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…)

As we stand in line in the pouring rain…

It’s too late to do a “Best of ‘18” list now, isn’t it?

In any case, “list” might be stretching a little – at the moment, I’d only have two records on it.

Since Christmas, I’ve dabbled with a few things (narrowly missed losing my December downloads from Emusic…) but I’ve mainly listened to only a couple of records. And whaddya know, they’re both bone fide New records, not “new” but actually, genuinely released-in-the-last-twelve-months New. Oh yes.

Thought I’d celebrate my newly-regained cutting edge by doing a bit of a thing about one of them here…

BEAK>

(The other record, by the way, is the Surfing Magazines’ debut which is just great, but seeing as I’ve mentioned them en-passant a couple of times recently, I’ll leave them for another day…)

I’ve a feeling I’ve done something about BEAK> before (and I can’t believe I didn’t mention the “>” thing as well) – I remember being rather keen on all the Bristol landmarks in their song titles. But, characteristically, I may have dreamt this, so I’ll proceed, insensible, as if this is all virgin territory.

Anyway as any ninny knows, BEAK> are the current vehicle of omni-instrumentalist and studio professor Geoff Barrow and last September’s release was the band’s third record. Have a watch:

 

That’s a great video, no?

I love this song for its reedy resolve and the swelling, ballooning effects fanning from Will Young’s keyboard. It makes me think of that great first Suuns record and some of the Yeti Lane stuff (both of these two seem to have gone off the boil recently). I think this might be the first time, I’ve watched the band actually perform on video and I’ve got to admit I didn’t picture Barrow as quite the drummer he is, all wrists and groovy economy. Quite the Robert Wyatt figure (without the gimp mask, regrettably). The video is a bit Dr Who, but I’m on board to be honest, and in the best traditions, the whole thing’s larger on the inside than out.

“Allé Sauvage” is a great song but it’s only one of a cluster of punchy songs that elbow their way into your face, all beery belligerence and unwelcome persistence. “King of the Castle” and “RSI” are also belting songs – lots of period electronics and motorik dynamics forced up to 11. Storming, grim stuff.

I’m also very keen on the closing pair of tracks.

“Abbot’s Leigh” is absolute dissonance explored, tightly confined and barely controlled – horribly menacing, very Centre Cannot Hold and something for our times. Wikipedia tells me that Abbots Leigh, aside from being a village in Somerset, a few miles from the centre of Bristol (of course) is also the name of the tune that “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” is set to. All very pastoral and maybe a little folk-horror. Which is exactly what the second track of the pair, and closer of the record, “When We Fall”, had already made me think of. It sounds like something that might pop up on the “Blood on Satan’s Claw” soundtrack, amidst scenes of the sun rising on fields of corn and general rural idyll, (shortly to be horribly and irrevocably interrupted).

 

If you can be arsed, you can, of course, be justifiably sniffy and talk about how derivative BEAK> sound (can’t be denied, to be honest). But why would you do this? They are clearly a massive homage to Can, Klaus Dinger, Faust… but hey! Good spot!  Now get on, enjoy the commotion, stifle a shudder, turn it up. Who knows how long we’ve got?

We didn’t need to go into the sweetshop and have all those chocolate bars – we just needed Mars Bars and Snickers…

_img71671I’ve been sat out in the breezy sunshine, ambling contentedly through the John le Mesurier biography, when a small voice from somewhere within (slightly off-centre, it has to be said) prompted me to come up to the computer and do a little more sharing.

“Open your heart to the good PP readers…” it said.

Do you really think that’s wise?

Beak>

Actually I’ve been meaning to post something about this for a while, because I’ve had this pretty much on continuously in the car for the last couple of weeks. Missed them completely at the time, but Beak> have been around as a unit for a couple of years now and centre on the elusive talents of Geoff Barrow.

There’s no obvious resemblance, however, between the motorik charms of Beak> and Barrow’s more legendary achievements with Portishead. I did love the Portishead records with all their distraught gothic brilliance, but they do seem rather “of a time” these days.

This Beak> stuff though, (I’m already fed up of typing that silly “>” symbol), is a whole new thing, eventhough its touchstone is far more fixed in a particular age and genre. Turns out, Barrow is a big fan of Neu and the krautrock records of the seventies, not just the sound but the whole ethos of the time:

Actually this clip makes it clear that Beak> are not just a Geoff Barrow side-project, but a functioning unit of their own, and I reckon there’s plenty more to come from it. There are two records out as it stands – “Beak>” and “>>” – both of which are terrific – full of insistent, agricultural bass lines, searing synthetics and mumbled scarcely-coherent vocals. And now I really have the taste for this…

Would love to see this lot in the flesh…