Archive for the Music Category

Something unexpected this way comes…

Posted in General Musings, Music on June 1, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

I hate that, you know, and I get quite grumpy when it does happen. As many of you might have guessed by now, my taste in music tends to the uncommercial, unlistenable, noisy and generally ignored. Every once in a while, however, something comes along that, despite attempts at studied resistance and feigned disinterest, niggles and worries at the edges until it finds a fissure, and then insidiously worms its way inwards. What starts as a barely-felt tickle gradually becomes a rash of itchy curiosity. Consequently, it won’t let me go until I’ve scratched it, often leading to profuse metaphorical bleeding.

So what’s managed to get under my skin this time, then? Simply put, the music of Jón Þór Birgisson, better known as Jónsi, the Sigur Rós frontman. What makes it doubly bizarre is that I am not that keen on that band’s music. How to explain? Maybe it has to do with the input from the other band members – their contributions tending to smooth any individual edginess. Whatever it is, when he’s in full solo mode something magnificent gets unleashed, an emotive quality that’s hard to pin down – and smiles back at you, knowing you’ll never quite be able to do so. A creature of legend made real, yet remaining insubstantial to the grasp.

Like that other Icelandic export (and professional mythical pixie-being), Björk, Jónsi’s music possesses an otherworldly intangibility, far removing it from anything remotely mundane. Which leads me to posit the question: what does Iceland do to its musicians? I ask this because there is no doubt in my mind that this northern isle infuses itself into the very marrow of its people, ESPECIALLY those that exhibit creative tendencies of any kind. Whenever I listen to some of either Jónsi or Björk’s music (in particular, the latter’s early solo material), an auroral iciniess and chill distance envelops me and creeps into my bones. Not surprising really, I guess, considering where they live.

Iceland is one of those countries, along with northern Scotland and Scandinavia, that tugs at my heart-strings in a way I don’t really understand. I usually put it down to a fanciful notion that because I was born into one of the worst snowstorms ever, in February ’63, I gained an automatic feeling for those places situated in colder climes. Consequently, listening to something like Jónsi’s songs (and anything on Glacial Movements Records, for instance) only plays upon those emotional strings even harder. It’s difficult to resist the call to dream of far-away ice and isolation – let it be known that this is what I crave above all else in this life: a life amongst the glaciers, geysers, volcanoes and the shimmering auroral displays. Maybe one day: in the twilight of my life I’ll get to meet the twilight country – it would constitute a fitting circularity, I think.

Current 93/Nurse With Wound/Simon Finn – the circle is completed…

Posted in Music on May 29, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

HMV FORUM, KENTISH TOWN, MAY 28TH 2010

As I pointed out in my last blog, I’ve been waiting twenty years for this gig to happen, but getting to see it at all was entirely due to a good friend, Patrick O’Sullivan, having a spare ticket and also my wife, Liz, forwarding me the money to get the train down from MK. So, the question that naturally arises from this is: was it all worth it?

For me, I would have to say YES! Bearing in mind that this is the first time that I have seen any of these projects live, quality of performance is something I can’t judge with any accuracy: maybe I’ll think differently when I’ve notched up a few more times watching them. Needless to say, what follows is coloured by my unfamiliarity with either of these outfits as performing entities, so bear with me if I appear overly-gushing. And please note: these are just impressions, and are not meant to be a complete review in any way.. so saying that:

The venue itself is a magnificent early-20th century example of style and elegance (see photo above), albeit looking slightly dowdy after standing in the heart of crowded London for nearly 100 years. The interior has, somewhat predictably, a Romanesque theme, with eagles on standards, shields, laurel leaves and a frieze of horses running around the walls. The gig was a seated affair, which my back was extremely grateful for, and it appeared to be sold out, too, a very good thing in my opinion. My only complaint of the evening was that finding the right seat was a mightily confusing affair, as the rows were unmarked and the seat numbers difficult to discern – if anybody else intends going to this venue I suggest you take a small torch with you.

Plenty of luscious merchandise was available – I settled for a Current 93 t-shirt in my favourite colour, black. But if you had mounds of filthy lucre with you all kinds of recorded goodies were available to tempt you, all of which will, no doubt, become staggeringly valuable five minutes after purchase (a common occurrence with both C93 and NWW).

First act of the night, Simon Finn from Canada, I wasn’t particularly impressed with – but I put that down to a matter of personal taste, more than anything. His songs failed to create any kind of atmosphere that I could latch on to, and unfortunately left me feeling a tad indifferent. BUT, fortunately for HIM, though, it appears there were many who had come specifically to see him and, judging by the reception and applause after every song, those who had came away immensely satisfied.

The NWW of last night were very different to the NWW of 1989, which was when I first discovered Steven Stapleton’s now seminal outfit – not to imply that the difference is any bad thing. For those unfamiliar with their output, their initial recorded offerings were very influenced by avant-garde atonality, Krautrock and deconstruction of anything resembling structure, often being noisy, freeform and chaotic. Thus were they hailed as being in the vanguard of the ‘industrial music’ movement, an epithet they themselves objected to. Since then, the music has developed more along the lines of drone and dark ambient.

Certainly last night’s hour-long set was more in keeping with the latter – opening up with lush chords that developed into a more freeform, unstructured noise free-for-all by its conclusion. Along the way there were even some vocals, courtesy of a blonde lady (name unknown) with a stunning voice, and (gosh) more than a hint of rhythm. The visuals accompanying the set were both disturbing and unsettling: people living in a house on fire, and people acting out their lives underwater. Bizarre, but highly effective and somehow appropriate.

The crown jewel of the evening, however, was C93. The group of musicians assembled by David Tibet were ten or eleven strong, and Tibet was himself introduced with much theatricality by a gentleman wearing evening attire and the tallest top-hat I have yet encountered, leading me to expect smoke to billow out of it. In many ways, that dramatic introduction set the scene – C93’s brand of hallucinatory experimentalism almost demands a well-developed sense of theatre and, although visually it was kept to a minimum, in terms of emotional delivery and vocal style it was there in buckets. Michael Cashmore, a constant contributor since the Thunder Perfect Mind album, made a guest appearance on guitar towards the end of the set, which rounded out proceedings nicely. I would have liked to have seen more guest-appearances, considering just how many people who have worked with Tibet over the years (including Rose McDowall of Strawberry Switchblade and Icelandic pixie Bjork, for instance), but I guess the old adage ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ gleefully applies here – I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

A magnificent evening, with great company (and also meeting up with Per Ahlund of Diskrepant, too) and some fine, atmospheric music, only spoiled by the repetitive confusion of where it was people were meant to be sitting. Without a doubt I will definitely go and see both NWW and C93 again if they play these shores anytime soon… now, all I need to complete my list of bands I want to see is for Ministry and Psychic TV to come over here, Godflesh to reform, Jhon Balance to be resurrected so COIL can play again and, finally, me to have enough money to pay for a ticket to see Killing Joke… then I’ll be very happy…

And so it comes full circle…

Posted in Music on May 27, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Many years ago (around 1990), I used to run/edit a music fanzine called Fractured, devoted entirely to the then fledgling ‘industrial music’ scene. Then it truly was an ‘alternative’ music scene: people would look at you askance when you told them you were into ‘industrial’ music (what they thought you meant by that I can only imagine…). There weren’t many bands and projects around then: Current 93, Nurse With Wound, Psychic TV, Coil, Sol Invictus, Throbbing Gristle, Sleep Chamber, Controlled Bleeding, Attrition, to name only a few… the first three of those bands I mentioned, C93, NWW and Psychic TV, were the ones who actually got me into the whole scene in the first place (AND inspired me to publish a fanzine).

Having lived in a small Welsh town, getting to see any of these bands would have entailed mounting a major expedition to London, taking a day or two: unfortunately (and needless to say), I didn’t get to see any of them play (although I met both Tibet of C93 and Steve Stapleton of NWW through my contacts at Vinyl Experience in the Tottenham Court Road area). It is only now, 20 years later, that I am beginning to catch up with those bands still around from back then, the most recent of which is Sol Invictus.

Tomorrow night, though, I am off to see something that I thought would never happen: the two bands that started it for me, Current 93 and Nurse With Wound are playing on the same bill together at the HMV Forum, Kentish Town, and I am attending courtesy of a fellow Heathen Harvest journalist, Patrick ‘Paddy’ O’Sullivan. Admittedly, the music isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – nevertheless, these two outfits formed a major portion of my music tastes over the last 20/21 years. Now I feel that everything is coming full circle – they were good times back then which were interrupted by some truly bad ones, (including a stroke at the age of 34) and now, happily married and settled, those good times are back… so I suppose going to hear them play is the punctuation, the exclamation mark, to the circular narrative, started in 1990, that has taken 20 years to loop back on itself.

The future is indeed looking bright, on many fronts. =)

(I will be reviewing the gig on this page over the weekend…. )