Sunday, September 20, 2020

Leitmotiv Limbo

 








Leitmotiv Limbo - Minimal Sphere

Servataguse Muusika. SM004. Cassette



A cassette that set off from Australia on the the last day in July and arrived here six weeks later. Maybe it had to be quarantined on the way? Maybe it went in to the same bag as the Dr Steg postcard with the razor blades on it and when it got as far as Cleckheaton sorting office it had to be x-rayed by a team of experts [no further news on that particular incident by the way] or maybe they just gently squeezed the jiffy bag and went ‘nahh … it feels like a cassette to me mate, put it in with the regular mail’, ‘a cassette?’ comes the reply ‘didn’t they like die a death when CD’s came out? like when the internet took over music like the Mafia does your business demanding protection money, explaining to you very quietly and with a hint of menace that this is the way things are going to be from now on?’


I quite like this cassette with its alliteration and its printed red j-card Led Zeppelin font. I have no idea what the black, half Rorschach alien dagger splat is on the cover and I doubt it adds anything to the release itself seeing as how this is eight tracks of grimy, minimalist, buried beats as made with ‘analogue instruments of carefully selected materials’ [a black and white image of a decaying corpse or a 1950’s nuclear bunker would have been more in keeping but thats where we are]. For those of you who judge books by their cover, and I count myself amongst that number, this cassette could have contained anything from re-workings of Jimmy Page’s soundtrack parpings to some kind of techno homage. Not that I’m going to try and educate anybody as to what it is they put their releases in but still ... you see where I’m coming from here. 


Because the cassette took so long to arrive a digital version appeared in the interim. And when compared side by side the difference is of such staggering proportions that you’d think you were listening to a different release entirely, the grime of the cassette wiped clean by sterile Covid-19 swabs, washed clean by people in plastic smocks wearing masks and latex gloves. I took myself off to the Servataguse Muusika YouTube channel to test this out and found Elijah [for tis he] standing at a couple of tables in an Adelaide pub making sounds that resemble Aphex Twin [au naturel] circa Selected Ambient Sounds, Panasonic, Chris Carter’s TG sludge, all from four wooden boxes with wires coming out of them. For a moment I came over all nostalgic and pined for a gig, any kind of gig, but particularly one where pub tables are shoved together and people sit and listen and nod in-between going to the bar for a pint and then you get talking to somebody you haven’t seen in years and you miss the rest of the set entirely only to be told that that was the best gig anybody had seen since Government Alpha nearly jammed with Tony Conrad, I mean people were actually fainting from the sheer beauty of it all, they couldn’t handle its intensity but you were at the fucking bar getting another bottle of Erdinger.


But I digress. The eight tracks of minimal Sphere have names like Planning and Plotting, Guardian of an Other Order, What Just Happened, Flotilla on Fluid Crystal. Maybe its the miles between us thats causing some kind of temporal dislodge-ment on my behalf but this just works for me right now. Had this arrived from a suburb of Hull I might have been less impressed but between Australia and this small room on the other side of the world a transformation has taken place and these eight tracks, most of them not much more than a couple of minutes in duration, have become so much more than their whole. It might not blown your mind and it might not be the best thing you hear all week but for a moment there I was listening to a cassette of homemade synth sounds and all was well with the world. I hope you buy one. I hope you don’t have to wait six weeks for it to arrive.




http://www.servataguse.com/




Saturday, September 12, 2020

Knock, Knock.

 










Rovellasca - Delirium, or Sonata

Crow Versus Crow. CVC017

Cassette/DL. 50 copies.


Vatican Shadow/Salford Electronics - Temple Gas Mask

Hospital Productions. HOS-677

Cassette/DL. 200 copies.


Posset - Pestling The Unalterable

DL 


Posset - Grindcore My Rave Years

DL


Venusian Death Cell - The Rose

CDR




At around nine a.m. Wednesday morning I answered the phone to a most irate Mrs Fisher. While halfway through her personal ablutions she’d received a knock at the door and thinking it was the nice post lady she made for it déshabillé; shower cap, tatty sweater, no make-up all while shouting down the stairs, ‘I’ll be there in a minute’ then fighting with the slippy front door mechanism only to be met by the grim stare of two police officers.


After a momentary grilling through a crack in the door it became apparent that it was me they were seeking and after further questioning said it was in relation to some post that had been sent my way courtesy of a certain Dr. Steg. Said post containing items that could lead to injury should they be handled without due care and attention vis-vis the daft bugger had sent me something with a razor blade glued to it. They waved the offending item in Mrs Fisher’s face and said that they would return.


Which is where we stand at the moment. Needless to say, this didn’t go down well with Mrs Fisher. Her mood that day further darkened when after retrieving a pile of wet clothing from the washing machine discovered the entire load covered in tiny bits of tissue paper, this due to me not checking trouser pockets pre laundry basket entry. When two workmen turned up next door and started pulling the bathroom out the day was beyond repair. You can imagine the looks that awaited me when I returned home from work. All of this on top of Mrs Fisher having been made redundant the week before. Not good. Wine and promises of ‘this wont happen again’ can only get you so far but fortunately for me the ship of calamity was slowly steered into shallower waters. I now await the return of plod.


Still, lets look on the bright side; the Russians have found a cure for Covid-19 even though they’ve only tested it on seventy-nine people and the streets of the United Kingdom will be much safer going forward thanks to the promised arrival of hundreds if not thousands of Covid-19 Marshals. These people will be tasked with doling out friendly advice, hand sanitizer and masks all while making sure people don’t come closer than two meters together except in pubs and restaurants where anything still goes in a desperate lets not hide it bid to make up the shortfall in Rishi Sunak’s depleted tax revenue account. 


At least my purple snood arrived from Uniqlo. Thank you Mrs Fisher. Thank you Uniqlo.


In other news I signed up for a Deezer account. I still don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing and its something I’ve been having a lot of internal conversations over. One part of me thinks ‘well, how do the artists get paid for their work and what happens if my phone has no charge and the wi-fi’s dodgy just at the exact same moment I’m in the mood for that ECM comp?’ while the other thinks ‘well, at least I can listen to the entire King Crimson back catalogue for ten quid’. For musical exploration purposes it seems to be a portal of discovery while on the other hand I’m wondering if I’ll ever have to buy another physical object ever again. But does me craving having the physical object make me a collector rather than just a listener? I can listen to the new Ashtray Navigations release via Bandcamp [that other now essential online portal of discovery] and never have to look at the Ash Navs LP/CD combo I bought ever again. But I like having the physical object. Its mine. It has art and information on it, the entire release is an artistic statement in so many different ways and if you have lots of them you have a collection of sorts and if you have a Deezer account you have a way of listening and thats it. So much is missing. So much of this sits uneasy with me.


When you’re running out of shelf space maybe this is the way to go? When we’re all crammed into some Ballardian [Covid-19 free] hellscape, elbow to sharp elbow having access to everything ever recorded ever via certain online retailers will be par for the course and buyers of vinyl will be seen as weird antiquarians, the kind of people who don’t mind getting up off their arses every twenty minutes to put more music on. Whatever.    


A couple of people who are still very much working within the physical domain are Andy Wild of Crow Versus crow and Dominik Fernow of Hospital Productions. Crow Versus Crow cassettes are things of beauty and well worth having, the cassette shell here having an opaque textured sheen, the sleeve containing Wild’s own artwork that is Twombly meets Schwitters but here leaning more towards the Schwitters. Rovellasca being Invisible City supremo Craig Stewart Johnson who according to the Bandcamp press ‘explore[s] emotional resonance within delicately constructed monolithic palimpsests’ which is a fantastic line and one that I almost understand. To my ears its a very mellow and utterly absorbing industrial extractor fan drone played out in three parts, the tape hiss adding to the work immensely, one of those drones that leaks out of bass amps and rumbles across the floor vibrating your flares before disappearing up your leg.


Dominik Fernow’s project Vatican Shadow is one I’ve read about but not heard, usually on Twitter where people make jokes about Vatican Shadow’s cover art being leaked, a joke that is totally lost on me. After various investigations I now know that Vatican Shadow lay down heavy beats in an Industrial meets Hardcore Techno kind of way. Not that I know a thing about Hardcore Techno, or Industrial come to that, but it seems apposite. Thudding beats of a stark and brooding nature which after Salford Electronics has smeared it with his grey suburban grime becomes ever more depressing. All that’s left to do is alter the BPM and cover it in black and white artwork reminiscent of 1990’s Power Electronics outfits, thus lots of soldiers shooting at things in the desert and the trying on of gas masks. One for the dark nights ahead. Dark Knights ahead.


Posset’s pair of releases have been very kindly put on to disc for those us digital averse or who prefer the physical but these are to all intents and purposes digital releases. The CD’s  are kindly received as it means I can listen with headphones on through the hi-fi midweek as Mrs Fisher looks for a new partner on Tinder. As ever its always a pleasure to hear what the Possetted one has been up to. A most singular voice from the north east and who can resist a release that takes its title from a line by Beckett. This would be Pestling The Unalterable of course and not Grindcore My Rave Years, Beckett long since having snuffed it before such things became available to consumers. 


With Dictaphone and tapes in hand our intrepid hero sits on a park bench every morning watching the geese make their way toward the water. Those expecting a Chris Watson-esque recording will be disappointed to find twenty minutes of someone gasping for breath as small feathered things tweet and tape squidge burbles and boils and bubbles along like bad guts after too much beer and curry. The twelve tracks that make up Grindcore are an extension as such but add to the mix the belchings of beelzebub, intergalactic communications, people having sex in millisecond bursts, drunken readings of Finnegan’s Wake, cats growling, the Clangers on acid, cats whisker radio trawls and people playing tubas while hitting metal buckets. This exploration of sound through the medium of tape and voice is one that I never fail to delight in, Posset achieving with such humble equipment sounds that eclipse those working within well equipped studios.


Meanwhile, over in Ireland Idwal’s favourite Metal band Venusian Death Cell has delivered what is surely their shortest and arguably best work to date. Ten tracks in under 20 minutes of sucked through a condensor mic straight to tape fuck you I don’t care I’m doing it anyway with my whammy bar and drums all coming through in spectacular wall of sound ear bleed-o-rama metal as you never heard it before. David Vora [for tis he] has been doing this for so long now it feels like coming home every time I get one of his releases. The manic vocal intros, the two stringed up and down the neck ‘Orphan’, the pounding drum of ‘Rotting in Hell’, the Slayer cover and ‘Master’ where Vora bangs a piano, hits play on a beat box and reverbs his guitar to shreds all while singing the word ‘master’ over and over again. Long may he continue to rule in hell.


There’s a knock at the door. I must dash, Mrs Fisher refuses to answer it. 



CVC


Vatican Shadow / Salford Electronics


Posset


davidvora10 [at] hotmail.com

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Tristan Tzara Meets Nurse With Wound

 




Tristan Tzara - Minuits Pour Géants

Nurse With Wound - On The Edge Of Outside


Lenka Lente. Book + CD

ISBN : 979-10-94601-33-4



One benefit of being in an ongoing on-off Kirklees lock down loop of sorts, is that I've been doing a lot more reading than usual. The benefits of sitting quietly with a book are much ignored and while some people go batshit stir crazy after two hours of being indoors and start redecorating their houses or subscribing to all sorts of shit to watch on the telly I find the quiet and solitude that a book brings to be as good for my mental health as any amount of therapy. Not that its that quiet around here anymore but you get my drift. In some respects it's a little like being in a holiday cottage on the Northumbrian coast only with more police sirens, barking dogs, kids playing tuneless recorders and the rumble of the M62.


Mrs Fisher is the more voracious reader of the two of us and when not writing herself is capable of chewing up novels in a day, while I like to take a more casual approach, dipping in and out of books of various genres with a nonchalance that some people might find whimsical or dilettantish. I skip from newspapers articles to short stories, to rereading bits of favourite books, occasionally I'll get my teeth into a really good novel and will tear through the pages with a manic zeal wondering why I don’t read more novels only to be distracted once more by that book on Kraftwerk or the forthcoming Kelman. 


Last week I swung from reacquainting myself with The Importance of Being Earnest to the second installment of Francis Stonor Saunders fascinating account of her families escape from Romania during the Second World War to Kafka's Metamorphosis to Private Eye [the latter I now realise being far too cynical and wearisome for pandemic reading]. After flicking through a Dora Kinsley book on the lives of famous authors I decided that the three novels of Cormac Mcarthy's I'd read were nowhere near enough and that I should get hold of some of his others, perhaps with an eye to taking them on holiday next week [yes, an actual holiday] but then what about the 'to read' pile? That ever present jumbled tower of books that is forever a reminder of money spent but not benefited from. Its certainly shrunk during lock down but it still lives in double digit territory; The Complete Sherlock Holmes, The Complete Edgar Allen Poe, all those Pushkin Press Japanese short story collections, Celine's Death on the Installment Plan, Martin Amis ….


I'd like to read the words of Tristan Tzara which Lenka Lente have put in to a book along with a well paired Nurse With Wound CD but as is sometimes the case, the words come in French. I have no problem with this. Lenka Lente are a French publisher and I don't expect them to pander to my lack of bilingualism. With previous Lenka Lente publications of a similar nature, I have at times been able to circumnavigate this problem by casting around for an online translation, but not this time. I have at times in the past scanned pages and translated the resulting images using online software but time isn't on my side here and to translate ‘Minuits Pour Géants’ would deprive me of my precious dilettante-ish reading time. Instead I do some Tzara research because I now realise that I know little about him other than he was one of the co-founders of Dada. I now know a little more; painter, avant-garde poet, performance artist, director, composer, critic, essayist and an eventual mover towards Surrealism. Born plain old Samy Rosenstock he changed his name to one that is said to be a Romanian pun on ‘sad in the country’, or ‘sad donkey Tzara’ in French, though this seems subjective. English translation of Tzara’s work appear to run to his poems and Dada manifesto’s leaving me Tzara-less as far this goes. Ah well.


Ten minutes of new Nurse With Wound sort of makes up for this but it didn’t satisfy my craving enough, so I played A Sucked Orange as I dug around for the Nurse With Wound/Hafler Trio split cassette from 1987, a release that still fries my mind to this day. I didn’t find it so I played On The Edge Of Outside on repeat for a bit. Expect heavy, portentous guitar, hammered piano and a soundtrack to something scary, preferably by Peter Strickland. Nurse With Wound here as a quartet and that heavy guitar courtesy of Andrew Lille who seems to revel in such things, cascading sheets of echoing guitar, scraped strings and wild tumult beneath which eventually appears the sounds of a gutted upright piano as played by the survivor of an industrial press accident. 


Très bon. 



http://www.lenkalente.com/






Sunday, August 16, 2020

Got Those Covid-19 Blues

 










Stuart Chalmers - The Heart of Contemplation

Tavern Eightieth. TVE. Cassette/CD/DL


Stuart Chalmers - The Heart of Instinct

TQN-aut. CD/DL 


Stuart Chalmers & Alan Courtis - Rtuals of Cmmon Lnguage

Steep Gloss. Cassette/DL


Neil Campbell - Perimeter Ghost Bloom

10” lathe/CDR/DL


Howard Stelzer & Neil Campbell - Their Crowning Achievement.

Chocolate Monk. Choc 485. CD



Excuse me while I linger a little longer within the Ashtray Navigations folds. It's been a hot week filled with restless sleep and tired days, evenings spent behind drawn curtains, evenings spent in darkened rooms too tired and listless to do nothing much but listen to music. 


To hand I have three drawers filled with CD's and cassettes. The bottom drawer is all Bob and Neil, the middle drawer is Mrs Fisher's; Bruce, The Beatles, Fardo, Flamenco and a smattering of those male troubadours who passed through in the 90's on their way to the small venues and an ever smaller fan base. In the top drawer lie numerous United Dairies tapes and all my three inch CD's.


I pulled out a handful of these three inchers and was surprised at how many had the words 'Ashtray Navigations' written on them. They must be breeding in there. This comes after last weeks digging around in the upstairs back room [IFHQ] where it came as a similar surprise to discover how many LP's and CD's of a five inch nature I had with the exact same words on them. So every weekday evening this last heatwave week I've been sat bereft of energy listening to Ashtray Navigations at a volume capable of being heard by me but not Mrs Fisher, who is sat at the opposite side of the room writing and is incapable of picking up high frequencies due to her hearing being buggered [only occasionally does her head pop up and swivel like an owls 'is there an alarm going off somewhere?'] as the still, humid air does nothing much but make us wish for rain and cooler nights. 


It felt good revisiting the musical past in such circumstances. It felt good sharing Ashtray Navigations with the darkening night and going to bed beneath thin sheets with a droning sound ringing in my head, wondering to myself as I tried to find sleep, why I hadn't played 'To Get Beyond Nihilism by Revaluing Combat' for fifteen years and that if I'd have been asked to contribute to Imaginary Greatest Hits this would have been it, a three inch CD of spacious, droney, Indian tinged, sawing violin, skittering  drums and shamanic LS6 groans that would have sat in the middle of the other four CD's like a big fat bullseye.


Somewhere along the line things turned up in the post and the inbox and then the weather cooled; Stuart Chalmers, Alan Courtis, Neil Campbell, Howard Stelzer and these slowly found their way into my Ash Nav perambulations. And as the weather changed so did my listening choices.


Stuart Chalmers has done the right thing and disappeared beneath ground, into the caves of North Yorkshire if memory serves. I remember seeing videos of him clambering around slimy subterranean rocks, muttering curses as his footing slipped while trying to find purchase for his equipment. I'm thinking he may well have taken the swarmandal down there and recorded the resonances provided by such natural surroundings before taking them home to add shortwave radio broadcasts and other effects. All of which produce some truly wonderful contemplative atmospheres. Intriguingly, we're told that these six 'Contemplations' [5,8,4,58,84 and 6] were 'improvised/recorded/edited B-I-W [which I'll assume is Burley-in Wharfdale] between the years 1979 and 2019. Whatever, some of these are beautifully constructed with Chalmer's meditative water drips and drones providing for blissful encounters. When Chalmers layers and dubs multiple wobbly swarmandals the effect is almost Disney Soundtrack-esque, like when you find the protagonists being serenaded by mermaids at  20,000 leagues beneath the waves all in azure blue and wavy lines. A release worthy of its title. Comes in an opaque cassette shell and printed card cover that's held together with transparent printed obi strip. For those who covet such things.  Me for instance. 


Sharing a similar title and maybe being some part of a series of related releases comes The Heart of Instinct. Recorded under the same circumstances only with a heavier leaning towards African rhythm, drone and analogue beat. As in 'Instinct 2' which has a low end riff that's not a million miles away from some of Pan Sonic's heavier moments and Instinct 3 & 4 which build into  hypnotic rituals that aren’t far off Konono No1 territory. Replace swarmandal with thumb piano and you have some idea.  


Theres no sign of any heatwave on the Chalmers and Courtis collaboration which has a cover of an unwelcoming landscape as taken through a rain lashed window. For some reason this collaboration took two years to find a label seeing as how these four tracks were put together during the autumn and winter of 2018. Theres certainly something autumnal in what they've created; open vistas of a bleak nature where chilly winds constantly drone while being suffused with radio static, treated field recordings, the rubbing together of metal things and death. Courtis's guitar doles out distant churning chords before being cut, replaced by the amplified motor hum of a dodgy Walkman and muffled tape going in reverse. There are drips and the distant sound of fire and a feeling of dread. Chalmers swarmandal is reduced to gentle frottage, clicks, pulls and rolls. Somewhere in there is the beginning of the winter solstice and Christmas carols. Ugh.

[This also a good time to remind you that the entire digital Chalmers back catalogue is available for a measly £20, a ridiculously low price for what must be one of the best back catalogues on Bandcamp].


In another part of Yorkshire Neil Campbell is running up that hill as part of his daily exercise. The view from the top is quite stunning, we passed it in the car last week, and you have to pinch yourself that you are indeed still in West Yorkshire and haven't been transported to the Carpathians through some rip in the space time continuum. Which may be a leap of logic too far but these are strange times and you are allowed these thoughts. After all me and Mrs Fisher haven't been much further than Cleckheaton of late so our Sunday morning runs in the car up past Kirkheaton have been gaining added importance.


Campbell as last seen in the pages of Wire magazine extolling the virtues of having his mind concentrated by the lockdown and how the discovery of an empty farmers shed/teenager shag shed/drug taking barn led to en plain air impromptu recording sessions. If the results went in to Perimeter Ghost Bloom, which judging by the results I'm pretty sure they did, then the leg ache was entirely worthwhile; a pastoral suite of six segued tracks the last and lengthiest being the one you'll want to buy a hammock for. Heres where chifchaffs and magpies mingle with tinkling toy xylophones, where spectral zithers disappear in to crystal clear skies, where between between station shortwave radio static lies a gently plucked acoustic guitar that rings out the purest of notes. I've listened to plenty of what Campbell has recorded over the years and this has to be one of his most serene and affecting releases. A release that could only have been born out of these strange times. A paean to the natural world, which if you haven't noticed is still going about its business. When winter arrives and the days shorten and the sun disappears for days on end and if I don't go out of the house again between now and proven vaccine time, I will always have this to remind me that there is a wonderful world out there. [The first four tracks are available on a lathe cut 10” with squashed flower artwork as available from the man himself, while a CDR and the DL contain the much longer sixth track].


Back on the street there's a Campbell/Stelzer collaboration. Stelzer as known for his tape manipulation work, if thats what you'd like to call it. A man for whom a 40 year old Demis Roussos tape isn't just a 40 year old Demis Roussos tape but the germ of new ideas. I haven't seen him since I was on Facebook years ago, last seen selling all his CD's which he’d stacked into a huge cube about the size of a small family car. I've not heard anything of his for a while so it was good to reacquaint myself over this hour long drone. But where does Campbell start and where does Stelzer start during these several subtle shifts in drone dynamics? I hear Campbell's starkly rung electric guitar notes, randomly struck cymbal and the barely audible honks of someone practicing the saxophone three floors up and two blocks down, this must be Stelzer, out recording in the street and alleyways building up his work until its becomes something else entirely. An ominous drone that groans with the hum of machinery and spanners dropped on cold stone floors, a drone that swells and throbs and like all good drones carries you away until it's inevitable conclusion. 


I see the weathers turned.






https://wormholeworld.bandcamp.com/album/the-heart-of-contemplation


https://stuartchalmers.bandcamp.com/album/the-heart-of-instinct


https://stuartchalmers.bandcamp.com/album/rtuals-of-cmmon-lnguage


https://theneilcampbell.bandcamp.com/album/perimeter-ghost-bloom


http://chocolatemonk.co.uk/Index.html


Sunday, August 02, 2020

Ashtray Navigations








Ashtray Navigations - Greatest Imaginary Hits

VHF Records. 4 x CD + LP




All our lives have changed since the middle of March and mine is no different. Not all of it has been detrimental though. With Mrs Fisher now being furloughed and staring redundancy in the face my evening routine has changed and its all for the better. Pre covid my evenings would have consisted of a couple of hours on the computer with an aim towards writing a few words about whichever release it was that just happened to tickle my fancy that week. In reality this meant buying shit I didn't really need on eBay, including books I'd never get around to reading for two years and shirts that would get worn once before admitting to myself that they didn't really fit before shoving them in a drawer where they'd become quickly forgotten only to re-emerge at a much later date as a reminder to how wasteful I was with both my time and money. Then there's the sirens lure that is YouTube and its promise of unseen videos lurking around every corner and oh doesn't that look interesting a man on a train in Belarus drinking vodka with the locals. In other words a mass of distractions from the main aim of the evening which was listening to music and writing about it. I totally get why Will Self still writes on a typewriter.


To disappear and leave Mrs Fisher bereft of company for the evening, after she'd spent all day in the house alone, would be an act of selfishness to which I could never bring myself. So now we spend our evenings sitting together, reading, talking and listening to music and isn't this how it should have been all along? My music of course. And If there's no lyrics there's no distraction for Mrs Fisher and the writing and reading of her books. This means that six hours of Ashtray Navigations can be listened to in total comfort over the course of a few weekday evenings as I catch up with the weekend papers and bat back mumbled replies to questions such as 'did they really say, 'for you Tommy the war is over' in old films about the war? Because there are no words or lyrics with Ashtray Navigations only hours of the most wonderful, blissful, out there droning sonic churn you could ever wish to become acquainted with.


Whilst playing Greatest Imaginary Hits I had a dig about in various boxes just to see how many Ashtray Navigations releases I’d amassed over the years. There must be quite a few, thirty or forty maybe. I don’t know exactly because I have a lot of boxes and I’m not very organised. I know for sure that I don’t have every Ashtray Navigations release because there are more Ashtray Navigations releases than there are holes in the road in Stoke-on Trent or stars in the firmament. Once upon a time, somewhere around the mid 90’s a new Ashtray Navigations release appeared about once a week, or at least thats what it seemed like. When the Toddmeister was doing his bit for supplying us with all manner of weirdo, experimental, noise and drone joy via his Betley Welcomes Careful Drivers label/distro outfit they came out with unnerving regularity. I still miss those A5 Betley booklets full of wonder and pithy Phil descriptions, a true labour of love. Betleys was one of the great early Noise labels too, remembered fondly as much for its sometimes ridiculous packaging as the actual contents with Todd raiding many a pound shop for take-away cartons and sponges with which to furnish his releases.


When Phil and Mel gave up Stoke for Leeds Betley became Memoirs of an Aesthete which was soon joined by Mel’s Smokers Gifts label. They gave the dead on its feet Termite Club a final boot up the arse before breathing life in to new venues and ventures. This they did by turning up at virtually every gig of a noisy nature in Leeds and if not playing then stood in the crowd be it as Ashtray Navigations or with Mel’s solo project Ocelecelot or the Target Shoppers or Green Monkey or Dogliveroil or Chunga Canaries or … the list is very long, I swear blind I once saw Phil play a noise set at The Fenton under the Czech Nymphs moniker though my memory isn’t what it used to be. I saw the Target Shoppers at the Wharf play a set that was shorter than this sentence, it might have been even shorter. I dare say that the walls in Phil and Mel’s house has seen many a memorable jam session too, witnessed only by those sitting down and grooving along. They’ve been an integral Leeds cog since arrival and without them there’d be a big silent hole and lots of people wandering around in shock. If they upped sticks and decided to move back to Stoke I dare say that several individuals in Leeds would probably move with them. In other words; indispensable, creative beyond measure, influential and as much a part of Leeds as Alan Bennett, owls and Harvey Nicks.  


Ashtray Navigations is now solidly Phil and Mel but it wasn’t always so. For a long time it was Phil’s solo project dotted along the way with several like minded souls. At times a loose collaborative affair that sometimes morphed in to actual band territory with actual drums, at times noisy, at times celestial, droney because drones are good for hanging things on and beautiful, dreamy, gutsy, filled with soaring guitar solos because Phil is a very good guitarist, sometimes with gentle piano chords because its not always noisy, sometimes with a raspy harmonica, sometimes with washing-over-you gorgeous synths. Trying to nail Ashtray Navigations to a genre mast is futile, don’t waste your time. File it between Noise and Drone and everything in-between. You still wont be near. 


A few years back they appeared on the cover of Wire magazine and found themselves appearing on Radio 3’s premier out there experimental showcase programme Late Junction with a live set from the South Bank. A recognition of sorts for the body of work that Ashtray Navigations have been building for the last twenty six years. I doubt it brought them offers of soundtrack work for Spielberg or envelopes stuffed with tenners but it did put them on the map.


As does Greatest Imaginary Hits with four Ashtray Navigations superfans/close friends/aficionados being asked to submit their favourite tracks for a best of sort of thing. These people being Neil Campbell, Rob Hayler, Pete Coward and your man Henry Rollins. These are the four ‘Imagined’ CD’s with the LP given over to new material. Thats about 50 tracks and nearly six hours worth of music and is as far as I know the first time such a thing as happened. Not a tombstone as feared in the sleevenotes by Phil, not a 10LP box set  from Vinyl On Demand with hardback book, hand signed reprints of gig flyers and artwork on archival paper all ready for framing, not a 100 CD box set either because thats what you’d probably need, just a taster in a gatefold sleeve of why people appreciate Ashtray Navigations.


Which has me digging around like I said, which has me reassessing Ashtray Navigations and being more appreciative of them, which has me grooving once more to Phil’s orgasmic guitar, a guitar that will forever have its neck wrung, shoved and pulled as it drips, spills and sprays lava notes and chugging riffs, as it’s replaced by keyboard, by noise boxes, by weird looking synths of which only ten were made in 1975 and tablas and Alex Neilson’s skittery drums as seen on A Monument to British Rock a double CDR that morphed into a full blown triple LP on Smokers Gifts and a tongue in cheek title lifted from a late 70’s various artist comp and Ashtray Weeks, a collection of unreleased tracks which you could only get with the single that came in a film can. Its to Ashtray Navigations credit that none of those chosen to select tracks picked the same ones and that of the first three CD’s I listened to only several tracks were familiar to me. Theres still so much more to explore. 


Campbell goes back to the mid 90’s where all is drone and murk, Rob Hayler picks ‘The Final Hit’ from ‘Cloud Come Cadaver’ which is eleven minutes of boiling guitar and Popol Vuh-ey keyboards. From the same era Pete Coward picks ‘The Jewel Backlash’ from ‘Spray’ with its laid back riffs and searing guitar notes. Rollins picks nothing later than 2010 and goes even further back than Campbell with a track taken from 1994’s ‘Bicycle Glue Blues’  which is all subterranean tape wobble and spacey echo and theres me thinking he’d go for the all out droney guitar stuff when its his CD thats full of ultra-murk tape wobble.  


Todays Ashtray Navigations is solidly Phil Todd and the newly crowned Melanie O’Dubhslaine with a beefed up synth/guitar heavy monster rock sound thats somewhere between the muscular beef of a 2020 Mountain’s ‘Nantucket Sleighride’ as played by Neil Young backed by Emeralds, except when it sounds like a stoner version of Zappa’s The Illinois Enema Bandit with some serious heavy head nod throb as laid down by a whacked out Ryuichi Sakamoto trying on his new rig. Third track ‘What Next?’ opens with some rapid tabla before those shimmering golden guitar notes come raining on down once again.


I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that Henry Rollins is an Ashtray Navigations fan. I mean I shouldn’t be that surprised, theres no earthly reason why Rollins shouldn’t be an Ashtray Navigations fan, no more than maybe he’s a fan of light opera, Leo Sayer and Wham but still, Ashtray Navigations. It takes some getting your ahead around. Imagine being Phil and Mel and waking up to that email; ‘Hi there Henry Rollins here, just dropping you a line to say that I’ve been digging your sounds for a few years now and have slowly been filling some gaps in my Ash Nav collection, I wondered if you still had any copies of Four Raga Moods kicking about? I really need that one, keep up the good work HR. p.s. is paypal OK?’ Like what the actual buggering fuck. More head warp to contend with.


I fear I might have taken Ashtray Navigations too lightly in the past. After all, they've been around for over a quarter of a century now, as much a part of the family as pets and peeling wall paper, but this most magnificent release has changed all that. Far from being a tombstone this is a celebration. Please feel free to join in.


  


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