Radiophonic Reunion (Redux)

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Photo by Nick Joy

Presented for your approval, my latest broadcast work produced for the BBC World Service regarding the subject of Chichester University’s one-day symposium on the Radiophonic Workshop, the Godfathers (and Godmothers) of British electronic music, a quintet of whom have reformed and are touring their classic works to a whole new generation of admirers. With the prospect of a summer spent gingerly moving vintage analogue hardware round a succession of festivals now confirmed, Chichester University had organised a day of talks and discussions about the Workshop’s rich history and enduring legacy; followed by an evening’s live performance of some of their classic Radiophonic works.

And what classics they are. The impact of the Workshop on the history of electronic music simply cannot be understated, and its influence spreads throughout all strands of British culture, from Quatermass and the Pitt to Captain Ganja and the Space Patrol. Yet despite it’s long and distinguished career supplying four decades-worth of radio and TV programmes with sound effects, theme tunes and incidental music (plus getting sampled by rare and bonkers British reggae albums), there was never a moment of doubt as to how the day’s audience and invited experts – musicians, DJs, producers and sci-fi nerds – came first to hear of the workshop and, frequently, of electronic music in general. It was, of course, Doctor Who and the strange, enthralling and decidedly avant-garde sounds that it introduced to generations of children at Saturday tea-time.

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Radiophonic Royalty – Dick Mills, Roger Limb and Paddy Kingsland. Photo by Nick Joy

Full disclosure – Despite appearing in Iain Wilson’s excellent documentary That Dr. Who Sound! for Australia’s ABC Radio last year, I’m not actually much of an authority on the good Doctor. You can tell this because I have a nagging fondness for the Sylvester McCoy era, even if it does mostly seem to consist Bonnie Langford screaming her way round a succession of interstellar leisure centres. But in both it’s iconic theme tune (and there’s a good argument for the case that it’s the most famous television ‘sig’ of all time) and the incidental music and sound effects; the influence this programme alone has had on the past half-century of music-making is so mind-boggling it makes my hair stand on end. Particularly those hairs on the back of my neck that still tingle every single time I hear the TARDIS engines roaring into life. The original brief for this sound effect, we’re told, was ‘the very fabric of time and space being torn apart’. The solution was Brian Hodgson’s Mother’s front door key scraped along the wire of a broken-down piano. You will doubtless have heard this story many times already, yet somehow the knowledge of such prosaic origins does absolutely nothing to diminish its magic. Bless you, Mother Hodgson…

I’m not going to linger too much on a review of the day, fellow Radiophoniphile Nick Joy has written an excellent account for Scifibulletin.com, which manages to say pretty much everything I would have done, only better (he also let me steal a number of his photos). For my part, I was most privileged to interview Paddy Kingsland, Roger Limb, Dick Mills and Mark Ayres for the World Service report (although sadly the rigours of the day’s programme of discussions, lectures and the endless sound-checking of delicate analogue equipment left no time to fit in the great Peter Howell and complete the set). However, each of these most interesting and amiable gentlemen gave me so much fascinating material that I’ve decided to publish the full transcripts EXCLUSIVELY on these pages over the next couple of weeks. Forgive me for boasting, but THAT is what I call a coup!  Besides, if the legendary Dick Mills starts telling you about his wife’s stated desire to stamp on one of his newly-completed works, you’re hardly going to leave it on the cutting room floor, are you?

Sadly I can’t bring you any recordings of the performance itself, due to copyright issues being strictly enforced. But I can tell you it was a beautifully nuanced audio-visual tour of the Workshop’s past, present and future, with classic tracks rubbing shoulders with newer works in progress. Particularly worthy of note was their cover version of Joe Meek’s classic ‘Telstar’,  Delia Derbyshire’s ‘Zizwih Zizwih OO-OO-OO-OO’ transformed into pounding techno, and Peter Howell leading a performance of vocoder classic ‘Greenwich Chimes’ while silhouetted against archive footage of himself recording the same lines decades earlier. A curiously moving spectacle.

Paddy Kingsland, the young Paddy Kingsland and Mark Ayres

Paddy Kingsland, Peter Howell, the young Peter Howell and Mark Ayres

Both in person and as part of the various panel discussions that made up the course of the day, the one thing that struck me about these veterans of the Workshop was their keen-ness to create new music rather than simply rest on their considerable laurels; and of how excited they were by the latest developments in technology. All of this bodes very well for their forthcoming album of new and original material, provisionally titled Electricity, several tracks from which were intermingled with the crowd-pleasing classics in the evening’s performance. But, of course, it goes without saying, there was only ever going to be one piece of music that they could end with. And as the quintet romped through the home stretch of Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire’s greatest work, backed by the thundering percussion of latest recruit Kieron Pepper, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to feel those hairs on the back of my neck rising up once again. Certainly not if the standing ovation they received was anything to judge by.

I’m really looking forward to sharing these interview with you all in full. If you haven’t already done so, you might like to consider subscribing to this blog to avoid missing anything – the button is on the right of this page. You might have to bear with me for a few days, however, Howlround are playing Winchester this Saturday and we’re completely unprepared as usual. All will be revealed. In the meantime, thanks to Dr. Adam Locks, James Haigh and the University of Chichester for organising such an amazing event and to Mark Ayres, Peter Howell, Dick Mills, Paddy Kingsland and Roger Limb  for being each so affable and so very entertaining. Oh, and to Nick Joy for the photographs. I must also thank Paddy, Roger and Dick for for defacing one of my most treasured possessions!:

Sorry about this picture – I was too excited to wait for better light!

It’s not every day you meet your heroes, you know… :-)

 

 


Wholly Other Archaeology

I’ve decided you’ve waited long enough. In truth it’s only been a week, and not a particularly slow one, but here, in response to overwhelming demand, is part 2 of my DJ set in support of The Band Of Holy Joy in Charterhouse last month. It’s another jolly fine selection, though I say so myself and I simply could not keep it suppressed a moment longer:

You are so welcome. No, no, please, get stuck in. Notice my amusing juxtaposition of Yma Sumac and Lee ‘Scratch Perry’?  I thought you might…

Anyway, you join me today on my bedroom floor where I am currently convalescing. This was the dramatic conclusion of a day Chris and I spent lugging the Howlround soundsystem to and from a secret performance for the students of Havering College as part of their ‘Sonic Futures’ event. The theme this year was ‘dereliction’ – who else would they call, quite frankly?! And after a couple of hours on these floorboards, I’ve started to gain real, first-hand experience of what feeling ‘derelict’ is like.

Happier times: Howlround in their former robust health (i.e. last Thursday)

We were made most welcome by the staff and students of the college who took a real interest in our work (particularly our demonstration of how much fun you can have with a loop of tape and a staffroom radiator) and were in turn most impressed by the student’s work that was on display. Plus we were rewarded for our efforts with a slap-up thai meal and – even more excitingly – two new additions to our army of PR99 tape machines. Not a bad day’s work at all! But every silver lining must of course have a cloud, which accounts for the fresh scar on Chris’s right hand, the fresh scar on the wall of my flat where I inadvertently threw a tape machine; and the apparent lesions to my spine which asserted themselves the following morning while bending over to pick up a sock. Such are the risks of a life spent hulking great big reel-to-reel machines around, risks that have now afforded me several hours stiffly regarding my bedroom ceiling from a dramatic new perspective. The moral of the story? Leave your socks where they fall…

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I’m completely confident, however, that by the coming of our next gig at Archaeologies, all will be back to full working order (with the exception of the wall – I’ll just blu-tak something over it and hope the landlord doesn’t notice). Those of you based in the vicinity of Winchester are warmly requested to The Railway, 3 St. Pauls Hill, where we’ll be playing alongside Stephen C. StamperClive HenryOlan Mill and our old friend Kemper Norton, who’s recent album Carn for Exotic Pylon is a thing of beauty indeed. Tickets and further information here.

For those of you who never leave London, not even for a moment, I’m pleased to add that we  shall be playing Club Bermuda at The Roxy Bar and Screen in Borough on April 25th and The Electric Dog Show, Power Lunches, Dalston on May 7th . Further details for both of these exciting performances to follow. I also implore you to read this extremely flattering review of Howlround‘s trio of official releases on the blog of ace music magazine/radio show The Sound Projector! Made our chests puff out with pride, so it did!

Photo by Andy Popperwell, featuring me pulling my EXPLAINING FACE. Troublingly, it’s the most flattering of the bunch. For bonus fun, see if you can spot the fellow oldskool junglist. Answers on a postcard!

In conclusion, special thanks this week must go to Andy, Alex, Dave and the students of Havering College (there’s some more photos of the event here if you fancy a gander). We’re very grateful for your interest and the new additions to the Howlround arsenal. I’m quite sure those new Revoxes will work a treat once we’ve scrubbed a decade’s worth of Andy’s garage off them!

I’ll leave you with a sneak preview of something new that may or may not be part of a much longer composition that may or may not be coming out on a brand new album at some point in the not-too-distant future. Such a tease:

PS: ‘OWWW’, obviously…

 

 

 


Wholly Joyous

Thanks very much to Johny Brown and The Band Of Holy Joy for inviting me to DJ for them at last weekend’s Resonance FM benefit gig. And thanks also to everyone who packed out The Charterhouse and helped raise money for a very good cause. Fresh off the back of a successful UK tour promoting new album ‘Easy Listening’, our heroes tore through their set with tight and well-drilled vigour; while my own efforts on the turntables attempted to be a sort of cerebral yin to their tense and gritty yang.  That was quite possibly the single most pretentious sentence I’ve ever written, but I hope you’ll forgive me after hearing the first part of my set; presented here for your approval and delectation:

If I may be so bold, even by my own exacting standards this is rather groovy, including as it does, tracks from Belbury Poly & Spacedog, Sculpture and Resource Centre – my three favourite releases of the last few months. I really was very lucky to have such a supportive crowd, as well, considering I was playing records at least several shades stranger and less bouncy than your standard Saturday night Farringdon faire (particularly when you take nearby behemoth leisure dungeon Fabric into account). Besides, whatever your thoughts on the musical content of the above, surely you would at least concur that it was a decidedly more crafted and personal affair than the dreadful funky house Spotify playlist that followed it. 

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New album out now on Exotic Pylon

Despite some interesting conversations with members of the crowd about the records I was playing, I’d like to dedicate this mix to the young upstart who accosted me in the booth (sounds painful, doesn’t it?) and demanded to know ‘what kind of stuff’ I played. This is usually acceptable, but he had already been standing and watching me play that very same ‘stuff’ for a good solid hour by this juncture and one would really assume that enough time to grant him reasonable insight. He also wanted to have a look through my record box in order to ‘thumb my stash’, quite forgetting the unwritten law that the contents of a DJ’s record box are as secret as those of a lady’s handbag. And like all handbags, it’s entirely the owner’s discretion as to which of those secrets get pulled out and bandied about for the entertainment of the masses.

One day I shall probably self-publish an amusing memoir of all these things that have been demanded of me during my DJ sets. Last night’s interloper might just find himself featured alongside a query from the previous week, where a slightly tipsy lady demanded to know whether I could play anything ‘happier’. She was struggling to make this demand heard over the copy of Prince Buster singing ‘Enjoy Yourself’ that I was spinning at the time. I’m not sure if a record happier than Prince Buster singing ‘Enjoy Yourself’ could physically exist. Or, if it did, that I could ever agree with her suggestion that ‘Whitney’ would be the person to have made it.

Anyway, never mind all that, go and get yourself a copy of the Easy Listening at the Exotic Pylon shop. And some  Belbury Poly & Spacedog and Resource Centre while you’re at it (that Sculpture record is already going for silly money on Discogs). In the meantime there’s a second part to this mix that I shall doubtless bombard you with at some point, perhaps during a slow week. I might even allow you, dear reader, the privilege of a dig around my record bag. Just ask nicely and wipe your feet first…


Boards Of Kanyeda – Get Mashed

Do you remember a few years ago when it was considered almost impossible to be even halfway relevant unless you were involved in the construction of ‘mash-ups’? The art of illegitimately fusing the vocals of one song with the music of another to occasionally thrilling and naughty effect, perfected by the likes of Richard X and 2ManyDJs? Well, I’ve finally got round to making one of my own, in spite of the fact that the whole scene is now considered rather old hat in our post-Nathan Barley universe. However, I’ve decided that is how I operate best – arriving late at a long-abandoned table and picking over the bones. And as there are still a small group of my associates who never tire of comparing my every move with Shoreditch’s favourite ‘media node’, I can’t see much point in stopping just yet.

Another way of putting it would be that I had an hour or two to kill with only the delights of youtube and a slightly malfunctioning copy of Adobe Audition at my disposal. It was quite fun and is surely worth the titular pun if nothing else:

Though far from being an expert on mashing, I always felt that the finest examples of the form were those that managed not only to render the source material in a dramatic new light, but also to cock a gleeful snook at an outmoded record industry’s notions of copyright and intellectual property, rather like a Duchamp’s Mona Lisa you could dance to.  And I’m certainly not sure that the above quite manages the transcendent heights of genre classics such as Freelance Hellraiser’s ‘A Stroke Of Genius‘ and Richard X’s ‘We Don’t Give A Damn About Our Friends‘, both so successful in their own right that it’s unlikely I even need to remind you of their existence. Messers Hellraiser and X have both gone on to forge successful legitimate production careers off the back of these early bootlegs, although to my mind it was the release of the latter’s major label debut that actually sounded the death-knell for the entire mashup scene.

Don’t get me wrong, ‘X-Factor vol.1‘ is a perfectly agreeable collection of sleek and futuristic pop with some nicely rough edges. But when flicking through the liner notes, I was surprised to discover that alongside the usual glossy photos of fabulous sexy people looking confused, a full half-page of the CD booklet was devoted to a lengthly paragraph of stentorian legal jargon on the subject of copyright violation and of the stiff penalties that would be imposed on anyone engaging in unauthorised usage of its contents. When I then noticed that underneath this dry piece of corporate finger-wagging was written ‘Rich X says “That’s me f**ked, then!”‘ in quasi-graffiti scrawl (though complete with polite asterisks), it felt as if all the  cheek and wit that epitomised the best mashups had been bludgeoned to death by the hammers of the law.  I am certainly not going to insult your intelligence, dear reader, by outlining the staggering hypocrisy of a major label releasing an album featuring tracks that began life as illegal bootlegs produced by someone who has achieved success through illegally copying other people’s music on a ‘copy-protected’ CD . Or indeed of including a half a page of dire legal warnings on the consequences of doing anything with the music other than passively listening to it. Unless, of course you happen to work for Virgin Records, in which case pull up a chair and I’ll draw you some diagrams…

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On a completely different and far more important note, Band Of Holy Joy are currently on tour promoting their excellent new album ‘Easy Listening’, which is out now on Jonny Mugwump’s rarely bested Exotic Pylon label. They’re playing  at the Charterhouse Bar near Farringdon on Saturday 22nd and I’m very pleased to announce they’ve asked me to be their support DJ. This band are always worth catching live and are currently on top form, and I can assure you the only mash-ups occurring will happen to the characters who populate their dark and expansive brand of classy folk-punk. Best news of all is that all proceeds from this event will be going to help keep Resonance FM on air, so it’s a good night for a good cause. Here’s a quick taster of recent single ‘Wyrd Beautiful Thyme’ to get you in the mood:

And to give you an idea of what to expect from my contribution to the evening, I’ll leave you with a reminder of last November’s DJ set at The Forum supporting Public Service Broadcasting. Remember that if your band, gallery opening, dance party or public event is in need of it’s own DJ, you’ll find me well-prepared, punctual and reasonably presentable. I also do weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and funerals for unpopular relatives. Send a cash-stuffed envelope to the usual address…


Touch Radio

Radio102

Howlround are hereby absolutely delighted to announce that we’ve been asked by the Touch organisation to make a contribution to to it’s on-going Touch Radio series. We wanted to give them something special, so we’ve dug in the archives and dredged up our first ever live performance from last year’s Great Escape festival. It was, as the liner notes observe, ‘the first time these delicate, bulky, unpredictable machines had ever left the studio – a complete step into the unknown – and therefore something of an occasion’. And at just short of eighteen minutes it’s also the first significant chunk of our live recordings we’ve ever made available.

Click here to listen to ‘Brighthelm’.  And for the absolute Howlround completists, there’s a different extract that we uploaded at the time still available here.

We’re in some pretty auspicious company, too, as Touch Radio boasts a veritable treasure trove of audio treats all available entirely for free via the Touch Radio website, iTunes or the British Library: Philip JeckJacob KirkegaardChris WatsonSimon Fisher Turner and People Like Us to mention just a few.  My current favourite is Aino Tytti’s Hellissandur Mast [GRD 7970], which is one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard in a good long while. No wonder the British Library’s sound archive has taken on the entire collection!

Special thanks to Mr. Mike Harding for the invitation and hopefully we’ll be making further live recordings available in the coming year. In the meantime you can keep up to dates with the latest Howlround developments by following @howlroundmusic on Twitter or, better still, visiting our brand new bespoke website Howlround.co.uk! Now seems as good a time as any to break a bottle of metaphorical champagne across its bows…


The Loop Of The Art

When it comes to things that make me happy, its been said that I’m pretty much an open book.  Indeed, as I’ve had cause to remark in the past I’ve attained the enviable position of having friends and well-wishers across the land and beyond queueing up to inform me of any imminent cultural developments that might just tickle my foggy fancy. And so it proved once again last weekend when I received a deluge of messages asking if I was aware of an impending BBC Radio 4 programme presented by musician, sound-artist and all-round genius Matthew Herbert, that would undoubtedly be ‘right up my street’- ‘The Art Of The Loop’:

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Matthew once made an entire album from the sounds of a single pig’s life, so he’s no stranger to the benefits of loops and sampling. He talks to producers, musicians and loop-creators and experiments with technology ancient and modern; he hears from looping’s defenders and detractors and looks into a musical future which he finds fascinating but many find terrifying. And, along the way, he builds a dance track out of a Radio 4 Continuity announcer.

As you may remember, Mr. Herbert and I have a modicum of shared history. A couple of years ago we experienced something of an altercation involving conflicting respective sonic tributes to former World Service buildings, which caused some to label him my ‘arch-nemesis’. It was a period in my career that came to be known as Herbertgate, though I need hardly point out that I have always been a huge admirer of his work, if perhaps less of a fan of the BBC commissioner that sparked the furore.

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Some of Howlround’s vast acatlogue of loops in a rarely organised state.

Anyway, ‘The Art Of The Loop’ is a predictably fascinating listen and, as ever, what makes Herbert stand head-and-shoulders above so many others is that his work investigates the philosophical and political implications of these looping and sampling process as well as merely demonstrating the clever and beautiful music that results in playing with sounds in this way. At the time of writing, there are merely a few days left to listen again, so I urge you to click here while you still can. I do wish Radio 4 would keep it’s archive online for a bit longer…

Curiously, it was the final sentence of the programme description, he builds a dance track out of a Radio 4 Continuity announcer that really caught my attention on this occasion, providing as it did a sudden jog of the memory back to a simpler time when I was a young undergraduate with big, impractical dreams and very little common sense. For yes, dear reader, I too once made a dance track out of a continuity announcer. What are the chances? Could ‘Hebertgate’ be about to enter a dramatic new phase?

Hardly. Memories of my music undergraduate days are hazy, not because of any time spent sowing the proverbial wild oat, but merely, as my dear old Gran used to say, because I’ve had a sleep since then. But one incident from that time is all-too-well preserved and it concerns a simple DJ culture workshop being run as part of my BA Hons in contemporary and popular music. Not terribly dramatic flashback-material, but stick with me.

Student Bedroom

My student bedroom. Life was a lot more garish back then…

Originally arranged by my course tutor and planned as an academic yet informal demonstration of various DJ techniques and their influence on dance culture and modern music in general, the Music Department made the decision to publicise the workshop by inviting a local TV news crew. I assume the theory was to promote the department’s open-minded approach to new and different compositional techniques alongside the more traditional classic approaches they were renown for . But sadly getting the media involved proved decidedly unwise, as that night’s programme transformed a perfectly competent and interesting workshop into that bastion of regional news teams everywhere, the  ‘light-hearted “and finally” slot’. Presumably there were no kittens up trees or amusing photos of phallic-shaped vegetables that evening.  ‘If the man at the turntable is a doctor and he’s spinning discs’, sniggered the reporter of DJ, saxophonist, sound artist and respected academic Dr. Matthew Sansom, ‘does that make him a “spin-doctor”‘?

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Anyway. incensed at this outpouring of scorn at the expense of  my noble profession and filled with plenty of righteous ire, I quickly set about working on a riposte. If the idea of dance music being played at a major academic institution was so ripe for local news parody, I reasoned, how would they feel at finding their words incorporated into a dance track of their own? And so I took to creating a piece of music using nothing but the voices of the studio presenter and the news reporter. The only exception was the kick drum, which is taken from the contemporary Robbie Williams song ‘Rock DJ’ that opened the report, which should tell you everything you need to know about just what a nuanced and thoroughly researched piece of television I was dealing with. In some small way, it felt like making them eat their words. Or dance to them, still haven’t quite decided if the analogy works. Not that any of that really mattered more than getting one over on the establishment.  Hear me roar, local newscasters!

The results were… well, look, it was a long time ago. Don’t judge it too harshly…

It goes on for quite a while longer, but I think  that’s probably enough to be getting on with. Certainly nothing that will give Mr. Herbert a sleepless night. I know you’re probably wondering how on earth I ever managed to scrape a 2:1, but I’d like to think that what the piece lacks in skilful technique, it makes up for in youthful vigour and rebellious spirit, as well as being a crude but useful way of exploring the compositional techniques that would go on to help create more meaningful and significant later work. I mean I’d like to think that, really I would. The most comforting thought is that these days we’re all a little older, a little wiser, and no longer have to look towards regional news teams to define our existence. For that at least, we must be grateful.

Oh, and I can assure you this marks the end of my trawling the personal archives. I made an awful lot of very terrible stuff back then and thankfully had the good sense to lose most of it. In fact, I’m very glad that I went through my ‘embarrassing demo’ years before we reached our current situation where it’s absolutely impossible to lose anything. Rather makes me wonder if sharing this with you now isn’t just shooting myself in the foot…


Cafe Oto, Fundraising Update, Tiny Mixtapes, Pine Cones

Congratulations to Resonance FM who, thanks to the hard work of its volunteer workforce and the generosity of its listenership, managed to raise £20,000 in this year’s fund-raising auction. And Howlround are very proud indeed to announce that our ‘Home Haunting‘ contribution, in which the highest bidder receives a unique piece of sound art created entirely using recordings of their place of residence; raised a not-too-shabby-at-all £250! Congratulations to our mystery winner, who shall be receiving a house-call in the not-too-distant future.

Let’s celebrate with a brief extract from  last month’s set at another great alternative music institution, Cafe Oto, where the Howlround tape loop sound-system spooled a well-received set at the behest of the The Full Of Noises festival. With thanks to The Octopus collective for having us and Ryoko Akama, The Alpeh, Lauren Redhead and ORE (amongst others) for a splendid couple of evenings of frequently extraordinary music.

I’m keeping it brief this week as there’s currently a gigantic pile of new material I need to finish and I keep making excuses to avoid it. But if the masochists amongst you haven’t quite had your Foggy Fill,  you might like to know that I’m currently being featured on ace music blog Tiny Mix Tapes, where I talk with Mr. Daniel Emmerson about my work in Howlround, tape manipulation, flooded basements, oldskool jungle and the nature of sound in general. I certainly warm to my subjects, in fact I probably go a little too much. Have a read here.

Updates of new music and other projects will be appearing on this page in due course, but in the meantime I’ll leave you with a cartoon sent to me in response to our Cafe Oto invitation by  itinerant modular synth tinkerer Mr. Daniel Hamilton, which made me laugh so much I thought I’d share it with you:


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