And not the fair-weather kind

AS NAKED tribal loyalties come to the fore across Europe once again, here in the UK we need all the mates we can get. We need to make new friends, yes, but we also need to remember our existing chums.

Obviously, Trump can go fuck himself.

The trouble is, like many of my fellow Brits, I’m shit at this stuff. I’m rubbish at staying in touch. I don’t speak to people for years, and when I do, it’s usually because I want something. And new people I meet often get on my nerves.

As a result, I have a very small, tight circle of friends and it’s getting smaller and tighter each year as I somehow manage to alienate more people, or they end up going to prison or Wales, or just dying.

Good, another name to cross out of the phone book and fewer opportunities for unnecessary stop n chats and Christmas card drama.

The funny thing is, now that I am tediously and entirely predictably middle aged, perpetually grumpy and distrustful of anything new and different, I’ve never been more in tune with the prevailing national mood of UK plc.

Luckily, the terms and conditions of various transactional relationships built up over decades mean that I am contractually obliged to hype my friends’ shit at regular intervals if I want our friendship to continue.

As the crisis actress said to the defrocked bishop, it’s a dirty job etc.

For example, the Gad Whips continue their haphazard and largely baffling journey through arcane entertainment media with the release of an actual, physical seven-inch, 45rpm single made from Mother Earth’s precious and irreplaceable petrochemicals, the thoughtless, selfish planet-fucking shits.

FullSizeRender-7To be fair though, if anyone is going to squander the earth’s natural resources, they should do it with the same casual disregard for convention and commercial common sense as these semi-aquatic country boys from the Deep South of Humberside, with their webbed feet and banjos and limited-edition art collages.

The mellow, almost pastoral A side, Ward 24, tells of an old war veteran called Dan – but his real name is David – involved in sordid scenes in the Red Riding, before switching to the POV of someone who may or may not be related to all this, sitting “on a bench in a retail park, smoking roll ups with menthol tips” and w-w-w-waking up at the wheel.

I’d just remind them that Winston Churchill had a speech imp-p-p-pediment and look what he did, erased half of Wakefield.

I’ve no idea what Pete is on about, to be honest, but it probably makes sense in his head. Most likely. Incidentally, props to Pete’s prodigiously talented son Frank for his directorial debut on the promo film above.

Meanwhile, the barnstorming Trademark on the B side finds the Gadz – as I have now decided to call them – returning to their hardcore roots, with a refreshingly loud, fast and uncouth tale of “a tear in the fabric of time, sat on the edge of one thin dime”.

It’s angry and ferocious and fantastic, and comes off like they were more than a little inspired by their gig on a boat with energetic Hamburg punk kids Glue Teeth a month before the recording.

Have I mentioned my European tour of Europe with the Gadz last year in Europe?

This is sharp, sophisticated and fantastically well-produced stuff. The A side in particular sounds, as is now traditional, like it was made by a completely different band to any of Gad Whip’s previous material.

You have to wonder just how much longer these time-served, grizzled and committed denizens of the northern freakzone can successfully avoid any kind of tangible commercial success and wider recognition. It really does appear to be inevitable.

Please note: I have been wrong about this kind of thing before.

It is unlikely that former Leeds 6 psyche-boho drug nuts Purple Eternal have much to worry about in terms of tangible commercial success and wider recognition.

This is despite What Things Did You See? their posthumous debut album, proving beyond all doubt that, in the early 90s, just as Leeds was busy transforming from a backward, soot-encrusted, gothic shithole into a shiny, 21st century 24/7 rave mecca, these hairy misfits were very much ahead of the game.

Having met when they played gigs with my mate Doug’s band Nerve Rack, me and the PE boys recognised each other as kindred spirits. I think.

Their singer Ross lived around the corner, and we all ended up getting shitfaced and listening to wacked-out psychedelia of various hues together on a fairly regular basis.

We went to places like the Chocolate Factory and a few Joy rave events at the Poly together. I scored pot from drummer Karl’s wonderful mum Maureen, a fragrant, slightly ethereal hippy chick of advanced years who lived in a tiny attic bedsit on Burley Road.

The Purple Eternal were just very sweet, lovely lads, and great company. Not that you’d know from the music they used to make. For such mild-mannered and thoughtful young men, the Purple Eternal made an awfully ill-mannered racket.

To the best of my admittedly patchy recollection, I don’t think I ever saw the Purple Eternal when I wasn’t utterly trashed on some type of low-quality drug or other.

Incredibly, tunes like King Sonic, Trip #67 and Kill Yr Kids seem instantly familiar, three decades later, which probably says something about their potency. Either that or they’ve triggered one of those famous flashbacks.

Taking their cue from, in my not remotely humble opinion, bands such as the Buttholes, Sonic Youth, the Stooges, the Birthday Party, the Fall, Hawkwind and Can, the album adds a hefty shot of testosterone-charged teenage bloodymindedness and a sprinkling of zero-budget production genius from Jon Langford and Steve ‘the Weave’ Hawkins, to reveal – well, some slightly addled and naive but spirited and inventive kids still figuring out what works best.

IMG_2696-2As you might expect, their sludgy, inner-city psychedelia has a noisy punk rock edge. But while it’s often about playing as loud and as fast as possible, there’s also a willingness to get involved in murkily intense cosmic jams that seem to go on for ages.

It’s thrilling stuff. Carefully assembled by Ross and guitarist Mark from a variety of restored and digitised old analogue recordings, What Things Did You See? also boasts top-notch packaging that is very evocative of a very particular time and place. It’s clearly a labour of love.

And it turns out that, rubbish friend that I am, the Purple Eternal were actually a lot better band than I gave them credit for at the time.

The former Purple Eternals all seem to be doing important things in the world of computer machines – Mark now lives in Amsterdam, while the rest of the band are scattered around the UK – and a reunion seems unlikely. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Does the Purple Eternal’s music have much relevance now?

I am SO glad you asked that. The album doesn’t sound particularly dated, probably because it wasn’t really of its time when they recorded it – everyone else in Leeds was either raving or listening to Nirvana or Britpop. It’s aged pretty well, I think.

Yes, but is the album relevant to the confused and fractured post-truth world we find ourselves in today?

What the fuck is this? Twenty Questions? I’ve no idea if the album is relevant today. And I don’t care. You shouldn’t either.

Anyone for hot knives?

Before we get into all that, I have come across a couple of albums that do actually provide at least a partial antidote to the brash bluster and bullshit hypebole that is the most obvious manifestation of the current worldwide ignorance epidemic.

I interviewed Crazy P early in their career, when they still went by the very childish, offensive and excellent name of Crazy Penis, but I couldn’t really claim to be actual friends with them – apart from maybe the band’s singer Danielle Moore, who I’ve seen out and about in Manchester ever since I got here, who is lovely, a right laugh, and, it turns out, also a friend of Suzie’s from way back.

The trio behind Crazy P (Dani, producers and multi-instrumentalists Jim Baron and Chris Todd), together with longtime collaborators drummer Tim Davies and guitarist Matt Klose, have always appeared to be equally at home making lush soul and straight-up house bangers as their trademark sparkling, effervescent nouveau disco.

Their singles – and those of their various solo projects, such as Jim’s Ron Bassjam and Chris’s Hot Toddy productions, and Dani’s collaborations with Steve Cobby and Craig Bratley – are uniformly great.

Their second album, The Wicked is Music, when Dani began singing for them, remains a firm favourite in the Undeleted cultural commissariat to this day, but other albums I’ve heard, despite having their moments, never seemed quite as cohesive or consistent. Dani’s vocals, while never less than outstanding, often felt like the one constant in an ever-changing albeit very engaging musical landscape.

I am happy to be corrected on this by those with a more informed view.

Anyway, I reckon it’s this stylistic diversity, together with their musical chops and stellar frontwoman, that makes Crazy P such an incredible live spectacle, and it’s been a real pleasure seeing them develop their stagecraft over the years. I saw them supporting Chic last year, and enjoyed their celebratory, joyous rollercoaster of a performance as much as (if not more than) Nile and Co’s fun FullSizeRender-5but entirely predictable greatest hits machine.

Happily, Age of the Ego goes some way in addressing all that. Despite adopting a number of different styles and idioms, to these huge Yorkshire cloth ears at least, it seems like the work of a single band rather than a singer working with a loads of different backing musicians.

Then again, ‘all that’ may well just be in my ‘own head’. And does anyone still listen to albums all the way through anyway? Apart from people with a lot of time on their hands? Busted.

Either way, Age of the Ego has more than enough solid gold tunes to satisfy all but the most tedious of twats, containing as it does inventive, soulful acid house, lazy and more full-throttle electro, thumping spandex-funk jams, and glossy, unashamedly expansive stadium rock anthems – but for stadiums full of yachts. Let’s call them harbour anthems.

Plus, of course, the album also includes warm, luscious and laid-back dancefloor jams that take you back to the golden age of disco like Comiskey Park never happened.

Like Chic, Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac before them, Crazy P are very big on super-melancholy chord progressions and key changes that can make a grown man cry, perhaps best heard here on the bass-heavy two-step ballad Kari or the alternate-reality 1983 MTV favourite, Night Rain.

And, I reckon, in songs like SOS, Lean on Me and the sample-happy Love is With You, they’ve created some of the best music of their careers – including that second album. This stuff just sounds enormous.

I’ve never heard Dani’s voice sounding better than on This Fire, and the lads’ backing vocals aren’t bad either. It’s just a spine-tingling tune all round – and surely a potential hit single, whatever the fuck that means these days.

One of the best things about Age of the Ego is that Crazy P have an opinion at a time when, despite its origins, worldwide club culture appears to have largely settled into a default setting of banal, anodyne and apolitical.

For example, what kind of arsehole would have anything to do with Bacardi? Who could have a good time dancing to the music of someone who promotes this kind of reactionary bullshit? Why does no one seem to care about this prick’s revolting politics or the irony of RBMA’s brand-building exercise whitewashing that shit with oh-so-liberal seminars about house music’s roots in marginalised, oppressed, immigrant communities? 

Meanwhile, Crazy P actually have something to say about the global shit-but-scary clownshow we’re all currently inhabiting.

There is a distinctly egalitarian, inclusive, humane vibe throughout Age of the Ego, but The Witness, with its talk of “a society largely built on falseness and deception”, and the excellent We Will Fuck You Up – a far superior title for the album, I feel – reveal a band that are determined to engage with our current troubling reality.

And why not? Anyone who says that dance music such as jazz, disco, northern soul, garage, techno and jungle have never been political and even, on occasion, revolutionary – in form, content and context – needs to read a few fucking books and then go back and listen to the music again.

Brilliantly, the album’s pensive, slow-burn, Italo-style opener Is This All It Seems? initially seems to cover the same kind of ground before it reveals itself to in fact be all about emotional fake news. Other tracks celebrate the joys of partying like there’s no tomorrow, defying convention and knowing when to quit.

I see no contradiction in this. I see a band with a well-rounded world view. And, as the old saying goes, it’s not my revolution if I can’t dance to it.

Basically, every time I hear this Crazy P album, I love it a little bit more.

Music of an entirely different bent comes from David Costanza and Anne Speroni, who work together as Art of Flying.

The pair have been making music together for years, starting out playing punky ska at college parties in southern California in the early 80s before moving to San Francisco and being “awakened” by Flipper and the Minutemen.

Unfortunately, by the time they got there, the world of Gillman Street and Mabuhay Gardens had moved on from its freewheeling, open-minded, and endlessly inventive heyday.

It seems their contribution was, as Mark E Smith would have it, not appreciated.

Equally disenchanted with a scene that David describes as “a cos-play metal world with some interchangeable dude screaming incoherent politics”, the pair decided to focus on “beauty and sound without flags and anthems”.

Priced out of San Francisco, they moved to New Mexico, “where there was no music scene”, built a recording studio and “occasionally slipped back into the city to play shows”.

“It feels like the dust has been settling for 30 years”.

The result of all that, it seems, is the album Escort Mission.

Even after years of slagging off people in print, on the rare occasion that anyone gets in touch to ask me to write about their music on the blog, my excitement at getting free stuff is always tempered by a twinge of anxiety that it will turn out to be shit – or, at least, not to my taste – and I’ll have to explain to them why I don’t want to write about their life’s work on my stupid fucking website.

IMG_2698Happily, while Escort Mission is different to pretty much everything else I’m listening to at the moment, I have no explaining to do.

It’s a charming little package. Sarah Hart’s beautiful silkscreen of Dave Buchen’s original image, featuring half a dozen geezers, trouser legs rolled up, dancing together in the surf, promises something different to the norm.

I have a brief flash of panic at the title of Jesus Said and Mary Said, but luckily a quick glance at the lyric sheet confirms the words to the song are more rational (“I say the Answer never answers what I really wish it would. I say the Answer is no good”) than anything you’d imagine evangelical rock bands would come up with. Big relief.

And, come to think of it, evangelic rock bands probably wouldn’t use an image of men dancing together on the front cover of their album either.

Accompanied by music that seems to reflect the sun-baked, wide-open spaces of their current home state, Anne and David alternate the lead vocal on a series of quietly meditative, sparse and unhurried songs that seem like fragments of dreams and half-remembered conversations as much as anything else.

But there’s nothing dry or arid about Escort Mission – as a matter of fact, water and the sea seem to crop up again and again throughout, which is probably understandable when you’ve moved to New Mexico.

But beyond that, there’s real depth to Art of Flying’s songs, as what initially sounds like a very minimal, low-key fragility, and even vulnerability, transforms on further listening into something more interesting.

The album has a delicate, haunting quality, with moments of melancholy and regret balanced with quiet joy and even hope – all the better to unfurrow anxious brows in these torrid, angst-ridden times. There’s even a sweet little song they wrote for Sare and Larry’s wedding.

It’s about as personal and non-corporate as you can get.

They produce some striking imagery along the way: “A black dog locked in a car, leaning on the horn”, “Blind as the donkey who ate the cabbage leaves”, “And marigolds that are off the hook”.

Both David and Anne’s voices possess a slightly ragged, frayed-at-the-edges tone that indicates lives well lived (I had to check the sleeve to confirm that Anne wasn’t actually Little Annie Bandez at one point). The pair of them clearly have many stories to tell. 

It’s difficult to pick stand-out tracks on Escort Mission, partly because they’re all pretty listenable, and partly because I usually just spark up, play the whole thing from one end to the other – there I am, listening to albums all the way through again – and just let it envelop me like a warm, slightly dusty breeze.  

If pushed, I’d say the desert-baked slo-mo sea shanty Good Traveller, sung by someone who sounds far older than Anne, had an immediate impact. Likewise, Sing Me Pretty Bird, where David delivers a killer chorus built around his hope that he’ll finally hear a song about how “the murdering is over, the crooks that took the world are gone”.

Amen to that, bruv. 

Despite their original mission statement, the album’s title track is in fact a surging, swelling, expansive lighters-aloft anthem, albeit one for very small and intimate stadia. Those chiming guitars wouldn’t sound out of place on a Cocteau Twins record, or something by U2 when they weren’t shite or Wild Palms’ later material.

Other than that, the closest comparison I can come up with for Art of Flying’s quirky, resolutely individual electro-acoustic sound would be people like Dr Eugene Chadbourne and perhaps Camper Van Beethoven during their mellower moments (though my perception might be coloured by knowing that David has worked with CVB in the past).

I may well be way off the mark here.

The trouble is, I lack the reference points for this stuff. For example, very occasional trumpets add what I can only describe as a low-key mariachi vibe to a couple of songs. I mean, it’s hardly Greil Marcus, is it?

Emerging out of the leftfield like a speeding bullet, Suzie says some bits of the album remind her of Wendy & Lisa, possibly more in tone than style, but she refuses to expand on this further. I don’t see it myself, and I think David was pretty baffled by the comparison too, but she’s been right about this kind of thing before, and you should never doubt the word of an east Manchester girl where music is concerned. 

The track at the end of side B, fittingly entitled End of Side B, seems to suggest a Buddha-like calm at the impermanence of everything:

“All my dearest friends will flower and fade away, all my guitar riffs will flower and fade away…” sings David, sounding pretty damn zen about it all.

It’s difficult to know if he’s talking about the Art of Flying when he sings of “Pretty songs of love, dirgy songs of death, We are something, somewhere in between” but that seems like as good a place to start as any with this intriguing and idiosyncratic band. 

Either way, Escort Mission creeps up on you. I didn’t expect to like it so much, but it’s really got under my skin.

David, who is rapidly turning into a friend I haven’t met yet, will be visiting the UK for a solo tour in October. Get involved.

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