Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Murray Royston-Ward

My Neighbour Who Lives in the City of Mirrors Near my House
CDR + 2 x A5 Booklet.
80 Copies.

Language is a Virus
CDR + A5 Booklet.
30 Copies.

Improvisations 2014
A5 Booklet.
50 copies.

Murray Royston-Ward - Dissolution Matrix in Afterthought of Skies

The Sons of David Ginola - Blood Too Thick Symptoms
3” CDR + Booklet.
50 copies.

There are times when I feel as if I should get to grips once more with a ‘difficult’ novel. I become intrigued by them and the polarised reviews they garner on Amazon and Goodreads and once more think myself ready to tackle something by William Gaddis or Alexander Theroux. And when the book arrives I get about halfway through it and think to myself ‘well ... maybe I’ll pick up something by Bukowksi and come back to this later when my brain has sorted itself out’. My current obsession is with William Gass and while I’m tempted by his first novel ‘Omensetter’s Luck’ and the it-took-almost-thirty-years-to-finish ‘The Tunnel’ I think I’ll hang on until June when there’s a compendium of his work out. At the moment I’m reading ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman’ which is the sort of novel that demands your attention and could easily be described as ‘difficult’ but that's mainly because its written in an 18th century style and deviates more than a drunk Italian driver. At least its got some laughs in it.

Unlike reading listening doesn’t demand total concentration. Few are those who can sit and listen to an LP or a composition and give it their 100% total concentration. You can listen to music while walking, running, shagging, washing the car and doing the shopping but you cant do any of those while trying to fathom the intricacies and the sub plots of Gravity’s Rainbow [unless you’ve got the audio book - which might make the weekly trip to Lidl slightly surreal/more interesting - somebody please do this and report back. I’d do it myself but I find wandering around in public with things jammed in my ears rather disconcerting].
All this apropos of nothing much other than leading in to what Murray Royston-Ward creates which might be described in certain circles as ‘difficult’ and in others as Sir Richard Bishop jamming with some audio verite tapes.

Described on one of his two websites as ‘Material flows and internal communications from the amateur avant-garde’ Royston-Ward collects field recordings some of which he works into improvisations of his own making others of which are left unadulterated. As in ‘My Neighbour Who Lives in the City of Mirrors Near my House’ which comes with two books, one titled ‘Bangladesh Listening Notes’ describing the noise levels in various parts of Dhaka and Royston-Ward’s attempt to find ‘quiet sounds’, something he eventually loses interest in due to the constant noise pollution. The other book is called ‘Gasworks Fellowship’ and describes his month long residency at the Britto Arts Trust in Dhaka and his increasing vulnerability as the rise of Islamic extremism results in the deaths of several  foreign nationals. The accompanying CD is a collection of disparate sounds ranging from the slaughter of cattle, to conversations with locals, to locals singing all mixed in with bowed cymbals, the inevitable traffic noise and Royston-Ward wandering around the Britto gallery space sucking on glass doors. The results being spacious, loose and liminal.

‘Language as a Virus’ as you’d expect draws from William Burroughs concept of the same name and details the work Royston-Ward’s wife did in an Ebola holding center in Sierra Leone. The booklet is a collection of photos as taken by Holly Royston-Ward alongside text describing the situation there. The CD is a single 28 minute track that is a series of rapid radio and tv samples [some relating to Ebola] over which Royston-Ward recites tracts of text [taken from news stories?] also relating to the subject. Its a tough listen with each sample and tract of text ending abruptly with a violent slap/stop as if Royston-Ward is hitting the stop button on his cassette player with a lump of wood.

The two stand-alone releases highlight Royston-Ward’s penchant for sounding like Sir Richard Bishop and the hitting of pipes and steel wires. The Sons of David Ginola release ‘Blood Too Thick Symptoms’ is a collaboration with Kevin Sanders and contains many a lo-fi rumbling, humming, squeaking, squelching Alvin Lucier homage while ‘Dissolution Matrix in Afterthought of Skies’ sees Royston-Ward mix wind flutter, chair scrapes and pub chat with electric guitar frottage and tape wobble. Like Jim O’Rourke playing pool with a guitar swinging from his neck. Track six ‘Loose Women’ sounds like a Sonic Youth rehearsal as a conversation in Esperanto goes in reverse.

All of the above comes highly recommended, even the Ebola related work should you have the stamina for it. Royston-Ward also utilizes recycled paper for his books, ‘archival inks’ [whatever they might be] and environment friendly plastics for their packaging. So all is good. Not quite. Why the Bangladeshi project had to come with two separate books I cant fathom while Bangladeshi Listening Notes also contained notes from Brighouse [just down the road from me] London and Edinburgh. The use of acronyms also bugs me, its why I never joined the army, I have no idea what CNG’s or SPL’s are, Sound Protection Levels? Cars Not Guns? Cocks Not Glocks? There’s also a series of pictures taken from an unexplained exhibition visit, one displaying the mutilated corpse of a child, oh what fun and a cut up poem which I couldn’t skim through quick enough. The Improvisations 2014 book would have been of far more worth had it come with a CD of the sounds created or links to the net where the sounds could be accessed. As a stand alone book detailing the time, place and instrumentation, its only of passing interest.

Having said all that the sounds herein are eminently worthwhile and show that Royston-Ward has the ear for the juxtaposition of disparate sounds, his prose is crystal clear too. At least they’re both here to tell the tale. After having survived the threat of ISIS and Ebola I doubt that me being a tad disparaging is going to upset them. Now where's my book.    


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Doggy Bag

The Verboden Boys [Belfast Chapter] - Band From Reality : The Complete Demos.
Doggy Bag. DL

The Unseens - Shut In/Leper

Doggy Bag. DL

Doggy Bag is an online only label because they’re skint and I’m feeling kind of sorry for them because they’re skint and all of this is good and worthy of your attention. Its non genre, non pigeon hole for me lads and lassies and here am I, the miserable sod who doesn’t do reviews unless he has a hard copy in his hands. But if enough of you put your hands in your pockets and buy something from Doggy Bag then you will get to hear The Verboden Boys and The Unseens coming out of your speakers via the glory that is a vinyl record. Or maybe a CD.

The Verboden Boys are like Smegma meets The Gerogerigegege. This fifteen track LP has eleven tracks which clock in at under a minute, five of which clock in at under ten seconds, the shortest being a mere two seconds. One track is called ‘Ultraeczema OK’ so maybe they’re Tyfus fans. Another song is called ‘Is Sex Still Illegal in USA?’ The last track is over ten minutes long and a meditative affair featuring a high pitched whistle and the loop of a pebble being rolled around the bottom of a 45 gallon drum and is unlike anything that preceded it. I like them.

According to the blurb The Unseens are Glasgow’s most reclusive Dolewave band and this single is the only surviving material of theirs after a series of unbacked hard drives went tits up, an ‘as yet unexplained experience’. Which is either a convenient story or a crying shame or both. ‘Shut In’ is all echoey dub effects and door bells, the flip is a random beat generator on a cheap keyboard played against more dub effects with the neighbours drilling holes in their walls in protest. It reminds me of Milk From Cheltenham in a ‘we just went in to a room with some gear and this what it sounds like’ and there’s nothing wrong with that. Or any of this.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Laura Steenberge / Taming Power

Laura Steenberge - Harmonica Fables
Nueni #007. CD

Taming Power - Selections For Fort Evil Fruit
Fort Evil Fruit. FEF63. Cassette/DL
100 copies.

By its own admission the Bilbao/Berlin based label Nueni Recs goes in for ‘risky’ music. They also adopt an ‘anticopyright’ stance meaning you can share at will. Its a stance I wholeheartedly applaud and with music of such a difficult nature it should be encouraged. If you’re in this game for the money you’re in the wrong game. The audience is tiny here it needs all the encouragement it can get.

According to her online bio Steenberge’s work is ‘a study of nonsense and the boundaries of knowledge’, medieval Byzantine chant plays a part too. That doesn’t sound too difficult does it but then here comes Harmonica Fables.

Which is Steenberge blowing up and down a harmonica. Not that this is an hours worth of Larry Adler does Bob Dylan on drugs but the first two tracks ‘Ritual for Harmonica’ and ‘Chant - Harmonica’ are the hardest to endure [and for the most part I did endure] both being lengthy explorations in to the sonic vibrations created when lips meet instrument and deep breaths resonate with reed plate. With ‘Ritual for Harmonica’ Steenberge alternates lengthy rasps on the harmonica with breathy incantations, the much longer [twenty minutes worth] of ‘Chant - Harmonica’ is a connected series of shorter blasts where Steenberge combines breathing and harmonica creating a dual pitch drone that depending on your bent is either aurally stimulating or just plain annoying. I have to admit to being drawn in to it at one point but trying to key in to its abrasiveness is a difficult task. There are two further sections; three ‘Spheres’ where the blowing and breathing is sweeter and four final tracks that are the nearest we’re going to get here to melody. ‘The King’s Ears’ ventures in to Laurie Anderson territory with an eruption of wordless tones to compliment the sawing while last track ‘Rip Van Winkle’ is, as its title suggests a lullaby. After all that gone before its a welcome relief.

Comparisons with Norway’s Askild Haugland and his mighty Taming Power project are worth considering with several Taming Power works verging on the unlistenable. His work for feedback-ing reel to reel tape recorders and the over amplified clanging of guitar harmonics are the kind of sounds designed to empty rooms of people of a nervous disposition, the latter managing to create that not really sought after trapped inside a grandfather clock feel.

'Selections for Fort Evil Fruit' is what it says on the tin. This is only the second time this has happened with everything else coming through his own Early Morning Records imprint. Not all of it is unreleased but by its nature its hard to come by and will for most people be a first time listen.

As ever all the track titles [and there are 14 of them] are the dates on which they were created with the first three tracks all composed in the year 2017 all three being thee most exquisite melancholic electric guitar pieces, each note a delicately struck and rung tremulous thing of ectoplasmic beauty. They have the making of a soundtrack to a film about Norwegian winters, or a Nordic road movie where nothing much happens. As we go further back [and we go as far back as 1998] the mood takes a darker turn with the emergence of reversed tape loops and primitive electronics with their frozen lo-fi drone blasts. Some tracks veer in to experimental territory with the ghosts of what was recorded being laid to rest on the magnetic strip in a cloudy swirl of echo. 

Haugland’s work under the Taming Power moniker is instantly recognisable. He's managed to create his own soundworld and by the sound of it he's happy doing that with little in the way of feedback or interaction. Here’s someone working in isolation and relative obscurity with little in the way of influence to guide you and little in the way of a web presence. Its partly why his work has such impact. It comes at you as if from nowhere while leaving behind it the vividest of memories.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been lucky enough to have most of the Early Morning Records back catalogue through these doors. Its a motherlode of vinyl delivered as if from a higher being. We can only watch and listen and hope he carries on recording. For now though this collection of his work, one of the few available online, is where those who’ve been slow to the show can start playing catch up.

Fort Evil Fruit

Nueni Recs

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Oskar Panizza/My Cat Is An Alien - Le Jardin De Vréneli

Oskar Panizza - Le Jardin De Vréneli
My Cat Is An Alien - Le Jardin De Vréneli

Lenka Lente. Book + CD. €9
ISBN: 979-10-94601-19-8

Oskar Panizza was an avant-garde German author best known for his work ‘Das Liebenskonzil’ [The Love Council]. Published in 1894 its blasphemous contents earned Panizza twelve months in jail. The book is set in 1495 and documents an outbreak of syphilis, seen here as God’s vengeance on sexually hyperactive creatures. Especially Pope Alexander VI. God is portrayed as a senile fool, Christ dimwitted, Mary a slattern. Thats why he ended up in jail. I wouldn’t mind reading it myself but it would appear that while Panizza has been translated in to French he’s yet to be translated in to English.

Le Jardin De Vréneli is an essay maybe or an hallucinatory short story or homage to Richard Wagner. I’m not certain. I read the occasional sentence feeling the avant-garde coursing through the tips of my fingers whereupon I come across this line;

Quoi? Vous avez des vache?

Panizza’s life story is an interesting one; as well as being incarcerated for blasphemy for ‘Das Liebenskonzil’ [93 counts] he was charged with crimes against the state for the 97 poems he wrote about the German Emperor Wilhelm II and had his trust fund taken from him for good measure. Having been declared insane the charges against him were dropped. Later in life he became paranoiac, suffered from auditory hallucinations, spent time in mental asylums and the last sixteen years of his life in on the outskirts of Bayreuth in a health clinic. Author, poet, publisher of magazines and thanks to Lenka Lente someone who I am now at least aware of.

The three inch CD contains music from the Opalio brothers from whom I haven’t heard in a very long time. I have an LP of theirs that came out on Starlight Furniture Co in 2000 and which probably hasn’t been played since then. I had no idea they were still going. They obviously are. This twenty minutes worth of their take on improv, or as they term it ‘spontaneous composition’ is remarkably similar in style and tempo to Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Weeping’. With its echoing guitar treatments and ghostly wailings its an ethereal and haunting listen. Whether Panizza would approved we can only summise.

There’s something about having such a slim volume in your grasp that appeals to me so [all the Lenka Lente books I’ve had measure 10cm x 15.5cm]. A book to slip in to the pocket to help pass on the thirty minute commute or the slack time in a doctors waiting room. Put your phone away for once. Delightful to have and to hold.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Heavy Metal - LP III

Heavy Metal - LP III
Harbinger Sound 177. LP/DL

With few exceptions there’s very little of what I might term ‘guitar music’ worth listening to these days. Ever since 1984 went into the history books there’s very little coming this way that gets the dander up. I’m dismissing just about everything that comes under the Heavy Metal banner, anything that Heavy Metal spawned, Indie bollocks, Rock yawn, Pop wank, vast swathes of it are nothing but regurgitation, its all been done, its tedious. Those exceptions are rare and you probably know them already; The Fall, Ceramic Hobs, The Country Teasers and if pushed I could probably drag a handful more out of the grey recesses but for the most part guitar music has been going around the hamster wheel for the best part of thirty years now with little sign of anybody jumping off and doing anything original.

So I play Heavy Metal’s third LP and think to myself who would call their band Heavy Metal? Its like calling your band Reggae or Rap or Contemporary Classical. Try Googling that one. Its like calling your band Fish Fingers. Their first two albums were called LP and LP 2. They’re based in Berlin, I think they’re English but its hard to tell, you try getting any info on them. It seems they like their anonymity, the working from the inside, corrupting the body from within. The insert says there’s three of them; Sig Vishnu, Gibby Vortex and Steele Reynolds and with them some instructions on how not to put your underpants on courtesy of a blank faced safety first character.

Theres a track called ‘Hacked by the Russians’ thats a great big sloppy almost five minutes worth of Sig [Gibby? Steele?] shouting HACKED BY THE RUSSIANS amidst a flurry of radio and TV static with Sig [Gibby? Steele?] rolling that Russian ‘R’ until its almost a sneer, there’s a Russian girl talking backwards and the riff becomes a loop that drills in to your sorry head. First track is called ‘Motherfuckers in the City’ and begins with a lengthy sample of kids saying how they hate Heavy metal before a killer guitar riff rips in and Sig [Gibby? Steele?] screams an exaggerated MUTHA-FUCK-AH. Next track is a drum loop with Sig [Gibby? Steele?] singing ‘gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme diphtheria’ and then ‘use your skull as a fucking ashtray’ that ‘fucking’ delivered with a nonchalant venom. ‘Crispy Rat’ shows their humour and a starter sample of a mother and son discussing ‘dead people and vampires’ and what about that time we went in to ‘Marks and Spencer's? End result being a vicious 90 seconds worth of flailing, frazzled guitars. Apparently each album has a cover version and LP 3’s is Cameo’s ‘Word Up’ or as it is here in German ‘Wort Ab’ with Sig [Gibby? Steele?] filling in for Larry Blackmon with a surprisingly not totally out of place version of the 80’s floor filler.  ‘Homo & a Headbutt’ has the urgency and stripped guitar sound of late 60’s Beefheart. ‘Like Two Sheds in One Garden’ has a ukulele intro and a xylophone solo. The former passes in one minute ten the latter in one minute twenty five. Some songs flash by but others linger and the groove gets you. Like last track ‘Tighter Than a Seagull’ [which also has a xylophone solo] and then a locked groove because you can. On glorious golden vinyl too. Oh what joys and not a duff track amongst the twelve

I see Heavy Metal as the sneering bastard offspring of Alex Harvey meets the Cockney Rejects in the sampling department of the BBC. They’re fun. They’re punk. They make me want to jump about. They make me wish I could still get down the front at gigs and go home with all my clothes sweaty. They make me feel young again and there’s not much that come through these speakers over the last god knows how many years thats made me want to do that.

Guitar bands are piquing my interest once again. Is it anything to do with Harbinger Sound? Noseholes, Pisse, Massicot, Nachthexen, Karies, Toylettes, Structure [of which more soon] are all drinking from the well of punk and post punk and producing some genuinely exciting music. Away from Harbinger I’ve taken a liking to the wildly magnificent Idles. Maybe there’s something in the air? Anthemic Indie landfill begone. Rock pap begone. Its time for some Heavy Metal. 


Heavy Metal.

Harbinger Sound

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Kiss of Life - Remembering Robert Dellar

Kiss of Life - Remembering Robert Dellar.
Ce Acatl Publishing. 188pp

Robert Dellar was an author, an activist, a publisher of zines, a campaigner on mental health issues, a gig promoter, one of the founders of Mad Pride and for a lot of people a beacon of hope and friendship in a shitty world that made little [if any] sense. He was probably lots of others things too and judging from some of the eulogies and reminiscences in Kiss of Life I’m guessing all of them were positives. His passing in December 2016 has had an obviously profound effect on those around him and those who knew him. His absence still keenly felt. 

I didn't know him personally and it's only now after reading this short but highly readable and affectionate book that I realise he touched mine too; he used to send me the Southwark Mental Health News zine/magazine that he put together. Which arrived at semi regular intervals along with the odd [literally] Mad Pride related release.

Kiss of Life has been put together by Lawrence Burton who I came across via his ‘An Englishman in Texas’ blog who was once in a London band called UNIT and who appears to be on the radar of the Ceramic Hobs who I’ve just reviewed and who now lives not that far from Phillip Best who put said Ceramic Hobs album together. Small world.

Dellar's books include the autobiography ‘Splitting in Two - Mad Pride and Punk Rock Oblivion’ and a collaborative novel ‘Seaton Point’ as set in the tower block of the same name [‘An inner-city tale of magic, mayhem and gratuitous sex scenes’] that I will have to get my hands on some time. Kiss of Life also includes three short stories of Dellar’s my favourite being the one about the bloke who gets a new motorized disability scooter and decides to go for spin in it along some of London’s busiest thoroughfares. Then there’s the one about the constantly eating, drinking, pill popping, virgin shagging Elvis Parsley and the toff turned crusty who gets his comeuppance from his own faithful ‘razor-fanged pitbull werewolf’.

The tributes and reminiscences are written with a great tenderness and give you some idea of the lengths Dellar would go to help people. They come from old school friends, those who hadn’t seen him in decades, those who tried to cadge twenty quid off him and those who were there at his funeral. Like Ted Curtis whose eulogy is produced here and whose contribution is amongst the rawest and most open.

All proceeds from this book go towards the funding of the Mental Health Resistance Network, the group that grew out of Mad Pride and who help raise awareness of the failings of mental health care in the UK.

Ce Acatl

Where to buy


Thursday, February 08, 2018

Neil Campbell

Neil Campbell - Crows, Swallows

Neil Campbell - Think Not Of The Glasses, But Of The Drink
Chocolate Monk. Choc.377. CDR
60 Copies.

‘Think Not of the Glasses …’ was one of those pushed across the table in the Flowerpot releases. It came with a well oiled laugh along with the words ‘Virgin Prunes’. The Virgin Prunes. A band that passed me by. With hindsight I think I might have got lucky. They had a drummer called Pod, were mates with Bongo and had a singer who was in to corpse paint way before the metal hordes picked up on it. I watched some of their videos in an attempt to link up what Campbell has created as homage to the band to what I was hearing via the Prunes and came up with absolutely nothing. Maybe there’s more to the Prunes than meets the eye.

What I like about Campbell releases, the ones that carry his name as opposed to Campbell releases where is name is hidden within the band/project [Astral Social Club, Vibracathedral Orchestra, Early Hominids, A Band … ] is that he makes full use of his vocal chords. There’s more of his voice in them. A voice that like most of his music has a drone like timbre to it, a voice  containing as it does the merest hint of a whats left of his mellow Scottish burr. A flat baritone of a voice, a voice that works for him and the sounds he creates. Richard Dawson has nothing to worry about but that doesn’t mean Campbell cant sing folk songs.

Which is what he does on ‘Crows, Swallows’ singing about ‘the dog shitted alley, the spring coming early’ his voice a capella, eventually multi tracked and joined by those familiar electronic squiggles and soaring zooms. A single thirty minute composition that increases in complexity as it unfolds bringing in to the mix spoken words, the sound of sticky palms on plastic, a riotous snort, a heady up there in the clouds drone that eventually leads to calmer waters, gulls and that voice once more this time intoning the words ‘the bridge over the river Calder’ as a valley bottom ritual of sorts.

Back in Virgin Prunes territory there’s Political Problems and a loop of him reciting something over more of those bleeps and fizzes, the phrase ‘like a crazy singer in a band who’s lost the words’ becoming ever more prominent, the recitation more layered, new words coming in, sounds becoming ever more dense and dare I say it, threatening so that by its climax its a cacophony of voices. No Clouds Were in the Sky is a pean to summer with a picked and strummed acoustic guitar, his voice wavering, chanting, talking, again layered to produce a chorus effect until the whole thing becomes swamped in a blizzard of fuzz guitar. The track in the middle, ‘Red Metal’ has no voice at all but it does have the biggest, slowly building buzz of the three. A shimmering loop of something that may have once belonged to a Virgin Prune, a drone riff, a see-sawing, two way head sway.
I first encountered Campbell’s singing voice on the 1997 Fusetron LP ‘These Premises Are No Longer Bugged’ where a cover of the Ronettes classic ‘Why Don’t They Let Us Fall in Love?’ resided. Which wasn’t quite what I was expecting from the man who’d just left Smell & Quim. Oh, he sang a Motown song on his new record. Well, why not? Having just checked both Discogs and the Chocolate Monk website I can report that ‘Think Not of the Glasses …’ is sadly sold out but copies of ‘These Premises …’ are cheap and freely available. As are great swathes of the Virgin Prunes back catalogue. Treat yourself.

Neil Campbell

Chocolate Monk