Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Shards of Ordnance / Ashtray Navigations 20th Anniversary Gig

Shards of Ordnance, Wagon and Horses, 
Birmingham September 26th, 27th.

Astral Social Club
Dave Phillips

JK Flesh
Smell & Quim
S.T.A.B. Electronics
Family Patrol Group
Cities Prepare for Attack!
Ouroboros Collective
Am Not
Mort the Sonic

Ashtray Navigations 20th Anniversary Gig
Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds
September 28th

Ashtray Navigations
City Hands
Core of the Coalman
Castrato Attack Group

Duck and Drake, 
Leeds, 28th September

The Glamrockz

That a weekend of sonic entertainment should culminate in me and Mrs Fisher propping up the bar in a sweaty Duck and Drake listening to The Glamrockz playing Bay City Roller’s covers was, in hindsight, the perfect end to what was a memorable three days. ‘Shang-A-Lang’ may not be on my Desert Island Discs list but it was what I was singing on the bus home full of pizza and wine with the thoughts of what had just passed swimming through my head, the joyous memories already taking shape, the stories about what had passed already forming.

Those stories would include standing in a room full of blokes in total silence as Sonia Dietrich of BRUT stood totally naked surrounded by four other blokes with black sheets over their heads as the sound guy checked out what it was exactly that was blowing the fuses. Then there’s the one about the sound guy going home to feed his dog whilst we all waited for him to come back so MK9 could start. Or those Saki afternoons, or the styrofoam balls bought in Poundland that would later be used in the Smell & Quim lottery, or the long walk from Leeds bus station to the Hyde Park Picture House in glorious autumnal sunshine arriving knackered but happy to see more friendly faces, or the sight of a homeless guy asleep outside the Tory Party Conference media tent [slogan: ‘Securing A Better Future’], Stewart Keith’s alpaca burger squeezing out the side of his mouth covering his whiskers in gunk, Stewart Keith hugging a cosplay student until she said ‘enough now’ in a slightly worried voice, the guy with nothing on his feet walking down New Street, the brutalist architecture, the half built train station that will forever be half built, the drunk guy from Wakefield who looks like Sideshow Bob, the kid at Tyseley Station with a gold plated low rider push bike playing reggae on a bright Sunday morning, the sun hitting me full in the face on the train back to Leeds as Soft Machine’s Third filled my ears.

The Wagon and Horses is still there. I hope its there for ever, untouched. Some would call it a run down boozer on the edge of town whose best days are past but to me its a proper boozer with real people in it be they local couples out for a Saturday night drink or heavy metal fifty somethings returning from a gig for a few last pints before trying to find home. When events like Shards happen there’s usually an upsurge in people in black clothing and those discs that you put in your earlobes. Added to the mix this year were the Ouroboros Collective one member of whom looked like an extra from El Topo. The bald heads were there too of course for a noise gig isn’t a noise gig without a bald head or two.

Friday night was easy. Just the one room to negotiate. One band has already dropped out making it even easier. Saturday night would see more drop out but there’s still plenty to go round. So we start with Khost a twin guitar doom metal affair of which I’m no fan. Its a theme that runs through the weekend with various bands and various members, current or past, of Godlfesh doing things that include striking particularly heavy sustained guitar chords to a background created from drum machines, synths and laptops. The nadir comes on Saturday night with Transitional who despite having lots of expensive guitars can’t get one of them to work. Phil loves them as he does JK Flesh who I only manage five minutes of just to say I’ve seen them.

The talk is of whether the noise scene should have its own Spinal Tap, this after the fuses have blown ten seconds into Brut’s set. We stand in silence for 15 minutes wondering what will happen if the sound doesn’t come back on. There’s some schoolboy sniggering but Stewart Keith later says that he actually liked that silence and he has a point, total silence before the gig, 15 minutes worth, it helps clear the mind, build anticipation. To Sonia Dietrich’s eternal credit shed does nothing but stand stock still, eyes shut, contact mics covering her neck and hands, her naked body covered in mysterious scribbled runes and words. When the sound does appear she slaps and scrapes her body to the accompanying noise. The four black sheet covered males sit still with laminated messages around their neck which I don’t understand. The backdrop film shows suffering, be it animal, human or nature. She smears herself with soot and then what could be blood, she lifts the black sheets to reveal male hands into which she puts some flowers which she furthers smears with blood. A ritual and a very effective one.

MK9 makes us all feel insignificant and worthless. Michael Nine’s sets are brief affairs but have an impact which belies their brevity. He screams at us to tell us how pathetic we all are for doing nothing with our lives before bowing out with some American military comms in which an obviously panicked operative goes into mental meltdown between bursts of deafening radio static. The silence that follows is a heavy one with all of us staring glumly at the floor before deciding that drink would be a good way of cheering ourselves up.

Dave Phillips performs in the dark his body lit up by camera flashes showing him in various degrees of animation. As his noise builds to dangerous levels a strobe gets turned on and he runs around the venue throwing flyers in the air as women scream. My senses duly disorientated I sit down and try to get my balance. Which is where I stay to soak up Helm. The upstairs room of the Wagon and Horses is a far cry from the Howard Assembly Rooms of the Leeds Grand which is where I last saw Luke Youngers project. The Howard Assembly Rooms PA is state of the art, the Wagon and Horses one isn’t. The middle sounds muddy but as Helm’s analogue driven landscapes unfurl, overlapping and flooding in to each other its forgotten. I have my back to the wall, eyes shut drifting off into the oblivion of it all.

Campbell says he’s been told to go on last to clear the room. He’s had a few and some of his gear’s not plugged in. When it is theres cables going everywhere. He’s having a conversation with the sound guy and getting his guitar out which he plays with a stone. ‘I’m the pop and rock act for the night’ he says before eventually getting his stuff to work which when it does erupts. He jabs at it until its making a noise to his satisfaction then picks up his guitar and slides the stone up and down its neck. He does this until he gets bored and then chucks it down and turns to his table on which various blinking boxes are pounding away. He touches one and it makes a godawful ‘BLUUUUUURGHHH’ which anyone in their right mind would pass off as a mistake but such is Campbell’s genius he actually uses it to his advantage and within two minutes we’re all grooving to the sound of ‘BLUUUUUUURGH’. When I’m told later the next day that he did this for over 45 minutes I’m amazed. We were transported.

Saturday day I spend eating Japanese food, drinking saki and G&T’s whilst Stewart Keith writes the numbers 1 to 48 on styrofoam balls in an old pub on Digbeth Road. Various lewd and abusive and comments like ‘Suck my cock for £20’ are written on the reverse.

At the venue some more bands have dropped out but I’ve only come to see Smell & Quim and Con-Dom so its no big loss for me. Its an upstairs, downstairs evening with the fire escape that links the beer garden and the upstairs room both in use. The evening is a living Escher diagram of various drunken figures in black except for the chap out of Ouroboros.

I might have seen Colossloth but I couldn’t be sure as I’ve been drinking for a few hours. I do see Smell & Quim who are having a lottery to win some Postman’s Legs. Jimmy Savile overlooks them as they go about their filthy work. Milovan has a baby strapped to his crotch, not a real one of course and when he shakes his hips in a suggestive manner it makes the baby jiggle about making a shaking, rattling noise which runs through the whole set. He picks up those skull maracas which were last seen entering fellow Smell & Quim member Simon Morris’s arse in Manchester and bashes them together. Kate Fear whips the audience. Stewart Keith goes in for some groin screaming and gets hit on his head for his troubles. An audience member is given a microphone and screams into it. An audience member pulls Stewart Keith’s boots off. Stewart Keith tries to force a pigs head mask onto someone. A galvanized bin gets abused and played with a violin bow. Milovan is now bashing together two thigh bones that were last seen on a cow. A head appears with fake giblets dripping off it. Simon Morris has a Dr. Steg mask/helmet on that looks uncomfortable from under which he screams/sings. A walking stick appears from nowhere and gets used to stir the contents of the bin which now include the cow bones, a plastic toy violin and the head. It all starts to go quiet and they sing ‘When a Child Is Born’. Stewart Keith does the lottery and I’m amazed to see people checking their lottery cards which they’ve been given on entry. Someone wins the Postman’s Legs, someone else wins a Shannon Matthews t-shirt. I pick up a polystyrene ball. It says has the number 28 on one side and ‘Minge’ on the other.

I have a conversation about Power Electronics and the merits, or otherwise, of such with Luke Younger. This after STAB Electronics has performed a PE set that is PE down to its obligatory black t-shirt. Then something unusual happens; STAB Electronics is hit over the head whilst he has his back to the audience and doesn’t seem to know how to react. He’s actually shocked that he’s been abused and he’s showing a film of a cowboy shoving his arm up a blokes arse. The vocals are clipping and some say the sound is crap but perhaps thats the way its meant to be.

Things are much more animated upstairs where Mike Dando dives straight into the audience and punches the guy stood next to me in the shoulder sending him spinning. Con-Dom’s ultra-bleak minimalist PE pulses are the perfect soundtrack to an out of focus close up of someone sucking a limp dick. He then punches someone else sending them spinning before screaming ‘Suck this!’ and pulling heads on to his sweaty man tit. Its probably the loudest set of the night with those particularly painful Con-Dom frequencies causing untold trouble to my hearing.

Earlier the Ouroboros Collective provide light relief from the noise with some improv rock/drone. Two guitars, a drummer and someone on violin hit some peaks but are let down by a drummer whose just come from a Van Halen audition. If they can tame him they may be a match for the Vibracathedral Orchestra.

And thats all I remember. My legs ached as did my head. I retired to the bar to stroke the cat and join in some drunken conversation until it was time to avoid Sideshow Bob on the way to the taxi.

Two cities in three days, three venues, trains, buses and taxis and lots of walking about including a long hike up to the Hyde Park Picture House whilst catching up on whats been happening with Mrs Fisher. We’ve missed the first two acts but I’m happy just to sit and soak up the atmosphere in a velvet backed chair.

The main benefit of the Hyde Park is its cinema screen which all the artists make use of. Shemboid makes the best film but maybe not the best sounds. Starting with ambience and clouds he moves on to some noise, guitar frills and all out beats, the highlight of his film being a closeup of his own fizog on the big screen mouthing noises which Shemboid plays from the stage. The shots of Leeds reflected in shop store glass and bus stops late at night remind me I still have some way to go before getting home.

We’re then given a talk on the merits of ten pin bowling by the man behind City Hands. He makes some decent lo-fi noise utilising ten pin bowling samples but the picture of him holding a bowling bowl with a star in his eye as used as a a backdrop eventually freaks me out and I have to shut my own and meditate for a while.

Hysteresis sees that south coast provocateur Jason Williams find a new willing female partner to create havoc with. They make a decent racket, first with Williams on sax before playing an electric guitar with a sheet of glass that gets smaller the bits getting chucked into a spin dryer. Female collaborator [whose name I’ve forgotten, sorry] writhes around on the floor before chucking things into a kitchen sink. Yes, they’ve brought a kitchen sink along. Williams stands to his full height and drops a pile of cymbals into it before turning on the spin dryer which makes a lovely churning sound. They leave the stage and turn off the spin dryer in passing, when it eventually stops the performance comes to an end.

Which leaves Ashtray Navigations. Twenty years in existence. From Crewe to Leeds via fuck knows how many labels and releases. Its just Phil and Mel tonight but in the past there’s been many who’ve come and gone, I wonder if they’re all here today? Phil plays his guitar, Mel an analogue synth all to the sight of thousands of starlings wheeling away in LSD drenched Technicolor day-glo. They play three numbers, the last being a fine trip that gets a rousing reception. Tears are in eyes. People are happy. Phil raises a hand and thanks everybody for coming. We’re out the door and the suns still beating down.

After pizza and wine its time for a swift one in the Duck and Drake. The air is fetid and sweaty and noisy and is packed with those who’ve been out for several pints too long. Glamrockz are in the other room and they’re playing Bay City Rollers songs. All together now SHANG-A-LANG!

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