Monday, June 03, 2013

Knurr & Spell / Ashtray Navigations

Ashtray Navigations - Cloud Come Cadaver.
Memoirs Of An Aesthete. CD

Knurr & Spell - Being Psychedelic Sounds From Yorkshire
Memoirs of an Aesthete / Research Center for Definition of Happiness [West Yorkshire Branch]. Split Release. CDR

When in Dusseldorf play spot the millionaire. They’re easy to find in their gold brocaded skippers caps, red slacks and deck shoes, a last desperate attempt at trying to capture that Warren Beatty mid 70's look before gravity takes a hold of their nether regions. Watch them finger the price tags of luxury goods in designer shops on the K√∂nigstrasse, price tags designed to induce reflex wincing amongst those with lesser means. Pale blue cotton jackets costing €1800 and watches that you could swap for three bedroom semis. Writing down the price of that cotton jacket in my notebook I realised that for the same amount of money I could get a 1000 glasses of Altbeer in any of Dusseldorf fine ale houses or, if I was so inclined, the above two releases and €1780 change.

The Alt was, as ever, worth the trip. A bitter, hoppy, top fermented brew served in 25CL glasses thats brought to your table by a team of constantly busy beer waiters. Each glass is ceremoniously dumped on your beermat and then marked off with a stubby pencil which the beer waiters keep nonchalantly tucked behind one ear. Monies are collected at your table at the sessions end when all your ticks are counted up and the total written on your now soggy beermat. Everybody drinks the same beer, everybody goes home happy. My favourite watering hole and the place to go to experience the full on Alt experience is the Zum Eurige - here the beer is poured straight from a keg thats tapped on the floor and lifted into place by three hefty beer waiters. Glasses are constantly poured and then held aloft on silver trays through its many rooms and on a busy Saturday night, where the Champions League Final consisted of two German teams, they were changing a barrel about every fifteen minutes whilst serving what I reckoned to be about a thousand customers. The atmosphere is one of social hospitality where consideration for the drinker is the prime objective, food is sold until about ten at night and bar snacks are offered by food waiters doing the rounds [just don’t try the Mettbroetchen  - thats seasoned raw minced pork on a teacake with onions on top - never again]. Compare this with trying to get served in a busy Spoons on a Friday night where the overworked and underpaid staff do their best amidst groups of arseholed blokey blokes whose over enjoyment of shite lager makes you wish Tasers were legal.

Its only an hour an ten minutes to Dusseldorf from Leeds Bradford Airport which would give you just enough time to squeeze in ‘Being Psychedelic Sounds From Yorkshire’. Whilst debating the intricacies of Knurr & Spell with your neighbour and passing on the three small cans of Carlsberg Export for ten pounds offer that Jet2 think is good value, you can sit back and bask in the knowledge that something stirs in the Leeds environs.

Knurr and Spell is a now virtually extinct game peculiar to Yorkshire. The game was played on the tops of moors by men in clogs and flat caps and is often described as a poor mans golf. Equipment was basic and the rules were simple, a wooden rod with a square lump of wood on the end [the Spell] with which you hit a small porcelain ball [the Knurr] as far and has hard as you possibly could. At one time it was incredibly popular and large numbers of people would tramp up to the top of bleak and windy moors to watch grown men hit a small pellet of porcelain 400 yards. Bets were placed, competition was fierce and then they invented colour television.

In case you were unaware there’s an emergent psychedelic noise drone experimental kind of thing ongoing in Yorkshire [and Leeds in particular]. Under gloomy skies and with the aid of flat vowels and whippets people have been making psychedelic noise drone experimental sounds for some years now. In their own quiet way Phil Todd and Mel Delaney have been the unsung heroes of this continuing ‘scene’. Aided and abetted by the likes of Midwich, Astral Social Club, Piss Superstition, noisy buggers like Foldhead and Half an Abortion, labels likes Sheepscar Light Industrial, Fencing Flatworm and the wonderfully named Kirkstall Dark Matter things have been getting spacier for some time now. Striate Cortex got the ball rolling with their benchmark release ‘Victorian Electronics - A Leeds Assemblage’ a four-way three inch CDR jobbie that disappeared quicker than a pint on a Friday tea time and if I may be so bold there’s my own humble effort ‘The Feeding of the 2,079,211 - A Compilation of West Yorkshire Residents’, a various artist cassette that came out a few years ago and which I still have a few copies left should anyone care for one.

On ‘Knurr & Spell’ you will find Ocelocelot, Moral Holiday, Foldhead and Shemboid who turns out to be a chap going by the name of Alan Sharples. With each track running at around the twenty minute mark theres enough time for you to light a joss-stick, switch on the lava lamp and put the tripe in the oven before really getting into the groove with your own personal finger cymbals and GV roll up. Shemboid’s contribution begins with a blistering ripple of processed guitar that eventually settles out into a blissful dream-like coda of down strummed heavy chord-ness and harmonic delight. Mel’s Ocelocelot is a cow horn blast of detuned synth muck, a warped buzz of dying bees, a Theremin gone mad, perhaps the Mekon’s corporate anthem. As ever Ocelocelot is an entirely unfathomable, un-genreable, un-pigeonholeable slice of otherness.  Foldhead blitz the zero and ones with a sizzling blast of box abuse skree. Aptly titled ‘Taser Delerium’ its flat out noise, a noise enlivened by a shifting disorientation, a flicker book eye blinking mass of loose live wires and androids gone berserk. But my pick of the bunch goes to Moral Holiday. Moral Holiday being the Toddmeister on his day out in Dario Argento country. ‘No Forks’ is a cheap slasher movie soundtrack that has a doom-laden two chord left hand synth repeat backbone on which we get echoey downward spiraling motes of Moogblather, a spacey phasered PE like vocal and a sumptuous frazzled guitar solo at its end. Its remit is to transport you from Boar Lane to Alpha Centuri via Tangerine Dream territory with nothing simpler than a CD with pictures of rhubarb, blackberries and tripe on it. One to savour.

And then you play Cloud Come Cadaver and you realise that Ashtray Navigations are still one of the best, if not thee best bands in Leeds. Phil and Mel soak up so much freaked out psyched out spazz that they’ve now begun to sound like one of the best bonged out ensembles that never made it out of mid 70’s Deustchland. Play me this blindfolded and I’ve have told you that it was prime German muck played by people with long hair, longer beards and a roomful of analogue synths, bongoes and electric guitars. Last track ‘The Final Hit’ is just that Ralph Hutter on a trippy trip with floating motes of flutes, synth dabs, distant bongo slaps and a synth solo played somewhere in the middle section of the keyboard for the duration. We begin with a languorous top end guitar solo workout thats played out over some choppy keyboard stabs and a cicada like backbone rhythm. ‘Granite Phalli’ is like a more austere Harmonia with wobbly analogue rhythms acting as foil to some seriously heavy psych chord riffage. ‘Like 12 Xmas Dinners Stacked On Top Of Each Other’ is an off his tits Keith Emerson chucking black puddings and pork pies at his Moog from 50 yards away, spaced out one finger keyboard pokes that escape like steam out of a steam trap as bubbling analogue bubbles squiggle about beneath. Can all this really be happening in Yorkshire in 2013? It certainly can.


Memoirs of An Aesthete/Ashtray Navigations

Research Center for Definition of Happiness

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