Idler content provider Stewart Lee recommends some recent releases
Comprising two roughly 25-minute solos, Just Another Day At Home… has leaked onto the altruistic bandcamp platform from John Edwards’ self-isolation, the unstoppable sap of spring. The 56-year-old improvised music scene face is a tenacious sprig of jazz mistletoe, tangled eternally in the sacred oak of his battered acoustic bass. Clusters of notes clatter, and strings stretch to their elastic limits, then tinkle like kalimbas, defining the dimensions of Edwards’ instrument. Grappling with the cultural record of our species’ demise, alien academics will carve Edwards’ name upon the eternal tablet.
On Ad Hoc And Words the table-top English surrealist Adam Bohman is the latest beneficiary of the experimentalist-about-town Douglas Benford. Toe-bells twinkle in a scraped-metal abyss on the 17-minute “The Everyday Basis”, and something monstrous grunts at a tranquilised accordion. Dog biscuits are shaken, but no dog arrives. Bohman speaks at last on “Bandstand Recital”, listing unrelated ingredients and convenience store visits with conversational casualness, banalities now exotic, as Benford mumbles and drones. Because virus-free soap operas now seem like science fiction, Bohman’s response to the world appears rational, but no less compelling than when I first saw him, upstairs in a squatted Hackney pub, where he enchanted a room of less than 10, from his trash-strewn table, 30 years ago, in simpler times.
Casual consumers irked by the above releases need not fear Laura Cannell, whose work conforms to a more consensual ideal of beauty. From within her Norfolk fastness she applies improvisational procedures to an ingrained medievalism using polyphonic violins and recorders, and her human lungs, to posit an avant-garde but ancient music that gives tympanic membranes a hornet-sized buzz. The Earth With Her Crowns documents two spring days last year Cannell spent inside Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, responding in real time to the resonance of the building, a woman of mysterious gifts instigating a cautious gavotte with a capricious echo. Now we are cabined, cribbed and confined, but once air was moving somewhere in a vast empty space, pushed by string and breath from source to surface, and out at last into our sensation-starved ears.
Like Cannell, Jack Sharp once played a kind of music that never quite existed, a fusion of English folk and 1970s Vertigo swirl which, while intermittently achieved by Led Zeppelin or Fairport Convention via sheer penicillin petri-dish chance, was most fully realised by Sharp’s band Wolf People 15 years ago. Good Times Older, his starkly lit solo debut of stripped-back traditional songs, arrives so certain of itself it’s difficult to believe it isn’t some overlooked vintage Topic label treasure, like Chris Foster’s Layers, that intrigued teenage seekers in well-stocked municipal libraries during the early 1980s synth-pop pestilence. “I have my dogs and my ferrets too,” sings Sharp, finding a way to make the hoary old Gamekeeper young again. Here are soldiers, maids and poachers, hanging suspended in Sharp’s hands, avatars of the same waking English dream weaponised by Brexit’s less scrupulous champions. But who will sing folk songs for BAME key workers, NHS martyrs and brave binmen?
For six years, in his Lake District lab, Jonathan Sharp has also grappled with national identity, creating alternate sonic histories of our sinister 1970s with primitive synths, annexing the era’s wyrd children’s television and information films. His Heartwood Institute is a late flowering of the hauntological movement spearheaded by the Ghost Box label and Richard Littler’s tonally acute Discovering Scarfolk book. A collaboration with American opposite number Panamint Manse, Parapsychedelia offers retro-synth evidence for the existence of The Mobius Group, a Californian company that aimed to monetise the predictive powers of psychics. Readers ready to abandon their physical objects, virus-schooled in the need for a quick getaway, may yet be seduced by the red vinyl edition of Parapsychedelia, complete with copious Mobius Group paperwork. A Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds for the Black Mirror generation.
An antidote to Parapsychedelia’s sleeve-worn sophistication comes in the form of Reverberations Volume One, an unvarnished, 15-year-old, two-hour rehearsal room recording from Bristol’s indestructible space rock Stooges acolytes The Heads, that reminds us what rock ’n’ roll is for. No less than two 17-minute stabs at the transcendentally stomach-churning acid-fuzz epic “Creating In The Eternal Now Is Always Heavy” suggest William Blake’s infernal method applied to Detroit proto-punk in a cesspit of hiss. The fool who persists in his folly will become wise.
Finally, a compact live document from The Frees – a duo drawn from the Stoke Newington bands Penthouse and Gin Palace now transplanted to Australia – is the downloadable night out you’re currently denied. Taking that Birthday Party/Beasts Of Bourbon gutter blues sound back to its source, Jon Free picks out trembling blue licks that Mississippi Fred McDowell would also have recognised, admittedly through a distorted haze. Howlin’ Meaghan Free extemporises apocalyptically on the bush fires which, back in December when Live From The End Of The Earth was recorded in Melbourne, were the worst thing then imaginable. I wish I were there now, or somewhere like it, drunk and crushed among the faithful, jabbered at by some sloppy kid, and one day I will be again. Punk rock till I die.
John Edwards, Just Another Day At Home…, johnedwards.bandcamp.com
Adam Bohman & Douglas Benford, Ad Hoc And Words, dbenford.bandcamp.com
Laura Cannell, The Earth With Her Crowns (Brawl Records), lauracannell.co.uk
Jack Sharp, Good Times Older (From Here Records), fromhererecords.com
The Heartwood Institute & Panamint Manse, Parapsychedelia (Castles In Space), theheartwoodinstituteandpanamintmanse.bandcamp.com
The Heads, Reverberations Volume One (Cardinal Fuzz), cful.bandcamp.com
The Frees, Live From The End Of The Earth (Wild Animals Records), wildanimalsrecords.bandcamp.com
This piece appears in Idler 73, July/August 2020. Order post-free here