Festival 23: Convergence of Disco

April 18, 2016

I’ll be doing a poetry set and a talk at this festival (just outside of Sheffield), which I’m also involved in organising. Many acts from the Brighton counter-culture are venturing north for the occasion, including 3Eye, Future Zen, Binnsclagg, Four Manatees, Thee Hairee Kuntz, Daniel WJ Mackenzie, Map 71 and Bloom. It’s a true DIY underground happening; tickets are available here.


Festival 23- Convergence of Disco

 A brand new outdoor festival celebrating Discordian counter-culture

 Taking place on the weekend of July 23 at a secret South Yorkshire location

 Artists confirmed so far include Jimmy Cauty, John Higgs, Alan Moore (film), Knifeworld, Super Weird Substance, Richard Norris, Cosmic Trigger cabaret

Already compared by DJ Greg Wilson to the legendary 1967 ‘Gathering of the Tribes,’ Festival 23 is not just a music festival. Neither is it an arts, literature, theatre, film or poetry festival. It’s none of these things and it’s all of them. It is everything that you imagine it to be. Inspired by the exhortations of the late, great Ken Campbell, organisers Notwork 23 are setting out not to make money or to lose money, but to do something heroic!

Festival 23 is a celebration and exploration of contemporary counter-culture, inspired by generations of radical artists and writers, from William Burroughs to Alan Moore, Alan Watts to Robert Anton Wilson. The focus for these energies is Discordianism; a joke disguised as a religion, or a religion disguised as a joke, most famously popularised by Bob Shea & Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! -the ultimate cult novel series- itself adapted into an infamous nine-hour play in 1976 by maverick theatre director, actor, writer and genius Ken Campbell.

As a member of the KLF, Jimmy Cauty re-introduced Discordian ideas to a new generation in the late eighties and early nineties. We’re overjoyed that he’ll be bringing his acclaimed art installation, The Aftermath Dislocation Principle (ADP), to Festival 23.

In 2014, Ken Campbell’s daughter Daisy Campbell brought Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus sequel Cosmic Trigger to the stage, acting as a powerful catalyst for the current Discordian revival. Daisy will be leading Cosmic Trigger’s cast and crew, including poet Salena Godden, in a cosmic cabaret that will take over Festival 23’s main stage on the Sunday night.

Writer John Higgs has also brought Discordian-related ideas to a wider audience with his books The KLF: Chaos, Magic And The Band Who Burned A Million Pounds, and Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense Of The 21st Century. At Festival 23 John will be delivering a new talk entitled Ziggy Blackstar and the Art of Becoming.

 Headline musical acts include psychedelic/progressive rock titans Knifeworld, a full live set from Super Weird Substance (featuring legendary DJ Greg Wilson and Ruthless Rap Assassins/ Black Grape member Kermit, who will also both be performing separately), Richard Norris (The Grid, Circle Sky, Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve, Time and Space Machine, Psychic TV), Pete Woosh (DIY), AOS3 and Cowtown. Also confirmed so far are Barringtone, Bloom, Giblet, Horton Jupiter and Map 71.

Plus: films, rituals, workshops, poetry, theatre, art installations and more, including the screening of an exclusive filmed interview with Alan Moore, Puppet Alan Watts- part of the Future Zen Variety Show- and the Milk the Cow podcast crew, who will be producing a live radio podcast onsite.

 Festival 23 is the creation of Notwork 23, a grass-roots cooperative open to all with over 75 members worldwide. The festival takes place on 22-24 July 2016 at a secret location near Sheffield. There will be on-site camping, a licensed bar, food stalls, wood-fired sauna & showers etc. Tickets are on sale now priced £69 (£55 for Notwork 23 members). These will rise to £86/£72 after April 23rd. The site has a capacity of 500, with roughly 300 tickets on sale to the general public. The first 100 ticket buyers will be allowed on site one day early, on Thursday 21st July.

Website: http://festival23.org.uk/

Facebook community: https://www.facebook.com/festival23/?fref=ts

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/539494706224186/


Contact: info@festival23.org.uk


Favourite albums of 2015

December 31, 2015

1. Fuzz- II
2. Viet Cong- S/T
3. Golden Void- Berkana
4. Sextile- A Thousand Hands
5. Minami Deutsch- S/T
6. White Hills- Walks for Motorists
7. The Band Whose Name is a Symbol- Masters of the Molehill
8. Die Wilde Jagd- S/T
9. Dommengang- Everybody’s Boogie
10. Moon Duo- Shadow of the Sun
11. Black Bombaim- Live at Casazul
12. Sonic Jesus- Neither Virtue nor Anger
13. The Soft Moon- Deeper
14. Trembling Bells- The Sovereign Self
15. Lonelady- Hinterlands
16. Hills- Frid
17. Follakzoid- III
18. Baby Dee- I Am A Stick
19. Clowwns- The Artful Execution of Macho Bimbo
20. Taman Shud- Viper Smoke
21. The Lucid Dream- S/T
22. The Oscillation- Beyond the Mirror
23. Graham Parker & the Rumour- Mystery Glue
24. Wreckless Eric- America
25. Dave Heumann- Here in the Deep
26. Susan James- Sea Glass
27. Gold Class- It’s You
28. The Wave Pictures- Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon
29. Wire- S/T
30. Chorusgirl- S/T
31. The Chills- Silver Bullets
32. Lushes- Service Industry
33. Cold Showers- Matter of Choice
34. Teeth of the Sea- Highly Deadly Black Tarantula
35. Six Organs of Admittance- Hexadic parts 1 &2
36. Rocket from the Tombs- Black Record
37. Dave Cloud and the Gospel of Power- Today is the Day that they take me away
38. Marcus Hamblett- Concrete
39. White Manna- Pan
40. Nightingales- Mind over Matter
41. Steeple Remove- Position Normal
42. Anna Von Hauswolff- The Miraculous
43. Death- NEW
44. Hamilton Yarns- Two Coins in a Fountain / The Eye of the Storm
45. Bass Drum of Death- Rip This
46. Black Tempest- Darkness Unfolding
47. The Living Eyes- Living Large
48. Sauna Youth- Distractions
49. Dutch Uncles- O Shudder
50. Axis Sova- Early Surf

Just outside for now: Rats on Rafts, Death & Vanilla, Blank Realm, Eternal Tapestry, Ecka Liena, William D Drake, Kellar, the Lilac Time, Red River Dialect, Dead Sea Apes, Hallock Hill, Wetdog, the Chemistry Experiment, Noteherder & McCloud, Nev Cottee, Alasdair Roberts.

Hymns of New York: Martin Rev of Suicide interviewed

August 4, 2015

Note: I originally conducted this interview for the Stool Pigeon magazine, and was published on their website in 2012. Since that doesn’t seem to be currently accessible I thought I’d reprint it here.




“Sometimes you’re surprised because you don’t realise that certain people actually know who you are, and listen to your work, and then they cover your song.”

That’s an unnecessarily humble Martin Rev, who for over forty years has been the keyboard-playing musical half of seminal New York electronic duo Suicide, alongside menacing, Elvis-from-Hell vocalist Alan Vega. Received with almost blanket hostility on their inception, and generating riots when they toured supporting the Clash and Elvis Costello, Suicide have proved influential on generations of forward-thinking artists, from Joy Division and the Jesus and Mary Chain to Spiritualized, The Horrors and MIA, whose ‘Born Free’ was based around a sample from Suicide’s 1977 classic ‘Ghost Rider.’ The latest artist to cover a Suicide song is Neneh Cherry, who has recorded a brilliant version of the band’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’ on her album with Scandinavian jazz collective The Thing.

“I was just informed about that yesterday, but I didn’t have a chance to hear it yet,” Martin growls, in his rasping Brooklyn accent . “But I heard it’s kinda cool. It was a nice surprise. Her father [jazz legend Don Cherry] was someone that I met, that I knew in a very nice way- not really personally, but Mari my wife knew him when she was growing up in California. She used to go hear Ornette [Coleman, whose band Don Cherry played in] when he was just starting out there, and she and Don were very close all those years; not always seeing each other or talking to each other but they were very good friends, and he was very significant in a couple of incidents in her life. We’d see him sometimes in New York, when he came back from Sweden. So that was a nice surprise.”

Commonly considered a part of punk or post-punk, Suicide aren’t usually imagined hanging out with the major figures of 1960s jazz. But by the time of their ground-breaking eponymous debut LP in 1977 the band were already veterans of the New York club and art circuit, following on from fellow New York electronic pioneers the Silver Apples, and contemporaries of krautrock bands like Can, although Rev insists he hadn’t heard either of these artists when Suicide started out.

“Alan [Vega] told me about Silver Apples,” he recalls. “Alan had seen Iggy [Pop, with the Stooges], and that had really changed his direction radically, and that’s when I met him soon after that. At that time I was still listening principally to jazz, and I didn’t hear a lot of other stuff. Alan told me about the German electronic scene, and said you’ve gotta hear this group Can, and maybe played me some tracks, and I related to it, because we’d already started Suicide and it was nice to know that anyone else was anywhere near that ball park. Because I already realised this was something really new, I mean I was creating music pretty much out of pure feedback at that time. But I felt there were differences in terms of the temperament and the emotion, the expression, where it was coming from. We were something much closer to my roots which were very urban, rhythm and blues, New York…”

There’s a sense with those early Suicide records that you’re almost trying to play your environment…

“Yeah, probably. You almost can’t help doing it; it’s what’s close to you, it’s what you know best. You’ve got the subway trains, the streets; it’s the construction of the décor that you grew up in, it really informs your sense of dimension and arrangement, no matter what materials you’re working with.”


Alongside Suicide, Rev has maintained an ever-evolving solo career; his last album, 2009’s Stigmata, was an electronic requiem mass for his late wife and muse Mari that fused motifs from European religious classical music to haunting vocal treatments, all built up from loops and synthesised orchestral instruments. None of which is likely to feature in Rev’s forthcoming solo show at Camden’s Purple Turtle on the 25th of May. “I tend to do more club kind of, stronger beat material when I work live, unless it’s a special kind of venue that requests a more cerebral concert type of environment,” he says. “I did something that way in Vienna a couple of years ago at a modern classical festival. But otherwise I just like to play, back to the club roots that I dig so much. And a lot of the stuff has not been recorded.”

The show will be Rev’s first performance in the UK capital since Suicide opened for Iggy and the Stooges at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2010, where the duo played their debut LP in its entirety. I asked Rev how he felt about the whole notion of such carefully curated, retrospective performances, which would seem the diametric opposite of Suicide’s onstage ethos of orchestrated chaos.

“I wouldn’t wanna play a reproductive, retrospective gig like that unless it was in a glass box maybe in a museum somewhere, and even then I would hesitate very strongly,” he admits. “The idea was broached some time before, at a time when it was apparently a kind of a trend, in the UK especially, to do live reproduction shows of your albums. It was presented very sincerely that people would really want to see that, with us going back to the original instruments, but I felt that was not going to work for me, because the energy and the edge that they had for me at that time, they’re not necessarily going to have now. So I didn’t do it. But I did in time play around with the sounds I had originally, with the rhythm machine and what not, and my idea was always that we could do old material- that hasn’t lost any of the glimmer for me- but do it in the way that I play now. So I said yeah, I’ll do it, but I wanna upgrade it like this. And finally I guess it was seen that that was the only way I was going to do it, so they said yeah, okay, and it worked out great. For me it had all the energy and edge that it ever had, and people had the same reactions they did twenty or thirty years ago. They just didn’t know what to do, they were in this suffocating space, whether they wanted to leave but they couldn’t… it was like they heard it for the first time.”

Rev obviously retains the forward-thinking, improvisatory attitude that characterised the modern jazz he was listening to, and indeed performing, prior to Suicide’ early seventies inception.

“Well, originally I was a rock n’ roll kid; I was born into the rock n’ roll era of 45s in the late 50s, so rock was the breast that I nurtured from originally,” Rev qualifies.” Jazz I got into as a pre-teenager and then all the way through my teenage years I studied it very intently. For a keyboard player, or any instrumentalist, it was as erudite, in terms of harmony and theory, as any European classical music was. It was just as deep, and in some ways you had to be more versatile, as you’re improvising all the time.”

“After the sixties so many rock groups started to say they were influenced by jazz-the Allman Brothers, Hendrix, they all started saying after a few years, yeah, they got that from listening to Coltrane, you know. I mean we’re talking about a time when John Coltrane was really cutting edge, he was reflecting the whole energy, the whole social progression, the whole social future of the time. And Miles Davis at the same time… it was still one developing generation, which means that every six months sometimes, or two years, they were overlapping each other into new movements. It hadn’t yet reached an interpretive era. So it was really, really vibrant. The same way rock n’ roll has been; its cycle started later, in the fifties, and it was like that too, with all the movements that happened in the sixties and the seventies, through punk, and even the eighties. But especially in America, jazz had a real meaning, and as an instrumentalist it was like, wow, let me try and do that. Of course, trying to do that you study, and you practise for quite a few years, and you come out of it with a lot of stuff, and then later I realised what I wanted to use and what I wasn’t gonna use.”

It’s interesting that you should say that you were drawn to the complexity of jazz, because when Suicide started out you were known for doing this very minimal, brutal, deliberately simple music that was almost seen as a reaction against people like the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead and these extemporising bands. But actually before that, you had the chops to be doing quite complex stuff.

“Yeah, I was reacting against that; I thought that had reached a turning point, and as someone living very close to the surface I couldn’t afford to actually put together a group and go to those studios, and that whole scene I was coming in on, I couldn’t compete with that kind of establishment, and I had to find a way to make music that moved me with the most minimal ways too. And then I discovered something that for me was more vibrant. Because after that many years of elaborating itself in the studios and in bands, that format had reached an end point. And rock n’ roll can be very profound in its emotion, but it’s not necessary to learn that much in terms of spurting out like that, in terms of what’s happening in jazz and classical music. So you can kind of do a lot of playing pretty early on.”

“So between the two worlds I actually came back to my roots, which was rock n’ roll. Jazz, as much as I loved it, was really music based in a generation or two before me. All the greats were born in the twenties, pretty much, at the latest the thirties, and so they listened to different things on the radio. Their pop music was Bing Crosby, standard songs. My pop music was ‘Get a job’, ‘At the Hop.’ So I came back to me, basically, but I didn’t come back to it by throwing anything away.”

Immediately before Suicide you had a band called Reverend B. What were they like? Was that in the jazz period, or had you moved more into rock n’ roll by then?

“It started as a free group. I’d have sometimes as many as between six and ten or twelve musicians, and then through the fact that there weren’t keyboards in a lot of the places I was playing, because I was playing lofts, I would borrow an electric organ off somebody, and eventually I bought like a Wurlitzer electric piano that I started Suicide with. But with the organs I started to hear the possibility of electronics and free music like that. This was a time when jazz was in its avant-garde, and free music was the current music of the day. Coltrane had already made that leap, and the most relevant people at the time were Coltrane, Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor, and it was very much centred in New York, too. So it evolved into electronic free music like that, which was still novel to me because really only Sun Ra was dabbling that way in electronics. Miles Davis was too, but in a more rhythmic, rock-oriented way. And then it started to evolve into the pure beat too, because sometimes the drummer would really sink into the electronics with a strong back beat, but with a lot of free improvisation over it. And that was what I was doing for quite a while before I met Alan. I actually played some of the first shows in the Museum of Living Artists, where I met Alan and where we started Suicide.”

And out of that you created some music that eventually was very influential. Songs like ‘Ghost Rider’; the riff in that is so minimal and simple, yet it seems like it’s been ripped off and sampled a million times since, it’s kind of like the ‘Smoke on the Water’ of electronic music. I wonder if you can remember coming up with that, and if you felt like it stood out from everything else at the time.

“I actually remember very specifically… I was rehearsing with Alan at the time, and we even had a guitar player for the first couple of shows- these were all in the museum- and they were basically coming from being visual artists, but wanting to find a way into music, using electronics. And at some point, after the first few rehearsals, which were incredible of course, energy-wise and visionary-wise, psychedelically or however you want to put it, but I was still searching for an expression that would work, as a group, that we could play gigs on. And I used to just go and crash right into the university that’s around there, which you couldn’t do now, and grab their practise rooms, just go in there and throw around ideas and just try things. And I remember this one day, I just went in and in just a few minutes I started playing ‘Rocket USA’. Just two notes really, like that, and in that so-called minimalism I heard and saw everything. It was as visual as it was audible. I heard and saw my whole… it was something very primordial to me. It was like the pictures that used to be in my room when I was a baby, which I remember were like cowboy pictures, a cowboy lassoing this or the cow jumping over the moon, all these very American, Americana-like, almost like drawn cartoon kind of things, not real paintings. And when I started playing those notes I saw all of that, I saw all that Americana… it was right. Plus it had the energy. And I just went from there to ‘Ghost Rider’ in the next few minutes, and the sound, even the register I was playing in… it was there, it was ready to find. And then I brought it back into the next time we played, around the corner in the museum, and it was a new place for everybody. It was the direction.”


That moment of epiphany has sent tremors through the entire music world ever since, that show no signs of abating. When pushed to name acts that he thinks have taken what Suicide did and then built on it, as opposed to just imitating, Rev singles out Spacemen 3 and ARE Weapons as particular favourites, while also nodding to “those guys who did ‘Tainted Love’…”

Soft Cell?

“Yeah, they said they were totally into us, but they did something different or in their own way with it. Some have really just tried to replicate us, and that’s their decision too, they try to do certain periods, like early period of Suicide; sometimes at our gigs I’m in the dressing room and the opener is like, “they’re doing you guys, but in 1974” and it sounds much more us than… it’s like hearing yourself play, 20 or 30 years before.”

You’ve always kept moving forward with your sound though; I guess you don’t pine for the days of a forty buck keyboard or whatever.

“No… I know a lot of people like to go back to analogue, but to me it’s never really been that much of a passion. Maybe I just kind of did it, for me, when I was the latest thing, too.”

So you’re still enthusiastic about the possibilities of new technology and seeing what you can do with it?

“Oh, yeah. It’s always been what spurred me on in a way. I always like found music, like found art- you know the found art movement, where they were finding things, they took a throwaway from the street and they made art out of it. Well you hear a module or something that just came out, and you can find a lot of incredible ideas out of that, and make music out of that. Now there’s less new hardware being manufactured, it’s all about software, but the combination of the two, that’s really where the freshness is- for me anyway, working in electronics and working in something that’s not a traditional, known music, you might say. If you’re interpreting, of course, you can interpret forever.”

And are you working towards a new album at all, at the moment?

“Yeah, I am. It’s been in the works for a little while and it’s really reaching that stage where I should be putting something out as a demo, or looking to put something out at some point in the near future.”

And is any of this material likely to be showcased at the gig on the 25th?

“Actually probably not, no. It’s a different thing. It’s a generalisation, but the new album is actually going on from Stigmata, for me. Towards what has been almost an open, unknown space, in many respects. But coming from that end. But who knows; after this it might come back to stuff I’m doing live.”

And finally do you think Suicide will make another studio album? It’s been ten years since American Supreme, and that came ten years after Why Be Blue, so…

“I know. One can never say. We’ve never really planned our records to any great, or maybe not to any extent. They’ve always presented themselves in one way or another, in a way that we almost couldn’t refuse to do them. There’s a general kind of environment that circles you and makes it happen. We tend not to, at this point, say okay, we gotta make a new album, like a band that says okay, it’s time to get in the studio and make a new album and try to sell it to somebody… But if it’s in the wind, so to speak, if it’s necessary, we’ll be called. One way or the other.”







Live review: Ex Hex

February 19, 2015

Betsy Wright on lead bass. Photo by Guy Christie.

Betsy Wright on lead bass. Photo by Guy Christie.

Ex Hex
The Green Door Store, Brighton, Sunday 15/2/15

You know it’s going to be a good show when it’s the first song and the bassist already has one foot up on the monitors. Ex Hex may not deliver anything new, but they do excel at something that’s been missing from the scene for far too long; kick ass rock n’ roll pop music, with great tunes and a sense of serious fun. And pouts and poses aside, it wouldn’t work if the deceptively simple songs weren’t also undeniably brilliant.

With a bare bones power trio like Ex Hex there are no frills or gimmicks to hide behind, and the likes of ‘Don’t Wanna Lose’ and ‘How You Got That Girl’ recall nothing so much as the Go-Go’s- whose debut album, Beauty and the Beat, remains one of power pop’s greatest overlooked classics. Ex Hex also nod to several more of humanity’s finest bands- the Ramones, Cheap Trick, the Runaways and, on ‘Radio On,’ even throw in some metronomic boogie worthy of AC/DC or ZZ Top. But beneath the surface the lyrics are far from good-time froth; songs such as ‘You Fell Apart’ and ‘Warpaint’ deal in alienation and unsentimental regret, born not of teenage angst but years of experience.

At 44, singer-guitarist Mary Timony is already a veteran of American indie rock, having played in Helium, Soft Power and Wild Flag as well as under her own name (the band shares its name with her 2005 solo album). The other two-thirds of Ex Hex- Betsy Wright pirouetting around on lead bass in sequinned hotpants, Doc Martens and a Van Halen t-shirt, and Laura Harris pounding out the backbeat behind a curtain of sweaty blonde hair- are both in their early thirties, and all have paid their dues on Washington DC’s defiantly DIY post-hardcore circuit, with friends and supporters including Fugazi’s Brendan Canty and the Make-Up’s Ian Svenonius.

The songs from last year’s debut album Rips are still punk rock, but there’s no whining or passive-aggressive nihilism to be heard; just grin-inducing harmonies, air-punching aggressive melodies and a surfeit of snappy hooks. Tonight, Timony and Wright duel matching cherry red Gibsons, facing off like Bowie and Ronson; Timony drops to her knees for a guitar solo, and Wright executes a high kick to signal the end of a jam. It’s appropriate that they close the last night of their British tour with a cover of the Sweet’s glam rock classic ‘Fox on the Run,’ “for all the UK people.” And if not all the UK people seem to recognise the song (number 2 in 1975, pop pickers), then even less knew the earlier cover of Boston band the Real Kids’ 1977 punk nugget ‘All Kindsa Girls.’ But no matter: Ex Hex have just given them the most enjoyable history lesson they’ll ever receive.

Mary Timony, photo by Guy Christie.

Mary Timony, photo by Guy Christie.

Book Review: A Guide to Broken Roads, by Jaroslav Kalac (Eleusinian Press, 2014)

December 14, 2014

Jaroslav Kalac’s excellent novel is, as the author admits in the preface, half memoir and half fiction, and though ostensibly an autobiography of childhood intercut with fantastical short stories, it’s harder than you might expect to see where the joins lie.

Young Jaro is the son of a Czech gas fitter whose most common interaction with his infant son is to ask him to smell his fist and to say what odours he detects. When young Jaro confesses his bewilderment at the mixture of gas, grease, working class food and beer he perceives, his father solemnly tells him, “that is the smell of the graveyard.” This is almost as intimate as father and son ever get, and certainly as Jaro gets older they become more estranged; furthermore, the mixture of the gothic and the real, the subtly symbolic and the strangely ominous in the exchange are typical of the whole book’s feel.

Jaro’s closest friend is his “aunt” Sabrina, originally maid, cook and servant to his grandfather before the latter lost his wealth and status to communism after the war. Sabrina was also a nanny of sorts to Jaro’s mother, and remains a family friend. By the time of Jaro’s childhood she is a widow who empties her chamber pot every morning on her violent, drunken husband’s grave, and lives with a family of fearsome and quixotic roosters that quite literally rule the roost.

If Sabrina’s life seems like some Eastern European fairy tale then she is also a font of such tales to young Jaro, and her symbolic stories capture his imagination and distract him from the dour and increasingly disturbing nature of his real life. Jaro’s troubles stem from his relations with his family and schoolfriends on the one side, and from the intrusion of the wider world of politics, ideology and racial tension on the other. These stories- of kings, goatherds and princesses, magic and dramatically changing circumstances- are interwoven with “true” family legends just as odd, resonant, tragic and poetic.

Jaro is six during the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Soviet invasion and Stalinist crackdown on Czech life, western influences and freedoms that crushes it. His Americanophile father decides that they must flee the country, but not, curiously to the States- “full of gangsters, and no place for a child,” the father declares- nor England (“full of homosexuals”), but Africa.

Consequently the second half of the book finds Jaro growing up in an unnamed African country in the 1970s, a white European dominated colony in which the native people do the hard labour then return to their unofficially segregated ghettos at night. When Jaro’s father (now working as a plumber) finds a black man loitering in the white suburbs after dark he beats and apprehends him and is hailed as a hero, for it’s obvious to all that the fellow was up to no good. Jaro of course attends an all-white school, and sees native Africans only from a distance; when he innocently attempts to interact with them by a wave or a smile he is warned that they will think he is mocking them. So the unmentioned apartheid is maintained.

An awkward adolescent and a Czech refugee, Jaro is temperamentally alienated from his peers, his teachers and increasingly his family, and feels an outsider in many ways. But any budding sympathy or identification with the Africans is muted by an awareness of the hatred and resentment he assumes they feel towards him as just another white oppressor. Black and white simply do not meet, and so while it’s regrettable that there are no black voices in a book half set in Africa, it’s also sadly realistic. The racial and political tensions mostly simmer in the background, occasionally flaring up dramatically as when the school bus is caught in the aftermath of a riot, or in mentions of an undeclared war raging somewhere in the north, which gives the book an almost Orwellian feel. The war (they don’t even know who is the enemy) presses closer as Jaro approaches conscription age. Through it all he continues his correspondence with the eccentric Sabrina, an unlikely voice of sanity in a world seemingly gone mad, although another ally appears when Jaro falls in love with a fragile English girl.

The accounts of Jaro’s life, often harsh and painful, often funny and awkward, are recounted in the same measured, carefully weighted tones as Sabrina’s folk tales and romantic parables. If Jaro’s letters to Sabrina seem to display a level of insight, self-knowledge and maturity unlikely in one so young, then it’s an acceptable concession to the poetic realism that unites the book. We allow that events recounted in letter form by the young Jaro are informed by the perspective of the middle-aged author recreating them, just as those events written as remembered by the Jaroslav Kalac of 2014 are tinged with a guileless niavete that denies hindsight and conjures instead the character and limited understanding of the boy experiencing them at the time. That limited understanding is not just a product of youth either; the unworldly Sabrina, living on another continent under a totalitarian regime, knows more of the wars and riots in Jaro’s adopted African homeland than are reported in that nation’s own newspapers.

Ultimately autobiography and fable, memory and missive intertwine as Jaro tries to find his way along the broken roads that must lead him out of childhood towards maturity, and hopefully freedom and self-realisation. A confident, masterly creation, Kalac’s book unites several shameful strands of twentieth century history behind the personal, universal story of a young boy’s growing up. The fairy tales and parables never explicitly mirror the real events, but merely prove that human jealousy, stupidity, greed and aggression are eternal, and not confined to any one time, place, people or worldview. They also suggest that sometimes, with both luck and wisdom on one’s side, good and innocence can, if not triumph, then at least sometimes rise above their always oppressive circumstances.

PARALLEL LIVES: The Return of Linda Perhacs

March 7, 2014

Endorsed by Daft Punk and championed by Devandra Banhart, Californian singer-songwriter Linda Perhacs is about to release her second album- 44 years after her first.


A haunting fusion of psych-folk, electronic ambience and hypnotic rhythms, The Soul of All Natural Things comes out on Sufjan Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty label later this month. The LP features contributions from Julia Holter- on the choral epic, ‘Prisms of Glass’- and Ramona Gonzalez, AKA Nite Jewel.  It’s an astonishing record by any standards; but Linda Perhacs’ 1970 debut, the cult classic Parallelograms, set a higher standard than most.

“Music surprised me,” Linda says, down the phone from her LA office. “I didn’t plan on it; it started to show at age five at a very high development stage. Nobody paid me attention and being a child I didn’t think about it. But I was disturbing the classrooms with my desire to do whole shows. I would put on the choreography, lyrics, the musical composition; pretty expansive and pretty developed for a five-year-old or a six-year-old! And they told me to quit because it was interfering with the school curriculum and I was bringing friends into the project and disturbing the teacher’s plans for the day.”

Perhacs studied medicine at the University of Southern California, and by the late 1960s was working as a Hollywood dental hygienist whose patients included Jane Fonda and Cary Grant. But evenings and weekends with her sculptor husband were spent visiting artist and musician friends involved in the thriving California counter-culture.

“When I would go into my hippy friends’ homes in Topanga Canyon, I was hopping from a starched Beverley Hills clinical world, where everything was very proper, into a whole different atmosphere,” Linda says now. “I would jump between those two worlds daily. And in those days you didn’t talk about the hippy people. You could lose your job. So you would go there privately and silently.”

One of Linda’s regular patients was the academy award-winning film composer Leonard Rosenman, who was increasingly receiving commissions for scores that would reflect the contemporary singer-songwriter or psychedelic vibe of the day. Then in his mid-forties, Rosenman knew he didn’t have a natural affinity for these sounds. So when he learnt that his 25-year-old dentist also wrote songs, he asked her to send him a tape.

“He just said, Linda, I can’t believe this is all you do,” Perhacs remembers. “I said no, I have a very creative life. My husband is a designer and we have skin divers and ornithologists and bird painters and all manner of artists in and out of the house all the time. And we go in the wilderness, and while the guys are doing very masculine things that I don’t feel like I want to do, like get out there with sharks, I take solitary walks on beaches- the sea of Cortez, Alaska, Canada, the Pacific North-West, the California coastline- and I write songs. And he said you live in Topanga Canyon, you’re in your middle twenties; you’re surrounded by hippies out there. He said, my wife and I get assignments for that flavour of music, and we’re about twenty years too old to really have a feel for it. Maybe you could write a song with us and give us some help on some of those assignments. Let me hear the music.”

Rosenman was bowled over by what he heard, but was still thinking in terms of Linda ghost-writing or collaborating on film projects, rather than developing an album of her own. That all changed when Linda approached him with the idea that would become Parallelograms’ avant-garde title track.

“I saw this vision in the sky, these magical geometric shapes,” she says. “I pulled off the freeway, drew the picture, showed it to Leonard a week or so later. I said, I’d like to put a Celtic melody either side of this, and inside the middle I want to do a three-dimensional sound sculpture using surround sound techniques, which were new at that time, and I want the shape of the geometrics to be created by the movement of the music. And he flipped out, he said this is so creative, I can’t tell you, if I had an idea that good twice in my life I’d be happy. We must do this piece.”

Perhacs had seen similar visions before; she’d experienced synaesthesia, the condition of seeing sounds as colours and vice-versa, since childhood. “I also hear inwardly,” she reveals. “If I need guidance in life I hear inwardly that guidance, and I hear words. I hear a man’s voice, and I’m used to it. My father’s whole line of people, they’re used to this, and my father was very active in World War Two saving lives using that ability, to sense evil versus good, safe versus not safe, and he would tell his troops where to walk and where not to go. And then they would put him on the front of a jeep and drive him around and say okay, where’s the danger. They’d go through streets in Italy, or they would put him on the bow of a boat to land on an island, to determine if there was any enemy activity, and he could give them a full report before the boat anchored.”

“My father was an officer in something like the 21st Mountain Troopers, some famous unit that taught the soldiers how to survive really harsh, cold weather, and mountain climbing, things that were really dangerous in the Alps, or in Alaska. He stayed even after the war, because he loved what he was doing. But he had that sixth sense, like an American Indian might have, to know where danger was, and where nature had been disturbed for the planting of mines; that was easy for him to see. But this other was intuitive, and that entire bloodline of people, my father’s bloodline, has this ability to this day. But mine is very developed, and my father’s was very developed. I’ve used it in music, and I’ve used it in helping people with their healing. And when I saw this vision in the sky, where I see the lights I know that a high flute is a bright yellow, it’s a tight, high wavelength, and a deep bass guitar is going to be a slower, very dark blue tone and a wavelength like a slow ocean wave.”

Rosenman secured a sizeable recording budget from Universal Pictures and the album was made over nine months using some of LA’s finest session musicians. Yet when Perhacs heard the finished LP she was bitterly disappointed. The pressing and mastering was so bad she couldn’t listen to it, and she threw her own vinyl copy of the album away, preferring to listen to a private cassette dubbed off the original masters. With no promotion, reviews or radio play, the album sank without trace.


Perhacs moved away from music, continuing with dental work and also developing her gifts for spiritual healing and awareness. “I’m medically and scientifically trained, and I’m a naturalist by heart,” she says. “So a person like that, with their scientific mind and their musical attunement, what do we do? We go to the universe and look for balances; we look for things that hold together longer than a ten-year pattern, a twenty-year pattern. Especially if you didn’t have your own children and focus on that for twenty or thirty years, which I did not. It gives you a breadth of experience, looking at the bigger picture. Where’s something that you can hold on to, where is there a pole star, that can give people balance when they’re in a 9/11 situation? When the buildings are going up or a subway is suddenly in distress, or there’s an illness that you can’t figure out how to cure. People need deeper answers, and our cellphones help, all our improvements help in our lives, but when you are really cornered, you need to go straight up for some of these answers. And I’ve spent a lot of years working on the ability to do just that. I already had kind of a natural ability for that, but I’ve tried to improve it, because I’m concerned not only for my life but for other people. This is a very big part of my thoughts right now.”

Music drew Linda back however, when in 2000 she recovered from a life-threatening bout of pneumonia to discover that Parallelograms had been reissued, and was enjoying revered cult status among a younger generation of music fans and musicians. Like that of kindred spirits Vashti Bunyan and Shelagh McDonald, Linda Perhacs’ music had been granted a second life via the electronic global word-of-mouth phenomenon of the internet. Yet Linda couldn’t help noticing the differences between her generation of musicians and the younger artists who revered her work so much.

“In the music of the sixties and the seventies there’s a gut level honesty that is so appealing to people, even to this day,” she asserts. “It’s hard for them to describe why they like the music from this era. I could be totally wrong, but I don’t think I am; those people were gut level honest. And honesty and truth is attractive. They showed the weaknesses, they showed the strength, and they were willing to explore both, and it was a beautiful thing.”

Typically, Linda sees this artistic honesty and idealism as part of a much larger picture.

“Because I look at things from a universal standpoint, from a bigger view, we have to remember that when World War Two hit, it was hell for everybody bring touched by it,” she says. “And anybody in their right mind would say god help us, please send something, this is awful; this is horrible. Especially in England where you must have been pleading for help, your parents, or I mean your grandparents or whoever. When enough of mankind all over the globe is screaming into the universe for help, one of the first things that occurs is that babies appear; special babies that understand things, that understand the universe’s need for peace. And those babies are then grown up and able to express that, and I can’t believe that all that happened in the sixties was an accident. Those were special babies, and they came from the parents that were crying out for help. So it isn’t accidental that that magnificent explosion of energy and creativity, and broadening of our perspective in terms of clothing, food, meditation, exchanging concepts in spiritual ideas, amalgamating all of these things and strengthening one another by sharing all of this, it happened all over the globe. And it happened simultaneously.”

“So now the world has gone through another phase where they’ve been exploring darkness. It’s good to become acquainted with a phenomena; it’s not good to get lost in it, if it’s a negative phenomenon, and not helpful to other people or to yourself. I think we might be starting to emerge out of that; I don’t know, we’ll have to watch the pattern for a while. But preoccupation with darkness is not a good sign. The wavelengths where you can get a better meditation and more answers for your life are a higher wavelength; they are a part of light. The wavelengths where you can get into depression and ‘I can’t solve my problems’ are a slower, darker wavelength. And you don’t want to live there, because you need light. Light is what gives us energy and creativity. Darkness is not a good place to live in. So we’d experimented with that pattern in our entire media worldwide. And we’ve gone into it pretty far. I can’t represent that movement; I represent the opposite. If you want to heal, if you want your highest inspirations, you must be connected with higher wavelength energy. And that entire group from the sixties knew that.”

Back in the 21st Century, major fan Devandra Banhart convinced Perhacs to sing backing vocals on his Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon LP. Opeth covered ‘Parallelograms,’ and Daft Punk used ‘If You Were My Man’ in their film Electroma. In 2010 she sang live on stage for the first time, at a Parallelograms tribute concert organised by the LA internet radio station Dublab. This was where she first met Julia Holter and Ramona Gonzalez. And in 2012 a solar eclipse finally spurred her into writing new music.


“My songs do not come by sitting at the keyboard and fooling around, by jamming,” Linda says. “My songs come like a flood of water or rain pouring through my head, and I have to run to find a pen and paper and catch it before I forget part of the delicacy. And then I go to the keyboard to try and put it into a form that I can communicate to musicians and ask for greater help.”

Where Parallelograms was personal and impressionistic, The Soul of All Natural Things is more universal and its songs have a clearer and more urgent message, reflecting the personal spiritual journey Linda has undergone between the two records, and her mounting concern for the state of our world.

“I believe it’s pretty natural in your twenties to be concentrating on your man-woman relationships or your relationships with each other,” she says. “But as the years go by pretty soon you are concerned with other people in the world, not only what’s happening here in our little clique of musicians and things, but what’s happening all through this entire globe. You know, things aren’t that good. So my deeper look at the world, my deeper look at the universe, is because I need some answers too. For all of these years I’ve been thinking a lot about all of that. Not just lightly. I’d say my major focus has been the universe and the link with balances out there, and the comparison with the imbalances that I see here. It’s a very big subject, but it has been my entire preoccupation.”

The seventy-year-old singer is already planning her next album for Asthmatic Kitty and is keen to break more musical boundaries, hoping to collaborate with Michael Ackerfield of Opeth and also to move in a more electronic, techno-oriented direction.

I love all those rhythms, I really love them,” she says. “I was talking to Sufjan [Stevens] about the same thing over the weekend. I said Sufjan, you’re using some electronic sounds. He said, all the time. I said I’ve got some ideas… to take some pulsations, like you hear in the universe, but I don’t know if it’s something you can create organically. He said, send me what you have in mind, and we’ll start working on it. So I’m going to be a little bit more daring with pieces in the future. I guess it’s in me to do it. It’s not natural for me to hold back.”



Brighton Beat: Thurston Moore and friends live

January 27, 2013

Thurston Moore at Green Door Store

Thurston Moore, the Green Door Store Brighton, 26th January 2013. Photo by Melita Dennett http://www.flickr.com/photos/melita666/

 It’s not every day you get to see an old friend play an improvised musical face-off with an alt-rock legend, and it’s even more gratifying when said friend- Brighton drummer extraordinaire Andy Pyne, AKA Puffinboy, Foolproof Projects, and one-third of Medicine and Duty- more than holds his own against said legend, guitar hero to a (Daydream) generation, Thurston Moore.

I, by the way, hate the term ‘alt-rock’ as much as you do, but it’s a fair bet that whatever college radio jock or Spin magazine subeditor came up with the term, he (gotta be he) immediately defined it as “you know, stuff like Sonic Youth.” Moore’s former (?) band pretty much embodied that whole early nineties alternative music crossover; their pals Nirvana may have been more iconic, but they were too narrow, too specifically grunge where SY seemed to encompass and represent the whole diaspora of weird-ass music that was starting to filter through into the mainstream. Their story even sums up the whole era in microcosm: smart-ass post-punkers turned early ’80s NYC No Wave brats, gradually tuning their noise over the course of a half-dozen albums until they reached their decade-straddling imperial peak- the hugely influential 1988 double Daydream Nation, major label debut Goo and opinion-dividing, glam-pop-grunge classic / sellout Dirty (which I love)- then arguably moving gradually back towards their experimental improv roots over the course of the eight albums that followed (2006’s rock-recapitulating Rather Ripped perhaps excepted), not to mention the more consciously avant-garde side releases on their own SYR label.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that while Thurston Moore is a genuine icon and big deal rock star, it’s also no surprise to see him mingling so easily with the sellout crowd at this still intimate club matinee show; joining in with the improv event spirit of no barriers between performer and audience, no expectations, open minds and open boundaries. Because this is where Thurston came from and where, really, his heart and musical soul have always remained. He doesn’t exactly blend in- his tall, gangly frame is immediately recognisable and he hasn’t aged much in the 20 years since he was a regular fixture on MTV’s 120 Minutes– just a bit more pouchy- but he’s quiet, casual, approachable, and genuinely interested in the day’s supporting performers.

This is of course a benefit show to raise funds for this year’s Colour Out of Space festival. This important annual event, since 2006 Brighton’s more low-key, more artistically and experimentally oriented answer to Birmingham’s Supersonic, or an indoor, condensed forerunner of the mighty Supernormal, was sorely missed last year when it lost out on funding. So embodying the DIY ethos it celebrates, Colour Out of Space is Doing It itself, and will return in November, thanks to the support of artists like Thurston (who performed at the 2008 event) and everybody here.

Occult Hand are presumably named for the game played by a group of American newspaper journalists to see who could sneak the phrase “it was as if an occult hand…” into the most unlikely reports between 1965 and 2004. Dressed in natty hooded robes with a groovy cultish backprint, Isa Brooks and Henry Holmes crouched on the floor manipulating found sounds- eerie wails, what sounded like a demonic voice conjured in a seance- over the Kenneth Anger-esque film of some kind of Satanic ritual being projected behind them. It was an appropriate and evocative scene to walk in on, leaving the afternoon sunshine behind and passing through the black curtain into the Green Door Store’s dank and stonewalled back room.

In complete contrast, Lizzy Carey’s “Bag Lady Pot Pourri” was a warmly engaging performance based around at least two random elements; one being a bag of items bought from the closing down sale at the Hove charity shop Lizzy was a volunteer at (“fill a bag for a fiver” being the clearout offer), and the other a plastic pint glass of sticks she’d shake up to select which item would be pulled from the bag and made to contribute in some way. The result was an entertainingly chaotic cacophony: while the DJ span the 7″ singles she’d procured in the background, Lizzy played recorded interviews she’d conducted with her fellow charity shop staff, then over this read excerpts from tattered paperbacks, “played” a sheeps skull and a toy Thomas the Tank Engine, pressed old talking book cassettes into service, wrapped herself in a silk headscarf and a snake-buckle belt, and made imaginative use of a Connect 4 game.

Next up were the vocal duo Here Hare Here. Theres was a truly astonishing Dadaist sound performance using only mouths and diaphragms; ullulating, grunting, whimpering, screaming, chanting, humming, muttering, howling glossolia, the one random intelligible phrase “No Raymond, I’m a pearl diver” making me think of the similar fragment “not now Geoffrey, I’m amphibious,” from Alan Moore’s D.R. and Quinch comic strip. Visceral and cathartic, what was surprising was how unpretentious this short performance seemed; stood facing us straight on, the pair were focussed and disciplined but unrestrained, metaphorically naked in their raw self-expression.

If Here Hare Here were like Yoko Ono meeting Kurt Schwitters at an outdoor screening of Withnail & I, then the trio of Karen Constance, Duncan Harrison and Dylan Nyoukis were like a banned episode of The Goon Show written during one of Spike Milligan’s infamous nervous breakdowns. It’s not such a frivolous comparison; the 1950s radio programme was hugely influential and ahead of its time in its experimental use of cut-ups, surrealism and crazy sound effects, which included pioneering work by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Constance, Harrison and Nyoukis may have dropped the gags, but their set of sound collages included some amusing low-key physical theatre alongside the squeals, wails, grunts and tape manipulation.

I can’t comment on Lauren Naylor’s spoken word set as I didn’t catch enough of it, and I was disappointed that the veteran modernist poet Tom Raworth was a no-show- despite being listed on the initial event bill, he was apparently in Europe at the time. Brighton resident Raworth appeared alongside Moore at a sold-out show at London’s Cafe Oto last year, and I was hoping to have another chance to catch him here, but no such luck.

On then, to Pyne and Moore’s entirely spontaneous, improvised set. I can entirely believe that the first contact the duo had was an onstage handshake, before Andy passed Thurston a drumstick with which to percussively play his battered Fender Jazzmaster, the trademark screwdriver jammed beneath the strings. Cutting an unassuming figure with a grey woollen jumper still on over his shirt, Pyne began with a fast fluttering cascade of cymbals and hi-hat for Moore to warm up over, using an iron file to dance over the pick-ups. But before too long the pair had shifted dynamically into hard, droning avant-rock mode, resembling nothing so much as a primitivist, bassless Jimi Hendrix Experience; like the great Mitch Mitchell, Pyne was busy but tight, a mathematical squid behind the traps. His constant abstract expressionist splashes of percussive sound never concealed his ability to always be right behind the beat. Pausing only to- eventually- remove the jumper, he drove the set constantly forward as Moore hammered and wailed, his guitar technique at times disconcertingly phallic, but reminding us all that this was the guy we’d all first copped our avant-garde noise licks from in 1980s Snub TV bedroom mirror epiphany.

I certainly hope someone recorded this one-off, half-hour performance (varied and thrilling as it was, it didn’t need to go on longer), as it was a masterclass in improvised Rhythm and Noise (R&N?) jamming. Kudos to Andy Pyne for being in no way cowed by having to go head to head with Moore, and neither overplaying nor holding nervously back. And kudos to Thurston Moore for coming down to do the show, and for burning on all cylinders where it counted. His solo tour, including dates with cult folk guitarist MichaelChapman, continues around the UK through early February.

Brighton Beat: Hamilton Yarns live

January 19, 2013

Hamilton Yarns seemed an unlikely choice of guest band at Synthesise Me, but their performance last night was both spellbinding and entirely appropriate. Bathed in the soft glow and turning colours of S.M.s trademark projections- courtesy, as always, of the Innerstrings Psychedelic Lightshow- the Yarns conjured up a womb-dream ambience in their packed corner of the Hotel Pellirocco bar, as insulated from the background chatter at the other end of the room as from the snowbound seafront outside.

Stripped down to their core trio, Hamilton Yarns adapted their usual acoustic, experimental-pastoral, lo-fi kraut-folk to a form more suited to Synthesise Me’s electronic music theme, and went down as well with the regular crowd of open-minded electronica buffs as with the boho girls sat cross-legged on the floor sketching the band as they played. Iain, Joss and Alistair presided over a Bagpuss antique shop of analogue synthesisers and battery-powered organs, plus autoharp, trumpet, bass guitar and Joss’s sparingly-used snare-and-cymbal drum set-up. From this coven emerged lullabies for lost spacemen, hints of early Tangerine Dream style ambience but scaled down to Farmers’ Market level, denuded of pomp and grandiosity to reveal a more satisfying and subtle pathos and poignancy instead.

Strange burbles from the ether suggested 1950s Bakelite wireless sci-fi serials, the village moon project constructed from a shed. And finally, most unlikely of all, the first- to my knowledge- Hamilton Yarns cover version; a minimalist take on Lionel Ritchie’s ‘Hello’, delivered with all the emotionally-repressed passive aggression of a red-faced municipal library pants-fumbler, incapable of eye contact but still in need of a love and affection he just can’t find among his collection of musty matchboxes and dead field mice.

Mention too must be made of Jason Williams’ extraordinary DJ set, incorporating the use of a 1970s spectrum shifter with a supposed pedigree of past owners taking in ELP and dubious pre-Numan punk-synth pioneers Rikki and the Last Days of Earth, as well as a shot glass ingeniously substituting for the centre spindle of an ex jukebox 45. One hopes for more in this vein from all concerned.

Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny- Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose

February 6, 2012

First things first; this isn’t folk. It’s far better than that. Although she may have played alongside them in the past, Beth Jeans Houghton has virtually nothing in common with Mumford and Sons, or with any of the conservative nu-folk acts that seem so bound up with Cameron’s Big Society, Little England worldview. Nor, for that matter, does she share much with the more forward-thinking fringes of contemporary alt-folk populated by Joanna Newsom, Devandra Banhart and Patrick Wolf. The only folkish act I would conceivably compare her to would be the excellent if undervalued Trembling Bells, whose own recent work has seen them extend into prog, pop, psychedelia and near-metal to a degree that renders categorisation meaningless. Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose is similarly eclectic; and as such, simply qualifies as the first great experimental pop album of 2012.

The horns and martial drums of ‘Sweet Tooth Bird’ that fade into a queasy, vari-speeded vocal refrain give us the first clue that we’re not just dancing a sedate jig on the village green here. The dying fall of Beth’s otherworldly voice leads us through an ambitious two-minute pocket symphony which Phil Spector would have been proud of, had he been called in to produce something along the lines of Bowie’s Hunky Dory– and not been an unregenerate misogynist sociopath, of course. ‘Humble Digs’ may feature what sounds suspiciously like a banjo, but the complex melodic arrangements- wintry, ghost-ridden- are on a par with the pastoral classical /prog rock of William D Drake. Previous single ‘Dodecahedron’ sparkles and shines like a walk through the midnight snow, the drop to echoing drum and two-note bass before the choral coda opening a momentary portal into some heavenly 60s girl group afterlife.

Township guitars and chanted backing vocals strut around the tattoo beat that seems to be the album’s default rhythm on ‘Atlas’, like Bow Wow Wow all grown up (a good thing). “Red wine and whisky are no good for me,” Beth sings, sounding like she’s speaking from hard-learned experience, despite her tender age of 21. Lyrics are at first understandable only in snatches, the meaning of songs coming through gradually, if at all, as the songs swirl around in a barrage of sensory impressions, constantly switching back on themselves. It’s tempting to interpret this as a manifestation of Beth’s acute synaesthesia, where sounds become colours, visual images sounds and so forth- a condition so powerful she apparently struggles to read a book as a result. For the sufferer, it must be excruciating; for the listener, the results are positively intoxicating.

A version of ‘Nightswimmer’, originally released on a single for Static Caravan in 2009, bears some traces of Beth’s folk-club beginnings, her mesmerising voice rising above the arrangements of banjo, harpsichord and violin, from a dusky, honeyed murmur to shimmering high notes of clear glass and starlight. Compared to her more recent material it’s strikingly straightforward, an unrepentant love song with recognisable verses and choruses; though even here the sentiment is ambiguous, with Beth seeming to half-hope her only love will never return from his mysterious night swims.

‘The Barely Skinny Bone Tree’ is a thing of desolate beauty; the gorgeous melodic arrangements of ‘Lilliputt’ place it in a tradition of the grand orch-pop follies of the late sixties, like Paul and Barry Ryan’s ‘Eloise’ or the Zombies’ ‘Time of the Season’ as well as having the haunting fragility of prime Pentangle. ‘Veins’ on the other hand, with its nods to soul and gospel, harks back to classic girl-group pop via Laura Nyro, Kate Bush and Bat for Lashes. Fiery Furnaces spring to mind too on ‘Franklin Benedict’, pure prog-pop with crunching electric guitars, tight jazz piano and strings. By the time the album closes on the swirling harpsichords and cackling clown voices of ‘Carousel’ the barrage of fleeting references points becomes so meaningless that we have to conclude that we are listening to a work of restless originality and precocious vision. Folk, pop, prog, soul? Categories be damned- the Cellophane nose leads. We can but follow.

Wolf People / Diagonal, the Haunt, Brighton

January 20, 2012

For the unconverted, tonight’s show requires a leap of faith; an acceptance that classic, high church rock music still has something to say, stories to tell and an ability to generate an emotional response not based on nostalgia or a longing for eras past. That its codified ritual and romance, its melodic intricacies and primal rhythms are still relevant to our flat screen, hi-gloss, technologically mediated, post-everything 21st Century lives.

Diagonal have shed members and re-aligned their focus since their 2009 debut album, but they remain unashamed purveyors of early seventies-inspired prog rock, albeit shorn of its worst excesses- or perhaps they retain the excesses, the peaks, and lose the troughs between. Nick Whittaker’s saxophone may take lead in their mostly instrumental set, yet the key to the 5-piece Diagonal is their rhythm section, alternately thunderous and hypnotic like Tago Mago period Can, or tight and driving like Pink Floyd in full Formula One mode. Hard-edged yet complex, their final number even jumps the (increasingly arbitrary-seeming) 1977 watershed, evoking Television’s fractured guitar spirals before erupting into squalls of post-Pigbag punk-jazz noise.

Wolf People may also seem to have beamed in direct from 1972, but actually draw on a much older, timeless tradition, as tonight’s pounding re-invention of the courtly ballad ‘Banks of Sweet Dundee’ goes to show. But if the Edwardian revivalists largely remade British folk music as an emasculated embarrassment, then Wolf People give it back hips and a swinging cock, underpinning each electrified folk-rock arpeggio and high, yearning harmony with a driving riff and a hard funk groove. And though they can emulate Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin as well as anyone, these Bedford boys are far too nimble, clear-eyed and fleet-footed to descend into mere stoner-rock sludge.

Reclaiming the mixture of folk, blues and psychedelic experimentation that fed into the best 60s/70s rock doesn’t close Wolf Peoples’ minds to later developments either: the guitar duels on ‘Cotton Strands’ develop into a furious maelstrom that’s as much My Bloody Valentine as Jimi Hendrix, while ‘One by One from Dorney Reach’ betrays a youth spent listening as closely to the Stone Roses as Bert Jansch. But the new songs played tonight find them sounding increasingly like themselves, only more so: heavier riffs, more diaphanous melodies, dirtier beats, unmistakably Wolf People.

In going back to the earliest Brit-rock adventurers, like Peter Green and Jimmy Page, Wolf People have tapped into the essence of this high church rock music, and the secret of its enduring appeal. Its power is less to do with fashion, and more to do with being human; in thrall to grief and ecstasy, sexual longing and timeless mystery, power and beauty and the cross-rhythms of three guitars and a drum set trading ideas and phrases at close quarters. Wolf People do it well enough to make believers of us all.