Wednesday, November 15, 2017
YOL - ON/OFF
Cassette. 75 copies
YOL - Hand of Glory
ON/OFF arrived with a disturbing hand written note from the man himself stating that the first track I will hear was an attempt to drive the audience from the venue by subjecting them to walls of hideous feedback, noise and trademark YOL screamed utterances. We must assume here that YOL is in the midsts of some kind of system purge. A cleansing act. An act of purification maybe? To purge himself of some unwanted inner id. He can do it of course. Make a noise I mean. When he wants to he can make some truly horrendous noise but on this occasion it wasn’t enough. It wouldn’t be would it. Only a few audience members decided to call it quits.
Without delving in to the ‘noise as entertainment’ dialogue too deeply its a well worn fact that some people are drawn to such things; head in bass bins at the Motorhead gig, sat on the bus with earbuds going full bore, hour long 90’s TNB sets. In the live situation the visceral thrill of actually feeling the noise is all part of the appeal and if part of that live situation just happens to involve a bald man from Hull screaming and stuttering, bent double, retching his very lungs out then all the better.
Except that YOL doesn’t have to go down this route. We know he can make a racket just by using the barest of equipment; eating forks, bits off a tractor, finger cymbals, chains, galvanized watering cans, with the most mundane of everyday items he can make some ridiculously painful noise. Its his delivery, his voice and his blacker than coal black humour that sets him apart.
Watching YOL live is like being in the same room as someone with deep psychological problems. Someone who is having problems with the neighbours and its been building for years and today just might be the day it all goes pop but instead I’ve come to this small gig space with a bag of junk and a contact mic and for your delectation I’ll deliver lines like ‘ITS SAD THAT NOBODY IS SINGING ABOUT STRAY DOGS AND GLUE SNIFFING ANYMORE’. As brought from the very pit of the stomach and deposited from the mouth with such venom, such ferocity that it makes you wince. And then you realize what he’s just said and you want to laugh. Oh shit, what do I do? Laugh? Wince? Leave the room? My emotions are all over the shop. What am I witnessing? Who is this man?
The YOL back catalogue is an ever growing one and as it grows our man in Hull looks for different ways to express himself. Hence the full on roar of ‘Just Fire’ and then after it the tape collage as background noise of ‘Two Dogs’. Thats the ‘ON’ side. ‘OFF’ is without power but no less effective, so we have YOL with scratchy violin on ‘Protest Wig’, ‘Faded Ghost Letters’ sees an acoustic guitar get the treatment. ‘Crazy Paving’ sounds like it was recorded on our squeaky back gate. Its still has the same effect on the listener. Be it all out noise or YOL with a mop bucket, the effect is still disorientating.
‘Hand of Glory’ [no its not a Ramleh tribute] sees YOL put an upright piano through its paces. The track is of course ‘Knees up’.
But its to YOL’s delivery and his observations writ large that we are drawn to. That strangulated scream, the silence that follows and the words he invokes;
TWO FAKE PLASTC ROTTWLEIERS GUARDING A STORAGE UNIT
ALWAYS KEEP A SPARK PLUG IN YOUR POCKET IN CASE SOMEONE INSULTS YOU FROM A PASSING CAR
On ‘Trachea’ he’s duetting with an out of control food processor and an unravelling five meter tape measure as he screams /growls/retches ‘I’M A SURGEON NOW’.
‘Knees Up’ is a live track with that piano and unknown squeaky things. YOL sings ‘AT THE END OF THE DAY THE BILLBOARD PROMISING SOUP IS LEAKING’ and you hear the faintest of titters and muffled laughter. As the keys tinkle randomly you hear laughter. Thats what keeps me coming back to YOL and why even after several years of self flagellation his work is still so damned rewarding.
Hand of Glory is seven tracks all done and dusted in less that 25 minutes. I’m thinking it could be YOL’s most complete release yet.
YOL - Bandcamp
Tuesday, November 07, 2017
Soft Issues EP
I was in Leeds the other week to see Sleaford Mods at Beckett University. The yearly pilgrimage to catch up on Underwood in Peter Grant mode in the brief five minutes spare he has between flogging t-shirts and trying to work out which city he’s in. Looking around the sold out Beckett University gig space mid Sleaford Mods set, from my vantage point of stage left just a bit in behind the bloke who was bigger than me but at least stood still, I reckoned I was the second oldest person there. It was noisy of course and good fun but I got knocked around like a pinball and I think I’m getting too old for it now. At one point someone making their way back from the bog or the bar tripped over the person behind me and hit me full on in the back. It was an accident, the guy was apologetic, he wasn’t drunk but it made me realize that going to gigs of such nature was best left to those who don’t mind going home covered in beer spray.
The week previous I was in Leeds to see Charlemagne Palestine and Ryhs Chatham at the Howard Assembly Rooms. And to see Campbell get his Astral Social Club vibe on in support too. This is much more my kind of gig now; comfy [ish] chair, bar outside without a massive queue where you can get a drink in a glass, no knobheads shoving you in the back and Campbell was on form as was Charley and Rhys though its a pity Rhys had feedback problems and they had to cut the set short. At least we got to see them do a duet with squeaky teddy bears. If there’d have been no feedback there might not have been any squeaky teddy bears.
An email from Soft Issues leads to the discovery that there’s a new Leeds ‘harsh noise/drone’ band in existence and that of a new venue; Chunk, which is on Meanwood Road and is the home to lots of bands that I never knew existed. This is all good news of course and I dare say that Chunk is the kind of venue where gentlemen of a certain age aren’t shoved in the back by people returning from the bar [they don’t have bar anyway its bring your own].
Soft Issues EP is a five track download only offering at the moment but is due for cassette release through Concrete Block Records. I’m waving my physical review rule only once again to bring you news of exciting developments in the world of Leeds noise. Yes, genuine excitement. Its been a while since I reviewed anything of genuine noise content but here it is and its in Leeds and its noisy.
The people responsible for Soft Issues are duo whose names are unknown to me. It matters not. What matters is that I’ve just discovered a truism in that anyone from Yorkshire who shouts over walls of noise sounds like either YOL or Dave Walklett. On the first two tracks its like Yol and Walklett twinned up with William Bennet in the dying days of Whitehouse. The similarity is uncanny. This may put some people off or decry them as copyists but I couldn’t care less. When things eventually do slow down with ‘The Thrill of Seeing Your Friends Fall’ its to a cavernous five minute long two key drone with a spoken word dialogue that you can barely make out that sounds like someone reading from the works of Sigmund Freud. ‘Degloving’ is the first two tracks again, hammer hard speeded up electronic rhythms, screaming, shouting before the chip out track ‘Hetchell’ and more wasteland washes and the screaming of tortured lost souls.
Is it drone? Only just. Is it noisy? In parts yes. Is it from Leeds. Most definitely.
As far as I know this is their first outing. Maybe I’ll catch them at Chunk one day. I'll have a chair please.
Thursday, November 02, 2017
Ross Bolleter - Du Piano-Épave - The Well Weathered Piano
ISBN : 979-10-94601-17-4
Ross Bolleter plays ruined pianos. Ruined as in ruined by the elements. In most cases the elements of Western Australia which is where Bolleter resides with several ruined pianos, most of them in his kitchen, the rest in the laundry room. I trust he has sympathetic neighbours. The climate in Western Australia proves especially conducive to ruining pianos which may go some way to explaining why ruined pianos aren’t a big thing in the UK and Northern Europe where a couple of harsh winters and a soggy summer would no doubt see a piano reduced to wet wood and oblivion. Scorching Western Australian summers along with the occasional flood are the perfect climactic conditions for turning once proud instruments into rats nests, frogs homes and quite possibly the ultimate improv tool.
The distinction between ruined and its poorer cousins devastated and neglected is important here; the piano has to have spent some time out of doors naturally degrading rather than being the subject of violence [a lounge piano in a war zone perhaps or a physical attack] or plain old neglect [a piano left to its own devices in a room no one visits anymore].
If you have enough of them you can create your own ruined piano sanctuary. You can visit it yourself. At the last count there were forty ruined pianos scattered about Kim Hack's and Penny Mossop's olive farm near Perth, all of them slowly returning to the earth, soundboards cracked, veneer flaking, keys swelling and shrinking, broken hammers clacking, drying and crumbling and along the way making the most incredible sounds.
I have to admit to not having heard of Bolleter before this book arrived and in a blinding epiphanic flash realised just how capable a ruined piano could be in the improv stakes. Once taught bass strings slapping against cracked wood, rotten felt hammers hitting rusty piano wire, thuds where once lived ringing overtones, plinks and plonks and what Bolleter calls ‘clicks, doks and tonks’, sounds that to him are as interesting [if not more interesting] than the sounds the instrument was originally made to produce.
The book is at its best when Bolleter and his collaborators recount tales of finding ruined pianos, describing with uncontrolled glee the states of decay they find them in. One is found in the flooded lower floor of a Prague gallery, the room pitch black, the keys wedged together, the sounds from it barely audible. Bolleter travels to abandoned mining towns to play pianos that have been left in derelict hotels, roofs fallen in, fireplaces halfway up walls. Pianos that have been abandoned by sheep farmers are seized upon by Bolleter who sets about coaxing sounds from them.
Over twenty one short chapters Bolleter covers the history of the ruined piano in Australia [and uncovers the amazing fact that when the population of Australia stood at 3 million there were over 700,000 piano's in the country], the way he works, the people he collaborates with, his exhibition for ruined panos in Perth [Piano Labyrinth], his wittily titled label WARPS [World Association for Ruined Pianos Studies], its numerous releases and his forays in to ruined accordions.
Having spent a couple of evenings listening to Bolleters work I find that he can create sounds that move between melancholy and outright bedlam and most places in-between. Situated between four pianos he moves around like an improv Rick Wakeman kneeling down to strike and pluck exposed strings or hit ruined eye level keys. It's fairly obvious he's mad keen for the ruined piano, obsessed even.
Lenka Lente’s Guillaume Bellhome has translated Bolleter’s words in to French, including some of his poems, a discography, bibliography and a filmography. The first half of book is in French, the second in English. There are also numerous black and white photographs of many a suitably ruined piano as found in its natural surroundings. Its a splendid book, a splendid looking book, it even feels good and is printed on the kind of paper that smells strongly of paper. My favourite kind of paper. As a printed outlet for all things obscure, improvised and poetic Lenka Lente goes from strength to strength. Their status is assured.