They find different ways to suck themselves off…

Another week has flown by.

Another week of cursory achievements which have made people happy, but which has precluded me from doing the stuff I’d like to be doing. You know… reading, chatting, loafing around on my tummy, listening to music.

I could, for instance have been listening to this gaudy, intemperate and monstrously powerful set I recorded at Sea Change…

Black Midi, Sea Change

If my shonky memory serves, the weather was temperate, an early afternoon in a conspicuously Brexity pub watching Glaws’ unlikely attempt to qualify for the Premiership Final had been shaken off without too much trouble (for 51 seconds it had looked so promising…) and “a gentle amble along the river” lay between us and a very promising sounding set from difficult South London likely lads, Black Midi.

An increasingly fretful “amble” saw us 45 minutes later, sloping unfashionably late, into the darkness of a very loud, very dark marquee, vaguely aware that outlandish stuff had been afoot onstage and we were not quite “up to speed” with it.

At first, I put the sense of queasy disorientation down to circumstance and told myself that things would settle. Mercifully, they didn’t…

Black Midi are a surly bunch, make no mistake.

Didn’t do a lot of talking, ran one awkward song into the next, and generally muddied the waters with as much dissonance and feedback as possible. And they were loud. I mean really loud… inordinately, bloody loud. Loud enough to make me consider getting earplugs, although if I did, I would’ve been seriously missing the point, I feel.

They thrashed through a set of broken up songs, which switched from one time signature to another with alarming effect and frequently ascended into horrible chaos. They were like a darker, nastier White Denim, with the same virtuosity but with an instinctive desire to bugger with conventional forms and to experiment furiously. (And when I say “experiment”, I’m talking Karloff).

If you watch this video, you’ll see the guitarist doing some sort of smartarsery with an iPhone on the pick up as they are playing, infuriatingly ingenious…

 

This is of course what young lads should be doing with their guitars…

You get a chance to see drummer Morgan Simpson full on “at it” in the clip too. He was pretty remarkable, another of the “why shouldn’t I be lead?” drummers that I am rather partial too. There was more than a little Drumbo to him, so it’s entirely appropriate that one of the comments to this video is:

“That’s right, the Mascara Snake, fast ‘n’ bulbous!”

`(I’ve said it before, if Beefheart hadn’t existed, we’d have had to invent him…)

You can also get a sense of the maximum David Thomas mode that vocalist Geordie Greep brings to the party – howling, gibbering and berating the audience with a sandpaper hostility that was breath-taking.

What the KEXP (God bless ‘em) clip can’t show you, though, is just how dark (in all senses) the set was. There was a lot of dry ice (Snapped Ankles levels), a lot harsh lighting, a lot of frenzied incoherence and a helluva lot of stylised silhouette work, with Greep sporting a perfect, if silly, huge black Stetson and eventually donning Eastwood-style button up overcoat as he left the stage, swathed in atmospherics (and possibly threatening to kill any man, his wife, his friends and burn his goddamn house down…)

It was a vigorous, ugly set, by a bunch of vigorous, ugly young lads.

bmbmbm

Ducter

Talking Heads

All power to their gangly elbows…

The air began to sing again…

OK, time to deliver on my long-held (and more than once repeated) promise to give you something on last month’s Sea Change.

Overall a fine time was had by all, I think. Some jolly company, some good music, some beer drunk, I’m a simple feller…

We’d had such a good time last year that booking again this year was something of a no-brainer. And when Coleser told me that a May Bank Holiday festival was planned this year and that he’d cannily managed to rent a house in the centre of Totnes, well, it was all on again.

Anticipation was dampened a little, however, when we found out that very little was being put on in the town this year, most of the music was happening over at the Dartmouth Hall site. One of the highlights of last year had been the casual hopping from bar to street to church, airily waving a wrist band at the door, picking up music all over. None of that this year…

To be fair, the Dartmouth Hall site was a little better this year, but still all a bit a-bunch-of-folk-in-a-field. Not much in the way of food, two beer tents and two stages, so close to each other that they needed to alternate acts. (And that’s definitely not a 30 minute amble from town…)

But grousing aside, I think I saw more good music this year than last, so get a grip, man.

I’m starting here…

You Tell Me

Field Music may well be the band I’ve seen most of all over the years. They’re always engaging, unexpected and make me feel like I should be listening to the records more closely.

You Tell Me are one of Peter Brewis’ side-projects, so not strictly speaking a Field Music gig, the fact that David Brewis turned up playing fretless bass (“you know… a dangerous business”), also doesn’t in any way make this a Field Music gig, oh no.

Battling nevertheless, against Field Music levels of disinterest from a sparsely spread field of punters, they cheerfully ran through at least 8 numbers from their record – I say “at least” because inexplicably I turned my recorder off at one point. I can only apologise.

It really is a lovely record that, true to form, I’ve had to go back and re-investigate on my return from Devon. It’s full of wry observations and rueful glances to the past most effectively from the lips of co-writer Sarah Hayes, supplemented by the twists, turns and unpredictable grooves that collaboration with a Brewis can’t help but guarantee.

At one point, an (alarmingly) rustic burr can be heard gushing soppily about how lovely the Brewis brothers are. I should not do this (for it was I) but there’s something about a Field Music set that loosens the tongue injudiciously (although, drink may also have been taken…). What can I say?

A typically off-centre encore of “Ivor Cutler to a Bo Diddley beat” and they were gone, all too soon and not to be seen again until the next half-empty moderately-sized venue comes into view. Let’s hope it’s not too long, eh?

Get Out of the Room

Enough to Notice

I Worn My Elbows

Don’t-oh light-oh my fiyah!

I like to strike while the iron is hot.

No, really.

Which is why I’m putting to one side for a moment some recordings I made a fortnight ago at Sea Change to bring you this slice of anarchic fruitiness.

Otoboke Beaver

(To be fair, “putting to one side” might suggest that I had some choice in the matter – I suspect these ladies don’t do a lot of waiting in line…)

I had a good few credits to use up at eMusic last week, so I hoovered up a bunch of stuff I’d never heard of, which is rarely a mistake and often the absolute strength of my favourite music supplier. There’s some more Sun Ra, some Mingus I thought I’d try out, a bit of doomy German psyche.

Also this.

Otoboke Beaver is amongst other things the name of a “love hotel” in Osaka and also four feisty Japanese women who play it loud and stupid, belting out spikey guitar pieces perforated by the sort of babbling, screaming vocals that’d scare the sweet bejeesus out of most middle-aged, coffee-swilling hipsters.

Fortunately not this middle-aged, coffee-swilling hipster, though, ho no. In fact, I think I might be in love.

Watch this:

 

This is clearly loads of fun, from the pigeon-English through the feckless Batman riffs to the massive amounts of nutty energy running amok all over this video. This is a track from the Itekoma Hits record that eMusic has nudged my way – 14 noisy “songs” knocked out in under 30 minutes, all of them riotous, all of them banged out at a furious speed and volume (the dial will have read “breakneck”, I’d imagine). All of which belies the pink lipsticked, swinging London look the band has.

There’s a review of the record done by Pitchfork which is quite interesting and certainly worth a couple of minutes of your time to fill in a few of the gaps that I’ll not concern myself with here. I can’t help thinking they’re missing the point a little, though, when they attempt to provide “analysis” of lyrics and social importance – Otoboke Beaver are all about love of the lurid, the joy of oomph.

Extravagant swirls of punk and post punk guitar riffs reel around the air, drums are flattened lustily, bass strings are plucked to within an inch of their nylon lives and choruses are bawled out by all four with a punch that leaves you queasy. There’s occasional actual singing too, you know, light and shade and all that…

And then there’s the jaw-dropping, coffee-down-your-shirt craziness of the whole shebang. Without wishing to sleepwalk into cultural stereotyping, there are moments in this next video when it’s hard not to think of The Ring. “Bat-shit crazy” is a phrase I may well have been guilty of over-using on these pages but I wish I’d saved it…

 

I’ll get on with the Sea Change stuff now, I promise (but sometimes it’s just got to be done…)

Have you done a pinger? You have, haven’t you?

So, this was meant to be the second part of a post about a terrific evening at SWX a fortnight ago, a companion piece to the post I wrote about Snapped Ankles. The impish Green Men from East London had scampered off a smoke-jewelled stage, leaving a stunned and excited group of lairy punters and I must admitted I feared a little for the Beak boys – how do you begin to follow that?

Beak, SWX, Bristol

(I’ve just realised that other Bloggers and reviewers use the mysterious “>” character after “Beak” – I’m not going to do that, it’s too late for me now and I’m doubling down on not holding any truck with that sort of nonsense…)

This was, of course, a hometown gig for Geoff Barrow and pals, and from the get-go there was a pretty relaxed, confident air about their set. They were like wayward teenagers coming home from uni, unrepentant, without explanations, feet on the sofa, bag of washing by the stairs. We asked no questions, like proper modern parents, and made it clear we were just pleased to see them. They goofed about onstage, interacted with the punters (“Have you done a pinger? You have, haven’t you? He’s done a pinger!”) swore immoderately and banged out an effortless set of hearty, wibbly krautrock that sounded absolutely fine to these ears.

Here’s a video shot in Manchester last year which gives you a feel of the evening, but doesn’t quite capture the whole Brizzle-ness of the evening:

 

It was a much more raucous affair, driven firmly by Barrow’s tight, at times hefty drumming and despairing vocals, with seated bassist Billy Fuller (he didn’t actually have his teeth blacked out, but still…) weaving his way in out of Barrow, providing a busy and full background across which the reedy, wavering synths from Will Young’s corner wandered ethereally. Nervously intoxicating…

They’ve got a really strong set of seventies sci-fi-influenced songs which still work really well and I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever heard something so derivative work so well in a modern context – it’s like modern pop is really ready for what they do and must surely be kicking itself for not having thought of it sooner.  I loved, loved, loved it.

A real party atmosphere meant that there was a lot of noise in the hall, but not thick-headed chumps talking their way through the set, more like groups of tipsy souls having great fun, unable to contain their spirits, in the sure knowledge that no one else would mind (even this old prudish curmudgeon). To be honest, it’s such a muscular, industrial sound Beak have that, frankly, you could’ve driven a combine into the hall and I don’t think too many would’ve noticed.

Highlights of the set were a particularly dashing but brutal version of “Wulfstan II” and the entrancing folk horror of “When We Fall”, with some genuinely witty banter to introduce it.

The recordings are … atmospheric but still for all that, some of the best I think I have, and it’s in that spirit I’m giving you a couple, including a very noisy “Allé Sauvage”, simply because it’s a quivering banger, my favourite track on the latest record:

Allé Sauvage

Wulfstan II

When We Fall

I’m breathlessly excited listening to these again, you really should give them a listen (I tell you I’ll not be responsible for my actions…)

I’m not coming home…

This is sad news indeed, although not entirely unexpected.

To be honest, given the absolute reckless abandon with which he lived his early years and the catastrophic price he paid for his crushing voyage, we were lucky to have as much Roky as we did. I consider myself to have been very, very fortunate to have seen the man step out onto a stage.

Roky Erickson has died.

I was going to write about Beak this evening, but I’ve spent most of the time I should’ve been looking through the SWX recordings listening to the Elevators’ first record, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. It’s… ah… intense.

There’ll be loads of better and more well-informed tributes to the man over the next few days, but, hell, a few more lines won’t go amiss.

With the first use of the word “psychedelic” in an album title, it’s the real thing – a strange, brittle journey into the furthest reaches, recorded in the summer of 1966 by a band whose own name refers to a place that sometimes doesn’t exist (in a tradition referred to in MR James’ famous ghost story, some buildings wouldn’t have a thirteenth room or floor). There are no fillers (although some songs are more successful than others), no covers and absolutely no let up.

The opener is Erikson’s own astonishing “You’re gonna miss me”, a staple in any garage punk compilation but still one of the top two or three songs of its kind, driven by his agricultural rhythm guitar and his astonishing vocal performance, and muddied up by the ever-present electric jug. It’s a classic in most senses of the word.

It’s the first track on the record and when you start into the rest of the songs, you realise it’s actually quite different, comparatively straight, albeit incendiary, garage fare. Erickson had already written it for his own band, The Spades, when psychedelic poet and jug player Tommy Hall invited him to join his band. The rest of the songs were largely written by Hall or fellow Texas folkie Powell St John, and are something of a different affair.

Songs like “Reverberation”, “Roller Coaster” and “Fire Engine” are crazily psychedelic, the very definition of a genre, Stacey Sutherland’s patient lead guitar forming and shaping melodies that break up and fade when you think you’ve got them, and Hall’s bizarre, babbling jug sound blistering each line as it arrives. Erickson’s vocal performance is pretty special, emerging from the discordance all around – harsh, urgent, desperate to be heard – and at times adding something unspeakable to the whole shebang, howling like the wolf. A voice up there with Beefheart and Mark E Smith for sheer idiosyncratic oomph.

I’m particularly keen on “Fire Engine”, surely the wildest song the decade produced, with all of the above and an extra layer of mania added by the wailing siren that runs all the way through it. What’s not to like?

A piercing bolt of neon red, explodes on fire inside your head…

A fiery flood engulfs your brain, and drowns your thoughts with scarlet rain

I like to imagine a frantically tripping Hall (people have pointed out the DMT / “the empty place” link), sat on the roadside as a fire engine flashes by – an acid legend is born…

To be honest, I hadn’t appreciated until quite recently that Erickson was not for the most part the main lyricist of the record. I gather he became more dominant as the second album was prepared, but at this point the leader of the band was Tommy Hall and it was his vision of a new future that was propelling their first record.

It’s actually a pretty discordant, harsh vision too – there are none of the fluffy images of later years:

Instilling values the sick define, that keeps the fabric that keeps you blind

And ties your hands and cloaks your mind, but on my stilts, I’m above the slime.

Roky’s eventual fate was tragically, eerily similar to some of the images Hall and St John brought to the songs. Within three years of the release of Psychedelic Sounds… and before the Sixties were out, he’d been arrested for a second time for possession and unwisely offered a plea of insanity to avoid a brutal prison sentence. His experiences in Texas state psychiatric wards were to prove in every sense a life sentence.

The seventies and eighties were pretty much lost, but we can be thankful at least that a shaky and fragile Roky Erickson slowly began to reappear thereafter. Amazingly, he started to tour again and I was very grateful to see him at Green Man in 2009.

The set he did there was in truth all a bit “Two Headed Dog”, with none of the crazy charm of the Elevators, but he did do an encore of this (for which I’m eternally grateful)

You’re Gonna Miss Me

Blam! The world breaks in.

“Zig Zag Wanderer” has just appeared on a car advert and the Champions League Final has just started – I’m going to go and pour myself a drink.

Time to trudge back to reality, whatever that might be. All the best, Roky…