Thursday, March 28, 2019

Craven Faults

Craven Faults - Springhead Works
Lowfold Works. 12”/DL

Craven Faults - Netherfield Works
Lowfold Works. 12”/DL

Once in a while I’ll check out the Norman Records website to see if I can be induced into going wild with the Paypal shekels. More often than not I manage to keep a hold of them what with most of whats on offer being reissues I originally bought thirty years ago and still have, or new stuff by people I don’t really care about. The main reason I don’t buy anything is usually down to me being in a continual ‘can’t be arsed buying new music’ mood. I’m in one of those ‘can’t be arsed buying new music mood’ phases at the moment. A lack of time, a lack of space [I don’t buy digital ya numpty] a feeling of buying something just to listen to it a couple of times before putting it in the rack with the rest of the stuff.

The last time I went to see Norman I came face to face with the Craven Faults release ‘Springhead Works’ and below it a Youtube video of ‘Intakes’ which is one of the two tracks on it. The magical words ‘pulsating vintage synth to soundtrack journeys across the post industrial landscapes of West Yorkshire’ roused me from my normal lethargy and had me sat ramrod straight. That bleak, black and white cover image, the minimalist design. I went all nostalgic for walks up Stoodly Pike and Greetland. I clicked ‘play’ thinking I’ll give it five minutes and twenty minutes later I’d bought both records and have been playing them almost constantly ever since.

Being a sucker for vintage synths and having an interest in anything of such a musical nature coming from the environs of West Yorkshire my interest was of course piqued. While waiting for the records to arrive [very promptly and well packed by Norman as ever - I do recommend them] I went searching for more information but came back a frustrated empty handed person. The Craven Faults website is a single page with a subscription box. No joy there. Norman talks about ‘a cloaked Yorkshire based producer’ which I’m guessing doesn’t mean the person involved goes around dressed like Batman. So at least they know a little something. Which is more than me and more than any internet search engine you care to mention. I did find an interview with the cloaked Yorkshire based producer where he/she talks about their instrumentation and how its all put together but when the talk turns to gates and sequencers and LFO’s and envelopes I’m soon fast asleep. I know the synth world is a nerdy one but for the listener it doesn’t have to be. Just put the record on, sit back and prepare to enter a world created by machines. Everything else is superfluous. 

These four sides [all one track apiece] are the spiritual home of Michael Hoenig, Klaus Schulze, Edgar Froese, mini symphonies of a classical synth nature where the sounds are introduced to other sounds to compliment and augment before either leaving the fray or bolstering it. My favourite track of the four is the one I first listened to with Norman; ‘Intakes’ from ‘Springhead Works’. On its first hearing I was wondering whether its gentle beat would morph into something wilder or drums would be introduced spoiling the whole thing and leading me back to my Fred Dibnah videos on Youtube but no. I was gripped. I was swayed. I was swooned and intoxicated. I was carried away on a cloud of synth bliss where far below I could see paler synth dabblers making not much but humdrum weak and insipid, easily forgotten synth music. I was in synth heaven. I was taken back to the days of my youth when the intro to Chicory Tips ‘Son of My Father’ rattled my very bones [only much later did I find out that this was a Moroder composition] and where Jean-Michel Jarre and Tomtia could be heard on daytime radio. Not that Craven Faults have that much in common with any of that lot.

‘Eller Ghyll’ from the earlier ‘Netherfield Works’ release is a bubbling sequencer feed, ‘Tenter Ground’ from the flip is Neu! after spending a month in Macclesfield, a brooding composition with a slinky bass guitar straight out of the Hook Book. Think grim tower blocks, burnt out cars and grubby kids in star jumpers playing out in their mothers court shoes, something makes a Roxy Music like sax solo except its not a sax and maybe a sampled sax, Philip Glass like two note fills filter through but always that doom laden bass. The more recent ‘Springfield Works’ is where the sound becomes purer and with it the glory of the head bobbing, driving, pulsing ‘Intakes’ and lastly ‘Ings’ with its foreboding ur-stomp over those bleak, heavy clouded moors.    

All four tracks, all four sides of these two records have rekindled my love of synth and the glory of sound itself. I look on these two records not so much as records but as children I never had. Thank you Craven Faults. Thank you Norman.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Active Denial

Active Denial - What Dreams Are Made Of
Outsider Art. OA024. Cassette/DL

Its impossible to write a review of a Power Electronics release without referencing the original pioneers of the genre. Thus lots of this sounds like, this feels like and oooh remember that gig at the [insert name of crap venue in London that died decades ago] when the police were called and the bottles started flying.

If you’re reading this you probably have a favourite PE group or two or three and have a stack of releases that you go back to when the mood suits, I know I have. I also know its a genre that I revisit less and less frequently. One of the main reasons being that there’s only so far you can push PE before it folds in on itself and finds itself back where it started. In other words it can become staid very, very quickly. So while there may be female artists working within the PE spectrum [big cheer] there will always be those for whom the classic PE sound is where its at.

That sound being a bloke screaming over a pulsating synth throb about sex, death and Nazis his voice disguised by various electronic means so as to make it sound as if you’ve been physically assaulted. Put it in a cassette with a bit of far right politics or a grainy black and white image of a suicide on it and away you go.

Doing your best to put the dodgy politics to one side early PE produced some memorable bands, some memorable labels, some memorable music and became incredibly influential. No PE no Japanese Noise. Without Sutcliffe Jugend no Incapacitants or certainly not what we have today. Perhaps many others too. But this is 2019. 1982 is a long way away. We’ve been there and those who weren’t [me for one] have the internet and reissues to help them discover these original recordings. It’ll be there for future generations to find too which is probably where Active Denial come in. 

Who have supped heavily from the Ramleh cup to such an extent that they have become drunk upon it and have given us What Dreams Are Made Of. Burcorvos Leadbeater and Jack Knife being the protagonists delivering their homage to early PE from the environs of the English South coast. My money being on Brighton. After a few listens and giving this the benefit of the doubt I dare say that if I heard it in 1982 I would be suitably impressed. It has all the hallmarks of classic PE and there’s not much more to add to it than that. Best track is the slower Wish Harm and the shared vocals are actually pretty clear with either Leadbeater or Knife having the far superior delivery. Just the four tracks; Black Sontag, Smoke, Wish Harm and Myth of Madness. Chuck in a couple of samples and away you go. Lets party likes its 1982.

Active Denial

Monday, March 11, 2019

Simon Morris / Ceramic Hobs

Ceramic Hobs - Use Your Illusion III
Independent Woman Records. CD 010. CD + Booklet.
100 copies.

Simon Morris - Sea of Love
Amphetamine Sulphate

I’m thinking Simon Morris statue on Blackpool Prom. I’m thinking statue draped with used condoms, crushed and empty packets of Embassy Regal bottom half of cellophane still attached, low birthweight warnings, Ceramic Hobs song titles graffitied on to bare chest, pages torn from the works of Kathy Acker and biros with chewed ends left at the base Jim Morrison stylee, fans from around the globe arriving on the Fylde Coast in all weathers [but mainly rain] to pay their respects and have a pint in the Spoons across the road that might one day carry his name. The Simon Morris serving [eventually] bored drunks glasses of Australian brandy and non european lagers. Later a yearly festival of Hobs inspired music where singer-songwriters extrapolate Cupcakes in shutdown shop doorways while ropey bands on drugs and Lidl alcohol try to make sense of 33 Trapped Chilean Miners all this as people recite passages from Morris’s books in a mock Lancashire drawl.

Recorded at last years Tusk Festival in Gateshead Use Your Illusion III is the best live Hobs release to pass through these hands. I was there. A band that everybody was more than ready for after a day and a half of chin rubbing and musing. Morris stamped around the stage bare chested, displaying a gut of some considerable size [‘all paid for’ you used to hear down the pub while the owner of said gut stuck it out even further and patted it proudly like a man would a prize marrow].  When not sticking his gut out Morris planted one foot hard in front of the other and made as if for one killer head-butt thus helping expel his words at hurricane force. His voice is remarkable, a gnarly growly shout, his face a twisty tormented thing, his gut sticks over his black jeans like a mutant pregnancy. Rock ‘n’ Roll mate. After warbling the opening bars of a Star is Born and covering what they say is Alice Copper’s first single from 1966 [‘No Price Tag’] they fly into Shaolin Master which is still the best song about coach-potato machismo ever written [I’ll kick yer arse mate - I’m the last of the invisible white ninjas]. There’s a couple of new tracks one of which they finish with [Dog One] which is encouraging and all the hits from the ’80’s, 90’s and 2000’s’ as Morris laconically informs us. There was a new band member too, a female one playing a keyboard. The guitarist played dead when everybody else had left the stage. The rest of the band look at him as if he was daft. He probably is. When we get to ‘This Sore and Broken Blackpool Legacy’ the mood darkens and along with it a much slowed down pace. Its their longest track of the set and maybe the nearest the Hobs will get to a ‘Freebird’ or a ‘Hurricane’ except its probably about deceased band members and the putrid pull of Britain’s sleaziest seaside resort. Not that there’s ever going to be any guitar noodling here just Morris growling a moribund ‘endless’ as the funereal march makes its way down the promenade. Thirteen tracks including a killer thirty seconds worth of White Noise. Overdubbed intro includes Cheap Trick playing Dream Police [paranoia?] and an outro of what sounds like the kind of record football clubs used to make when they got to the FA Cup Final. A booklet of lyrics makes for interesting reading.

The sleeve and title are nods to Guns N’ Roses of course, a Morris obsession that  provided the framework for his previous book ‘Civil War’. It being a critique of every GNR album and album track with throwaway sex and violence accompanying each review. ‘Sea of Love’ is divided in to chapters that cover the first eight James Herbert novels, except Morris has done away almost entirely with any notion that these chapters will be about James Herbert’s first eight novels, each novel being dismissed in a sentence or two before embarking on the matter of Morris’s many sexual relationships. All of who remain nameless and most of whom appear to be married except for the cute singer in the boy band who drunkenly asks him ‘are you going to fuck my face then?’ Which came as a bit of a shock as I never knew Morris was bisexual. Or is he? Are we in fact or fiction land? Does it matter? The opening tract [pre Herbert] is a very thinly veiled attack on a well known Irish experimental film maker that is very much not fictional. I can only assume that this is Morris being antagonistic, maybe even spiteful. An interlude checking the first eight Stephen King novels describes a visit to a prostitute who specializes in domination amongst other meetings of mind and flesh. Fun, fun, fun it isn’t.

As we pass through each relationship and the drink and the drugs and the endless cigarettes and the crap pubs and the very good Spanish cafes that go with them its Morris’s mind that we get to know more than anything else. On the final page he says goodbye to his Spanish girl at the airport:

‘she holds me tight and sings Sea Of Love in my ear one last
time and she likes seeing me cry but it’s so deep it’s hurting and I look
into her kind eyes and feel the softness of her breasts and her scent
against me one last time before I go through and do the shoe and bag
scan thing, and she is stood there and we can see each other and I just
stand there for a long time and so does she, staring at each other
across the distance and sometimes waving and the tears are still
falling and she says she loved it that I was just stood there like a creep
staring and eventually I have to go and find my gate in this huge
place and we made plans for another visit each way but she knew I
would find someone else and I knew she would never leave that man …'

In and amongst all that casual sex and alcohol is Morris trying to make sense of the death of one time Hobs member Calum Terras. Its a short passage but its central to the book. All that sex and alcohol is just stuff that happens. This books central theme feels as if its more concerned with death than sex and booze. That he can write with such tenderness in and amongst all this nihilism makes the book even more depressing. Like Morris’s previous Amphetamine Sulphate publications Civil War and Creepshots [apparently an ongoing Arthouse sequence], Sea of Love is a slim tome but one that carries much weight.

Amphetamine Sulphate

Independent Woman Records

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Mark Wynn - Normal Tea

Mark Wynn - Normal Tea
CD + Zine/DL
Desert Mine Music

We left Mark Wynn supporting Sleaford Mods at the Leeds Irish centre in what must have been 2016. A couple of Harbinger Sound LP’s crammed with Wynn’s punk-ish musings on life spurted on to the scene around the same time and then not much since. Those two LP’s, ‘Singles - But They’re Not Really Singles I Just Sent Them To The Screen And Said They Were Singles - Singles’ and ‘More Singles - But They’re Not Really Singles I Just Sent Them To The Screen And Said They Were Singles’ and that particular gig were one of the highlights of the year - I recall a bare chested Iggy thin Wynn, a grape eating Wynn, a tiny tot tiara wearing Wynn, an all over the stage one man band Wynn who sang along to a cassette player and went down well with the ‘what the fucks he on’ eager to get to the front Sleaford Mods fans.

Wynn’s one man punk-ish journeys encapsulate all that was good about the original punk scene and those lonesome troubadours who wrote songs about chip shops, ill fitting shoes, girlfriends whose breath smelt of parma violets and existential angst. And here it is in the 21st century your direct route back to when people just went and did that without worrying about what they’d look like in HD and which hashtag to use. In a world where my inbox fills to overflowing everyday I herald the arrival of a Wynn zine/cdr combo as much as I would an abandonment of Brexit.

Normal Tea [Normality?] is another one of Wynn’s self released hand written zines with a CDR stuck in the back except this one has printed lyrics to most of the songs and not much in the way of pictures of Wynn pratting around in a park in York somewhere with a parasol while gurning funny faces into the camera. All that has gone and with it the songs about girls he fancies in Age Concern and Bobby Gillespie. The set up is as before; raspy guitar, overdubbed drums or tambourine, added vocals or spoken asides, one track sounds like it was recorded by an actual band but its easy to be mistaken in Wynn World where he does a lot of talking to himself anyway, oh and the songs are bit darker. Out go the songs about charity shops and Battenburg and in comes some introspection. The songs can be equally as raw with ‘Cashmere’ apparently invoking the wrath of the digital distributor who declared it unlistenable [‘I don’t know what they’re talking about I’ve listened to it hundreds of times’]. The one real catchy tune with a recognisable Wynn like plucked chord progression is ‘Speel-Berg-Shrugs-Agen’ with much of the rest being filled with plenty of strummy guitar buzz. All twelve songs chip in at just under the twenty self explored minutes mark. 

Signs that the times they are a-changing come on ‘Bent Heel Shoes’. Wynn has a conversation with a barman who asks him why he isn’t drinking ‘Markie, what’s with all this abstinence thing going on? Will it be lasting long? Any Problem? And then in ‘Normal Tea’ ‘Would you like a drink?’ ‘I don’t drink. Thanks for asking though. And I hope you didn’t read that bit in the lyric to Bent Heel Shoes’ and then ‘I want some herbal tea, I’d like a peppermint tea’. So that’s Wynn off the booze then. Perhaps the most revealing is ‘The Centre of Which is Not Here’ which has these added lines which aren’t actually in the song ‘Must I defend myself in this way? If not why am I writing this? Am I still trying to unlock me? Why have I stopped answering my questions?

His song writing is as strong as ever, as his delivery, a spoken word sing-talk thing with just the hint of flat northern vowels. Thankfully his humour and spirit lives on as with ‘Delicious’ which is a song about someone daring him to write a song with the word delicious in it. ‘No, My Love is Like a Bad Medicine’ reveals a finger picking spoken blues which reminds us that Wynn is actually a very good guitar player who has long since left that gig behind deciding instead to be Yorkshire’s Ray Davies. On tea.

Mark Wynn Bandcamp

Desert Mine Music