Wednesday, 30 December 2009

In Between Days

For the four days between the two Parties, punters could pay a hundred quid to stick around at Butlins and see a gig every night. Since two of my favourite bands, Bardo Pond and the Dirty Three were playing, I was up for it. I absconded on the first day so missed Alex Tucker and Lightning Bolt. Missing Lightning Bolt seemed to be a recurring theme for my week. The Dirty Three were playing the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Thames so I sped east to London. I stayed at a nice hostel in Shepherd's Bush which, unknown to me before arrival, was run by Australians. Before heading up the Northern line to Embankment, I stopped off at Notting Hill and strolled over to Rough Trade, on a mission to find the new Melt Banana single, Initial T on Init records. They were selling it at a pound an inch, but I also found some great bargains; Tabata and Tarwater singles for a pound each, and five CDs for a tenner (Shannon Wright, Lungfish, Paul Westerberg, DJ Olive and Alistair Galbraith).

On the Southbank, Josh Pearson unveiled an entirely new set of intense but subtle country songs. Playing solo to a fully seated gathering, this was the first time he'd sung them in public. It's a shame he keeps moving on without making albums, as he's leaving some great songs behind in the dirt! The most memorable new one found him beseeching a ladyfriend not to think of him as her Jesus Christ. The stage illumination cast shadows across his face that made him look like the Turin Shroud Jesus at times. Jesus may have walked on the water and swam on the land, but he never wrote songs as good as Josh Pearson even if he was later recast as the lord of the dance.During the interval I heard a very familar song that I just couldn't place, so asked the soundman what it was. It turned out to be Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, a band who I hadn't listened to in years. They'd be a good call for an All Tomorrow's Parties reformation, like Slint and Polvo; all we need now is a curator to ask them. They seem the kind of band who may very well appeal to Matt Groening so who knows? During the interval I ran into a couple of the guys from Last Harbour, down from Manchester for a Dirty Monday!

The Dirty Three were on fiery form, with better sound and a longer set than on the Butlins Pavillion stage, but none of the audience participation. The set list was different and included some songs not played at Butlins including "Authentic Celestial Music" and the grand finale "Sue's Last Ride," always a good one to finish the show. Some guy kept asking Warren where he got his pointy shoes but he couldn't remember.

The next day I had enough time to check out the Notting Hill Exchange and found a bag full of ultra cheap vinyl, including albums by Elvis Costello and Das Damen for 30p and the only Gang of Four album I didn't already have for a quid! I also dug out some cool CDs by PJ Harvey, Jim O'Rourke, That Fucking Tank, Pelt, Anni Rossi, Dinosaur Jr, 23 Skidoo and Ghostigital, Einar Orn's daft rap group who I saw play Butlins Reds at the previous Melvins curated Nightmare. I also saw Jim O'Rourke play the Autechre ATP, and Lungfish on the Tortoise day of the five-year-versary two weekend celebration. Shannon Wright played the very first ATP I attended, curated by Shellac. Back on the bus on a surprise stop as we headed west on to Taunton I found myself next to a pub called "The Admiral." This is the third song on the first Shellac album, with a bassline purloined from PJ Harvey's "Victory." I made it back to Butlins much earlier than expected and arrived at the production office at the same time as Mick Turner yet again. No one knew what chalet I had been allocated so I decided to head along Warren Street past the beach to Minehead for a great curry at the Taj Mahal restaurant while they waited for Deborah or one of her minions to sort it out. On returning I was glad to be given a key at last, but was not so happy to find that after walking halfway across the ghost town site the chalet I'd been directed to had a normal metal key and not a self demagnetising electronic credit card style thing like the one I'd been given. So I trudged back to production and this time they sent me to the right chalet. When I got there I found the key wouldn't open the door, so I left my heavy bags in the connecting corridor and walked back again. The key needed remagnetising, but at the gatehouse the magnetising machine had broken down. By this time I was starting to get a little bit pissed off. I really should have had access to the chalet hours ago! As it was getting close to gig time, I headed to the Crazy Horse and left Tomorrow Party man to wait for narky Butlins woman to make a key capable of opening one door. As luck would have it I got there just before Josh started and after the first couple of songs my key finally arrived. This time it worked, for a short while anyway. Josh played his new drummerless country set, but sadly a shorter version. He seemed kind of nervous. I recalled only four songs, but someone else reckoned he played five. The Dirty Three had a nice surprise for us as we gathered close to the stage. Warren Ellis announced that unknown to Mick Turner and Jim White, they were going to attempt to play the album "Horse Stories." This was the first Dirty Three album I heard, so it felt like another loop of my reality closing. Speaking to the small crowd of around a hundred, some guy engaged Warren in a conversation before they'd even played a note. "We'll continue the therapy session later because we have a gig to play," Warren reprimanded him graciously. Jim White thwacked his floor tom so hard as they started "1000 Miles" that it fell over but he kept the flow. Warren had to ask if anyone could remember which song came next. "Sue's Last Ride" is usually a set closer, so it might have seemed odd to them to play it second, and "Hope" is a regular staple of their set. "I Remember A Time When Once You Used To Love Me" doesn't get played half as much as the first three songs, so it was nice to hear it after Warren's little tale about the Greek guys who wrote it. By this time I'd drained my first cup of wine so headed to the bar as Mick Turner realised he couldn't remember how to play "At the Bar." By the time I was back at the front, it was time for "Red," a song they'd been heckled for the night before in London and the colour of the wine I'd bought at the bar. I was right next to the violin monitor so got a very different raw powered dirty sound than the other three Dirty Three performances of the fortnight and "Red" was pretty wild. Warren located an intelligent man with an i-Pod with "Horse Stories" on it to remind them of the running order, and dubbed me a man who knows the truth when I remarked that the E-chord was an easy one. This was the real treat of the gig as I've never heard them play the last three "Horse Stories" songs before. "Warren's Lament" was beautiful and "Horse" was not as penultimate as it should have been. Mick couldn't remember the chords to the last song, amusingly called "I Knew It Would Come To This" and gave up the ghost. Warren borrowed the i-Pod from the intelligent man and played the song into his mike, commenting, "Doesn't that sound wonderful?" It was a funny way to end it all and hats off to them for making the day one to remember. Later I asked Mick if it really was a surprise to him and Jim. He said that it certainly was and if they'd rehearsed the songs he'd have remembered them all, which proved it as if it needed proving. Would Mick Turner lie to you? Not many bands are worthy of following the Dirty Three, and you can count Fuck Buttons on that score. They played over-long noise disco that sounded like the magic roundabout theme fed through a distortion pedal with a crap old drum machine playing the most unimaginitive basic beat possible. The two men prodded at their buttons nodding their heads like those dopey toy bulldogs that cockney racists used to put in the back of their minis and cortinas in the seventies. In between them they had a disco ball, which I guess was there to make up for their lack of charisma. I retreated to the back of the room and tiredness caught up with me. It was quite pleasant to doze off to half awake dreams of Dylan the rabbit and Dougal the dog, Brian the snail and a blue cat but as a child I always prefered the Wombles. I slipped back to wakefulness and glanced across the room to see my old friends Bardo Pond, so went over to say hello. With Alex Tucker, we headed back to their chalet and drank tequila late into the night. The sky was clear outside and we appreciated the constellations shining up above. Alex mentioned that the Alistair Galbraith "Orb" CD I'd bought the day before was one of his favourite albums of recent times but Bardo Pond had some sad news. Their friend Jack Rose the amazing guitarist, had died of a heart attack on Saturday. Earlier that day I'd bought "Pearls from the River" by Pelt, his old drone band. They had a DVD of the last "Twin Peaks" episode; "When you see me again, it will not be me." I had no idea how late it was when I got back to my chalet but I found a key belonging to the guy I was sharing it with in the lock and neither that nor my key would open to the door. So I trudged out to the gatehouse and asked yet again to have the keys remagnetised. At last I got inside and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

My former chalet sharer, a hippy with a set of bongos, returned next morning to eat some biscuits he'd left behind. He'd been given another chalet by festival promoter Barry Hogan himself after Butlins had been completely unable to get his magnetic key to work. Maybe his vibes were freaking it out? I later heard he'd lost it with Barry and Deborah and snapped a chalet key in half. As I tried to find out what had happened last night, he suddenly came out with, "Terrible what they did to Ghandi isn't it?" What shot him or sent him to British 'public' school? He then tried to convince me that noise isn't sound. I realised that I was dealing with someone who was out to lunch and was pleased that I wouldn't have to waste anymore time on pointless conversations like this. I managed to convince him to take all his things to his new chalet as I was planning on walking to Minehead and wouldn't be around if he came back to collect them later in the day. The night before, sat on the floor in a sleeping bag in the Crazy Horse he'd informed me that he'd been in a psychiatric hospital, but it was much nicer here. "Well I hope so," I replied. The Cramps played a psychiatric hospital in the States, but I don't recall the Dirty Three ever gracing one with their presence. That afternoon a steam train ride had been organised which was pleasant and led to more people getting to know each other a bit better over the mulled wine that was served at the last stop. On returning the All Tomorrow's Parties documentary was shown on Butlins TV. The best part was the all too short clip of the Dirty Three kicking out the jams. Growing and Mum played first on Wednesday evening but both suffered from Bardo Pond anticipation. Mum played a similar but shorter set than they had on the Pavillion stage and were much better than Growing, another band with horrible sounding synthetic beats but no corny disco ball. Bardo Pond played a lamentably short set. Whoever decided that a band with so much music could only have a forty-five minute set, yet give tedious one trick pony Fuck Buttons an hour should be ashamed. In fact as there were only four bands each evening and an hour and a half between doors opening and the first band, it seemed strange not to let everyone play for over an hour if they so desired. Bardo Pond were heavy and made me happy. "Isle" was dedicated to Jack Rose. They played "Flux" and "Endurance" and finished with a monstrously spaced out "Night of Frogs." They didn't repeat any of the songs in their Friday afternoon set, which was cool. Om were a revelation, as I don't really care for them on record. Live, however they were spellbinding. The drummer was amazing to watch as he struck slow precise double cymbal splashes. Their third man, a multi-instrumentalist with a wild afro and cool pointy goatee added much texture to their sound and it was all loud enough for Al Cisneros' over the top spiritualised lyrics not to jar.

On Thursday the Crazy Horse flooded so the action was shifted over to a freezing cold Reds. Maybe it was a Bardo Pond? Apse sounded like the bastard offspring of Mogwai and the Chameleons. Their drums were way too loud due to the small number of people in the room which made their set quite punishing. Sleepy Sun were lightweight hippy dippy retro twaddle and bored me. Polvo were the band I'd been waiting for and seemed to be on fine form. They'd actually reformed when Explosions in the Sky asked them to play ATP and now have a new album recently released on Merge, although guitarist Ash Bowie mentioned that people were having trouble finding it in this country. I'd seen them once before, supporting Babes in Toyland at Nottingham Rock City, but if anything they were better than ever, uniquely forceful and angular. Time means nothing to a timeless band. Deerhoof did their cutesy thing, including an inferior cover of the Ramones classic "Pinhead." Towards the end the drummer got up to make an incoherent speech, the gist of which seemed to be that he was very nervous to be playing after Polvo, a band he clearly had a lot of respect for. Bob Weston and Todd Trainer of Shellac were hanging around. It's a shame Shellac didn't play today. It would have probably brought in a whole lot of punters a day early.

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