Posset/Ulyatt - A Jar Full
Crow Versus Crow. CVC012.
Cassette/DL. 70 copies.
Back in the 18th century the bleak moors that run out of Halifax along the Calder Valley were home to the Crag Vale Clippers. A group of men who ‘clipped’ coins of their gold to mint new ones. A bit like an 18th century version of Bitcoin carried out by hardened men in remote, windswept cottages with one big exception, back in those days you could expect to get your head in a noose for your troubles. These moors are the bleakest of the bleak, the kind where grass struggles to grow, inhospitable places where according to legend even Satan feared to tread. An area then populated by people who saw themselves as living apart from the rest of society and who chose to ignore the laws of the land when it suited them. Coiners cottages were deliberately set apart on the very tops of the moors the better to spy unwanted arrivals, farm animals would disappear into their soggy black bogs, people got lost never to be seen again and bags of shiny, newly minted coins were secretly buried.
Benjamin Myers novel Gallows Pole is as bleak as the moors its set on and tells the story of King David Hartley, a rough and ready Robin Hood like character, the leader of the Crag Vale Coiners, a hardened drinker, a man of the land who needs no clock or learning book. His descendants still live in the area and may even use ApplePay or contactless. How times change. The moors themselves are just as inhospitable but now there’s restaurants with tasting menus up there, holiday cottages to rent, along the valley bottom lies Hebden Bridge, a veritable tourist destination with one of the best live venues in the country, up the road in Todmorden you cant help but trip over vegan cafes and people making things out of dried sticks, Heptonstall attracts those wishing to find Sylvia Plath's gravestone while decrying Ted Hughes birthplace just down the road in Mytholmroyd while in Sowerby Bridge we find Crow Versus Crow.
And Joe Posset and Charlie Ulyatt. Posset works with Dictaphone and tapes but you knew that already. Charlie Ulyatt is new to me. He improvises on the cello. They did something crazy and met up two hours before a gig to collaborate in the live situation having never previously met or collaborated before. This meeting took place at The Angel pub in Nottingham and is what you can hear on side two of this most excellent release. Its like Keith Jarrett at Cologne when he turns up knackered and the gigs late in starting because the venues being used for another performance and the pianos not the one he’s been promised but some out of tune workaday thing and despite the adversity something magical happens. I’m not saying that ‘A Jar Full’ will go down as the improv Jarret live in Köln but its not far off. A seemingly unworkable coming together of two disparate entities makes for an absorbing listen. Ulyatt’s frotting, shaking and rubbing of the cello and Posset’s deft tape manipulations are suitably at ease with each other. A little like an austere Webern string composition into which someone has sneaked the gargling ultra squeak of tape voices and tape squelch. It last but a mere fifteen minutes but is tense and rewarding and no doubt seen by all involved as an unqualified success.
What surprises me is the depth. You’d think that two people, one working a Dictaphone and the other a cello would run out of ideas pretty quickly but that isn’t the case. On side one you find three tracks that were recorded after the event with each improvising over the others work without further editing. Here Posset slathers on the tape wobble as his fingers deftly feather the Dictaphone keys producing an ever changing vista of interrupted voices and tape squiggle, Ulyatt draws long drones, random raspy staccato attacks and at times there’s silence, each letting the others work stand alone for your delectation.
Tape labels releasing tape/cello improv don’t feature in Gallows Pole. I suppose Myers found it hard to work it in, especially seeing as how only the cello bit had been invented. Still, its a gripping read. Crow Versus Crow meanwhile have once again chosen wisely. A quality release all round. Find it on the moors. Or through Bandcamp.
Crow Versus Crow