Agdam / Various Artists
Agdam Records. CD
Contact: [chortle, smirk, titter]
PO Box 254
It seems appropriate that a selection of obscure recordings charting the ‘English Underground Circa 1990 And Slightly Before’ should appear on an Azerbaijani label. Try Googling the Azeri city Agdam though and you’re greeted with images of a desolate place - its not exactly somewhere you’d want to go to on your jollies. Maybe they could twin it with Mirfield and send Neil Campbell out on a diplomatic mission to create greater understanding between differing cultures. You give us some Azeri oud players going at it hammer and tongs for an hour and we’ll give you Neil Campbell, two cymbals and a bottle of whiskey. Just a thought. Or maybe this is all some elaborate joke? Has anybody been foolhardy enough to send anything to Agdam? I bet they haven’t got anything back. Research reveals that Agdam is actually a ghost town its inhabitants having fled the Armenian army, looters doing the rest. Oh ... and Agdam is Turkish for ‘white house’. Draw your own conclusions. I sense much mischief but I’m happy to be proven wrong.
The archives of ‘The English Underground Circa 1990 And Slightly Before’ [as we now have to legally call it] are ever so slowly beginning to see the light of day and not before time. They’ve been appearing in fits and starts but of late seem to be gathering pace. Agdam appears only weeks after the Walden brothers Strolling Ones lunacy hit these ears and with the press release mentioning several unreleased LP’s out there it would be logical to assume that plenty more of these kind of documents stand stage left awaiting their big day.
But its to the A Band that we are drawn. They appear to be emerging from their ever so slightly eccentric shell and why not. Its taken them a while but the clamor to hear more of their freewheeling, spontaneous music seems genuinely warm. They actually get invited to things these days. Maybe they really were ahead of their time? The A Band embrace non-conformity, improvisation and fun by having an ever changing line up and creating a different name for each performance. The A Band are the A Band but only in name and never on paper. Each live performance has to begin with the letter ‘A’ too and that's what the band’s called on the day. Too damned clever for me.
There’s dozens of A Band members scattered about the UK most of them crawling from the wreckage of the 80’s. Some of them, I dare say, supped from a fountain that spurted industrial culture, Krautrock, mad jazz, Fluxus, Japanese noise, Folk music and English comedy. Its no surprise to anyone at all that the results are akin to an explosion in a saucepan lid factory, a wild and uncontrollable ride through improv land unclassifiable to all but the likes of Dave Keenan and earnest scribes alike [as an aside this release won the coveted Dave Keenan’s Volcanic Tongue ‘Tip of the Tongue’ award. I’m a fan of alliteration though and wish Keenan would make use of the ‘K’ in his surname and give his reviews ‘K’ ratings like they do in Kerrang, which would make this a Keenan Klassik KKKKK].
Agdam begins in 1986 and ends in 2007 with a reformed [after 15 years hiatus] A Band performance and some of it is very good and some it is utter nonsense and a bit of it drove me to the drinks cabinet. But its the utter nonsense and its ability to annoy that I actually came to find the most appealing. The ability to annoy is all part of the madness of course. ‘Well Crucial’s track recorded in 1986 is a rolling snatch of two second 80’s synth pop sample intermingled with gormless DJ chatter and words spoken by Martin Walden. Its so annoying I actually began to like it for its ability to annoy. The other Walden, Stewart, begins proceedings with ‘Mmmmmorning’ a 1990 piece of Dada Casio plod in which Walden bemoans the fact that he cant stay in bed all day, all delivered in a convincing, yawning gremlin fashion. ‘Walden/Campbell/Plaistow’ don various hippy gear to run through an acoustic guitar tinged Ash Ra Tempel fling called Moron [‘its easy to have fun when you’re a moron’] with all three of them taking at once [about each other I think] over a gentle six string melody whilst a moan wanders around in the background, this in 1990. ‘Sepopeplel’ is Stewart Greenwood and Minty Cracknell captured at the 13th Note in Glasgow 1998 - five minutes of accordion wheezes and tunnel noise. Gay Animal Women dish out 23 minutes [oh naturlich] of PTV inspired cod reggae as recorded live in Nottingham in 1989. Cut from a longer hour long show its a genuflecting reverbed to hell pean to all things Genesis P Orridge and not something I found myself warming to despite numerous attempts. Filling in but two meagre minutes of space comes Neil Campbell with a snatch of live celestial shimmer drone from 2004, a period when his involvement with Vibracathedral Orchestra was coming to an end and his solo work with Astral Social Club was just beginning. All too brief.
The whole disc sits on its best track. A 30 odd minute A Band romp going under the title of Afterclap as captured live in Warrington in 2007. Twelve individuals took part including a certain 14 year old Megan Fletcher-Cutts who played in the last previous A Band performance as a six month old baby. Joincey also took part, a man whose own meanderings not only sound very similar to what Stewart Walden was doing in 1990 but who should be included on merit alone seeing as how he’s an equally peripatetic form who has several solo modes coupled to several band projects constantly on the go. A Band stalwarts Sticky Foster, Neil Campbell and Stewart Keith [nee Stewart Walden] join forces with Dylan Bates, Dave Higginson and Jon Larder amongst others for a rawk-fest that begins with the introduction of band members and ends with a twanging jaws harp. In between it somehow manages to sound like a dodgy metal band with a trumpet player instead of a singer deliberately doing it all wrong before collapsing in on itself in utter chaos and hilarity. I can hear swannee whistles [or electronic equivalents thereof], parps and squeaks, crap guitar solos, unidentified horns, vocal noise, strange strings being plucked, scraping. The first half is pinned to a barreling heavy footed thud stomp before it disintegrates into true ‘we don’t know what we’re doing but we’re enjoying it’ A Band style um ..mess.
Afterclap is a rollicking beast of musical insanity and for sheer freedom of musical expression its up there with the best. I loved it. More archive digging please.