Monday 26 May 2008


Thurs 15th May, Brighton Dome
…in which a selection of acts take the Dome’s original pipe organ, purchased in the Thirties, and put it through its paces.

The key image came straight away. When Robert Lippock and Beatrice Martini came onstage to take up their instruments, the organ and harp so dwarfed them they looked reduced to child size. The organ then remained a mighty block on stage, while various turns appeared to append it. Taking applause, one player gestured to it like it was a collaborator.

For Lippock and Martini’s set, we were pre-warned the miked-up organ might lead to an imperfect sound, with hiss and resonation. As so often, this merely added to the effect. It was hard to tell what was organ and what was electronics, with the latter bathed in the ‘warm’ organ sounds. The length of the improvisation obviously led to the discomfort of some in the audience. While it did at times develop slowly, this feels like part of the nature of improvisation. Some parts might not have made it into a final edit, if editing was to be done. But improvised music is more akin to a conversation than a realized script, with the joy of it where unexpected moments happen.

If the piece had a weakness, it was something else. Of course we want to hear the organ going full blast, that’s tonight’s equivalent of the money shot. Yet such bursts tended to overpower the harp, as if what had been set up was a conversation where one side had been handed a megaphone.

The ‘sacred selections’, positioned either side of the interval, were perhaps an extended interval in themselves. That was, after all, how the organ would have been used in its heyday. Of the two the more jokey first part worked the best, giving us a ‘happy hardcore selection’ just as popular numbers of the day have always been transcribed for organ. The second part was based on music by local bands, decided by popular vote. Of these only the last track (by British Sea Power) really came alive.

After Lippock and Martini, I was concerned how the organ might unsettle the Neck’s performance. When I’d seen them before, their improvisations had started with someone experimentally strumming a chord, just to see if it might take them somewhere. So keen were they to eliminate the pre-meditated, they’d even established the rule it couldn’t be agreed who would start. But here it starts with the organ, and (by their terms) jumping in with something already quite developed.

But these fears came to naught. Chris Abrahams held back on the organ power, mostly playing mere fragments of melodies or drone-based clusters that left space for the others to stick their necks in. The fully-fledged, powered-up organ didn’t come into force until the track’s climax.

This was enough to change the Necks sound, but not in the sense of skewing it. They’d previously sounded like building something up from the most basic level, like a castle from grains of sand. Here they were nearer to re-assembling something, like recreating a tree from chopped-down chunks. The chunks might not be going back up in the original order, nor even to the same tree. But none of that mattered, for the joy was all in the assembling. This made for the third time I’d seen the Necks, and each time a triumph!

Sat 24th May, Old Court House

…in which the Fall frontman was in conversation about his recently released autobiography Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith. As anyone who hasn’t been marooned on a South Sea Island for the past half-century will tell you, Mark E Smith pretty much is the Fall. But protagonists aren’t always the best people to tell their own stories, and this is perhaps truer for Smith than many. For one thing, he’s managed to propel himself through so long a career by forever looking forward. For another, judging by his alcohol consumption, it’s doubtful he’d remember much of it anyway.

But more to the point, when punk was regarded as heart-on-sleeves stuff, Smith made a virtue out of being elusive and multi-faceted – even when combining that with being fiercely polemical. He quite deliberately stirred up a mystique around his cryptic utterances, something he’s scarcely likely to burst now.

Though carefully set in the afternoon, the event did counter the notion Smith had finally pickled his last brain cell. He was smart and funny, but it felt like an exercise in the art of anecdote-as-evasion. (For example, when he was asked about the infamous Worthing gig where he got too drunk to stand on stage.) It perhaps didn’t help to have his ghost writer, Austin Collings, interviewing him instead of some more objective figure.

The autobiography does sound like something of a cash-generating exercise, the literary equivalent of selling your story to the News of the World. When someone asked why he didn’t just write the book on his own, it took me a moment to work out she was asking Smith not the ghost writer. While the Fall have never exactly behaved as money-making machine, its hard to fault him for this. But Mark E Smith’s history of the Fall is a little like Wellington’s history of Waterloo, it wouldn’t be the first book you read on the subject. As to where you should go, that’s another question…

Sat 24th May, Brighton Dome

Little could be said about this beyond “they came, they saw they got funky.” The band improvised their way so smoothly through jazzed-up funky workouts you felt like they could have played ten times as long without effort. Bringing in Airto Moreira as an extra percussionist added something to the sound, though it was perhaps a little disappointing the celebrated Dome organ only got incorporated for half a song. Still the Festival ended as festivals should- with a proper knees-up.

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