(photo: Fuck Buttons by Ian Fraser)
How 13 years of ATPs holiday camp weekenders went out with a bang.
Terrascope’s Ian Fraser narrowly avoids being carried out on his shield
It is, they say better to travel hopefully than to arrive. Indeed on this occasion it was fuelled by anticipation of intensity not usually felt these days and only marginally tempered following an excruciating 7 hour drive from Mid Wales to the debateable delights of Camber Sands on the East Sussex coast.
This was the occasion of THE last of the legendary ATP festivals which had grown from inception at this very site in 2000 (the first was curated by Belle and Sebastian which formed the template for subsequent events) to the glory years of Minehead (where it was not unknown for Sonic Youth, Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine to share the same bill) before returning in what looked suspiciously like reduced circumstances to Camber towards the end of last year.
Forward to November 2013 and we have literally reached the End of an Era, with ATP calling time on its holiday camp weekenders with two festivals held over successive weekends. Predictably, perhaps, it is the first of these, featuring big draws Dinosaur Jr and Godspeed You Black Emperor, which is the first to sell out. However it is the second weekend which is likely to be of most interest to the Terrascope Nation, hence the determination of yours truly to crawl back under the wire one last time. In the process, I was hoping to chew the fat, shoot the breeze or just pass the time of day with some of our favourite artists. Like I said, hope springs eternal....
Arriving at Camber in rapidly approaching twilight, and after a quick and relatively painless check-in, it was time to make contact with the first in a line of what would turn out to be obliging and patient interview subjects. I’d arranged to meet with Charlie Romijn of Thought Forms before their set opening Stage 1 on Friday evening. Wisely in the event that we were now cutting it fine we agreed to meet up afterwards, leaving Charlie and her bandmates to concentrate on more important matters in hand, and me to amble stage-side for what I’d hoped would be a good view and an even better earful (I should point out my photography skills are rudimentary at the best of times and very suspect under low/artificial light and so I passed up the chance to go in the pit with the big boys – and a fair number of girls, it must be said).
As opening statements go this was a powerful one which set the tone for the weekend. The Forms’ 45 minute set, drawing heavily from 2013’s epic “Ghost Mountain”, drew a decent size crowd – half the site was probably still checking in and groping around their chalets looking for the electricity card meter (for which we had to pay extra, I ask you) showcased the Melksham Three’s twin penchant for US garage rock and intense psychedelia. Stops were pulled out and the sound soared stratospherically to the point where you thought it might veer out of orbit (nah, this was controlled chaos), and punters old and young were left duly sated. A few minutes later I was hovering by the merch stand while Charlie held court and guitarist Deej Deerwal and drummer Guy Metcalfe (both photographed here by Ian Fraser) humped the gear back to the van. Gender stereotyping I hear you mutter and you could be right, except it soon becomes apparent that Charlie (who I recall serving me beer at Woolf Music) is an extremely engaging yet unassuming character and a magnet for the many punters and well-wishers keen to express appreciation for a job well done.
Between sales of merchandise and gracious acceptance of deserved plaudits for their performance earlier and at last night’s gig at the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, a venue of which I was unfamiliar (“we’ve played there lots”, Charlie assures me. “Tiny place but great atmosphere”) Charlie is happy to indulge Terrascope. Thought Forms are by now old hands at this ATP lark having played previous events both here and in the States. Charlie refuses to be drawn on which one was the best though.
“They’ve all been special, pretty unique in fact, as a result of the different curators and what they bring”.
So how did the band’s association with ATP come about?
“We are signed to Invada Records run by Geoff Barrow from Portishead and it was through that that we got involved with their Nightmare Before Christmas one in 2007 and it just went from there”.
Mention of the Invada label prompts me to ask to whether Thought Forms has benefited from the Portishead patronage.
“Definitely. They took us on tour with them to America and Europe and that has been really amazing. They were great experiences and we learnt so much as a result”.
Regular readers may have heard Thought Forms described as the “house band” of the Terrascope and Charlie (photographed here by Ian Fraser) is happy to elaborate on that one.
“I went to school with Phil’s daughter Emily, in fact we were in the same year in school and were best friends. I’ve known her since we were about 12. Later Emily started playing music with a couple of guys and she invited me to come and have a jam with them. That was Deej (Dhariwal, guitars/vocals) and another guy [Ant – last heard of playing guitar with Simple Minds – Phil] and so it started from there really and that was in Phil’s back bedroom!”
So literally the house band, then, which led us both to ponder whether the good burghers of Melksham were benign or deaf or both. Charlie, though, contends that it didn’t seem to do much harm to the chickens or for that matter the old tortoise from which the old Ptolemaic Terrascope derived half of its name.
The latest album Ghost Mountain has been very well received. Was Charlie happy with the response?
“Yes definitely. It took us quite a long time for us to put it together but it seems to have been worth it. The reviews have been mostly good and people seem to like it”.
I allude to the contrast in styles between the Sonic Youth, US garage rock and slow burning psychedelia. Were these joint influences or was it more a case of one person saying “I want to bet Kim Gordon” and someone else says, “well I’m going to melt some brains”?
“No they are pretty much joint influences really, we’re all into a mixture of stuff”
So are the songs jointly composed?
“We used to mostly jam things together, it was very much improvised, but now we jointly write and contribute our own parts to it”.
There was a four year gap between the new album and eponymous debut and they are very different beats. What has happened in the meantime, what has changed?
“With the first album we were really trying to capture what we were doing live at the time. We didn’t really do vocals. We then started improvising more vocally and started writing more, did a few CD-rs and it developed from that”. Charlie agrees that this was a sign of the band’s growing confidence as live performers although she still does not consider herself a confident singer.
I can’t help mentioning Woolf Music and the frustratingly short set the band played – “the beauty of improv”- suggests Charlie. Far from it being the result of an incontrovertible edict from Phil McMullen in full Bill Graham mode, Charlie explains that she was responsible for booking bands and gave everyone a maximum of 30 minutes.
The band has recently completed a short tour with Ebsen and the Witch and Teeth of the Sea ”both great bands and good friends of ours” confirms Charlie.
“It was a triple header, a triple-pronged tour. We’d alternate the ‘headline act’ each night and it went really well”.
I expect there was a bit of competition as well though, everyone trying to outdo each other, isn’t that what happens?
“Oh I don’t know about that...” Charlie laughs dismissively. “It was just really good fun to be with nice people”
Next up was Sonic City festival in Belgium on Sunday for which they are leaving tomorrow “to make sure we get there on time”. There’s one more gig in London before Christmas and that’s it for now. Was there anything Charlie wanted to say while she had Terrascope’s attention?
Om was up next. Led by the increasingly biblical looking Al Cisneros their doom metal has taken on a distinctly spiritual theme over the past couple of albums and the sound has been fleshed out by the more rhythmic and inventive drumming of Grails’ Emil Amos and the addition of third member Richard Lowe to complement Cisneros’ rumbling bass and mantra-chant vocals. Still, Om is Om, and no matter how you cut and dice it their hour-long slot is around 20 minute too long without either much visual stimulation or variety of pace and style. Forty minutes in and I head for pastures fresh, catching 20 or so minutes of Eaux’s ethereal techno on Stage 2 before staking claim to a pole position for the Fuck Buttons back in the main event.
I am not usually enamoured of the sight of two men stood either side of a table of knobs of wires playing electro-ping-pong but the Buttons are generally a cut above most of your parka and laptop brigade and besides they have a new album that seems to have found its way into pretty much everyone’s top 10 list this year. They attract the first large and impassioned crowd of the weekend, the ravers and the fancy dressers having appeared as if from nowhere as the cranked up electronic sweeps and beats the crowd into if not a frenzy, then certainly the oddest looking zumba class you’re likely to see this side of Christmas. They promised us a good send-off and that’s what we got, the volume cranked up to new levels as they launched headlong into the opening track from the afore-referenced Slow Focus LP. Oh yes and the first crowd surfers of the weekend put in an appearance, a fact I was unaware of until a big surge ruined what might have been (but almost certainly wouldn’t) a perfectly composed shot of one of the FBs. Was I, I wondered, getting too old for all this (answers to the usual address, readers). (Andy Hung of Fuck Buttons photographed above by Ian Fraser)
The need to move the stretch the legs (stiffening up after that accursed car journey) and the lure of a beer drew me back in the direction of Stage 2 where I was grateful to catch the majority of Follakzoid’s excellent set. Chilean krautrock probably doesn’t command a mass market anywhere in the world but it’s very welcome in mine any time. Hypnotic, psychedelic and with very little imagination, danceable, their “darkwave” sound is a sonic meditation of cosmic proportions. A Terrascopic delight you might say (their 2013 album “II” is highly recommended by the way).
Shellac (occasionally suffixed by “of North America”) are, like many of tonight’s acts, an ATP staple but not one I’d experienced in live form until now. With a typically irreverent nod to ATP’s invitation for punters to don formal dress on the final night of this final festival, Steve Albini, Bob Weston and totemic drummer Todd Trainer take the stage in matching DJ shirt and tie t-shirts and launch into their minimalist anti-rock. It’s one of the most superlative sets of the weekend as Shellac punch their way through the best part of 20 numbers in the space of an hour, the crowd lapping up every edgy, angular and urgent vignette and what seems an uncanny (should that be un-showy?) stage presence. Speaking to a couple of audience members they commented to me that they had seen Shellac often enough to wonder whether it was worth the effort this time, only to agree that this was as good as they’d ever seen them. Not bad considering that Weston and Albini are beginning to exhibit visible signs of comfortable middle-age. Trainer, though, looks as lean and hungry as ever he was and is deserving of his equal billing in the band, his drum kit up-front and centre of stage, the muscular and dexterous meat in guitar/bass sandwich.
With energy levels sagging to a dangerous low and a worrying indifference toward the prospect of queuing for more beer I dig in for the night’s headline act, Slint. May the forces of ATP strike me down as I type but I’ve never really got Slint to the extent to which they seem to be held with such reverence not just by Barry Hogan and Co but by large sections of the ATP faithful. The guys on stage sound checking (with apparent difficulty) bear such little resemblance to the familiar image on the cover of their 1991’s Spiderland album that I assumed they were the road crew. Not so. Not for the first or last time this weekend (not least when looking in the mirror) I was struck by how cruel an old bastard Father Time is. Then, after what seemed like an interminable period the band went off, shambled back on to audience applause and then...nothing...followed by a lacklustre “For Dinner” (a brave or plain strange choice of an opener) and then...more nothing. Listen boys, I’ve seen the Grateful Dead and this sort of between song “space” really should have begun and ended with them. “Breadcrumb Trail” and “Nosferatu Man” – also from Spiderland from which the set draws heavily, unsurprisingly given the paucity of other released material – momentarily pulls me through but by now I am really aching and dog tired and little things are beginning to irritate me such as the band’s odd stage presence (singer Brian McMahan stands sideways on at the side of the stage) and the fact that they appear to be more in rehearsal mode than “in the moment” at such a landmark event. No good is going to come from brooding on such inconsequential minutiae so four numbers in I head out and drag my sorry ass back to the delights of hot and cold running water, a mattress and sleeping bag. If only I can find those meter tokens first.
A fine day and, suitably rested and remarkably clear headed (only three fucking beers all night) it’s time for a bracing stroll, a hearty breakfast and a check in with my next hook-up, Hookworms.
(Hookworms photo: Ian Fraser)
Hookworms are without doubt one of the most exciting bands around and another whose 2013 release (in their case Pearl Mystic) has attracted huge and thoroughly deserved critical and public acclaim. To be honest I don’t know what to expect from them in interview. Their explosive sound and live reputation and their insistence on being known by their initials would imply a sense of mystery and possibly awkward rock ‘n roll behaviour.
I’m greeted by three affable and not particularly rock ‘n roll looking young men, two of whom announce themselves as Matthew and the other as Jonathan. In fact there are two Jonathans in the band as well as two Matthews and two bearded guitarists. Is this why they go by initials to try and avoid confusion “it still makes things confusing. In real life we still say ‘I’m Matthew’” says disarmingly fresh faced and softly spoken singer/keyboard player MJ (you see how I enter into the spirit?).
So why the initials then?
“I don’t like the fact that someone can just type your name into google and it comes up with even stuff like work” says MB (bass and co-vocals).
“I work in a school and it just helps to keep the two separate” offers guitarist J. In fact the band members to whom I spoke all have day jobs as well as their commitment to the band and in the case of MJ he is also a record producer.
“Some people think it’s really secretive” says the latter. “People come up to me on Twitter and say ‘I’ve found out your real name’ and I say to them ‘yes I’m a record producer, it’s on all the records, it’s not a secret”.
(MB)“It may sound supper-paranoid but It feels uncomfortable that someone can find out so much about your life in just a couple of minutes”. As someone who is resolutely suspicious of anti-social media I feel I have met some kindred spirits.
I ask whether the band has been pleased with the critical acclaim heaped on Pearl Mystic. “We were very surprised”, says MB. “The last record was well received to the extent that we sold 500 copies and to us that was an insane amount. With Pear Mystic we got a 1000 copies pressed, 500 CDs and 500 LPs and we thought ‘are you really sure you want to do that’. We didn’t want the record label to be lumbered with loads of spare copies. All of the end-of-year lists are extremely flattering. I think they like the album more than we do”.
I thought that was really interesting, was the band not entirely happy with the end product?
“No, it’s just that I haven’t really listened to it. Once it’s done it’s done”.
MJ takes up the theme:
“I don’t listen to anything I work on. I run a recording studio and I don’t listen to anything after it’s done as I hear the mistakes in it and it’s even harder when it’s your own record. The record was re-released recently by Weird World which is part of Domino Records and was given a release in America. We got sent the new copies and I thought ‘I’m going to listen to that’ because I knew they’d spent four times re-improving the test press so it sounded perfect and I got five minutes into the first song and I took it off”.
MB again “it’s weird though because we play about four songs off it live so it’s not like we don’t hear those songs, it’s just that it’s strange sitting down and listening to your own record”.
So do the band prefer live to studio?
(MB) “Live is good but because we’ve got jobs we are not a touring band in the way that other bands are. The longest set of dates we’ve done is about six or seven days”.
You’ve got a pretty good live reputation though!
(MB) “I think that’s why the shows are good is that we haven’t played too often, although they aren’t as few and far between as they used to be. We’ve played quite a few more this year because the record came out and a lot more people have asked us to play and obviously we’ve said yes to that”.
Indeed the band has learned their live trade supporting the likes of Wooden Shjips and Sun Araw, so was that a good learning experience?
(MB) “Yeah, Sun Araw, we always liked that band and we met Cameron who does the band and after the show he said he really enjoyed it. We were recording our first record at the time and so we sent him it when it was finished and he wanted to release it. So our first ever release was on his label, which is pretty mental because we all like Magic Lantern and Sun Araw. The band only started playing in your (motions to J) basement for something to do so for someone in LA to want to release your record...”.
(MJ) “Even Pearl Mystic we just made it with the intention of making a record. We didn’t have a deadline or anything”
(MB) “We spent 9 or 10 months on it and just did it when found the time. This record is the first time where we’ve known we were going to make another record, ‘cos we’ve got the new record label and although there’s no deadline there is a point in our minds where we want to do it by”.
Pearl Mystic is on Gringo records
(MB) “it’s one guy, it’s basically a bedroom label, and one that’s been releasing good music for years. We played the 15th anniversary was it last year or the year before? To be going for so long as a one-man operation is pretty commendable”.
(MJ) “It meant a lot to me when he first asked us to put a record out because it’s a label I’ve followed for a long time. It’s based in Nottingham and I grew up in Nottingham” – we’ve found more common ground, having spent three years in Nottingham in the early 1980s which I suspect was before MJ was born even though he claimed to be older then he looked. A quick calculation confirmed that he was, in his words “barely alive” which probably summed up my own condition for some of that time.
We discussed formative years and influences.
(J) “I moved to Leeds, well just outside Leeds – Hyde Park – with the intention of starting a band. The degree course was secondary. I’d seen these guys playing in a band called Twisted, a sort of punk band,. I’ve known Matt (MB) all my life, we grew up four doors down. Nash who plays drums for us now has played in bands I’ve loved for years like Cowtown and Brown Owl. I booked Cowtown when I was 16 in Halifax, just me and 10 of my friends there. Being in a band with people who’ve been in bands I’ve genuinely liked and followed is amazing”.
(MB) “We got asked some questions about the Brudenell in Leeds which is celebrating 100 years and I was saying that my first ever experience of DIY music was Nash putting on a gig at the Brudenell Social Club and that was when I was about 14 or 15”
Going back briefly then to Pearl Mystic, the Quietus has described it as the best new psychedelic album since the 1990s. How comfortable were the band about the psychedelic “tag”?
(MB) “It’s a weird one”.
(J) “I don’t think it really bothered me until recently when NME have kind of picked up on it (MJ interjects “and the Guardian as well”) and the bands that, just a few years ago, would have been just pop/indie bands have now got the tag psychedelic”
It’s a broad church though
(J) “Yeah but a lot if it’s stuff you’ll hear on the Chris Moyles show and that freaks me out a little bit. I think it’s because we’re from the UK and we get lumped in with all of that. Psychedelic is fine but...”
(MB) “When we played the Liverpool Psych Fest the line-up for that is really broad, you’ll get noise and electronic stuff and then you get bands like Sun Araw”.
Indeed the band have played Liverpool Psych Fest both years
(MB) “It’s amazing, I can’t believe how much it’s grown between this last year and this. They’ve expanded it from two stages to three and the whole street was cordoned off. A really great atmosphere”.
Out of all these festivals which one has done the most to raise the profile and which one have they enjoyed doing most?
(MB) “Supersonic was cool because it’s fairly loose in the bands they book (J interjects “yeah we saw some amazing bands”). We saw Hype Williams and cross-over bands and things like The Bug”
(MJ) “Yeah Hype Williams at Supersonic was one of the best things I’ve seen in the last couple of years”
(MB) “We’re really upset that that band has finished”
(MJ) “For me that electronic minimalist stuff is more psychedelic and interesting than most of the revivalist guitar bands, I’m not really interested in that”.
(J) “Bands in paisley shirts with phaser pedals!”
There’s a lot of stuff now that harks back to the 80s, droney stuff which is extremely good, but we get so much of it coming through the Terrascope that you think aha it’s another Loop copyist...
(J) “Are we another Loop?”
No, no, no, no, no
(MB) “I found it weird that they asked us to play this weekend, really, really weird”
(MJ) “I watched them soundcheck earlier, it was really good”
(MB) “It’s a strange thing because it’s one of those bands I got into when I was about 15 when I got into My Bloody Valentine. For some reason they were tagged with the shoegaze stuff. I don’t see that now. Super-weird that they should ask us”.
So how did that come about?
(MB) “We just got an email from ATP saying Loop have asked if you will play the last ever All Tomorrow’s Parties festival and we thought ‘what the fuck!’”
(J) “We got tagged by James Endicott as well around the same time. That was a really strange coincidence it was within a week of one another”.
(MB) “We assumed it was linked but it wasn’t. I guess they must have heard of us and liked us which is insane. The programme is nice as well, it’s got notes from Loop and we’re mentioned in there”
It’s a real accolade then given that Loop are only curating the one day to have been selected in that way.
(MB) “Yeah we thought at first that it might have been ATP that asked us but apparently not. We’re honoured that of all the bands they could have picked they chose us”
Is there a North of England scene (Dead Sea Apes, Gnod, Hookworms)? There seem to be lots of northern bands blazing a sonic trail at the moment or is this a coincidence?
(MB) “Totally coincidental. The bands we play with are mostly southern in fact. Brighton and London based bands like Cold Pumas and Vision Fortunes. Another band is Kogumaza from Nottingham who we really admire. We have played with Gnod a couple of times and the last time we saw them they were doing the industrial set where it’s all pedals and stuff on a table. We saw them at Supersonic and they were one of the loudest things I ever heard”
(J) “Even with the ear plugs in we had to leave”
(MB) “We’ve never actually spoken to them”.
I ask MJ how he gets that stunning vocal
(MJ) “Roland Space Echo. We both use them (nods towards MB) in fact we’ve got three of them and we used to use the Boss version before that as well. The trouble is they break too easily to take on tour”.
(MB) “You did for a while but you have trouble finding anyone to fix them because they are a bit of a 70s relic”.
OK obvious question but how did the band alight on the name?
(MB) “I just thought it was a weird name. We’d been practicing for a while and we needed a name. This is embarrassing – I’d been watching that programme ‘This Morning’ and they were talking about a hookworm infestation and I thought alright. It’s a bit of a creepy name I’ll admit. The music we were playing at the time was also slower and a bit creepier so it kind of fitted. We all like coffee and ale and wondered whether we should brand something like that, but no-one’s going to want to drink a beer called Hookworm”
I’m not too sure of that, there are a few crazy people around here this weekend that would be happy to try anything (nods and murmurs of assent).
What are future plans?
(MJ) – “Finish recording the new album. We’ve two more shows this year and one in January”
So what can we expect from the new album?
(MJ) – “Have you hears the Radio Tokyo single we did just after Pearl Mystic? Well it’s more in that direction”
(J) “We’ve been listening to too much Modern Lovers and Velvet Underground”
(MB) “Yeah very much in line with what I listen to, Stereolab, Modern Lovers, Velvet Undergrounds”
Parquet Courts? I venture
(MJ) “Yes less upbeat than that but definitely that direction. More concise and pop-ier than our last record”
(J) “I think it’s a subconscious move away from the psychedelic thing, the guitars are less treated”
(MJ) “There are two things with that. Firstly we did Radio Tokyo and we were conscious that we had a 7 inch format and I wanted to make sure we wrote a song that was a ‘classic’ pop single and I enjoyed playing and recording it. Then there’s definitely that things about getting away from what we’d done previously. The first thing on the new record blazes straight in, it kicks in with a really fast drum beat and that was intentional. We could have started with three minutes of drone and let it build up again, but why not just let it kick in. It’s more of an announcement”
(MB) “I completely understand it. I’m not one for going crazy at shows but when we play the more mid-tempo or drone live it gets boring seeing people standing with their arms crossed looking disinterested, but then they come up to you straight afterwards and say how amazing it was and you think ‘well you were looking bored or asleep. They clearly enjoy in their own way but the upbeat stuff is more fun to play. There are some tracks from Pearl Mystic which we’ve yet to play live because it would just kill the set dead”.
(MJ) “A while back we did a single on Sonic Cathedral – ‘Psych for Sore Eyes’ and that had a slow one on it which we did live and it did kill the set”
(MB) “I think what we want is an album where we can play all the songs live”
Which got me thinking. If ATP were ever to reprise their “Don’t Look Back” series of gigs, where acts play a landmark album in its entirety, then this next Hookworms release may be the one to bookmark now.
Musically it was down to Kandodo to ease me into what promised to be a seismic Saturday. A solo vehicle for Simon Price but whose live sound is fleshed out by fellow Heads Hugo Morgan and Wayne Maskell (ex-Heads guitarist Paul “Prof Rock” Allen was also around and rumoured to be lining up a guest slot with Goat on Sunday night), Kandodo’s hazy, lazy lysergic-tinged instrumentals was ideal in helping recharge the sonic batteries.
Hookworms, on the other hand, are anything but hazy and lazy but pretty lysergic all the same and every bit as dynamic and edgy as I’d hoped. Judging by the push and shove of audience participation (can we please kit crowd surfers out with bowling shoes and a 5 meter warning of impending collision). As our interview with the band revealed, the lively core of Pearl Mystic was well represented as well as newer and older material as MJ screamed and generally provided a focal point that belies his rather studious off-stage demeanour while the rest of the band pounded and shredded like men possessed. Off-stage and bassist MB was reassured to hear your scribe’s positive and avuncular feedback (something like “the performance of the weekend so far – you should be very pleased”) as the band were to use M’s Old Anglo Saxon vernacular, “shitting it”. They needn’t have as the performance was as assured as any.
Tim Presley’s White Fence over on Stage 2 were much meatier and up-tempo compared with what I’d heard on album, Presley’s whine sounding like John Lennon fronting the Elevators playing the unreleased songs of Syd Barrett. It ch provided for an interesting enough 40 or so minutes (they overlapped with Hookworms who, needless to say, took precedent).
If anyone was going to challenge the legendary Loop’s status as undisputed Sultans of Super Saturday then it was going to be Comets on Fire who would be headlining Stage 2 that night.
Earlier in the day Terrascope had caught up with Ben Chasny, he of Six Organs of Admittance but also a key element of the full-on maelstrom that marks the Comets out as such an explosive entity.
We know Phil McMullen is a big fan so where did the association stem from?
“Yeah, he’s always been really supportive. He was one of the first people to write a review for Six Organs. I played one of his Terrastock festivals at Seattle and there was another one at Boston. I haven’t seen him for a while – I saw him at a London show with Howlin’ Rain a few years back”.
There was a rumour that Ben would be appearing at Wolf Music back in the summer...
“I couldn’t do it this time because I simply didn’t have money to get over here. Phil wrote to me and I need to write back to him, I just didn’t have chance. It’s a bit intense at the moment running around with Comets on Fire but maybe next time I’m hoping so if we can hook something up”.
The thing with Woolf of course it is more garden party than festival, there’s no expenses or big riders or anything...
“Yeah, Byron (Coley) went to it and told me it was really good. Besides I don’t need all that stuff I just need the wherewithal to get over”.
As well as your association with Phil and the Terrastocks you’ve an historic involvement with these ATP events as well.
“Yes, this is the third one Comets have done, Six Organs did one and Rangda did one”.
So how did the hook up with Barry Hogan’s people come about?
“Well they first started inviting Comets to this place (Camber Sands) in fact. Mudhoney asked us to play once, Thurston Moore asked us, just different bands have asked us to play and then I guess Barry stated asking us”.
It’s a bit of a Gulag this place, isn’t it?
“This one’s a lot better than that other one. Did you ever go out to Butlins? I like this one better.”
Do you really?!
“Yeah, why? Do you prefer Butlins?
Yeah maybe because it was closer (I recounted briefly my journey down the day before).
“I like this better because when the bands stay they all stay in this area (gestures around the quad in which the “picnic” table on which we are conducting the interview is situated), so you can see friends checking in and it’s a bit more of a community. Oh and the beach is better, did you get a chance to go to the beach here? It’s cold but it’s cool!”.
I saw Ben at the Supersonic Festival last year at which he was supported by some of the Comets and where they showcased Six Organs of Admittance’s phenomenal Ascend album (a rare highlight of 2012 for me). This was a very much more electric album than most previous Six Organs’ releases and I wondered if this was the catalyst for a full-blown Comets on Fire reunion.
“Yeah it was the first step towards that, I would say. We’d always talked about playing again but the I just wanted to finish up some of those ideas that we had from 10 years ago. So we had such a good time we decided to get back together as the Comets”
How pleased was Ben with the critical response to Ascent?
“Yes mostly it was pretty good. However live shows in England I noticed didn’t go over as well but generally the record went down well”.
Why did Ben think that the live shows didn’t go down so well? I thought Supersonic was great, it did justice to the album
“No, no, some people were fine with it, it’s just that you pick up a few comments. Some people thought it was a little too guitar soloey which is what I was going for”.
Does the Comets on Fire reunion mean that Six Organs of Admittance is on indefinite hiatus?
“No, I’m writing a new record. I’ve not started recording it yet so maybe it will come out towards the end of 2014”.
Can we expect a tour?
“Yes I usually tour all of my records. I’ll probably be back here, I find it all quite romantic! Next year though I’ll be pretty much just going to be concentrating on a new band called New Bums which is me and this guy Donovan Quinn from Sky Green Leopards. It’s just us. We’ve got this record coming out on Drag City in February. It’s more of a rock and roll acoustic like Johnny Thunders playing acoustic guitar or Nikki Sudden-style Jacobites or Big Star acoustic balladry kind of stuff. So yes, trying to play the acoustic guitar in a rock ‘n’ roll manner”.
So is Drag Records the main outlet for Chasny releases these days.
“Mostly, yes. They’ve always been really supportive. I was even going to do this New Bums record by myself and then at last minute I thought I’d let Drag City hear it just in case and they said they wanted to do it”
So given the enduring relationship with ATP how does it feel to be here at the swansong?
“We’re pretty excited. Before they asked us Comets got back together and we were doing all these new songs and we wanted to surprise everybody. We heard that ATP was finishing up. We didn’t talk about it collectively but I know all of us have had such good times here and so we were really happy when they invited us. At the same time it’s going to ruin the surprise of Comets getting back together! Yeah it’s exciting. We’re all a little bit older now. A couple of times we played, as soon as we got here we’d start drinking and partying and everything but now we’ve rolled in here today and everyone’s taking a nap in the chalet, took some ,muscle relaxers and trying to get some rest and then wake up and drink some tea”.
For clarification had the Comets been invited by the organisers or by Loop?
“I think Loop. That’s how it sounds on the Loop page of the programme so I assume it is they who have invited us but I don’t know how much that is as a result of ATP suggesting it”.
I was sure that they had been helpful in that regard having been very faithful to acts that they like as well as their own artist roster during the time in which the weekenders have been running.
So looking back over a career which we hope will continue for a great many years to come which work is Ben most proud of and which would he take with him to the metaphorical desert island?
“It would have to be Six Organs”
Any particular album
“Ah, that’s too much of an ask (laughs)”
Come the appointed hour and, in true Jason and the Sirens fashion I attach myself to a central column about five rows back and let the tidal tsunami of Comets on Fire’s interstellar overdrive wash over me. I detected numbers from Blue Cathedral and Avatar which I was hard pressed to name at the time, everything being so overwhelming (and besides, being “off duty” by this point I was becoming comfortably ensconced in a convivial companionship with a certain bottled product from Scottish and Newcastle Breweries). Comets on Fire kicked out the jams in unequivocally maniacal and over the top order, and were more energising than any amount of Red Bull or for that matter legal doses of electric shock treatment and a damned sight more exciting than either.
Suitably invigorated and well and truly “up for it”, it was time to give the old knees another work out as I negotiated the increasingly tricky climb to Stage 1 and the night’s main event. Loop’s reputation exceeds their brief existence and quantifiably modest recorded output from the late 1980s. Often compared with – sometimes unfavourably (and unfairly) with Spacemen 3, Loop’s trademark psychedelic drone has become the stuff of legend and has provided a template for much of the revivalist movement (Dom Keller, Telstar Sound Drone, Warlocks etc). For an hour and a half we were assailed with extremely loud and monotonous drone, each piece bleeding into another until it may as well have been a single number played on seemingly endless repeat. I loved every blissful second. “It’s good to be back” intoned main man Robert Hampson as Loop took their leave and it was a feeling well reciprocated. Loop are definitely back and will be headlining Roadburn and Austin Psych Fest next year for those lucky enough to get there. Otherwise look out for more local gigs and, who knows, new recorded material. This time I exited chalet-wards in more contented mood.
This was to be a short one for me due to other arrangements and the determination not to get stuck in Monday morning traffic. In answer to the organisers’ invitation for audience members to don formal attire on this last day many duly complied either in letter or in spirit, with efforts ranging from the rather cursory black tie looped around atop of t-shirt to those who took the trouble to kit out in full and expensive-looking evening dress.
Michael Rother playing the music of Neu and Harmonia turned in a surprisingly lively and very well received set and then it was time for Wolf People whose “folk rock” is something of a throwback to turn of the 70s Jethro Tull blended with the more accessible strains of that era’s acid folk canon and shot through with hard edged blues – there were plenty of guitar heroics on show and enough opportunity for those so inclined to wig out. Drawing heavily from superior second album Fain and bolstered in the vocal department by female duo Stick in the Wheel Wolf People have developed a maturity and confidence that is pleasing to see and even more gratifying to listen to. Your Terrascopic door-stepper was pleased to catch up with singer/guitarist Jack Sharp post event.
I start by asking what it meant to be “here at the death” so to speak – the last of the ATP holiday camp weekenders.
(Woolf People photo: Ian Fraser)
It’s so great to finally get a chance to play here. We’ve done lots of nights in London for ATP and we love them to bits, but we’ve never managed to get on the bill for the festivals”.
Wolf People are also due to play ATP’s End of Year (not to be confused with End of an Era) party a few days later. Clearly there was a strong link to Hogan’s and I wondered how this had come about and whether it has helped with the band’s profile and development.
“I think we can thank Barry Hogan for that. He’s been a champion of ours since we were playing little free psych nights in London, so it made sense for us to work with them when we wanted to start doing “proper” shows. They’ve got us some amazing supports in London and always seem to know what crowd and level we should be pitching at. They do a good rider too!
Their sound is wonderfully evocative of turn of the 70s folk rock but clearly draws on a number of other influences both classic and contemporary. What influences the Wolf People sound?
“I always sum it up as starting when me and Tom (Watt, drums) got a bit tired of producing hip hop and started listening to weirder, heavier records that we knew from samples. That and hearing Dungen for the first time.
I still think hip hop has a massive influence on what we do. We’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the music that people like Andy Votel, Doug Shipton and Cherrystones play, and they are essentially hip hop DJ’s with a wider scope of genres. Our good friend and tour DJ Rich Hero is also from a background of hip hop amongst other things, and it shows in the leaning towards hooks and grooves over more conventional songwriting”.
I first came across Wolf People supporting Dungen at the 02 Academy in Islington a few years back and it was one of those notable occasions where the support impressed me more than the main act. They were clearly reverential of Dungen, though...
“Thanks very much but of course, we disagree. Dungen were sublime that night, one of my favourite ever gigs. We are perhaps too in thrall to Dungen, but I hope that our lack of skill in comparison could be seen as originality in the right light. I can’t sing in Swedish either which is probably for the best”.
And it is well known that the band has a fondness for Scandinavian “psychedelia”. As a restless musical seeker I am always on the lookout for new musical experiences, who would they suggest I check out?
“Tom is the one to talk to about Scandi psych, but you should check out Mecki Mark Men if you don’t know them, and Fläsket Brinner, and Mikael Ramel”.
The band’s most recent album “Fain” is sure to feature in many Terrascope writers’ “best of 2013 lists” as I am sure it will elsewhere. How pleased were the band with the critical and public response especially given that it was following such a strong debut album?
“It’s been great and I like the fact that people seem to still be listening to it and growing to love it. On reflection, we didn’t make it a particularly easy album to get into, it’s pretty dense, but people seem to be warming to it more over time. It perhaps lacks a sense of fun that was in Steeple, and I’m not sure why that was, we’re hoping to get a bit more light-weight with the next one”.
It has a very lyrical quality, one of those albums that invite you to listen to the narrative as much as the music. Was this a conscious approach and was there an agenda to maybe educate and inform as well as entertain?
“It was a very conscious decision to make the lyrics more involved, probably as a result of listening to and digesting a lot of folk songs. I’m not sure how well I captured what I set out to do, as no one seems to be able to pick up on what the lyrics are about. I thought they were almost too specific when I was writing them, the clues are all there, but perhaps a bit too oblique”.
Wolf People toured the States a couple of months back with the highly-rated Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
“It felt at the time like a weird dream, and that remains my memory of it. Me and Joe (guitar) had never been to the States so it was like this mythical thing. As an experience it was incredible, and what I’m really pleased about is that we had a particularly good run of gigs. Great crowds every night, friendly faces, and we got on with Unknown Mortal Orchestra really well, and met all the beautiful people who run our label. Reckon we made some friends for life”.
Like pretty much everyone I come into contact with in the music industry these days the members of WP hold down other jobs. How difficult is it to balance the requirements of contractual “9 ‘til 5” with writing, recording and touring?
“Pretty hard if I’m honest. We don’t get to rehearse much and we definitely don’t have as much time as we’d want to get together and write or jam. A lot of stuff has to be done over emails”.
In a way though I think it’s informed some of what we do and made us who we are. If you drive 7 hours after work for a gig, then have to drive home straight after, you’re going to want to put your all into the gig to make it worth it. I think the worst one for me personally was driving home from Bristol after a festival and getting in at 6 a.m. then leaving for work at 8.30. It was a good show though, and I kept my job”.
“Our gigs have wound down for the year, so we’re thinking about another record right now. We want to start work as soon as possible”.
Whilst I was sorry to be cutting out before Ty Segall’s set it would be the Magic Band who would provide my musical finale for this final ATP weekender. You sense that life in the Magic Band is a lot more fun with John “Drumbo” French at the helm instead of the notoriously dictatorial and impossibly contrarian Captain Beefheart. As the band’s front-of-house, French may not possess the lupine howl of Van Vliet but is able to approximate both vocal delivery and onstage presence whilst Denny “Feelers Rebo” Whalley, Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston, Eric Klerks and new drummer Andrew Niven propel us through a truncated set referencing Trout Mask Replica, Shiny Beast and points in between, with highlights including “The Floppy Boot Stomp” and “Big Eyed Beans from Venus”. Band/audience interaction is relaxed and there is a distinct party vibe in which the mostly sixty-something demographic are clearly having the time off their lives. A pretty good point then to bid adieu to ATP and some acquaintances old and new (great to finally meet Dave Cambridge of Optical Sounds/Cardinal Fuzz for whom I have provided copy and shared musical thoughts with previously).
(Drumbo photo: Ian Fraser)
Here’s to the next time, whatever and wherever that is.