Saturday 26 November 2022


Design Museum, London

“There already are enough useful objects designed to perfectly fulfil their function, what I am looking for is to communicate and interact with the object.”
- Cinzia Rugger

Lobster Telephones That Ring

“Although Surrealism is often seen as escapist”, this show points out, “its founders were more interested in changing perceptions of reality.” Well of course! It’s a shame it still needs to be said, but as it does it’s better to say it. And there seems little doubt that the movement’s popular association with painting and drawing is because they’re associated with escaping into another world.

Design, though? It also says “Surrealism liberates design from the rational and utilitarian.” I hate to be a killjoy. But don’t we want design to be a bit utilitarian, or at least useable?

Dali’s famous Lobster Telephone isn’t just here but adorning the poster. We’re told that Edward James commissioned eleven of them for his various residences, which do seem to have been working models. But even if we still had cradle phones, let’s face it you wouldn’t want one of the cumbersome things yourself, wrapping it round your head only to hear from some dodgy call centre calling themselves “your bank”.

The show quotes Isamu Noguchi, “everything is sculpture”. Which sounds more a Bauhaus statement than Surrealist. The Bauhaus credo was of course ‘form follows function’, which the show counters with ‘form follows fantasy’. But this ignores the degree to which Surrealism was intended as sabotage.

Take Many Ray’s famous ’Gift’ (1921, above). It clearly wasn’t designed to ever be used as an iron, but to be disruptive. Just like an actual iron like that would tear through shirts, Surrealism intends to tear through art and society. Strictly its Dada rather than Surreal, but the slippage between one and the other is considerable. And as Dada was anti-art, wouldn’t Surrealist design need to be anti-design?

Similarly, some of Duchamp’s readymades show up. But the whole point was to tear them from their function, sometimes quite literally, and put them somewhere where they didn’t fit. People have used his urinal for its original purpose, but only as a prank. It’s similar to the way that words, when taken in isolation, seem to descend into prattle. Duchamp wasn’t interested in them as works of design, nor of designing with them.

Furthermore, we use design as a synonym for plan, in phrases such as “by design”. Whereas Surrealist artists frequently worked by automatist (chance and/or unconscious) processes. You could claim that to come from the authentic Surreal region of art it needs to involve, as said of the recent ‘British Surrealism’ show, “artists surprised by what springs from their own hands.”

And further furthermore, early on the show gives us Dali’s ’Metamorphosis of Narcissus’ (1937, above). Even if we were to somehow miss it in the work, the focus on transformation’s there in the title. Things are not still or separate, but ever-changing, to the point where things aren’t really even things any more. The show refers to these as “ungoverned shapes”. How can you convey this with real world objects? 

As it turns out, you can. Dali’s ’Cats Cradle Hands’ chair (c. 1936) transforms its back into arms and hands. Or Meret Oppenheim’s ’Traccia’ (1939, both above) gives a table bird’s feet.

Ray and Charles Eames’ ’Moulded Plywood Sculpture’ (1943) has the sinuous curves often found in Surrealism, but almost works better for being ‘real’. They seem to flow so, the eye can’t really get a purchase on them and hopeless follows them round and round. It’s not a ceaseless Moebius strip, ever-twisty and ever-turny, but it still looks like one. Sculpture is surely, by definition, about solid and fixed objects. Well, not here.

In fact Surrealist artists had pretty much a penchant for realising in real life things they’d originally painted. Dali’s sofa of Mae West’s lips is on show here, but us Brighton folk are familiar with another version in our local Museum. So more interesting to me was Victor Brauner’s ’Psychological Space’ (1939, above). The show displays the original painting, from which he made that wolf table for a 1947 exhibition. Why do such a thing? A quote from Shiro Kuramata might come closer: “Enchantment should also be considered a function.”

As seen before, over the Tate’s recent ‘Surrealism Beyond Borders’ show, a large part of Surrealism was about having an almost animist relationship with charged objects. “Its perspective comes from recognising objects as entities; to be recognised, to enter into accordances with, the most humble modern objects seen as possessing spirits.”

It’s true that, to intensify this feeling, they tended to prefer objects whose origin was somehow mysterious, stumbled upon in flea markets and the like. But there’s nothing essential about this. It’s similar to the way couples can relish the tale of the unusual way they met, but that’s not essential to being in a couple.

However, you don’t have to think about this for very long before you realise you’re being asked to treat functional things as though they were some combination of art object and magical force. The problem then becomes that the designer can’t pre-determine this relationship, which is all between the object and the user.

And speaking of exhibitions, they seem important here in themselves. Or at least the ones the movement itself staged. As the show points out “Surrealists approached [them] as collective artworks”. Just as with Dada, they were part of Surrealist practice, not just a means by which to display already finished works. In fact the works just became materials for the overall show, with obligations such as displaying them clearly being discarded. There’s photos of various exhibitions here which are effectively installations, the opposite of neatly ordered and carefully labelled rooms like the one we’re in. A particular favourite of mine is is Duchamp’s ’Sixteen Miles Of String’ for a New York show in 1942. (Photo below by John D Schiff.)

And there seems a similarity with Dali’s home designs for Edward James’ Monkton House, where everything seems incorporated, integral to the Surrealist concept, nothing left to be ‘normal’. Or his film or theatre sets, or window displays for Bonwitt Teller, (1939, above). And these do look different, and more effective, than when individual elements are ripped from the room and shown as isolated artworks. It’s a kind of fishbowl design, where part of the point is we know we’re looking at real objects. But they’re there for us to look at rather than engage with. As much as it is design its design as display, not use.

Design Into Dollars?

The skeptical reader may note how much Dali has dominated things so far. And its unsurprising that the man soon anigrammatically nicknamed Avida Dollars led the way in this direction. (It’s a bit of a tangent but the show includes 'Destino’, the animation he made for Disney. In 1945/6, but not realised until 2003. And it’s notable how easily his slick later style blends with the smooth Disney look.)

After all… shop windows, objects made to be talking pieces for toffs, don’t these consumer items seem a world away from an art movement that declared itself revolutionary? How does this fit with the Tate show which largely focused on colonial subjects? And couldn’t that be said to be inherent in this direction? Enchantment, like most desirable things, turns out to be a luxury product. The rich, after all, live their lives on show, consume conspicuously, while the rest of us make do with frill-less functionality.

Or take ’Horse Lamp’ by Front Design (2006, above). It looks a surreal triumph, a full-size model of a horse made to do no more than hold up a lamp. Most of us would literally not have room for such a thing. Except you can buy it, given the will and a spare five grand. Which kind of transforms it from absurd object to click and collect. (Well, okay, you’d probably ask for it to be delivered.) 

Or, perhaps more strongly still, Carlo Mollino’s 1938 designs for Casa Miller, which included a torso-shaped hole in a wall. Is there a left-field charm to this? Yes. But that charm all belongs to Magritte, a Surrealist artist I’m not even especially keen on. In such moments it’s hard not to think of those who crowbar Banksys off public walls for private clients. One leaves a hole behind, the other makes off with it, but same difference.

There doesn’t seem much point debating whether Dali was a dollar-clutching scumbag. But life isn’t obliged to hand us easy answers, and he was also (at times) a superlative artist. While James was a longstanding supporter of Surrealism and an interesting figure in his own right, not just a standard toff looking for the latest thing. And Meret Oppenheim, Surrealist par excellence, made limited-edition luxury gloves. (If not until 1985.) Besides, in those days most painters got by either via patrons or by being wealthy themselves. We don’t live in this world and get to be untainted.

Besides, what’s often appealing about these themed shows isn’t the through line but the by-ways. Things which don’t necessarily belong here but, now they are in front of you, you’re glad of it. And the chance encounter seems the more Surreal way of going about things, better than rigidly inspecting the guest list. The show quotes Ingo Maurer: “Chance rules our lives, much more than intention.”

Case in point… When the architect Le Corbusier was claimed as Surrealist-influenced, first I felt they were clutching at straws early. But they went on to convince me. The painting by him, while good, was more post-Picasso than Surreal. (Albeit from the era where Picasso was saying he was Surreal.) But the sculpture ’Ozon III’ (1962, above) could have had Andre Breton pinning a medal to it for services to strangeness. It seems to simultaneously reduce the human body to a mechanism and turn it into a charming cartoon, with parity found between an arm and an ear. With its bizarre anthropomorphism there’s a strong sense of humour to it, and I didn’t know Le Corbusier even had one of those.

Should We Still Be Surreal?

“Surrealism”, the show says, “is still evolving. The torch has now been passed to contemporary artists and designers who dare to shake up the creative process.”

Well, we could argue about whether art is still evolving. But Surrealism didn’t re-use century-old devices, it sought out new methods to deal with the world they found themselves in, revelling in any upset this caused. Current-day artists shouldn’t be in thrall to it, they should be using it in the way it used primitive art, ruthlessly plundering it of anything that looked useful, discarding the rest.

As said over the ‘Dreamers Awake’ show at the White Cube, “contemporary artists are forever claiming they’re its inheritors, often on the basis of a hazy notion that once it was ‘edgy’ and now so are they. Does for example Sarah Lucas belong here? (Inasmuch as her tedious efforts belong anywhere.)” And you’d have to say much the same here, to the extent that Sarah Lucas does indeed show up again. But let’s do what we did then, and talk about the stuff that’s worth talking about.

Gae Aulenti’s ’Tour’ (1993, above) is a coffee table on wheels. It may initially seem akin to ’Horse Lamp.’ Except it’s anti-functionality doesn’t come about through lack of space, it’s inherent to the thing. You could take it home if you wanted, but it couldn’t do other than create chance processes in your lounge.

From 1950 on, Piero Fornasetti was taking one face (the opera singer Line Cavalieri) and placing it on an endless succession of plates, each with some Surreal twist to the image. Though the twists are often ingenious, it’s the combination of form and content which makes it. We associate plates with mass production, with repetition, with conformity.

Anyway, the twin highlights of this more modern section of the show are chairs. Make of that what you will…

Danny Lane’s ’Etruscan Chair’ (1984, above) is made from the most industrial of materials, glass and steel tubing. Yet just by making them geometrically irregular he anthropomorphises it. Those are definitely eyes in its back, and I stood there waiting for it to scuttle off.

Alberto de Braud’s ’An Uncomfortable Place’ (1992, above) features what would be a regular chair frame, except that it’s erupting strange tendrils and knotty protuberances. Chairs we assume to be made from dead wood, but this seems to somehow have not just retained life but still be growing. (It’s actually bronze, it just looks like wood.)

And, in a sense, carpenters do to wood what society does to people, drain its essence, chop it into regulation size, make it into a usable commodity. Except the title leads us not to side with this rebellious chair but take on the perspective of the sitter. If you thought someone was about to sit on you, you’d automatically assume a more awkward shape, and this is the chair’s way of doing that. It’s reminiscent of the rebellious furniture of Svankmajer’s short film ‘The Apartment’.

That which you thought tamed and made orthodox may still surprise you, it may be a good point to end on. Except of course precisely what makes this a great art objects makes it literally impossible to use as a chair. It’s merely disguised as a functional work of design to make its point. This show’s full of things which are functionally useless. Some of which are just useless. While others enchant.

Saturday 19 November 2022


Concorde 2, Brighton, Thurs 18th Nov

Shortly after the sad death of Nik Turner seemed just the right time to attend an Old Hippies Reunited party, and as luck would have it a double-barrelled one came along…

I’m not sure how many time I’ve seen Ozric Tentacles now. There was a fifteen to twenty year period where it seemed almost impossible not to see them. Attend anything remotely resembling a festival or gathering and there they’d be. And I’m equally unsure when I last saw them, except it was some while ago. They would play regular venues too, but it what when that festival environment was clamped down on that they went out of my sight, like an animal losing its habitat.

Looking back, their sound was based on a kind of false memory. There wasn’t really a time when Psychedelic music overlapped with Prog, it was more than one waned as the other waxed. The bands who performed that transition, like Pink Floyd, tended to have a ‘mellow’ phase in-between. But that sound was why their best-known number came to be ’Kick Muck’, the guitar sounding less like a guitar and more like someone cranking furiously at a funnel which emits a ceaseless torrent of notes, so many and so fast they go by in a blur.

Guitarist Ed Wynne is the only survivor from back then. And the band’s become something of a family affair, featuring his ex-wife Brandi on bass, his son Silas Neptune on keyboards and a flautist and drummer whose names I failed to catch.

The standard thing to say about a longstanding band is what they’ve gained in ability they’ve lost in edge. Which sounds remarkably close to what music did when it morphed from Psychedelia to Prog. The greatest thing about Psychedelia being its abandon and derangement, and the worst thing about Prog being that it abandoned that abandon.

And for a band whose first-ever gig was a six-hour spontaneous jam at Stonehenge Free Festival in ’83, who often seemed to be jamming on stage, there seems little jam tonight. Wynne even introduced the tracks, something never done back in the day. The absence of ‘Jumping’ John Egan, who combined flute-plyaing with on-stage antics like a cosmic Bez, also changes the dynamic.

Nevertheless, if there’s now more smooth than rough, there was always some smooth. Unlike most festival circuit bands, they had (and have) the musical chops to work for those who stood to listen as well as those who waved their arms. There were points this set seemed to meander and my attention drifted, but overall it kept enough punch and was musically adventurous enough to take you with it.

The highlight, version of ’Kick Muck’ notwithstanding was the finale, also their most Dance-influenced number, where the abandanometer most definitely went into the red.

This was very much a double-headliner, with the auditorium packed and ready for Gong even at the un-rock & roll time of 8pm. In case there’s anyone left who doesn’t know who Gong are these days… Daevid Allen assembled a younger band around him (this time with no relatives) back in 2014, who released one album. After getting his no-hope diagnosis (the album was called ’Rejoice I’m Dead’), he suggested they carry on after he was gone, which they have.

But any debate about whether that makes them Proper Gong or a tribute band with validation is sidelined, when they play precisely one classic Gong track the whole set, even then segueing into it from somewhere else. Which was ’Master Builder’, my absolute favourite Gong track ever, so they made one Old Hippy happy.

How much the set drew on the one album made with Allen I don’t know, I’ve not heard it. Though at one point new new songs are announced. Pretty soon it became obvious that this was really only Gong in the sense of inheriting the family name, and you should look on them as a new band.

To which the verdict would be mixed. Some tracks did sound close to hippy music as described by its detractors, meanderingly pleasant music with ‘positive energy’-type lyrics. But, not just on ’Master Builder’, also elsewhere in their set, they proved that when they want to wig out they absolutely can.

Not from our fine shores, but more or less the right Ozrics line-up…

Saturday 12 November 2022


(Top 50 Albums)

When I was first getting into music, what histories there were faithfully followed a script. Rhythm & Blues’ role had been important but brief, to be the midwife of Rock & Roll. (And it normally was R&B, more than Gospel or Country.) It was portrayed as original but basic. It had taken black people to come up with it, all simple-minded yet pure of heart like they were. But it had taken white people to pick up on that and turn it into something.

Even R&B artists would at times go along with this, perhaps figuring it not best to bite the hand attached to the deepest pockets. None less than Muddy Waters sang ’The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock and Roll’ (1977), which at least moved midwife along to mother.

But if anything, it was the other way up. Rock & Roll finally formally broke something which had in actuality been undermined in American music decades back, the colour bar. And that was a significant cultural event. But to do it, it had to dilute the material down for a mass audience, make it more palatable. (And the right term is mass, not white, audience. You could tell a similar story with Country.)

Big Joe Turner’s version of ’Shake, Rattle and Roll’ is not just better than Bill Haley’s, it’s better at all the things Rock & Roll is supposed to be good for. The same is true for Big Mama Thornton’s ’Hound Dog’ over Elvis’, and you could keep going.

But it’s more than that. The problem with constantly searching for the roots of Rock & Roll is that everything else just gets thrown away as a weed. When, if you just look at what’s in your hand, it can be the finest flower. We should stop seeing Blues as a staging-post to somewhere else, and start seeing it as a place in itself.

The two big stars of the classic post-war era of R&B were Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Their creative rivalry was only accentuated by their being on the same label (Chess) and using the same main songwriter. (Willie Dixon, who would deliberately tell Wolf a song was already promised to Waters, knowing he’d then insist it had to be his.)

And they sound very little like someone trying to come up with Rock & Roll. True, there’s times they rock it, and as well as anyone. Wolf’s ’Rock It Boogie’ comes self-described. But, as a general rule, in straightening itself out in order to be made into Rock & Roll, Blues became a more rigid, more regularised form of music. In picking up the fixed-voltage power of electricity, it lost the free-form force of unpredictability.

Not so with our guys! Giles Oakley wrote “they can continue the use of country-style unpredictability in bar lengths, giving free range to the blues feeling surging through the whole band as if it were one man.” (‘The Devil’s Music’, 1976). He was talking of Waters’ band, but it applies to both. Rather than upbeat and animated, their music was measured and spacious, even laconic. (Perhaps best summed up by the Wolf lyric “Oh the church bell tollin’/ Oh the hearse come driving slow”. Not something you could sing over a Gene Vincent beat.) Harmonica was often then used to thread, bend and stretch between the placed-out guitar notes, like barbed wire curling round fenceposts.

And Waters was great. Truly great. But ultimately, Wolf was even better.

I’d first heard Blues early, as a child, as my Dad had some old records. And my young ears could barely take in music that sounded so unearthly, so totally removed from the Pop music and advertising jingles which I’d taken to be music.

He had no Howling Wolf. (Due, I’d suspect, to the lack of any ‘authentic’ acoustic era.) In fact I wasn’t to hear him until an adult. Whereupon, despite having had years to acclimate myself to music, when I finally got there he still sounded as unearthly as the Blues I’d first heard.

It is true that lyrically, particularly by the time of R&B, Blues did tend to prefigure Rock & Roll. And Wolf sang as much about the familiar themes as anyone else, women not being able to resist him, and his baby doing him wrong. (However those two were supposed to fit together.)

But his lyrics could also hinted at something sinister going on, at lurking, indeterminate menace. (Something people associate with Robert Johnston, but don’t imagine in electric Blues.) In the later track ’Ain’t Superstitious’ from 1961, the title phrase is continually countered by lots of good reasons to be superstitious. Yet, importantly, Wolf knew to never make it any more explicit than that. It was like that anxiety dream where you’re not sure quite what’s causing the anxiety, making you all the more anxious.

(And Blues was ever thus. All the things that books earnestly list as creating the genre, which basically come down to racism, are almost never referred to explictly in the music.)

And this perfectly matched his voice, gravelly but also given to unearthly, name-defining howls, wails and moans. (He liked to say he’d originally tried to yodel like Country star Jimmie Rodgers, but howls were simply what had come out of his throat and so he’d gone with them.) Suffice to say, if you take to Wolf’s voice, you’ll most likely take to everything else about him.

And voice and lyrics were then married to the spectral music, sounding like it could pass through walls. The opening track ’Moanin’ At Midnight’ (1951) sums this up well. It starts with Wolf literally setting the tone with a low moan, as if retuning you into his frequency. Surely one of the greatest track openings of all. It’s the equivalent of saying “who-hoo” in a ghost story, except in a way that actually works.
It’s a classic example of the combination effect in music, the whole being more than its parts. Lyrics like “Somebody calling me/ Calling on my telephone” scarcely sound like Pulitzer prize stuff. But add it to the voice and the music and the result is spine-tingling.

But going back to that idea R&B was a basic genre, does any of it get repetitive? The short answer is yes. Even that low moan intro gets straight-out duplicated on another track on the same album, ’Moanin’ For My Baby.’ But there’s two things to consider here…

First, this was never planned as an album. The currency of R&B was the single, at most the EP. The Billboard R&B chart, which began in ’49, even included jukebox plays alongside record sales. This album, though put together back in the day, was complied from already released singles. (In ’59, from material dating back to ’51.) And that was what albums were to Chess, at least back them. (Fun fact! ‘Album’ originally referred to a clutch of 78s packaged together. It meant ‘separate things collected together’, like a stamp or photo album.)

And more broadly… the notion that Blues was, formally speaking, an authentic Folk art is nothing but a hopeless romanticism. It was a commercial genre, with labels as much hit factories as Motown would later be, which gave many a living and got some rich (Wolf included). However, it still retained many elements from folk culture. Including a lack of interest in originality. If someone had a new idea, whether a lyric or rhythm, that was simply taken as added to the buffet table. Everyone else just helped themselves, and were unabashed about doing it.

And if that person who had the new idea was you, then what else would you do but copy yourself? Stars would commonly cover their own songs under different aliases. Sometimes this was to slip through contractual obligation. But it was more than that, songs didn’t have some definitive ‘finished’ version, like novels or paintings. They were fluid things, changing with each iteration.

So the line between one song and another naturally became thin and porous. Recording essentially the same track with a few elements shifted around was par for the course. R&B was only interested in what worked. And Wolf himself did all three of these - borrowed from others, got borrowed from by others, and recycled his own best ideas.

So if the measure of R&B is its effect on R&R, Howlin’ Wolf’s was probably nil. But that’s because it took rock music over a decade to catch up with him. Sam Phillips claimed he was the greatest artist he ever worked with, despite going on to record the Sun Records roster. Dylan named him as the best live act he’d seen. The Stones, though named after a Waters song, called him “one of our greatest idols” and covered ’Little Red Rooster’. The Doors did ’Back Door Man’, while Marc Bolan stole ’You’ll Be Mine’ and Led Zeppelin ’Killing Floor’… the list goes on. And you hear his howl all the way through Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. Hail the wolf!

Saturday 5 November 2022


Clapham Grand, London, Thurs 3rd Nov

As I may have given away by now I’m something of a Krautrock obsessive - particularly over what we might call the Holy Trinity of Can, Faust and… well, expect you’ve guessed the third one. And, after the unfortunate demise of Klaus Dinger back in 2008, seeing the remaining half of the duo is the closest we can ever to come to Neu! Rother’s joined by drummer Hans Lampe, who played on their third and final album, and guitarist Franz Bargman from Camera. 

Having seen anniversary sets of, in order, Can, Faust and now Neu!, I’d concede this was the most straightforward of the three - playing the classic tracks more or less as they were recorded back then. (Sometimes dipping into his other band of the era, Harmonia.)

But then again, these are classic tracks. It’s no exaggeration to call it some of the greatest music ever made. And it feels awesome to be in a room of fellow aficionados, enthusiastically clapping a few beats into each new number. Which is why I preferred this to the other time I saw Rother, where he concentrated more only his later solo output. Maybe Rother without Dinger is a little like a sweet ’n’ sour with just the sweet. But seriously, if you can’t celebrate fifty years of Neu!, I really don’t know what you can.

And also, as a duo, Neu! back then were really confined to be a studio project, only playing live with their expanded line-up of the final album. Leading to the sense that all this isn’t retrospective so much as overdue. And it’s not just great music, it’s great music to hear live, serene and ecstatic at the same time. So irresistibly dancey were they, codgers even older than myself were to be witnessed abandoning themselves to the moment. (There may have been a few aching joints the next day.)

And also also, people picture Krautrock as science fictiony. Which may be partly true of Kraftwerk, but doesn’t apply to the Holy Trinity. Neu! may lend themseles to machine metaphors, but there’s nothing to suggest anything futuristic. And nature analogies apply equally well. So if, in the well-know adage, nothing dates faster than science fiction, there’s nothing here to date. In fact you could easily believe it sounds as fresh today as it did fifty years ago. In Neu!s case the absence of lyrics also helps, nothing which might pin it to an era. (Fans of ’Hero’ look away, but they skip the few numbers Dinger sang on. Only one track had vocals all night.)

Speaking of machines, I’ve waxed lyrical before how their sound ”glides as if … so pure a thing as to be untroubled by the lumpen world of gravity. Its pulsing drive, repetitive yet so propulsive, always seems to be stretching ahead of you. It's like the car that always seems to stay in front of you on the motorway, seemingly sailing ahead without burning up any energy.”

And indeed part of the backdrop film show was of the camera drifting freely down the motorway. A coincidence? Probably. But I’m going with it anyway.

Neu! may have exceeded even Faust and Can in the disparity of lack of immediate units shipped and long-term influence felt. Post-Punk, Dance and Electronica all owe them an unpayable debt. And as a sign of that esteem those promised “friends” turned out to be Stephen Morris of New Order and Paul Weller, joining them for the encore. I’m not sure that musically they contributed all that much, but perhaps being there’s the thing.

Actually a Harmonia number, but it’s all good…

The Albany, London, Sat 29th Oct

“Test Dept's formation in 1981” it says here “in the decaying docklands of South London, was an urgent reaction to the materialistic drift and reactionary conservatism of the prevailing musical and political culture. TD rejected the conventional and developed a style that reflected the decay of their surroundings scavenging the unregenerated wastelands for raw materials, and transforming found industrial items into designed, sculptural instruments…. It was the antithesis of commercial record industry values.”

I have to admit I never quite caught up with them back in the day, even missing the famous Brighton show where they used police riot shields for percussion. But I liked the sound of them when I heard them. And, well, I liked the sound of them. Industrial outfits, to varying degrees, tended towards dodgy ‘provocations’ which seem even worse looking back from our era of hipster racism. While Test Dept were unapologetically Leftist, all Constructivist typefaces and collaborations with a striking Miner’s choir. More in the spirit of Mayakovsky than Charlie Sodding Manson. And more Mayakovsky means more me.

When this gig was announced, they commented they’d be glad to be back in New Cross, the place it had all started out for them. And, walking round the area beforehand, I discovered how Old London New Cross still is - graffiti, political flyposting and (perhaps most remarkably of all) cafes that give change from a tenner. Made all the more bizarre by the way you can constantly see Canary Wharf on the skyline.

While Blurt went through their set (more of which anon), visible behind them was a metal scaffold sporting sheets of metal, dangling chains and various extemporised devices which might have been musical or torturous in intent. If there was such a thing as Chekov’s Percussive Supply, that would have been it. It was then placed literally centre stage. And yes, they did all go off.

The set started with high-register electronics, pounding drums and everyone else pitching in on percussion. And bar occasional outbreaks of wind, usually on strange and ethnic-looking devices with names unknown to me, that was the musical set-up. One member showed a remarkable ability not just attach a bass drum to him but to march around with it.

Beats are martial, unrelenting, providing no release. And that era had a penchant for musing the master’s tools against him, calls-to-arms enlisted against the arms trade.

The drummer… you know the actual drummer looked young enough to be a recent recruit. And I wasn’t quite sure how the splendid drumming was down to him or the drum sound. But it was surely something of both. They rattled and resounded like an Ironmonger’s shelves all being upended at once.

Not knowing their output well, I couldn’t tell you from when the set was pulled. Some lyrics sounded quite contemporary, so I deduced not an entirely historic set. I further guessed several tracks were from the Nineties, when they took on more of a Dance influence. (Before they came on the canned music notably switched from the Stooges to House.) Though it seems it was dominated by the new album, ’Disturbance’, and sounding pretty good for it.

The Dance direction is now often ridiculed, like it was all old Punks desperately reaching for relevance. But in fact they’d spotted something in the music which they could work with, its insistency, its powerful production-line beats. And jettisoned the parts which didn’t work for them, such as the blissed-out hedonism. Besides, it all sounds pretty dancey, whenever from.

The only weakness… okay, you can’t bash and shout the whole gig long. And some of the more ambient passages were actually pretty good. But they got a little too ambient at points for a gig setting, and you felt the audience’s attention starting to wonder.

But overall, you know the way T-shirt manufacturers kept busting the ceiling of their scales. (L, XL, XXL and so on.) You may need something similar to convey the intensity of this performance.

Blurt are a Post-Punk band dating back even further, to 1979. They once played Brighton semi-regularly, but it must have been over fifteen years ago, as I don’t seem to have blogged about them before.

They’ve the peculiarity of being a beat-driven band not incorporating a bass player. Which they often manage via the guitar and drums trading places. Guitar lines can me the most metronomically simple, or even tones, while the drums power the number.

Frontman Ted Minton’s sense-defying lyrics, sometimes declaimed poetry and occasional sax blasts don’t just make the connections between Post-Punk, Dada and Beat recitals, they more defy any distinction between them. It’s all sound and fury signifying nothing, and that’s the very point of the thing. (The titles given to their discography gives some of this away.)

If memory serves, they were better fifteen years back, to be truthful. But they’re still worth catching, and provided the vital role of a support band to provide something unlike yet complementary to the main act.