Tusk Festival 2018
Sage Gateshead October 12-14.
I didn’t think I’d be adding Terry Riley and his son to my ‘Chuck ‘em in the Tyne’ list but there they go. Kersplash. Gurgle gurgle. Scream.They can count themselves lucky, at least they didn’t join the ‘Chuck ‘em in the Tyne and Hurl Bricks at them from the Millennium Bridge’ list which is a special subsection list I created for the handful of artists who appeared on Friday night and shook my tender patience to its very core. And there’s me in Newcastle, my favourite UK city with its friendly folks and best local accent and stunning industrial architecture. Whodathunkit. Not that I expect or have ever expected to like every single performance at a weekend event of adventurous music.
This years Tusk was an eclectic one of a very eclectic nature and thats to be applauded; Bhanghra courtesy of the Hameed Brothers Qawwal and Party, free jazz courtesy of Irreversible Entanglements, drunken splat rock from the Ceramic Hobs. In-between you could fill your days from morning until morning with panel talks, the best that the No Audience Underground has to offer, rare films, workshops. If you really wanted to you could arrive at the Sage on Saturday morning and carry on until 5 a.m. Sunday morning filling your brain with all manner of sonic wondrousness. Because there wasn’t just things happening at the Sage there were fringe events where you could see the likes of YOL scream his lungs out to passing drink addled students in a corridor somewhere in Gateshead. Not that I ever made it to any fringe events. I’m getting too old for all that late night malarkey. Besides, some of the performances I was looking forward to were on in the early afternoon; Limpe Fuchs, a sprightly 80 year kicking iron balls around the stage, a huge xylophone made of slabs of stone [slate?], bent steel tubes suspended from huge drums that when plucked sounded like amazing synthesizers. After she’d finished she asked the audience if they wanted to hear her rusty iron cable tidy and we all shouted ‘yes’ in unison. It sounded like The New Blockaders and it was magnificent. Adam Bohman and Lee Patterson were another early afternoon slot that paid dividends with an hours worth of table-top scrapings, whirrings and twangings. Equally illuminating was the short film about Bohman as made by Cathy Soreny which if you ever get the chance to see you must. In a just world Adam Bohman would be the recipient of major awards and be a National Treasure but here he is in Newcaslte with his trusty horsehair bows and smudgy wine glasses. For the likes of the people gathered in homage to this performance at Hall 2 on Sunday the 14th of October 2018 midday it was another rare chance to wallow in the amazing sound world as created by two of the best in the business. There was lots to do and see.
So why the grumpiness? After seeing Pinnel [Lindsay Duncanson] create some wonderful vocal loops we shuffled next door to see Historically Fucked which after about thirty seconds I soon renamed Historically Fucking Crap. Any band that begins their set by giggling at the mention of their name or who begin a song by saying ‘we wrote this when ...’ are never going to find me in their fan club. I think they’re really a hardcore punk band trying out improv but are failing on so many levels its not true. Baby talk? Unplugged thrashings? After they’d been playing for three quarters of an hour they appeared lost for something to do and the guitarist asked if they should play on, one solitary voice in the audience shouted ‘yes’ and I hated them for it. The guitarist faces the singer, the bassist faces the singer, the singer faces the guitarist and then turns around to face the bass player. They appear to be having a good laugh at everybody’s expense. Not long after I was subjected to Chaines which appeared to be a long forgotten solo concept album about Hobbits as recorded by Jon Anderson in 1971. A single person sat stage right looping guitar melodies that are then overdubbed with clarinet, keyboard and, I’m not making this up, treble recorder. As if this reverbed to buggery, breathy vocal, dry ice monstrosity wasn’t enough my eyes were assaulted by the projected back drop visuals which appeared to be a role playing game with the player stuck in one room going round and round for ever more in a burning flame hell. And then a black clad woman started moving very s-l-o-w-l-y in front of me, so s-l-o-w-l-y that I thought it might be someone on drugs whose brain had been affected by the godawful wailings coming out of the speaker and then I saw her again further down suddenly stop and shove one hand in the air, holding the pose for some seconds before shoving the other hand in the air. Much to my amusement two younger gentlemen with plastic pint pots of beer in their hands joined in with much mock enthusiasm. That was as good as it got. Towards its finale confetti was dropped on the audience from the above seating. I could have wept. Probably the biggest atrocity on European soil since the Somme. Things didn’t get much better with Craig Leon who may have recorded a couple of influential albums in the early eighties but who now makes the dullest of dull beat driven plod. Quite why the string quartet were there is anyones guess seeing as how they added only the odd flourish. Leon introduced a rhythm which plodded on for a bit before a complete change of direction and tempo and up popped another rhythm which plodded on for a bit before … zzzzzzz. The list grew longer.
All this happened on Friday night which despite the above had Lucy Railton whose looped cello, synth swirls and samples of glass being smashed filled the high ceilinged Northern Rock Foundation Hall with all manner of glorious sounds, the best of the night with those languorous cello scrapes kicking in like the heaviest of of Industrial dirges and American free jazzers Irreversible Entanglements whose female vocalist stared at us hard and urged us all to get down the front. She recited lyrics which she seemed to glean from a book and were all about not forgetting the horrors of the past as the drummer really went for it, shit, they all really went for it, some calm about midway but the storm soon built again. A visceral performance and a good a way as any to eradicate the memory of some of the guff that had gone before.
With such a vast array of things to go see, watch and hear and with some workshops overlapping with other events its impossible to get to everything and then there’s Weekend Festival Tiredness [WFT] which some suffer from more than others depending on alcohol consumption and sleep deprivation. With only limited seating available its a tough one on the legs too. Luckily for me I’ve long learnt that getting shitfaced on the first night of a three night festival is the best way to ensure that you have no enthusiasm for much of what follows, thus I’m up early and looking towards the nearby Baltic for early morning cultural sustenance or for a bracing walk along the quayside or maybe three hours in the breakfast room of the Ramadam Encore watching England beat Sri Lanka in the cricket downing endless cups of tea from the buffet bar as gloits drink Strongbow Dark Fruits out of cans. Oh Newcastle how we love you.
I miss all the ‘pod shows’ too, Chow Mwng and Robert Ridley-Shackleton who by all accounts are rather good, I catch a little of Chow Mwng’s set while having a cup of tea on the Sage concourse where the bleed from his performance can be plainly heard ‘YOU FUCKING BASTARDS’ or somesuch over a wad of feedback which has a number of the cafes more gentler clients lifting their heads skywards wondering if their senses are playing tricks on them.
Saturday night kicks off with Saboteuse who are playing only their second gig in thirteen years. A real treat as Joincey and Jarvis are joined by a long bearded, baseball cap wearing bassist who looks like something out an American trucker movie. Jarvis plays electronics and guitar, Joincey on vocals and helping out elsewhere. His voice is key though, a love it or hate it voice, a sing/talk voice crack voice in proudest Stoke-ese. They play songs that have been turned inside out, songs in name only, on one of them the drum kit is hit with a slave ship rhythm, the bass is played ever so gently, Joincey recites. Their last track is called ‘Worship The Devil’ which gets a laugh and is almost an instrumental with Joincey coming in at the end. Marlo Eggplant is all heavy Industrial Drones from Leeds via Baltimore and rubs her torso with contact mics for added noisiness.
Saturday nights highlight arrives with the Ceramic Hobs who seem a tad out of place in such salubrious surroundings no doubt feeling much more at home in a squat or someones front room. They appear to be down to five members now with the all over the shop baby headed theremin rubbing clown nowhere to be seen but still with Simon Morris of course, the long suffering original without whom there would be no Ceramic Hobs. He storms on stage after everybody else has started up, shirtless and with a thirty five years in the making beer gut hanging over his black jeans and sensible shoes, he flails about like a drunk looking for an argument in a shitty pub but the voice is still there, an incredible thing that by rights shouldn’t be coming out of such a body but out it does come, a roaring monster perfectly suited to such driven demented hammerings. Second track in is ‘Shaolin Master’ and never have the lines ‘I might look like I lie around on me couch all day’ never sounded so hollow, ‘50 Shades of Snuff’ gets an outing as does ‘33 Trapped Chilean Miners’. The room is virtually full with punters reveling in having an actual band to bounce around to. And bounce they do. And smile. And have fun. The guitarist, whose wearing a dress [too young to be born when the Hobs set off thirty odd years ago] sprays playing cards in to the audience and collapses on the floor at the sets end. Morris wanders off bathed in sweat after having delivered the last lines from ELO’s ‘Mr. Blue Sky’. Its all over in double quick time but not before we’ve heard a new song as a finale. They’re remarkably tight as a unit despite one false start and seem to be getting better as they go on. I may have been saying this for years. There may be life in them yet. Its not as chaotic as your usual Hobs gigs but they make up for that on Sunday afternoon with a ‘talk’ that soon runs out of steam and descends into Morris stood on stage singing ‘Raven’; I’M GONNA FUCK YOU UP THE ASS TONIGHT!
|Joincey asks the Ceramic Hobs a question.|
The rest of Saturday night passes in a blur. Something is wrong with my insides and my legs. Maybe I’ve been stood too long. Maybe it was that pint in the Crown Posada. I have vague recollections of Lea Bertucci and I definitely saw the first turntable half of Otomo Yoshihide’s set which is the first in which we’re offered ear plugs but after that it was back to the Ramadan with no thought given whatsoever to a fringe event that by all accounts ran until five in the morning. There was plenty to savor and the thought of seeing Lee Patterson and Adam Bohman play at midday Sunday sent me sweetly in to the arms of morpheus.
The keener amongst us were in the Sage at 11 a.m. for a Chow Mwng set that was later described to me as being the best wake up call they ever had. Too early for me, instead I found a seat for Patterson and Bohman an hour later. Rarely have I spent such a pleasant hour. The last time was in Brighton a few years ago where Adam and his brother Jonathan played a similarly timed set in Brighton library as part of Colour Out of Space. Patterson has more electronics on his table, pick ups maybe and a thing that whirls around whose speed he alters and some nuts of an unnamed nature that he sets fire to [no doubt to the consternation of the Sage staff as the flames did at one point reach a terrific six inches in height] and springs and Alka Selzer and crackly popping candy and at his side the assembled drinking glasses, bits of metal rods, light bulbs, tins and a fork whose tines Bohman plucks and plays with his horse hair bow. Its a perfect pairing and the hour passes in what seems like minutes. The need for food drives me over the Tyne and soon its eight o’clock and time for us to enter the main hall that is Sage One where the Hameed Brothers Qawaal and Party are sitting down stage front. Bradford lads of course. I saw them a few years back there and they went down a storm. I think theres six of them playing two harmonium’s and a pair of tablas, the rest joining in on vocals and handclaps. I think its Punjabi bhangra, I’m not sure, but whatever it is its infectious. If only it had lasted another hour. Instead we got Terry Riley and his lad noodling about. Riley senior on grand piano, Riley junior on electric guitar. Me sat at the back in tears. Rarely have I felt so disappointed. Not that I was expecting an hours worth of Riley’s greatest hits set to a Jive Bunny clap-along backing track and t-shirts on the merch stall for a tenner thank you very much. The man is in his eighties. I’m guessing we should be grateful he’s still touring but to hear Riley junior play actual, and this is true I swear, fucking wolf whistles on his guitar is shameful. Then Riley senior stood and Riley junior went quiet. Riley senior set a synth going and played a melodica along to it. I perked up. It sounded wonderful. It lasted five minutes. I crumpled. I started drawing up my list. My ‘Chuck em in the Tyne list’ my biro cutting in to the paper like a knife, my writing looking like that of madman.
If I’d had the energy I could have taken in Dale Cornish and at 11.30 on Sunday night Konstrukt and Otomo but I hadn’t the energy. The Bald Heads of Noise retired to the Ramadan’s bar and talked over what had been for the most part a very enjoyable weekend.
The Sage is a world class music venue whose sound system is the best I’ve ever heard. Its capable of capturing the nuance in a Bohman fork twang and the racket generated by the Ceramic Hobs and everything else in-between with ease. The staff are marvelous, the organisers know what they’re doing, there’s toilets everywhere [v. Important] and bars selling beer where you don’t have to queue for long and a cafe and a restaurant and everything. The weekend ticket is a ridiculously cheap £70. Its in Newcastle. I’ll be back next year.