huntsmen are seemingly placed behind the house in the composition, yet are its height. It may look peculiarly haphazard, some strange hall of mirrors. But that's because we're missing something more central to folk art.



The very first two works we see are a collection of trade signs – keys, locks, shoes and hats inflated to gargantuan size, like Monopoly counters for giants (above). Of course they weren't originally designed to be shown in such close proximity, though they may well have once lined a street. However they're placed next to the Bellamy quilt (1890/1, detail also above) by Herbert Bellamy and Charlotte Alice Springnall, and the similiarities become striking. If only one is actually a mosaic, both take that form. They're accumulations of iconic objects, either placed on the surface in patterns or with a scene standing behind them - like a theatre flat.

Objects are often sized according to the relative significance rather than their physical size or place in the composition. (Notably, within themselves, figure are normally proportionate.) James Williams' Patchwork bedcover (1942/52, detail below) for example shows a human figure interacting with animals, all of which - even the giraffe – are squashed into equivalent size to him. Gravity also can be treated a little like this; some figures and objects hugging the ground, paying due reference to Isaac Newton, while others seem free to merrily float. It's all a reminder that it was those Renaissance rules that brought the trick to art, not the other way around.


Another frequent feature is the incorporation of text within the frame. As the images are so often icons and symbols anyway, there isn't the same requirement to separate them from text as there is in more 'representational' art. In for example 'Three Sober Preachers' (Anon, c.1860, below) the text doubles as parchments hung on the wall behind them, something within the scene, and as speech balloons, commonly thought of as floating spectrally above the characters' heads. The words are there to represent the Preachers as much as the objects on the table or mantlepiece. Similarly, those oversize shop signs were often literally a substitute for words, in times when not necessarily all your customers were literate. (And when not all shops could afford glass for their windows, with which to display their wares.) They're the web icons of their day.


And put these elements together and what graphic elements in today's world do they most resemble? Maps, of course. And maps, or at least works in some interchange between maps and aerial views are everywhere. There's 'A Birds Eye View of Market Street, Wynondham, Norfolk' (c. 1850), 'The Farm Called Anrolds in the Parish of Stapleforth Abbey' (c. 1790) or 'Eastwood's Crown Brewery' (FL Carter, 1898, below), though there's no need to stop counting at three. Of course these are not the dispassionate measuring devices of Google maps. They work more by a kind of sympathetic magic, owning a depiction of something and owning the thing itself came to be associated. Maps were power totems rather than handy street guides.


Another prevalent, if not ubiquitous, feature is the extemporised use of non-art materials. George Smart's 'Goosewoman' (c. 1840, below) was one of many works he made of scraps left over from his primary business as a tailor. Smart then sold the pictures as a secondary business. Waste not, want not, after all. At other times, 'boody' or broken china becomes an art material. (With a look that's almost proto-Dada.)


However, while folk art's recycling of what might otherwise be waste or scraps can often seem creatively utilitarian, in other times it seems to actively embrace the juxtapositions. We can see a giant key made from wood without much of a problem. For to function as a key, that's not a part of its purpose. It exists to be a symbol in the wider world. Yet with those same shop signs there's some wilful games played. Some shoe signs are wood, while others are essentially giant shoes, made from leather, lace and nails. While elsewhere in the exhibition we encounter other purposefully non-functional objects, papier mache meat or leather Toby jugs. There's a bone violin made by a French solider imprisoned during the Napoleonic wars (1797/1814), which seems little short of a Cubist guitar. (I preferred this image to the bone chicken used for the poster image, but alas couldn't find a shot of it on-line.) Which might lead on to the next point...

Strange Goings On

More nebulously, less consistently but perhaps more importantly there can be an uncanniness to folk art. Jesse Maycocks' straw effigy of King Alfred (below) feels almost like a totem of the old weird Britain, even if it was created in 1961. Its making is clear-cut and foregrounded, the undisguised twine holding it together, the nails for eyes and so on. Yet it looks more than a mere effigy, it has a strangely life-like quality. Its as if made to be a prop in some fantasy film, designed to come to life. It couldn't look more straightforward yet it doesn't resolve in the mind, can't be assigned a category. It's a work which reflects an animistic world-view, where crops could be personified in figures such as John Barleycorn. The King and the land are so associated as to be almost as one.


Even after the arrival of Christianity, this animism continues to lurk. With the tendency towards icons, signs and symbols its less concerned with depicting things than capturing the spirit of those things - spirits it then arranges in symbolic maps. Folk art retains something of primitive times, when artworks were magic objects more than something decorative. In some ways its therefore naïve to call folk art naive, or at least in the literal sense of the word. It a piece of folk art seems to lack, for example, perspective that's less to do with a failing than its having a different purpose.

This leads to a feeling of 'unheimlich' or strange familiarity when we look at folk art, something often taken up by British Modernists, such as Paul Nash. Rather than use art to extend our knowledge or experience, it instead pulls the rug away from under us – defamiliarises us from what we thought we already knew, our own home turf.

It's tempting to note this strangeness and file it with the unfamiliarity of outsider art. Yet while I enjoyed the British Pathe film 'The House That Jack Built' (1958) of “English eccentric” Jack Punter's building of his outsider art envrionment, particularly when the patronisingly enthusiastic voice-over pronounced it “do-it-yourself gone mad”, it seemed the one time the show made it's margins too elastic. Overlaps there may be, but there's important distinctions between folk and outsider art.

The glue that sticks folk to outsider art is of course their mutual tendency to use naïve forms. But, as argued after the 'Art from the Margins' exhibition, when we talk of outsider art as a style rather than a form of production we're often talking about the depiction of compulsivenss – obsessive detail, heavy use of repetition etc. This can appear in folk art, such as the bone chicken and violin of the French prisoner of war. (Most likely because he deliberately chose a 'long haul' project to while away his detention.) But folk art doesn't need to have this element. It's not there, for example, in those shop signs or ship figureheads.

At its epitome (or more accurately nadir), the fetish for outsider art falls for the notion of the outsider genius, who has escaped impregnation by their surrounding culture and is instead in touch with a timeless spirit. Of course that's too silly for words. Outsider art is more often about creating a micro-world the artist can control which is... well... outside of this one, while folk art is about objects which exist in the world. And while the culture around folk art may have fallen from familiarity to us, this is through the distancing effect of time. As the show itself says, “traditional crafts express communal feelings and beliefs”. It's a quite separate, perhaps even contrary, thing to the private mythologies of outsider artists. With folk art, we're the outsiders.

While several works on display here were effectively produced comunally, its a series of old photos of folk events and rituals that most bring this element home to you. (For example a Well Dressing in Tideswell, Derbyshire from 1979). Ironically, these are placed in the same room as the Jack Punter video. But my personal favourite – not just of these photos but one of my favourite items from the whole exhibition – is a 1984 photos of an old lady from Sheffield. She's in her 'Old Horse' costume, yet the photo's taken not at some folk celebration but at home. As she sits in front of her TV the box of the black-and-white set, the dull carpet, remind you of the sheer drabness of the Eighties. Part of the bizarreness of the juxtaposition is that neither element now seems familiar to us, it's one other country at odds with another.

Such photos mostly remind us that those old masks and costumes held no magic transforming powers. In a classic case of existence preceding essence they did not create the communities that used them - they grew out of them. The masks and costumes have their significance, they're indicative of place and culture. But they mostly signify that people were willing to gather and parade together in the first place. The masks and costumes sit upon a social glue. And glue, once set, becomes invisible, leaving only the objects its bonded. The very word 'folk' means 'people', but in a specific sense - of community rather than an atomised mass.

No Folk Remedies

It is of course easy to slip into romanticising folk art. Particularly when surrounded by today's art market, with bling-encrusted works created solely to reflect the good taste of their super-rich purchasers, folk art can seem its very antithesis – like a folk remedy, something which can make it all better. But romanticisations should always be suspected. Folk art is not a demonstration of how nice everything was in the good old days, because that's something it was never intended to be and besides they weren't. Mourning the mirage of a lost innocence will only leave us feeling more marooned in the age of the selfie.

It's not communist art, in fact in many ways its almost the definition of conservative. To misquote 'League of Gentlemen' at times it looks very much like British folk art for British folk. When you see works featuring the 'Blackamoor', a kind of compound savage made by mixing together stereotypical African, Turkish and American Indian features, there's a tendency to try and conceive of these as aberrations (“they didn't know better then” and so on), exceptions to an art that was in general unifying. But that merely leads to the question, how is it unifying? In naïve art people very often are what they do and that is all. Fisherman fish, farmers farm, they're not intended to have any other existence. Agency is slaughtered on the altar of custom.

And to blithely talk of folk art as “the art of the people” is to throw up a misty-eyed haze that often obscures its actual production. We shouldn't forget that craft industries are still industries, that much of this stuff was produced not out of great naïve bursts of untrammelled creativity but to client requirements in exchange for cash. (Those oversized shop signs should be big enough to batter that idea home.)

But folk art is comparatively 'free' in two ways in that it escapes two associated traps that we have – its art that isn't based around individual self-expression and it has little or no concept of intellectual property. Nowadays, people tend to assume individual self-expression is what art is. Art tends to not just be a commodity on the market, but a perfect example of a luxury product – created to reflect the good taste of the purchaser. That Rothko on the Hollywood star's wall is simply there to brag. But because this purpose has to be concealed art's very use-value also has to be concealed - art is often defined precisely as something that doesn't do anything. Art is seen as the antithesis of labour, produced not for a function but out of some inner artistic compulsion. It's the exception to the rule of commodity production. Which, of course, is another way of saying it's the exception designed to prove the rule. Brit Art is the risible cumulation of that trajectory. But its a fault-line that's there from the beginning, Modernism tried to break free from its tram lines, but found it couldn't.

Folk art doesn't necessarily have to be made anonymously. There'd be no harm done if we were to find out who made this work or that. But neither do we need to know. If a recently discovered unsigned Fauvist painting were found (in many ways stylistically similar to folk art) it would be a loose piece in the puzzle, a stuck-up nail. Experts would rush to attribute it, so that everything might settle again. The artist is the hook which allows us to slot the painting in place in the world. Consequently, art buffs come to spot different artists' styles like food and drink bores learn to discern the taste of different wines. Recognition alone becomes a signifier of taste. I do this myself all the time, often on this very blog.


Whereas any piece of folk art, as soon as created, effectively becomes common property. Anonymity, where it occurs, universalises. And attribution, where it occurs, is often incidental. It's not about what makes the artist special or different, in the way that even (perhaps especially) outsider art is. Its inherently a piece in the bigger picture. Each individual work becomes like a leaf on a branch, attached to a trunk, itself part of the wood. You need to see, to coin a phrase, the wood for the trees. This is found at its most literal in the room devoted to ships' figureheads (example above) and trade signs, which comments “all have been transformed. A feature of not just these but of much folk art is the repainting or remaking by many hands over time”. With the de-emphasis on individual expression comes the corresponding de-emphasis on the definitive work of art.

But beyond that, anonymity... well, it anonymises. And, particularly in our self-fixated culture, that can be a destabilising force. The political group Anonymous currently have some cultural traction, probably well in excess of their actual numbers, for that very reason. Similarly, when the indicia of exhibitions cease to be handholds, festooned with reassuring names, dates and contexts, expertise deserts us and we are left on our own.

And this lack of interest in individual expression, this group focus is the reason folk art can appear so bountifully creative - because its inherently a commons rather than an enclosure. Folk culture works like open source software; the fact that anyone can get their hands on it makes it stronger, more vibrant, more adaptable. Everything created is just added to the feast, able to inspire everything else. Compared to folk art the bohemian antics of Modernism can seem mere weeds, springing up sporadically and transiently. While those sweeping, snaking branches of folk art stem from the deepest roots.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

“FROM MY BLACK SPITFIRE TO MY FUNERAL BARGE”: KATE BUSH'S 'LIONHEART'


”I don't care what I see outside. My vision is within! Here is where the birds sing! Here is where the sky is blue!”
- 'A Room With a View'

Just as the big splash of Kate Bush returning to live performing has subsided again, the time seems ideal for a belated post about her. (I will almost certainly be late for my own funeral. In fact, if I should be there now please let me know via the mailing comments.)

'Oh England My Lionhearted', to give the song its full title, appeared on Kate Bush's second album in '78. As with many of her early songs, Bush is not thought to look back on it favourably. But at the time it not only gave the title to it's album, the lyrics got the personalised handwritten treatment while all about them were typescript. The inevitable embedded YouTube video (below) makes it look like she saved the song for her encore. At the time, it mattered to her.

In the clip Bush is sporting a pilot's uniform. For the song takes the perspective of a Spitfire pilot, shot down over Wartime London. But from there, as you might well expect from a Kate Bush song, things start to get strange...

“The soldiers soften, the war is over
The air raid shelters are blooming clover”

Highly melodic, the song lives in the juxtaposition between that kind of pastoral imagery and the knowledge of the destruction of war. Notably the Spitfire is coloured black when they were normally camouflage green. (Did they even make black Spitfires?) No matter, this blackness allows it to become the funeral barge, while the flowers and blossom of the garden of England become the garlands and wreaths which decorate it.

The reference to war being over might suggest the crashing plane has somehow time warped to somewhere the other side of VE day. Seen this way, the song revolves around the paradox of the soldier who fights for peace. Fighting a war he never wanted, he has become a sacrifice to a peace he will only ever get this glimpse of. (He's presumably been shot down during the Battle of Britain, the main air battle over London, which happened in 1940.)

And one of the appealing elements of this interpretation is that it places the bucolic dream England not in the past but the future. “Dream England” songs are virtually a sub-genre by now, but they normally overlap with state-of-the-nation songs. Think for example of June Tabor's 'Place Called England' or the Waterboys' anti-Thatcherite parable 'Old England' with it's refrain “old England is dying”.

But what about Peter Pan stealing the kids in Kensington park? Where does that fit this narrative? And yet the line does seem to match the haunting music, which Bush described as “madrigally”. All too often songwriting is talked about in terms of the writing, with scant notice paid to the fact this writing comes to us in the form of a song. Unusually for a modern song, 'Lionheart' has no real bass parts. Instead there's Bush's high-pitched voice, some high-pitched piano, a high-pitched harpsichord and even-higher pitched recorders. It's music which couldn't do more to sound ethereal, to suggest at the immaterial.

...all of which might suggest the pilot is not fast-forwarded to the future, but transported into a spirit world. Bush punned on the Fairy King name Oberon on the later track 'Cloudbursting', and things here have something of a 'Midsummer Night's Dream' feel – of another world alongside ours, separated only by a permeable membrane.

Yet that's probably not really it either. The ending makes it clear the pilot doesn't end up in this spirit world, like some pastoral happy hunting ground. He's “in your garden” but “fading fast”. He just perceives if, before being taken aloft. (The final line, with its reference to the gathering shepherd, is an unusually Christian image for Bush.)

Moreover, quite mundane images appear among the more esoteric stuff, such as the flapping umbrellas on rainy London Bridge. And take the reference to “wassailing”. These days we tend to take the term as a reference to singing carols, but she specifies the context is an apple orchard. It's the tradition of singing the fruit into bloom. Similarly the Thames is compared to Shakespeare, but described as itself a “river poet”, flowing like stanzas.

How about this? The pilot crashes in his contemporary London. He probably grew up there, the smog-ridden streets and rainy bridges over-familiar to him. But in his last few minutes of life he sees things the way they always were. To paraphrase Huxley, his doors of perception are given a bit of a wipe.

Crucially, it's not a song about passing into some pure Platonic realm where flowers smell sweeter, but about the interconnections. Notably, Bush sings about the natural and constructed landscape, the Thames and the Tower, interchangeably.

“Our thumping hearts hold the ravens in
And keep the tower from tumbling”

...is perhaps the key couplet to the song. Most tourists to London learn the popular tale - should the ravens fly away from the Tower, the building will fall and Britain with it. (These days they’re kept captive with clipped wings, so we’re probably safe.) The superstition may originally have been based on the perception that, prior to the invention of flight, climbing a tower was the nearest a human could ever get to a bird’s perspective.

But of course its continuing popularity is because it acts as a kind of a fable. Why would a mighty tower need a few birds to stay up, rather than just acting as a perch for them? Because it suggests a symbiosis between the human and natural worlds, that however big we build our towers we remain dependent on nature. The tower stands for the physical world and human body, with the ravens/ hearts as the spiritual - and each is contingent on the other.

For ultimately, its a song about the thing its made of - language. Language is not a mere labelling system for the physical world, a signifier to hang on the signified. We don't just look at the landscape, we impose language upon it, we inscribe it with meaning. The world out there enters into an inter-relationship with the world going on in our heads. Language and reality are conjoined, perhaps each is just one side of the other. (As Bush later sang, in the self-same track she punned on Oberon, “just saying it could even make it happen”.) The garden of England, the rolling landscape of patchwork fields and summer lawns we like to imagine, it mostly just exists in our imaginations. But language allows us to connect it to the real world. That's how we do it – that's how we make home into home. We just need to be reminded sometimes that's what we're doing.



Late addendum! My old mate, and knower of such things, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, contacted me on Facebook to say there were black Spitfires. But as these weren't launched till after the Battle of Britain, where air combat became a nocturnal affair, I was sort of right. In a gormlessly literal sort of a way.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

THE POP GROUP/ MOGWAI/ ANTEMASQUE (GIG GOING ADVENTURES)

THE POP GROUP
Sticky Mike's Frog Bar, Brighton, Sat 25th Oct


I had wondered if, after so recently seeing Hawkwind again, this would be another guilty pleasure gig – an old post-punk band reforming to perform tracks from a classic album. After all, last time I saw Mark Stewart he was glaring down the lens of a BBC4 documentary to firmly state “punk isn't about asking forty-something old blokes what punk is”. Moreover, the Pop Group were the walking, talking definition of music as an unstable element. They were like a Hadron collider - throwing together their heady cocktail of punk, funk, dub, noise and more, just to see how it all combusted. Reproducable? I'm surprised it was ever captured in the first place.

Then again, as the reformed band put it - “let's face it, things are probably even more fucked now than they were in the early Eighties, and we are even more fucked off.” (I offer fulsome apologies, of course, for their use of that inappropriate word 'probably'.) And perhaps more to the point this was my first and, for all I know, only chance to see so legendary a band.

Simon Reynolds famously pointed out that Public Image were able to take up the essence of dub without the cliches, so avoiding sounding like the usual clod-hopping white-boy imitators. And the Pop Group, all self-styled 'funketeers' before the dawn of punk, are similarly able to plug into funk. Some of the most laid-back music suddenly sounds agitated, sharpened into a weapon, but like it had been intended to be played that way all along.

At times the rhythm section sound so tight you can hardly conceive they go back to inhabiting separate bodies afer the show. But then seconds later they can sound engagingly ungainly; you're never sure if they're cleverly deconstructing the music they'd only just been throwing out or just breaking apart. (Back in the day, they could be provocatively vague about that in interviews.) And those opposites crash together most in the figure of frontman Mark Stewart, gargantuan yet ungainly. As he rages and punches the air he's like a combination of an apocalyptic blood-and-thunder prophet and care-in-the-communty type suffering an attack in Tescos. (All of which does also mean that, if you listen back to those classic albums, they can be maddeningly uneven. The silver lining has a cloud.)


Of course the curse that normally befalls bands isn't that they get worse but that they get better. They become tighter, more professional, and lose the looseness – the unstable elements that had made them so idiosyncratic and unpredictable. Had I seen them back in the day, would I think the same of them? Probably, but I hadn't so I didn't.

Hilariously, with echoes of when Half Man Half Biscuit played against Culture Shock, anarcho-punk surviors the Mob are playing across town this very night. It's like those old oppositions will never die. The anarchos forever portrayed post-punk as the music of posers and empty aesthetes, playing with gestures and taking polariods of themselves while Babylon burnt. While they sang about a laboratory animal they'd just liberated, we sang about a book we'd just read.

Yet, while I'm in no position to tell you how the Mob sounded, I simply can't imagine a band more impassioned and committed than the Pop Group. Almost the last thing Stewart says is that the gig's put on in association with the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, before launching into the classic 'We Are All Prostitutes' for the encore. Yet, lyrically, songs could be defiant calls to arms or dread warnings, but they both sound similar. Stewart's shrieks and yelps were always a far cry from bold, declammatory statements. The band's prevalent theme was not so much revolt as tribulation, the chaos to come. (“Our children shall rise up against us.”) At their best they were a band you couldn't fail to be absorbed by, yet they seemed innoculated against the idea you could follow them. Like the lyric from 'She's Beyond Good and Evil', there's no antidote for them...

No decent footage from Brighton, so here's something from Manchester. (With a very cool backdrop...)


...and speaking of 'Where There's A Will', this this is something of a gem. Back-in-the-day footage from Belgian TV, with the band showing a somewhat... deconstructive approach to lip-synching...



MOGWAI
Brighton Dome, Sun 26th Oct


At times, I confess to having something of a love/hate relationship with Mogwai. Their epic soundscapes can seem no less than soaring, as if looking down on straight song structure from a majestic height. Yet it can also sound expansive yet arid, portention at the expense of substance, cinemascopic in width yet screen-thin in depth.

One way to look at them might be as the counterbalance to Sigur Ros. When catching Sigur Ros live, I became quite insistent their music shouldn't be portrayed as “merely some kind of template, a big cavernous space onto which the listener can project what they want to imagine”. A description which ironically does seem to stick to Mogwai, so often used in soundtracks. Put their music on top of almost anything and it would most likely magnify it. Sigur Ros may be like a Romantic painting, and indeed live they used quite bucolic nature imagery as a backdrop. While Mogwai come with a gleaming bright lighting rig that borders on abstract art.

They pre-load the set with some of their softer material, and to be honest nearly lost me at that point. They seemed a shadow of their former combustible selves, and I came to long for some fire in the bellies of those guitars. Plus, while I'm quite happy for their tracks to include the human voice, conventional lead vocals don't seem to lend to their strengths at all.

From there, thankfully, guitars started to spark up and more sonic variation appear. One track, unusually foregrounding keyboards, had the prog-meets-arcade-game ring of Goblin. For another the band lined up at the front of the stage for a wall of fuzz guitar. But one with the sweetest of tunes held within it, like a butterfly in a bottle.


And yet once the noise arrives it came to be the quietest parts which spoke the loudest. There's something to those stately tempos, like they're the antidote to the modern world of just-in-time economics. (Slow being the new fast, and all.) There are those who dismiss the band as ponies with one trick – dynamic contrast, setting up the noodly kindling of a track to toss a guitar explosion in midway. Yet, for example, '2 Rights Make 1 Wrong' is almost a spiritual for us unreligious types, combining the genuinely hymnal with a kind of Christmas-lights twinkliness. (Maybe they're one of those bands you really should see on a Sunday.) But it took set-closer 'Mogwai Fears Satan' to sum it all up. Yet there is a guitar outburst mid-way, but the loudness is there to enhance the quiet parts rather than the other way around. It's the sonic equivalent of looking at a colour field painting, music to bathe in. The guitar notes sounded so delicate they were almost dissolving as they reached your ears.

If I didn't like everything they did... well, I don't like everything that Mogwai do. But when these guys get good, they can get very good indeed.

Talking of 'Mogwai Fear Satan'... (Alas it cuts before the end. And at times the camera can't capture the full range of sound. But surf YouTube and that would seem to be the general rule.)


ANTEMASQUE
Concorde 2, Brighton, Monday 13th Oct


Antemasque are a successor band to legendary American hardcore outfit At the Drive-In, featuring vocalist Cedric Bixier-Zavala and former bassist Omar Rodrigues-Lopez, now on guitar. ATDI were like the featherweights of hardcore, balancing out the piledriver heavyweights like Black Flag or Nomeansno. (Maybe Fugazi were the welterweights. I am probably reaching now...) Their tracks were writhe, wiry and dynamic, capable of taking unexpected moves. Had you been foolish enough to try and wrestle one, you'd have been held to the floor before you knew it.

Music Emissions called them a “chaotic balance of adrenaline and intellect”, which seems about as close to pinning them as anyone's likely to get. Though commonly dubbed 'post-hardcore' they were more like a hardcore and an art rock band somehow happening at once – Sonic Youth and the Ramones as conjoined twins.

Yet, though a keen ATDI fan who never managed to see one of their frenetic live shows I couldn't muster the enthusiasm to see either of the earlier successor bands, the Mars Volta or Bosnian Rainbows, when they came to town. Which, judging by the relative size of venues, was a common choice. They seemed to have all the intellect yet a deficiency of the adrenaline, taking things in a jazzier, proggier direction which left me less than keen to follow.

Not so this time.


Yet if I'm here because Antemasque are back to the patented ATDI sound, in a way that could bring its own set of problems. Not having been in the room at the time I can't offer any special insight, but its notable the band split soon after hitting their creative peak with the acclaimed 2000 album 'Relationship of Command'. Perhaps they simply figured their work here was done. As Omar himself has commented “if you're not moving forward, you're stagnant. And that's no way to be”. Which left me initially apprehensive of Antemasque sounding a bit apres.

Notably, however, they play no ATDI tracks and seem keen to strike out on their own. Truth to tell their trajectory may well be the opposite direction to the Mars Volta, straying more into conventional rock territory. Guitar solos start to creep in, and at times you hear the echoes of Led Zeppelin. Watching Cedric's unmissable wild mane in mid-toss, whereas once it resembled the MC5's Rob Tyner now its starting to look like Robert Plant. Now as the record shows I love Led Zeppelin as much as the next music fan, and besides its more a raw Sixties sound than stadium rock they're channelling. But my feelings are mixed as to whether its a sound Omar and Cedric should be straying back to. It can at times feel like avoiding stagnation via reverse gear. Perhaps significantly they've reverted to the world of singles, releasing no less than four in the month of April.

Yet overall, if they don't match previous heights they're still coming up with damn fine tracks put across with no small amount of conviction. And their lack of adherence to the old sound is made most unmissable by a lengthy trance-out soul track, the sort of thing Van Morrison went in for in the Seventies. Turning up late in the set like beamed in from elsewhere and featuring Cedric uncharacteristically cooing, it was about as enthralling as it was unexpected and swept the whole of us away. It suggests perhaps than rather than old-timers living in the shadows of past glories, Antemasque are a new band still forming their sound. I would tell you the name of it if I knew myself.

This isn't it...



Coming soon! Probably more music stuff...