Thursday, January 30, 2014
About three or four years ago Steve Underwood asked me to interview every past and present member of Smell & Quim with an eye to a future article for As Loud As Possible. I readily agreed, with hindsight not realising the enormity of the task ahead of me. After I'd attempted to interview Neil Campbell and Paul Walsh in a busy Friday night pub in Mirfield I realised my task was even more futile. What I did manage to get down was a few questions thrown at the following people who happened to be in the Duck & Drake on the afternoon of a gig at the WC by Ramleh.
SM = Simon Morris
SW = Stewart Walden
KF = Kate Fear
IF = Idwal Fisher
SM: Stewart do you remember the list of twenty things you were given to do?
SW: I was given a list of twenty things to do and a twenty sided dice.
SM: ‘Kiss the girls and make them cry’ was one of them. You picked me up and forcibly removed my clothes at the front of the crowd next to Cath O’Connor and I was really insisting on keeping my pants on and I suddenly realised hang on I’m being stripped I suppose this means I’m in the band now?
SW: A few of those twenty things I didn't do ... waltz with Diz I didn't do, masturbate into blancmange I didn't do and call the police I didn't do. I did go to the upstairs bar, and remember I was dressed in a leotard with a banana down the front, and there were all these people there who didn't give a shit about the music and the gig I shouted ‘Call the police’.
IF: Simon, where did you meet Dave?
SM: I’d met Neil Campbell already, at a gig, we were both on Pumf Records and I’d had some contact with Stewart when he was doing Swank. I remember getting the first A Band single, we were swapping tapes, I was sending Stewart, Neil and Mike Con-Dom tapes. I remember having Dave pointed out to me ‘thats the guy from Smell & Quim’. There was a Skullflower gig, an amazing gig with only about 30 people there, the Termite Club about 1994/95, it was a wonderful night and lots of people seemed to meet each other.
SW: That's where I remember meeting you for the first time ... at that gig.
SM: We were talking on the way over ... the era of 90’s Smell & Quim very much had an overlap with the end of the A Band ... so there was a number of people involved in the A Band who ended up in Smell & Quim, Sticky Foster was involved in a number of 90’s Smell & Quim performances. There's the one with the rectal thermometer.
SW: It was a turkey thermometer. I tried to stick it up his arse but I think I missed and he yelped.
SM: I remember you handing it to Shack and Shack licked it. Shack wasn’t in Smell & Quim at the time, Stewart pulled out this rectal thermometer ... Shack was dressed as a dentist ... he was just in the audience, not a member of the band and he licked it. it was kind of gross.
IF: It was a big social thing as well around that time wasn’t it? Especially around Sowerby Bridge. Were you there at Sowerby Bridge? I suppose there was lots of drinking going on?
SM: Yeah, Diz and Sandy were there.
SW: Lots of ideas that came to nothing.
SM: Paul [Harrison] remembered you [SW] knocking on the door at Sowerby Bridge after a row with your ex and saying you’d been sleeping in bushes. Paul was like ‘oh bloody hell’. The Sowerby Bridge scene … Ivy Cottage where Shack and Holly lived. They were very interesting flats those where Diz, Sandy, Paul and Nandi lived. It was like a William Burroughs Interzone thing with these tunnels, weird architecture and staircases.
SW: The flats were at the top of the street and you walked between these tunnels between the houses and suddenly it falls off and you have to walk down these stairs.
SM: Strange houses and the amount of drink and substances around, insane art.
SW: Sandy and Diz between them ... amazing people. Didn’t Shack have a recording studio in Sandy’s basement?
SM: Yeah, yeah.
SW: I only went down there once but to find these people who were doing this kind of thing was amazing. Supremely generous people too.
SM: Your last gig was the Citizen Fish gig wasn't it?
SW: Yes, Neil gave me a ten pound budget for props so I went to the fish market and bought three fish with it. For that gig we were all meant to dress up as rock stars.
SM: I was Jim Morrison but I didn't have any leather trouser so I used black bin liners.
SW: This was the one where Neil was Jimi Hendrix with the black curly wig and sun glasses and he injured his back and couldn't move at the time so he’s just sat in a chair in front of a table with a tape deck. I took a fish and put it down the front of his shirt knowing that he couldn't get away or get out of it ... so Neil’s sat there with a black curly wig, dark glasses, tape deck turntable with this fish tail sticking out the top of his shirt.
SM: My memory of that gig is the reaction of the anarchist vegan guy who was shouting ‘fish is murder’ and he actually came up to me outside the gig and said to me ‘I know you’re going to call me a fucking hypocrite cause I’m wearing leather shoes but I’ve had these shoes a long time. Sorry mate but a fish is just the same as a cow’.
SW: I threw one of the fish into the audience and all these hardcore vegans were jumping out of the way and this one guy picked it up and he said ‘Its OK I used to be a fishmonger, I can handle it’. After the gig I hid the largest fish inside Citizen Fish’s bass drum and I hope they didn't find it until they were in the van on the way home.
IF: Those 1 in 12 [Bradford] gigs were truly inspiring.
SM: Do you remember the one where we had a break dancer? Sandy had met him in the mental hospital. He was called Paddy. He had no idea what he was doing he was just break dancing in the middle of the floor to noise music. That was also the night of the mystery electrician. He was in the upstairs bar and we became paranoid because we thought there's no way he can be here just to mend the fuse boxes all night and we became convinced that he was involved in surveillance. Which years later might have been true because they had a lot of trouble with fascists there. There's something on Stephen Hawkins Butt Plug where you can hear ‘Hello mystery electrician’. People still talk about the mystery electrician.
IF: Tell me about the Belgian gig
SM: The Belgian gig was wonderful. The promoter thought Smell & Quim were a duo and he had fifteen people turning up on his doorstep. We were all over his house, in the kitchen, in the attic, everywhere. He was very nice but he made the mistake of giving us free drinks, too many it seemed, unlimited, and it was all this ridiculous 8% dark beer and we were playing at three in the morning. Paul Harrison had made all these preparations, oh I’m going to do a bit of synth or tape noise or whatever, it was about an hour before we were due to come on and the red mist came down and by the time we got on stage he could barely stand up and he just threw bottles at the crowd. Because it was a day trip to Belgium there was lots of other people doing one off performances. Andy Bolus from Evil Moisture, he got Lisa from Prick Decay to fist him with a rubber glove on, she got a couple of fingers in. Eva Revox and Julian Bercourt from this French label were there and his girlfriend was Japanese and she spoke very little English ... she was just talking about Smell & Quim over the top of it. And there was the Shite Girls which was sort of a Smell & Quim spin off. There was Holly, Kirsty, and Sandy and Nandi, they were in potato sacks. Diz had this sprinkler attached to his trousers as if piss was spurting out. I had some potatoes down my underpants, I’d had these potatoes in the dark for about six weeks and they had long tubers growing out of them and I’d pull these tubers off one by one and then throw the potato at some poor Belgian ... some noise guy got on stage and started trashing everything. Dave got a telling off from the venue people and they were saying ‘we’ve had skinhead bands here, we’ve had punk bands here but never this’. It was a bit pathetic because there wasn’t really any damage. It was just a bit wild.
SW: And then four years ago when we went back to Holland with the new Smell & Quim line up this guy turned up and he said ‘I was at the Belgium gig!’
SM: What are your memories of Paris?
SW: The Paris gig was October ‘95 and a friend of ours called Sue wanted to go to the gig and she didn’t want to go on her own so she paid for me to fly over and we didn’t tell anyone. The Paris gig was great. Nobody was expecting us of course. Neil was there, Sticky was there the whole entourage as Smell & Quim was in those days and we turned up unannounced and it was terrific fun. I wore a stripy skirt with a strobe light inside the skirt.
IF: Its important to know what you’re wearing in Smell & Quim.
SW: Well you had to have a costume. A costume was everything. The Elvis suits, the Leiderhosen.
IF: Didn’t you turn up for the aborted Smell & Quim gig at No Trend wearing a silver lamé suit?
SW: It was a gold lamé suit actually. Dave couldn’t make it. Steve [Underwood] who organised the gig said I could do a solo set if I wanted so I set up to prepare to do it and all I had was the props I’d brought with me which was an ironing board and twenty wooden spoons.
IF: You must have cut rather a dash walking through London looking like that.
SW: I was relying on other stuff being there but I did put the wooden spoons in the ironing board frame in the toilet as a sound check and Carl, one of the A Band people who’d arrived during this time ... his first experience of me at all is of a bloke in a gold suit making a load of banging noise and saying ‘OK I’ve done the sound check’. As it happened the venue was flooded and there was a lot of delays and I didn't get to play so I said let the people who’ve come from afar play instead of me. That was in 2006 so the Smell & Quim comeback proper didn't happen until a year later which was the time when we got the entire festival thrown out because they’d chosen to put us on first.
IF: The Deaf Forever festival in Leeds.
SW: Thats the one. Phil and Mel put a lot of work into that, they got people coming from all over, one person was coming from Belgium and hadn’t even arrived by the time it was all over. This was pretty much all the fault of Mr Gillham who’d brought along a pigs head and a machete. A bad combination.
IF: And lets not forget this was at a venue not 200 yards away from a mosque.
SW: Yeah, yeah. But it was fun. It was a brilliant set.
IF: I was there and I saw the two people who complained about the performance. They were sat next to me and they shot back upstairs, two minutes later the landlord came down and that was that.
SW: All I did was go round with the mouthwash. I’d got given five bottles of mouthwash so I got some labels made with Smell & Quim pigs on them, stuck em on and people wouldn’t believe it really wasn’t mouthwash. And there was some raw sausages. It was very much a pork theme that night. And people didn’t want to touch them so I put one on somebodies knee ... ‘have a raw sausage’. In the meantime, behind my back Gillham was doing somersaults with a machete and attacking this pigs head.
SM: I had a pigs mask on and couldn’t see a damned thing and narrowly avoided the machete on a couple of occasions. It was quite scary.
IF: He was pushing the pigs eyeballs back into its head which was quite gruesome.
SW: The landlord complained about people trying to set fire to the pigs head and it was just two matches in its nostrils. I was pouring mouthwash on it just for weirdness sake. But that was a great gig too especially afterwards when we sat around a table in the bar upstairs being glared at by everyone else in the room.
SM: Kate, tell us how you first met Dave.
KF: I first met Dave at a gig and he was crashed out. Volcano The Bear were playing and I’d fallen asleep pissed ...
IF: That was the Termite gig in that mill complex on the outskirts of Leeds that nobody could find. There was a solo French artist on that night ‘Nocturne’ ...
SM: Who Dave didn’t take too kindly to.
IF: About halfway through this hour long synth barrage which was like Jean Michelle Jarre only ten times more boring, Dave went up to him and shouted in his face ‘You’re dying a fucking death mate’.
SM: The thing with Smell & Quim is that Dave’s a catalyst that makes things happen for a lot of people. I remember one gig where I didn’t even see Dave ... this is the last time Sticky played. The one with the breakdancer. Dave would have been around there somewhere but I didn’t see him for the whole gig. The whole craziness of Smell & Quim, it whips your brain in to a frenzy. Shack and Holly they got hold of this rave DJ ... we got this gig in Middlesborough and it just turned in to dance music basically, Dave and Shack and Holly were all on cocaine and this rave DJ’s just going bump, bump, bump. It was basically a rave gig. Dave had been drinking all weekend and he said ‘for our next gig we all have to learn martial arts and karate and what we’re going to do is go out and mug all the crowd and leave the venue with the music playing and all the punters on the floor’ … I think he was worried we weren’t going to get paid.
SW: I think the main strength of Dave is that he assembles all these nutters around him for them to do the crazy stuff. Whether it be dealing with haircuts or me screaming into someones groin, as I did in Holland.
SM: That was great. Groin shouting in Holland.
SW: If you can imagine this ... there was about thirty people there and I approached each one of them, who were ninety percent blokes, grabbed them by the hips, I was on my knees, face into the groin and shout. So you’ve got this vibration, this feeling of it, the vibration and the heat, with the noise. You’d probably not hear the shouting.
SM: Its almost like aural pleasure in a way isn’t it? You gave aural pleasure to a number of men.
SW: The important thing to remember is that it was a penis festival. I might have been the only person at the festival who did something penis related.
SM: They all got naked.
SW: Getting naked is normal for the likes of us.
SM: That was the last gig at Hondenkoekjes. His missus had had enough ... Marc from the FCKN BSTRDS ... we drank the place dry and I think it was the last straw for his missus.
KF: I had a mallet and people were throwing things and I was knocking them back and one of them was a bottle and I just whacked it and they were saying that could have gone in my eye...
SM: And they were saying oh its not too bad we had Whitehouse here and they were throwing glasses too.
IF: Do you think its just as well Smell & Quim have never toured America.
SW: Still might happen.
SM: We’ve still not seen this new album [Lavatory]. Have you seen the pictures? Me and Dave are naked and Kate’s naked, Gillham and Stewart didn’t get their photos in.
SM: I’ve no idea how Dave puts Smell & Quim records together. I’m just a bit part player really.
SW: I haven’t contributed recently. I haven’t physically, actively done stuff since four years ago here in Leeds where we did ‘In The Brown Girls Ring’. In Holland we had about thirty people all doing the ring-a-ring-a-rosie thing and here in Leeds they weren’t up for it.
SM: Gillham was off his fucking bonce on speed and ecstasy.
IF: He cut his hand didn’t he?
SM: He cut his hand and wrote ‘Smell & Quim’ in the blood on the drum. The guy who owned the drums wasn’t happy.
SW: Me and Kate were going round the audience body searching people ... simultaneously .. each person had four hands on them at the same time.
SM: I suppose I must have done a maximum of ten Smell & Quim gigs since the one where you started off by stripping me. For a while in the mid nineties it was whoever turned up and now Dave says that this line up is the classic line up.
SW: The reason this lineup is so great is Michael Gillham
SM: Michael is wonderful.
SW: Michael is ‘it’.
IF: You haven’t told us how you mate Dave
SW: I met Dave because in 1992 … in 1992 me and Neil had been making music with various bands and Neil had the Jesus Christ LP and he played it to me and I looked at him and said whats this weird shit? So one day Neil says to me you know that band with the Jesus Christ album well they’re playing a gig. So we went along to the gig. It was at the Duchess of York [now defunct Leeds pub/venue]. We went along and we were in the audience with a couple of mates and we taped the gig. Who are these weird guys? Both of them fell on their backs drunk several times during the set. I mean literally on their back with their legs in the air, off their faces, a lot of vodka drunk, even then they had the bucket shaker thing, fabulous stuff with the vibrating going on. They were great. On the ‘Christmas Album’ they released the recording of that, their first gig and its the recording that me and Neil made and you can hear me and Dave and Jimmy and Sue talking all over it. Neil had been writing to Dave and he went up afterwards and he said ‘Hi I’m Neil from Sheffield I wrote to you’ and Dave was so drunk he just went ‘uuuuuur’ and Neil’s trying to make conversation and Dave’s so drunk all he can do is go ‘uuuuuur’. After the gig they were just sat on the edge of the stage looking like a morose Laurel and Hardy.
IF: I’m trying to find out some further information on this gig. I believe Mike Dando was on the bill. There was Smell & Quim, Con-Dom, Haters and Techno Animal.
SW: Thats right yeah. The next Smell & Quim involvement for me was in 94 with ‘Whats Your Health Problem’.
SM: Oh, the phone box.
SW: That's right the phone box. Paul had left by then so it was just Dave and he was trying to get people to contribute and we had some lyrics that Stream Angel had written ...
SM: … Manchester Woman.
SW: Manchester Woman, yeah, that's right. So we’re in this phone box in Sheffield shouting our heads off down the phone and Dave recorded the whole thing and I think its track five on the album.
SM: It sounds like some loonies shouting.
SW: But we were some loonies shouting. In fact that's all we’ve ever been. Some Loonies shouting. A good way to get a recording is to go in to a launderette, preferably a 24 hour one so you can go when nobody else is using it, put a load of money in all the machines but also stack on top of the machines a load of bottles, glasses and stuff so that when the machines go in to the spin cycle you don’t just get the sound of the bottles but of the machines too.
IF: Didn’t Diz collect sardine tins?
SW: Jeff Nuttall wrote a book about performance art and there's a picture of Diz in it wearing the sardine tin necklace.
SM: Its on the cover isn’t it?
SW: There's a whole history of Diz that none of us knows about.
SM: He once got Lol Coxhill to play at a Smell & Quim gig in London.
SW: Holly got Smell & Quim to play her 21st Birthday party. She booked this room at this really posh hotel in Halifax.
IF: Didn’t she book them in as a jazz band?
SW: Smell & Quim were still Dave and Paul Harrison at this time and they were wearing the Elvis suits with the robot heads. I made myself a costume out of a fishnet curtain and wore nothing else. I used to go into the audience at that time and I’d made some blue popcorn that was brown sauce and garlic flavored which I was offering out. I don’t know what they did but Dave and Paul managed to set off the smoke alarms. I think there was smoke coming out of the robot heads. And the fire alarm went off and the place had to be evacuated but Paul and Dave hadn’t realised because they couldn’t hear the alarm. The manager called the fire brigade and the building was evacuated. So we’re all out in the street including me in my fishnet thingy and the fire brigade arrive and Holly knew one of them so she’s having a chat ... meanwhile back in the room Dave and Paul are still playing, they’ve got these robot heads on and cant see a fucking thing, they had light bulbs where the eyes are. All the noise and the smoke machine’s going and the first they knew was when the manager pulled the power and everything stopped. They wonder what the fuck was happening so they take off the robot heads and the rooms empty except for the manager and the chief of the fire brigade.
IF: Who where the two who played in Smell & Quim at the first Vibracathedral Orchestra gig at the Yazen-I-Kylo [Leeds].
SM: That was Steve Massey from the Hobs [Ceramic Hobs], who’s spent 11 years in nuthouses now, on guitar, Paul Harrison on bass and I think I had a tape player going ‘one, two, three, four’, and it was a really bad gig in that we were all dispirited thinking this is terrible. Apart from when Dave was doing stuff with Steve Fricker ... there were a couple of gigs that were billed as Smell & Quim and Onomatopoeia [Fricker’s project].
IF: One of those was the Scruffy Murphy gig in Birmingham wasn’t it? That involved a fish too.
SM: Yeah, the landlord refused to sell any more beer. Fricker wrapped the audience up in string. Those were the quite years of Smell & Quim.
SW: Simon, were you at the gig where I had a roll of industrial strength cling film?
IF: Was that the one where you wrapped the audience up with it?
SW: Yes, all of the audience.
IF: Except for me. I was stood at the back. I could see you coming.
SM: Cath O’Connor and Pauline were sirens at the 120 Rats gig.
SW: I was the compere. The whole event was organised by Phil Smith. It was Blackpool bands versus Leeds band.
IF: The Rats was a squat venue wasn’t it?
SM: Yes, on Meanwood Road in Leeds. It was a just a few houses knocked into one.
SW: The Hobs played, Bilge Pump played, Smell & Quim played, Sticky was there, James Barnes ... Pauline and Cath wore silver foil and bubble wrap.
SM: Diz had a starting pistol at that gig and he shot it into the air which was a shock for some people. Crank Sturgeon guested with Smell & Quim in London one night. Andy Bolus was there ... that was another one where we ended up with fifteen people on stage .. Jim Plaistow from the A Band ...
SW: There's a big cross over from A Band to Smell & Quim. In Fact of the current line up Dave is the only one who isn’t connected with the A Band ...
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Four More Cosmic Jams From Daniel Thomas and Kevin Sanders
Cherry Row Recordings. CRR001. CDR.
Listening to the latest label to emerge from the Leeds undergrowth gives me the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Stone number one being Steve Cammack’s Muhmur radio show where you will hear Four More Cosmic Jams From Daniel Thomas and Kevin Sanders as broadcast through the transmitters of Sound Art Radio [and later through Mixcloud] on Thursday the 23rd of January.
Steve is of course the one man left in Dieter Müh. English Industrial Ritual Ambient-ists [call them that if you will] whose career path has closely followed my own immersion into all things similar music wise. Theres a mutual appreciation society of sorts existing between us but I’ve held back plugging his radio show as its taken me a while to get around to appreciating it.
Not because Steve’s a gobshite DJ with racks of jingles and a matey ‘crew’ to banter with in between playing records, but the actual nature of streaming radio shows. Its the sound quality issues that originally put me off. On an early show Steve played an Incapacitants track that due to the lack of depth of streaming MP3 just didn’t work. Those lucky enough to live within the reception area of Sound Art Radio, which is Totnes in Devon, will have switched on their radios and heard the Incaps in glorious FM. But over the net and through my bog standard PC speakers it was flat. It put me of for a while but I ventured back of course.
And I’m glad I did. Steve seems to have found his feet now whilst mastering the studio equipment along the way. Each two hour show usually begins with three or four tracks and then a gentle ‘erm … that was …’ before some more music. And on it goes. It sounds simple and it is. Its all you ever really need from a radio show of this nature. Recent shows have focused on certain artists or groups and have featured the music of Neil Campbell, Luke Younger, Column One, there was a Sweden special too, most of these ‘specials’ feature music especially recorded for the show. His last broadcast was one of his best and a good as you’re going to get example of what he plays - pick of the bunch this time were tracks by Wolf Eyes, Dome, Inade, Cabaret Voltaire, Hirsuite Pursuit and the Sleaford Mods, who are pencilled in for a future session so I’m told. Its all good stuff and now my Friday night ritual. Taking a couple of hours out of your schedule to relax with Muhmur does wonders for your inner equilibrium. If you’re in the Totnes area it airs from 9pm most Thursdays. Check listings for details as they say.
Steve played the first track from ‘Four More Cosmic Jams From Daniel Thomas and Kevin Sanders’ last Thursday night. Its minimalist industrial drone belying its moniker and the pixelated fruit machine cherries to sit cheek by jowl with Inade, Wolf Eyes and the rest of Steve’s excellent choice cuts [DJ talk].
Once these sonic journeymen lived but ten miles apart running labels and projects in the West Yorkshire environs but the Sanders half gave up Huddersfield for Bath meaning that these tracks were either recorded via file swaps or a bringing together via the miracles of rail and road. Either way the results are highly encouraging. Forty eight minutes worth all told the last track being a gentle stroll around an English country garden seeped in amniotic fluid, the onset of a pounding steel mill hammer gains in volume and increases the tension and urgency until you’re back in the English country garden once more. Each track is delightfully weighted with the groans of dying ghosts, radio static, machine hum, distant pneumatic road drills and muscular heartbeats all slowly drifting in and out of your consciousness.
We’ve been here before. Sanders and Thomas teamed up for a release on Thomas’s own Sheepscar Light Industrial label with twenty minutes worth that went and got NASA all excited but the coupling here appears to have gone beyond that. A stonking industrial drone album that for now lives in a folded up piece of paper as the only release on a very bare blog. A vinyl outing would serve it better.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Ludo Milch, Syed Kamranali, Pascal Nichols - The Wet Black Poodle Transforms
Singing Knives Records. CD
Posset - Friction Rivers
Singing Knives Records. Cassette
Human Heads - The Beauticinist
Singing Knives Records. Cassette
Trying to pin down the Posset sound is about as much a waste of time as trying to knock a nail in with a barley twist pink and white Flump. It is what it is. Our nearest point of reference would be the dictaphone meanderings of the Filthy Turd but whereas the Turded one is wont to scatter his seed hither and thither without a care for what people might call some kind of ordered recognition, Possett releases actual albums with track listings and everything.
Having long been lauded by the bearded wonder over at RFM, Possett has now landed at Idwal Towers. His audio naivete [and I mean that in the most sincerest way folks] reaches the ears sounding like a two second snatch of Nick Drake song dipped in bleach and wound around a capstan until the things fit to snap. But that is only on the opener Baden Powell. Why you would call a song that sounds like that Baden Powell I have no idea but it all seems to make perfect sense in a not very making much sense way. The stop/ffwd/rewind buttons of a tape machine are much in evidence, producing as they do murky doings of oddness as recorded in the clanking emptiness of a cellar fixed Belfast sink. Voices wash across your ears garbled and mangled into tongues unknown. Conversations recorded in pubs become strangely fascinating. Phil Minton gargles his mouth juices. Dogs slavver over your best kecks. Some of it sounds like an A Band gig as played by one person in a phone box crammed with tape recorders. For reasons I can not fathom I find this kind of recording absolutely gripping. Possett’s ability to strip ‘songs’ down to their basic core produces snippets of sound [or if you care ‘music’] that amuse and entertain, lift the mood and make the world a better place. To be played over muted screening of the X Factor for maximum effectiveness. The Bearded Wonder was right all along.
The first time I clapped eyes on Ludo Mich was at the 2007 No Fun Fest. Mich’s nicotine stained mustache and Fluxus background shone like a beacon in a crowd of mainly American plaid shirted noiseniks there for the beer and their ears rattling. His angst ridden vocals, gurglings and mutterings were a welcome balm from the noise and despite a nervous performance he was well received. The Wet Black Poodle Transforms [which incidentally comes in a stonking fold out heavy screen printed brown paper card thing] finds Milch joined by Pascal Nichols on drums and Syed Kamranali on a variety of instruments including bells, violins, tape and electronics [I guess] for two live performances as captured on a recent UK tour of which I was totally unaware of and would dearly have loved to have attended.
Milch is on fine form moving from court jester to wounded soldier. The mood being either ominous or manic depending on whether your hearing screaming baby sounds or Milch pleading for his life in Flemish like a prisoner down on his knees about to be shot. In the Manchester show all three gel quite magnificently with Nichols tumbling drums a good repost to Kamranali’s tape squelch and Milch’s howling gibberish. A break in the tumult reveals Milch intoning in English ‘we’re building a tunnel’ as if from down an echoey corridor before erupting into fits of manic laughter. Strangulated strains, some no doubt coming from Nichols, help the thing along in an effortless fashion. The Sheffield show is equally impressive and with both tracks not bothering the 20 minute mark they’re pitched at that perfect attention keeping length.
The Human Heads release couldn’t have been short enough. A man sings/talks in a vocoder-ish voice, a la Residents, to the spasmodic proddings of a Stylophone. A man has a conversation with a woman to a background of white noise. Perhaps the most Fluxus release of the three but the one that failed to ignite my tinder.
Still, Singing Knives Records eh? Beats eating Flumps.
Singing Knives Records
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Illusion of Safety - Cancer
Tesco 008. CD.
Originally released in 1992.
Some of you may be wondering why I’m reviewing a 22 year old Tesco release when the review pile is but an arms length away looking at me like a sorry eyed Bassett hound that hasn’t had its daily walk yet?
Truth is I started having a clear out which turned in to a massacre. At first it was a few books. Those that line the stairs and become uncontrollably large, looming over your head as you walk past them looking as if they’re going to tumble down on you at six in the morning as you fumble down the stairs with a foggy head. I just carried on up the steps and into this room where I type this. Three weeks later and after numerous trips to the tip and Oxfam I have my room back and along with it a certain sense of control that I feared was leaving me for good.
When I’ve finished reviewing an item it goes on a shelf. It sits on the shelf until there’s no more room on the shelf and from there it goes in a box. The box goes on another shelf along with all the other boxes. Various shapes and sizes of boxes; shoe boxes, archive boxes nicked from work, packaging tape boxes. I had lots of boxes. I had lots of cassette tapes too. Some of them I must have thirty years and not played much since the day I got them. Ditto CD’s, LP’s and video cassettes [even though I haven’t had a VCR in the house for about five years I still had a small number of video cassettes]. I had an out of control music collection. Most of which I could locate ... given an hour or two.
Having sat here reviewing for the last 20 odd years I’d amassed a lot of shite and I still had it all. Every last bit of it. And then I discovered the joy of getting rid of it.
I started putting things on eBay and Discogs and was amazed that people in far off foreign lands would give me lots of money for things that I’d forgotten I had. This spurred me on to even greater heights of chucking out-ness. With every item I sold or took to the tip or the chazza my mood lightened. I began to despise the jewel cased CD and joyously snapped them in my hands jettisoning the offending junk into an awaiting Sainsburys bag for life with a big elephant on the front from where it would go to the boot of the car for its final journey. Some I ripped to the hard drive. Those I decided to keep I kept in plastic wallets along with the cover. Its all you need.
All the pre-recorded cassettes I had and all the cassettes I’d ever received that people had taped for me over the years have been donated to a man in Stoke who will recycle them into things of joy. I hope he’s got plenty of room for them.
Then there’s the correspondence. I have every letter and scrap of paper that anyone has ever sent me since the early nineties? Why? I have no idea. Maybe I had some inkling that someone who I’ve corresponded with would become as famous as Andy Warhol and that there missives would be worth thousands. They’re all in the bin now.
Then there’s the photographs. Why have I kept a blurred photograph I took in 1991? Bin.
This cleansing burst began as a seed of thought as me and Mrs Fisher [and mostly Mrs Fisher it has to be said] were handed the task of emptying her mothers house after the death of her father. The pair of them had lived in the same house for 65 years and I don’t think that for one minute of those 65 years they ever threw anything away. Thats not to say that they were suffering from an OCD that prevented them from throwing away yesterdays newspaper [although Mrs Fisher senior was 12 months behind with House & Home] it was just that they had a lifetimes accumulation of stuff. And thats all it was … stuff. And pretty much all that stuff either went to the charity shop or the skip. Which is heartbreaking and sad so utterly pointless.
And I don’t want anyone to have to do that with me, so I’ve started now. With the entire back catalogue of obscure noise labels who shall have to remain nameless. I’ve kept some of it back of course. Watch out for me at the WC next time up. I’m the one with a big cardboard box full of … stuff.
The upshot of all this is that I’ve been having a whale of a time listening to music that I haven’t listened to for years, decades even. I’ve also realised that I don’t care for CD’s very much anymore. When I die I want to leave behind a vinyl archive that somebody would be proud to inherit not boxful's of cassette tapes with tatty covers held on with elastic bands.
I’ve started already. I’ve been using the money I got from those nice people in foreign lands to start buying vinyl once again. Helm, Bernard Parmegiani, Pharoah Sanders. I’m beaming beams of joy as I type this. Things are going to be so much nicer round here.
Which left me wondering what to do with the review pile. I didn’t want to abandon those Basset hounds altogether. I get too much enjoyment from them. But I did feel they were taking over my life somewhat, albeit unnoticed. I thought long and hard and decided that I’d like to incorporate both the old stuff and the new stuff. During the recent clear out I found all the disc files from the paper zine days as well. I’ve been flicking through those and some of it's worth repeating hence the Foxtrot Echo interview that appeared yesterday.
There will be a slow down in the rate at which I review new material but I feel its a price worth paying. I wont say that I’ve become a victim of my own success [however you measure that] but I got the feeling that the review pile, like the paper zines before, were taking over my life and that I was getting into a rut once again. Its not a healthy place to be.
So here we are with early 90’s industrial ambient giants Illusion of Safety and Cancer and a very young Jim O’Rourke in the fold. Its a great release. No, its better than that, its a classic of the style and a release I played to death when I got it. Playing it again as lifted me from my cups. And even though its on CD it comes glued to the front of an LP sized cover so we'll let it off. Its all strawberries and cream from here on in.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
This is an interview that first appeared Just Glittering 5 - the precursor to Idwal Fisher - a lot of years ago. I've been digging around, dusting off shelves, making space, taking time to find myself again. I found these discs with all the zine info on them. Some of it needs to be seen again. Some of it is best left behind.
You saw Coum perform before you joined?
Well I didn't know who they were and I went to this gig when I was at art school in Bradford and it was with Hawkwind top of the bill and most of the bands playing were boring twelve bar blues cliché type bands, I was yawning and suddenly this band came on stage that was absolutely bizarre. They were all wearing orange pvc capes and the drummer had this enormous double drum kit and it had a sun shade over it, and there was this very long legged school girl, and a dog and it just seamed extraordinary, they went into these strange songs that I don't know how to describe really, but they were sort of slightly reminiscent of Captain Beefheart. There was a long drum solo and it was all just fascinating. In time honoured fashion after the concert finished I went up to the stage and said "I am very interested in what you're doing, perhaps we can get you on at the college". Because I thought this is more like it, something a bit avant garde, more genuinely progressive or exploratory. And so we started corresponding, we exchanged addresses. They called that gig 'Edna and the Great Surfers' and they issued a postcard afterwards, part of the postal art phase. Edna was a photograph from a lonely hearts club or pen pals section, she looked about 70 and she was a lift attendant, and she was from Bradford so that was the connection you see. The surfing I think it was Spydee who had some obsession with the Silver Surfer at the time that was the other part. Anyway, so we started corresponding and I did actually arrange a gig for them to come and play college although it wasn't actually at the college as there was nowhere for them to play, there were hardly any facilities. I was doing film, TV, and theatre there. Various things happened there that were quite interesting in the history of things… but anyway the gig I did set up was another particularly odd one. We had a joint arrangement with the Bradford Afro Club which was all West Indians; there was a great black girl on the course. She was like the mediator, so they ended up playing at the Afro Club. By which time all the rest of the band had left apart from Genesis and Cosey. So they arrived and it was quite a bizarre evening as you can imagine. He did a long drum solo which was slightly related to the west Indian/African interest but he was dribbling and spitting, sort of proto punk behaviour, but Genesis was very engaging as he always was. He was talking to all the people; it was a mixture of a few white art students and lots of West Indians. I was saying "why don't you do this", and suggesting all sorts of ideas and they said "well, why don't you come and see us in Hull?"
I suppose as other members had dropped out……
Yes, when I saw them I think it was the last gig where they were all together? They were all fairly wayward characters anyway. The lead guitarist was about 14 or 15, Brook. He was a juvenile delinquent and then there was Spydee who was the old friend of Genesis' from public school. I think it was just those two then with Genesis and Cosey but they had left, I think Spydee had moved away to another part of the country. I did meet Brook a couple of times but he wasn't any longer in the group. I went to see them in Hull and I was contributing ideas and they just said "well why don't you join us" so then the group was basically us three, and also Cosey's childhood friend the Reverend Cheese Wire Maull. He was involved. So for about, I don't know nine months or a year it was just the four of us then Fizzy Peat arrived, he was always around, people sort of came into the group sometimes, if they showed a lot of interest, were original characters, then they got incorporated. There were still other people from the old group as well, because it would vary, each performance would be a different combination. They'd been other people like Ray Harvey a half black guy who was basically an aggressive criminal, but he'd sing in a very strong forceful way, he'd been in the band, but he was in jail. He was such a dangerous personality. I think he just went off on another track, another one that just disappeared. There was Doctor Timothy Poston who was a mathematics don at Cambridge, involved in "Catastrophe Theory" which is like the straw that broke the camels back or just before a dam bursts…pressures involved in a situation, and then it changes dramatically. You could define that there were actually patterns and it wasn't just physical things like objects that might break but they reckoned you could apply it to social and political situations, probably even into personal relationships between people. Just as something looks like it's not going to change at all, the pressures build within it then suddenly it changes.
That's similar to some theories in music. John Cage…
So there was quite an intellectual basis to some of the ideas that were being discussed within Coum. You had everybody from people that couldn't read and write, people like the criminal underclass to people that were right at the highest intellectual level. When I first met Timothy Poston he was a visiting professor at
a University abroad.
What was the common ground…?
Well I think Genesis created this environment. He was always very pro-active, dressed in an unusual way always talking to everyone, he became a local character, he was very articulate and he…
Of course. In those days it was slightly trendy, anyone who was very arty and a bit weird in the late 60’s, '70, '71 had a romantic allure to them because they were unusual. Not much, I don't think particularly, happened in Hull. So he became a local character, you got young people, like Fizzy Peat, I don't know if he met them at a gig or had just seen them in the street but they'd come round and call. You ended up with people from different backgrounds. Dr Timothy Poston was at Hull University at first before he went to Cambridge so that's where Genesis met him, obviously he had something in common, interests in avant garde music, he was quite a lot older, but there were all sorts of people drawn in and that's what I liked about it. It wasn't all one very narrow social grouping of middle class people or whatever. I loved the idea that it was a real wide range of people.
You said you were influenced by the Merry Pranksters?
Ah, yes, well Genesis had read that book by Tom Wolfe about them as well. We were all into the idea of a common project. In some ways it was like a gang. I find that very attractive and there are similarities with a criminal gang especially if you're doing Dadaist or anti art things, trying to break new barriers.
Did you get in much trouble?
There were a few controversial scenes. Obviously some of the things we did were very provocative. Members of the group went into jail but not normally for artistic reasons … well I don't know. You could say part of their art was their crime. The Reverend Cheese Wire Maull was a very interesting character, he was a natural musician he could play any instrument, pick it up and within an hour get a tune out of it. He could play the guitar quite well and he had this amazing imagination, he didn't have particularly advanced schooling but he was naturally very creative. He used to assemble construction kits in another way, rather than follow the instructions he used it like sculpture, just because something amused him. But he financed his existence really by burglary and various jobs. We'd do gigs and he'd disappear off afterwards and he'd acquire various things some of which were used in the group of course. He'd steal instruments or type writers. Every now and again there was a panic when he did get arrested and Gen and Cosey had to get rid of them … this is blowing the gaff now … but I remember them having to dismember a typewriter or something and put it down the drain into the sewer, you know, at midnight.
Were there any common groups at the time … Welfare State? Jeff Nutall? Diz Willis?
Yeah, well that was another link with Bradford because the course I was on at the Bradford school of art was run by a guy called Albert Hunt. He was a media figure at the time. He was always on BBC2. He had this political theatre group that was really influenced by Bertolt Brecht. One of their most famous productions was "John Fords Cuban Missile Crisis" which was telling the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis but as if it had been a John Ford western. You know they mixed genres. Basically I think the course was to back up his theatre group. Related to that was the Welfare State. Some of the people in that had been in his theatre group. That was based in Leeds. So there was lots of activity, and Jeff Nuttall was a lecturer at the college as well, he was involved with performance art. They were quite stimulating times. I didn't know Diz Willis? Jeff Nuttall's daughter was on my course; Jeff Nutall was an inspiration at the time. He was quite a figure in the whole psychedelic scene in London in the sixties and he wrote the book "Bomb Culture". But we didn't really integrate with others very much.
Bands you played with?
Supporting Hawkwind was the biggest "rock" moment as such. John Peel played Coum tracks on his Radio One show. There was quite a lot of music involved in Coum but now when it's discussed or in exhibitions Genesis and Cosey, particularly Genesis emphasise the more extreme visceral later performance art, which was influenced really by the Vienna Aktionists. Otto Muhl etc...
Yes. In the earlier days some aspects were quite whimsical a little bit softer, very much more English.
Like Syd Barrett, a more lyrical quality?
It was a combination of different things. We were all influenced by the Americans that were interesting. Genesis and I both obviously liked the Mothers of Invention and the Velvet Underground and had been into them, that's what we had in common. You'd have these reference points. We'd both been into them right from the first records even before they were particularly well known. I liked anything odd that I heard on the radio even when I was younger I used to twiddle the radio dial and find radio Morocco or some Russian station.
And the short wave whistling?
Oh yes, I loved all the feedback in fact we did a whole tape of some of the marvellous frequencies all the Morse code and everything swirling around. I could listen to that for hours.
I remember when you could listen to the police on the radio.
Well that's where my name came from; Foxtrot Echo was a police car. Messages came through on the P.A. system.
You had a radio plugged in?
No, not deliberately. It used to pick it up. It often does…
Like Spinal Tap?
Signals used to come out of the most unlikely things I thought it was a sign, that's good. I liked the idea of having a coded signal as a name.
What do you mean a sign?
Nowadays they say shamanistic journeys, a coincidence, synchronicity and all that.
A happy accident, so there were the three of you as a fully functioning Coum…
I joined and then there was The Reverend Cheese Wire Maull who did a few gigs but sometimes you see we did a performance that might have just been us in the room. Some of the list in "Wreckers of Civilisation" is just interaction between three people, or might have been a recording. Sometimes it was a theatrical performance, sometimes something in the street other times it might just be us interacting in some sort of way.
Did you think the Wreckers book was absurdly reverent to what must have seemed like silly ephemeral fun at the time?
Well, we weren't terribly po-faced at the time. I felt Genesis got more and more serious, he was a bit more playful and easier going at the start. Obviously he was the driving force that was part of the problem in the end because he was getting more autocratic. It was more co-operative in some ways as everyone made more of a contribution in the earlier days. He would embrace other people's ideas, but he got certain a direction after a while that he wanted to pursue. And he was quite forceful about it in a way. We didn't ever fall out.
You just touched on something Gen is often accused of…
What stealing! Ha-ha. Well don't they say "genius steals" There's an expression isn't there?
Well you mentioned you introduced the "Nazi interest" that went on to be so important with TG.
Well yeah, it was definitely me that introduced that. Yes, I think I can claim that I initiated it. I know Genesis was interested in a lot but I can prove it I've got all the letters. I was just fascinated by lots of Nazi design really and ways of approaching things. It wasn't that I was fascist at all. None of us were. We couldn't be. We'd of all been exterminated in Nazi Germany. We were all social deviants. But there was some power to it that was interesting to experiment with and of course it had a lot of associations with an audience of that generation. It wasn't historical at the time a lot of people had experienced its influence in some way. It was quite beguiling and fascinating but you had to watch you didn't use it in too much of a gratuitous or superficial way.
You'd be getting towards the time when you'd attract skinheads?
Yeah, there were a few. Skinheads didn't mind Coum. Even in the early phase of skinheads, the original ones. Because I think it was quite confrontational. That was the interesting thing even though people didn't have a lot in common, people sensed an energy.
How did people react?
If you are an "avant garde art group" most of the people coming are going be from a student background, you don't surprise them. We did a few festivals where anybody could come. And that would be slightly different. People seemed to relate to the bizarreness of it and the stroppiness. Although some of the things we were involved in had an intellectual aspect to it we always used to go out of our way to break down barriers. Most members of the group had no formal art training, in fact I was the only one. I'm not mentioned in Wreckers of Civilisation because that slightly complicates the issue. I think Genesis likes to pretend it was the birth of Venus or something; it just came out of the foam. But there were direct influences of the art world. It wasn't being too pretentious about it or contrived, but it wasn't all naive art.
There are a lot of outsider artists these days that have been to Art College…
Ha-ha. I mean that's one of the things about Coum that I really liked, and I still stand by it now, find it really important is that we used to approach situations and if we found something, we chose it to be art. Then it was. It's like Duchamp's ideas. I like people being artists without knowing they are artists. Someone like Fizzy Peat, he had his own personal culture his own view point and he'd express it in the way he behaved it wasn't just how he drew. His life was an artwork without it being so formally. Some people would say an eccentric but that in itself was fascinating.
You'd just put him in a room…
He was a found performance artist, you didn't have to teach him, he just was himself. This also created some interesting things because he was being genuine. He might be very fanciful or very extraordinary, he had his own obsessions. Some people said he was bordering on madness but he was powerful and real. He wasn't pretending to do it. He was being that person. So as I said ordinary people sometimes sensed that. We weren't always pontificating or being patronising in the way we were doing things.
Sounds like fun.
Oh yes certainly. Sometimes we'd go out of our way to baffle people as well, because that was part of the journey. We didn't want to be predictable at all.
Tell us about the 3333 ways to Coum?
It was based on the Buddhist idea of the million and one names of God. Obviously that would be very ambitious, but initially that was the idea to keep on finding definitions or things that expressed the idea of what Coum could be about. Or what people would associate with it. Multi-dimensional in association anyway. And the first one was 1001 ways to Coum. I've got it here copyright 1971 and the first entry is coum is 1 - Coum are fab and kinky. Which was their slogan. Various people thought of the ideas. Of course Genesis came up with a lot in the initial stages but Dr Timothy Postern…most people, Cosey, in fact everybody thought of something. Some of them were completely throwaway things and others are quite good. ‘256 - Coum negate pornography’. Probably somewhere further along it will say the exact opposite. Some entries are quite simple … ‘Coum are a clumsy pantomime’, ‘Coum are fab and slinky’? There were all sorts of ideas. It was like playing with those teenage magazine ideas, slogans and things. Like you get on badges. But also other concepts … ‘Coum are obscene and not heard’ … talking of the stickers, ‘Coum guarantee disappointment’. That was one of my slogans. The one thing we could always guarantee was that people would be disappointed. So I did this sticker with the idea of the seal, "the guarantee of disappointment" like you used to get with H.P. agreements or warranties on household goods. If people started to argue with us afterwards we'd place a sticker on them … ‘Coum cannot play there instruments’. People used to be baffled by that. They thought how can you go onstage and actually be proud of the fact that you cannot play your instruments. We used to think it was quite a courageous thing to do because people do get quite irate. Obviously, we weren't encumbered by actually having to play a tune. We'd make sounds with them that perhaps a conventional musician wouldn't! Then we used to use them as sound generators and it did often create some interesting results. So anyway 3333 ways to Coum is not mentioned in the Wreckers book, but I think it was it was one of the more interesting concepts.
They should be in the V&A?
Yeah, well Simon Ford is curator of the modern art library at the Victoria and Albert museum and he purchased a load of correspondence that was in a book sale somewhere. I don't know who it was to … I can't remember.
Well, a lot of Genesis' own collection went missing of course, seized by the police. So I don't know if some of this may be unique now. Even these editions, there was only three. It was all hand typed out by him and put together.
Can you remember any eventful gigs?
The one at Kent University was quite an extraordinary one. It was 1972 I think, let me just look it up ... we might as well pin down the actual name … Copyright Breeches, of course. The whole concept of Copyright Breeches had a few layers to it. We used to steal ideas, talk about stealing ideas. Well, not always steal; we'd find them and use them in a new combination. Cross breed. Create mutant forms. Mixing it with something as opposite as possible and seeing what came out of it. Which is quite a creative thing to do. Because we were claiming things as our own we would possibly be sued for breach of copyright so we started discussing all this in the Alien Brain in Hull. That was the name of Genesis' house, an old jam factory. We were talking about Coum stealing things and it being a copyright breach, and I said, we ought to be honest about it and just call things copyright breaches. So it was like a whole performance where we'd be accused of stealing things, possibly ideas. We didn't know if it would be because we made it up as we went along. Genesis had some copyright britches made. The C for copyright as the pattern on these big broad trousers. And there was the book made as well with the bicycle wheel like Marcel Duchamps work on the cover. Published by Beau Geste Press. Now that's another story because that's him! Genesis pretending to be another organisation. When he was typing furiously full time he gave the impression that Coum was a big organisation. Write in the third person things like that. It reminded me of the scene in the film Beau Geste, the foreign legion is defending the fort and all the legionnaires get killed until there is only one left. So that the marauding Arabs don't overwhelm the fort he props up the bodies of his comrades with guns and he runs backwards and forwards behind them firing so it seams like there are more people firing than there is. I used to refer to him as Beau Geste. I addressed letters to him as Beau Geste and he rather liked that idea. But anyway I digress. At Kent University an old friend of mine, Davy Jones, was quite sympathetic, so he promoted the gig. Our advance publicity, our notorious reputation was so effective even before we got there that the university authorities banned us from performing within the university. So the student union, to prove a point, hired this circus tent and put it just outside the perimeter. Now part of the problem was that there was no direct electricity supply. Somebody rather ingeniously took off one of the panels on one of the street lights and wired up a direct link to that. So we did have some power.
The national grid!
Unfortunately half way through the evening. It must have caused some problem, a short circuit or something. Half the City of Canterbury was thrown into darkness because of our performance. The lights went out. It was quite an extraordinary gig because there was the Reverend Cheese Wire Maull with his guitar, this prepared piano, we ordered in advance, altered it a bit on the day. Genesis had his drum kit. My friend Robo Ray. Me and Robo Ray did some tapes; we did some for Coum too. Rather like supermarket jingles, slogans from 1001 ways to Coum, information, we had a xylophone effect and incidental music. It was like Muzak but putting over avant garde ideas in a low key way, like easy listening. Anyway, there was him. Cosey of course and the dog, Tremble. Me, Foxtrot Echo although I think for the evening Genesis pretended that I was from the Gay Liberation Front. Because a guy who was also in Coum, Nicholas Bramble an ex-ballet dancer, very temperamental, for some reason he didn't come and Genesis thought it was such good copy he pretended I was him to the journalist that interviewed him. Because, well, I was wearing mascara, glitter eye make-up and lipstick anyway. I suppose it was quite credible. Genesis did some sort of playl-ette wearing transparent nappies. We were playing improvised music with slogans. Cheese Wire Maull did a Beatles medley and some of his own songs. People shouted things, we shouted back. There was a load of saw dust that was thrown everywhere. I don't know where that came from. I had some feathers… Then of course half way through it all became dark. It became touchy feely. Some people got really confused. It became something of a legend. It was talked about for sometime. Banned again.
Why did you leave Coum?
Disengage. I don't think you actually leave. Although Coum hasn't continued in an obvious sense. A lot of the individuals have carried on, live like it. That was part of the concept. Once you became a member you carried on whether it was formally described or not. You were still doing things in your own world or your own experience that still carried on a lot of the ideas. Coum didn't carry on in a formal sense for much longer after I left anyway. The exhibition at the ICA was not long after I left, then after that Throbbing Gristle was born. There was a direct interrelationship between one and the other really, the only person in TG that wasn't in Coum was Chris Carter and he was on the periphery of Coum in the last days anyway. John Lacey who was the son of Bruce Lacey of course, he was in Coum and John Lacey was Chris Carters best friend. That how he got involved.
Sleazy was in Coum when you were?
He was in it the last year and a half or so. We did a few gigs together. He was into gay porn and did civil defence exercises, where people would pretend to be injured. He knew how to simulate all sorts of terrible wounds cosmetically. And that was another interest that Genesis found very fascinating, he was moving more towards the hard-line things. He was getting more and more serious about Charles Manson. We read The Family by Ed Saunders when it came out. Ed Saunders of the Fugs. Who were also an influence on Coum.
The Reverend Cheese Wire Maull had a two year sentence, so he was obviously out of the action. Biggles, who did the driving most of the time, but was also in a few actions, myself and Fizzy Peat. Well we all found ourselves doing less and less. Genesis, Sleazy and Cosey all did things together, just the three of them really. Then eventually Chris Carter came on the scene. In the last years we didn't do much music really, it was all performance art. It wasn't dropped completely. Ironically I was always more interested in the music. I was interested in the art as well, but I liked the variety. I didn't like it to be just performance I liked other aspects as well. Because when I joined them they were a sort of anti-rock group. It leap-frogged, if we could have afforded the equipment we'd have been doing Throbbing Gristle like stuff probably in 1973. We didn't know anybody at the time who could actually construct it, so Chris Carter filled in that gap. Also I think the other thing about TG was with Coum it was such a wide concept people couldn't really grasp it. You know one week it would be letters, or postcards then the next week it would be a rock group, another week artworks. It was more like a movement. Where as Throbbing Gristle was easier to market and direct with in the notion of the rock business. The band you know. It was easier to package and it was easier to comprehend. Sleazy came from a rock associated background because he was the photographer for Hypnosis. He did the cover for Pink Floyds 'Wish You Were Here' album. It was more professional with his approach really.
So you moved on and worked with Cornelius Cardew?
No. I worked with him before. Well I'd just joined Coum, and what I learnt with him came in very useful. He had a rigorous formal musical training. Certain things like discipline we used to occasionally introduce into performances. Although it was improvised and freeform we'd try to give it a structure so it wasn't quite as random as people might have thought.
Did he use graphic scores?
Yeah, I rather like that, coming from a visual arts background. Trying to express things in sound that you also had a physical picture of. The piece I recorded with my friend Robo Ray was called Pulsar. We used treated sounds on a regular beat directly influenced by Cornelius Cardew. It was just a simple idea but what we did was our own expression of it. Layers and layers, 14, 15 quite a few and it was stereo. Just different sounds on a reel to reel.
You took the first nude of Cosey?
Oh yes. Well, I did take the first nude photographs of Cosey in 1972 I think it was, for a Men Only competition. It was the first time she took her clothes off and had her photograph taken. Which lead to quite a career, obviously. They were sent off to Men Only. They didn't get anywhere. I'm not saying they were fantastically brilliant photos or anything, but I think they were a bit too creative for a top shelf magazine. I thought they had a slight erotic quality but they were a bit too avant garde. She went on to try again and did other things. I took photographs with in Coum anyway. A lot of the photos I took were kept in the group archives so I don't have copies. In one performance my part was 'the photographer' it was part of the performance but I was actually taking photographs as well.
What have you done since Coum?
I carried on doing photography afterwards. I've done various musical things here and there, but I haven't been continuously active.
You did light shows?
I did do light shows before and I have done those in the last 15 years. Some of the old equipment I used again, revived it, re-approached it. I devised one or two original techniques which I started to use again. Actually made things, they weren't like the clichéd approach. We made prepared slides and had all sorts of effects, modified things, as well as all sorts of collaged images.
Who are you still in contact with?
In the last 4 or 5 years I've re-established contact with Cosey and Fizzy Peat, who lives in Eastbourne of course, amazingly. He became Lilly Savages dresser at one point; he's a psychiatric nurse now. He's a very sympathetic character, he's a great original.
How do you feel about Genesis' transformation into sideshow freak?
Transsexual? Well, he was always trying to think of something different, provoke people.
Have you seen the photos?
No. (I describe them) He's quite a showman anyway, some of these things he's been pretending…
Well he's gone through with it now.
I wouldn't be able to comment on the true nature of his latest modification or latest expression. He used to sometimes dabble in things but he was very convincing. People used to think, even I used to think, when he got into Charles Manson, he's believing in this so much he might even go down a similar path.
Well he did. The Temple of Psychic Youth was his version of a cult?
Oh yes, he was always into the whole concept of cults and manipulating people. That was his genius.
Did you see the NSPCC bill boards that were a child's face morphed into an old ladies face? It looked like Genesis.
Yeah but you wonder sometimes if it's just a coincidence or if somebody in advertising has seen the image before or … I was going to say about Coum generally and TG the continuation … some of the ideas we applied and experimented with have become completely mainstream now. In advertising, manipulation of images on very sophisticated levels. Guerrilla advertising, many tactics. Some were quite original. I think it was a very dynamic group. The audience was so small but we felt at the time that we were doing something very important. And I still believe in it now. In fact the guy who was the director of the Royal Festival Hall, who has now gone onto the U.C.L.A. Los Angeles I think, anyway I met him after Genesis had performed there a couple of years ago. He said why he went out of his way to make it happen was that he felt it was one of the most important things to come out of Britain in that whole period.
Well it was just before the punk explosion…
Yes, well that was more simple really wasn't it? When you're almost by definition existing on so many levels it confuses people so much that they can't grasp it. Yet the influence is there if you analyse it. It's probably more profound ultimately. We used to have conversations in Hull thinking 'what would happen in the future if people looked back on all this?' Fascinating, that now people are looking back, there's been this book and other things … Throbbing Gristle have just released a box set. I was going to tell you about the name. It's mentioned in the book, but as I recall it … in Hull, in the Alien Brain, sitting round and there was the Reverend Cheese Wire Maull, Genesis, Cosey and I. And we were all talking, Lelly, that's the Reverend, was always telling the most amazing stories. He had a naturally poetic, extreme way of expressing things. And he talked about throbbing gristle; he was always talking about throbbing gristle. It was his phrase you know … the male member. He was talking about somebody doing the five knuckle shuffle with his eight inches of throbbing gristle. I think he was talking about me I have to say, so I was that Throbbing Gristle. But in the book it's North Yorkshire slang. But I think it was original to him, Lelly. I don't think it was something that was the vernacular, because he often used to think of very original things to say and describe things as. Genesis loved that, he kept it. He was waiting to call a group that. In a way the image of Coum is just the same image. (Holding up the Coum as dick logo, complete with drip of spunk)
What was the Fluxshoe?
Well Genesis got Coum involved in Fluxshoe. We did a few things associated with it; I remember one particular one in Hastings. I've got the Fluxshoe magazine here and it documents that whole performance.
It was Fluxus?
Yes. It was, as I understand it was the last expression of Fluxus really. We did this action associated with the Victor Musgrave Gallery in Hastings. I believe he was an old surrealist. A minor surrealist, but an English surrealist. There was a national tour, Genesis did a performance in Blackburn. He got the local telephone directory and drilled holes in it, a reference to 'Day in the Life' the song by the Beatles. That exhibition 'Live in you Head' about the performance artists in the 70's that was on at the Whitechapel Gallery a couple of years ago. well, on the catalogue there’s all the names of people associated, some of which were in Fluxus like Yoko Ono and other performers…we’re all mentioned there somewhere, all of Coum, including myself.
Apart from the ICA did Coum have other gallery shows?
Some things were exhibited here and there. I think most of it’s recorded in the book. Genesis sent collages and other works off.
Mail Art was already a network?
Yeah. Genesis picked up on that and because he’s basically literary that’s always been his inspiration. He can express himself very well and it was writing. William Burroughs people like that were major influences on him. He was quite visual too and applied both to his postal art. He opened the School of Global Infantilism which was related to the mail art project as well. People were saying that what we were doing was so infantile, so he made a virtue out of that. We had this rubberstamp of a babies dummy, I’ve got one here…there were four I think, Genesis, Cosey and Myself we all had one. That came out of the early days because he was claiming social security and people kept stamping things. We found this place that could make up rubber stamps, so we thought we’d make up our own slogans and titles. That again was using something mundane and transforming it. Postal Art had lots of other associations, because when I went to America, California in 1974 I met many of the Postal Artists.
You met Monte Cazazza before anyone else?
Genesis had, I think, corresponded once or twice. I met him at this gallery opening of Kent Friedman who was connected to Fluxus. He (Monte) was threatening to blow the place up at the time. He was carrying this riot control rod that gave electric shocks just to liven up the proceedings. I told him all about Coum; we had a good conversation. All evening really and he was into a lot of our ideas. He was looking for a group to get more involved with I think. Eventually he did come over to England and work with them; they’d turned into Throbbing Gristle by then. I met other postal artists…
Well I stayed with Kathy Acker for three days in Haight Ashbury. Her boyfriend at the time was playing saxophone in a band at the Playboy club. We had a very interesting outing to the penthouse of the playboy club, a quite extraordinary clash of cultures.
Tabloid question…were Gen and Cosey swingers?
Well I don’t know when, ha - but yeah there were some times that were quite free.
Would you ever do music again?
Well I’ve got some unfinished business really…I’ve asked Fizzy Peat if he’ll do something one day. He not an introvert at all, but he’s very oblique when it comes to being pinned down. I went to a Chris and Cosey gig about three years ago at the Union Chapel. I did the photographs for the cover of the album… John Lacey did this performance beforehand it was like the nearest thing to a Coum revival really, John Lacey did his performance art and he got Fizzy Peat and my wife Viv onstage joining in. Chris and Cosey were there and I was there, so that was the nearest to a reunion in a way? I didn’t realise Cosey hadn’t actually seen Fizzy Peat. She’d spoken to him on the phone quite regularly and had the odd letter and things. But they hadn’t actually met for 15 years! Which came as a shock to me.
You meet so many people through art, music and travel…it’s hard to keep up with people?
Yeah. When you’re engaged in a project you obviously all correspond.
Well Genesis didn’t work so he had time.
Yeah. Cosey had to work, she’s always worked. All the time they were in Coum. Firstly she worked as a secretary then she worked as a pornographic model and stripper. She was providing the money. He got the odd art council grant. He did spend time being the editor of a reference book on modern performance art I think it was. That was the only proper job I think he actually had. It’s in Art College libraries, I saw it about 10 years ago.
What name does he use on it?
I think it’s his actual name. Genesis P Orridge. He changed his name by deed poll. Neal Megson died when he became Genesis P Orridge. It’s like metamorphosis.
(The phone rings…when I remember to turn the tape back on we were talking about advertising…)
You could do some great packaging for a Coum LP?
There isn’t one is there? There are these tapes that Chris put onto CD. My tapes, the ones I had. One of which Genesis sent to me. The others I taped myself, gigs and various recordings. There’s probably enough material there to make at least one album. That is good, maybe even a double album, there’s some interesting elements, conversations, whatever, you could edit various pieces and make an interesting multi media mix of it of it all. Even if it was just fragments, that we could re-use.
That would be hard for you to do though wouldn’t it?
Well, I don’t know if there is some dispute. Possibly, I haven’t talked to Cosey recently about it.
No-one wants to put the question?
Well, my feeling is, my interpretation is quite possibly that Genesis has been managing history. He’s defined Coum in a certain way and he wants it to remain like that. Maybe? Possibly? He’s got all these things that have happened since anyway that he has some investment in. But the early days, when he was learning his craft. Fresh to it all. In a way perhaps he doesn’t want people to think he was ever more human in the way he approached things. He likes to have this mythic status you see. He’s definitely got his own view of how it should be perceived. I mean he is a great manipulator and he likes to retrospectively re-write history. I mean I wasn’t mentioned much in the book, not that I’m an egomaniac but… I suppose it’s understandable as I haven’t been around for 20 years.
You contacted Simon Ford after the book came out?
And he was glad people were getting in touch as he realised Gen was trying to control it?
Yeah he did. And also, you know. I’m not going to say it was all my idea but there were some ideas that were definitely mine. And that’s my view point.
And the book hardly mentions you?
They may have remembered things differently, because obviously when it’s your investment in something you tend to remember it more.
I think people would have been interested in the more “hippy days” as well as the visceral stuff.
I didn’t think that was as interesting as some of the other parts quite honestly. I’m not knocking the book because I think generally speaking it’s pretty good. I think some of the individuals involved were significant, I’m not just saying that about my own case. They could have been attended to a bit more. There is an alternative history that could have been written. That’s understandable in some ways because anything that’s got lots of personalities, ideas, can have more dimensions to it than just one view. All sorts of aspects. Feedback. People ask you for more details than you can actually remember. Individuals have selective memories. We were very close you see, for about two or three years I think. At least two years we were like a family. The Family. Ha. They were very sweet as well. Very attentive, partly because there’s this bond when you find somebody that has the same outlook. And at that time you know… Then things got a bit harder, harder and less playful in some ways.
TG had a formula…
Aggressive! There was always the spirit of the times as well. Even Punk was as well wasn’t it, in a different sort of way. Everybody was being very nasty weren’t they? It wasn’t playing games…we used to try and provoke reactions and sometimes we did. In Coum we pretended to be mad or crazed or whatever and see how people would respond. But other times it would be the exact opposite. Not because we were capricious but just because it was exploring different reactions and situations. It was a culture. We had our own constructed culture. Genesis had this idea initially of making things almost like a separate world. His own alphabet, quite grandiose ideas in a way…and he developed it in other ways, the cult aspect later on. That was another project he wanted to realise.
What do you know about the house being raided…?
I only read about it in the newspapers. To be fair to Genesis he did correspond with me. He invited me to some Throbbing Gristle gigs and stuff like that when they played down here. To be honest I didn’t get involved because I’d become a different person really. I still have some loyalty to the whole concept of Coum. But, you know, I met Viv, my wife who was relatively straight. I mentioned it all to her of course, but she wasn’t very impressed. So I thought ‘oh – I’d better down play this really’ because it’s all a bit too outrageous. It genuinely was you know…
What was outrageous?
I didn’t do any slaughtering of animals or anything like that. But we did shows that were basically like sex shows especially the one in Amsterdam. I had this extraordinary phase…did I tell you I was a civil servant? When I came back from America I couldn’t get a job and I needed some money, so I ended up being a civil servant. That’s where I met Viv. I was still in Coum, I remember going on the train up to Goldsmiths College in London after work, I got off work early and we did this performance. It was just me, Cosey and Genesis. They were naked and I was only wearing a leather coat and a Nazi hat and I had a whip and we did this whole action in front of an audience. Then I went back to being a terribly straight civil servant. A double life. And I never told my wife, I don’t know if we were going out then, but I was circling round her. Its funny when you get entranced with a woman, men will do anything to re-arrange their lives. And also, as I said, it had wound down in the last days. Genesis said “we’ll be doing this” and you can be this part and I used to improvise with in it whatever but it was all his concept you see. It was less of a democracy. It was more of a democracy in the early days when we all made a contribution. All our ideas were incorporated and we’d work together and think of it together, it was more co-operative. By the end it was more of a dictatorship. He’d decided that’s what it was going to be and he was pushing Cosey to do various things because that was part of his concept. She’s a strong girl…
She was encouraged to do more and more?
She was game. She was quite shy when I first met her, she hardly spoke and she didn’t do anything much in Coum in the early days. She looked after the house and things, when it came to gigs she was just a presence. She didn’t really do much. She only started doing things as it went on. She had a power because she was a woman and she started to use it in a way, even if it was sexual power that became a really strong influence. I was interested to read that she said she was brought up as a boy almost. She was one woman among 4, 5, 6, 7 men all the time, or in TG just 3 men. There were no other women that got involved, that just ever came up to it. There were strong women here and there but we didn’t seam to encounter any that were that…
She paid a price on a personal level. Her parents, her father in particular were completely outraged with all the things she was doing. He wouldn’t talk to her much even in the days when I was in Coum. And then when she became notorious he never spoke to her ever again. The whole of the rest of his life he didn’t talk to her at all. Her mother died first and she did surreptitiously speak to her like mothers do, but she was frightened of her husband so a lot of the time she didn’t or she’d speak through her sister, sometimes there was a very difficult relationship. Her father only died a couple of years ago and he never spoke to her. That must have been an awful thing. I remember when it was first happening she was quite sad about it; in the 70’s for him to carry on the rest of his life and disown her really. She was a nice girl, a nice woman so that’s a bit inhuman isn’t it? That’s how some people are sometimes. That was a sad thing. I rang her up on her birthday last year, she was quite surprised and a bit guarded on the phone but when she relaxed we were having a normal conversation again. But she’s quite guarded. I know there’s a very nice, a very pleasant side to her, a very sweet side. Perhaps she’s built a fortress around herself.
The pornography maybe affected her but she didn’t go into it for the wrong reasons? She wasn’t…
Coerced. No. Genesis did slightly push her; it wasn’t so much the money. He probably found it vicariously stimulating. But I don’t think she ever did anything she didn’t want to do. I suppose that makes you a bit hardened if you’ve been in that sort of world for a while. Funnily enough when we had a shop in Trafalgar Street, Brighton, I did antiques and my wife period clothes. She said she actually used to walk down that street because she used to go and strip at this pub in Lewes Road; she came down from the station so she must have walked past. Now isn’t that funny, same with Genesis living locally, I never saw him. I’d lived here all the time. I used to think it was fate, if we we’re meant to meet again then we will. I wouldn’t have resisted it or avoided him if I saw him in the street but I still haven’t seen him. Even when he did this gig in London, I didn’t really want to go backstage. I’d like to meet him again. I’m intending to go to this event at Camber Sands. That’ll be interesting. I don’t know if Fizzy will come as well.
Sunday, January 05, 2014
Fumio Kosakai - Earth Calling.
Memoirs of a Crater Lake. MCL LP1. LP
Fumio Kosakai, is of course, one half of the legendary Jap noise band Incapacitants. In 1987 he released Earth Calling on his own ‘Anciant Records’ [sic] in a cassette edition that by his own admission only sold about thirty copies. As is the way with those who dig around in obscure back catalogues of noise artists working on the other side of the world over 25 years ago, it reappears out of Leeds at the back end of 2013 in full vinyl glory thanks to Pete Cann and Phil Todd who no doubt have had their joss sticks out and have their own special buddhist mantra to go along with this spaced out epic [mines ‘malbec, malbec’].
Inspired by Hawkwind’s ‘Space Ritual’ [Earth Calling is the first track on Space Ritual] and Terry Riley’s ‘A Rainbow In Curved Air’ Kosakai can feel aggrieved that this didn’t have a bigger impact then but can be satisfied that its reaching a wider audience now. Maybe audiences in Japan weren’t ready for Kosakai’s own kind of space ritual in the mid 80’s? At a time when the likes of Hanatarash were wrecking the joint I guess folks weren’t too keen on sitting through an hours worth of space nod and wanted something a bit more visceral for their money. Kosakai’s time has come though.
The real meat of the thing lies on the side long Riley inspired track ‘Look to the Light’. Taking ‘Curved Air’ as a template Kosakai produces a trancelike nodder that shifts within two distinct phases. The first phase gets you in the mood before he really drops the bomb leaving a flurry of little synth notes cycling in a repeat pattern as your head further expands before crumpling into a black hole of asteroid tails and meteor showers. Minuscule shifts in pattern are barely perceptible, the entire thing carrying you off in such a gentle trance like fashion that its hard not to hit repeat or wish the trip was even longer. I’ve played it on repeat about half a dozen times now and feel its cheaper than crap drugs and doesn’t give you whiteys.
Side one kicks off with Absent Water. A short track owing as much to Throbbing Gristle as it does Hawkwind. This is Kosakai doing TG in shuddering bass and phased guitar mode [even though no guitar is credited I cant help but feel thats whats in use here]. And then something a little meatier with Drive to Universe. Here the trip is shorter than Look To Light and with Hawkwind in mind much more celestial, synth dots and dabs in a star studded night sky full of delay and cosmic emptiness. Wonderful.
All track are live recordings with the two tracks on side one benefiting from some overdubs but that side long nodder is what you got when you were there, in Tokyo in 1985.
Comes in a fold out sleeve with liner notes by Kosakai in both English and Japanese.
Lets hope that this isn’t the last gem that Phil and Pete unearth. This could be the start of something very special.
Saturday, January 04, 2014
Sickness - Purgatory
Ninth Circle Music. Cassette.
Sickness - A History of Silence
Ninth Circle Music. 6” Lathe
The first time I saw Sickness play was upstairs at the Fenton about ten years ago. Chris Goudreau was touring Sickness with Slogun and a several other nefarious noise merchants all with names like Skidmark Shoveller or Rapist or I’ll Kill Your Mum the latter of whom are all now probably dental floss salesmen, investment bankers or dead. In 2007 I saw Sickness play the No Fun Fest in New York only for equipment failure to ruin not only Goudreau’s evening but everybody elses as well. When he returned the year after to fulfill his destiny it was like everyone in the room was urging him on and that they did. And then last November in Birmingham in a pub beer garden at one in the morning to a dwindling audience the majority of whom were drunk beyond measure and would have applauded me playing the bongos, he played a ten minute set that was just about as perfect a noise set as you could ever wish to hear.
Goudreau has been making noises under the Sickness moniker for 25 years and he’s releasing a series of super limited artifacts to celebrate the fact. I’ve not heard his earliest recordings but I’m willing to bet they sound nothing like what we have here. After 25 years Goudreau has honed his art to perfection. He is a perfectionist. His back catalogue is modest, laying bare not only his perfectionism but his slow work rate and a desire to get it right. He’s also one of the deepest thinkers I’ve ever encountered in the noise ‘scene’. Calling your label ‘Ninth Circle Music’, name checking Dante, using Gustave Dore’s etchings as cover art and wrapping the whole ethos in a blanket of ‘sickness’ not just of body but of mind is a far cry from the here today gone tomorrow never to be heard of again noiseniks that dabble to deceive leaving in their trail dubious work the likes of which deserves to be buried for ever.
His work with Sickness has matured through rough industrial loops to what we have now, a purer noise artist balancing harsh with quiet, loud with soft, using silence as much as noise to make his mark whilst creating a sound that he can call his own. As the extensive tract on A History Of Silence reveals ‘This makes it hard for loud to ever be loud enough. It’s never what’s said out loud that truly matters. It’s the silence; what’s hidden’. Goudreau’s obsession with Dante’s Divine Comedy reveals itself in the labels moniker and the title Purgatory where ‘The pain means nothing … Your effort wasted’. The track listing on Purgatory runs; ‘An Unmagnificent Life’, ‘Not Much Now’, ‘Not Worthy of Heaven’, ‘And I Wait’. Silence, Purgatory, Dante and existentialist angst all in a lifetimes work and encapsulated in two tiny releases.
Listening back to the 2004 RRR release ‘Fuck Your Punk Rock’ you can see just how far Sickness has come in ten years. From those cathartic blasts and its swipe at the ‘golden calves and half assed trends’ to the grinding roar of Freak Animals 2009 'Ruiner' to what we have now; carefully crafted, well thought out, perfectly timed noise works of great magnitude with a depth that few others working in the same area can lay claim to. Its what lies at the core of the hand cut grooves on History and the ferric granules of Purgatory. Not much more than about 15 minutes worth of noise all told and only 50 copies to be had. Their mere existence and what they convey is the important thing.
After 25 years I wonder if these releases mark the end of one era and the beginning of another? Whatever lies ahead it'll be worth waiting for. Even the next gig at the Fenton.
sickness999 [at] juno.com
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