Somewhat Bazaar: Musicity Midsummer and Keeping Radio Active

Hello You. Please enjoy the breathless update from Fog Towers as I gear up for another busy week. First off, if you happen to be in the vicinity of The Barbican on Tuesday night, why not join myself, Tanya Nwachukwu, Bump Kin and host Nick Luscombe for the first in a series of talks about the recently launched Muscity x Culture Mile project? 6pm at the Life Rewired hub (with Tanya and Bump Kin at 7pm) and it’s all FREE! Should be a fun and stimulating evening, plus a useful primer for anyone who has ever asked me ‘Er, what exactly was all that about?’ – and such people are LEGION, trust me! Further details can be found here.

Very excited to be playing at A Midsummer Night’s Happening this Friday, a one day spectacular put together by Ghost Box and Trunk Records in association with The state51 Conspiracy. Jonny and I will be presenting The Kirchin Tape Lab, in which impossibly rare, unique and previously unheard recordings from the tape archive of the legendary composer Basil Kirchin will be played and mixed on the Howlround live quartet for the first time ever, along with the accompanying piano improvisations of Steve Beresford. Also performing on the night will be Pye Corner Audio, The Soundcarriers, Justin Hopper and Sharon Kraus and much more besides. Of course I would normally point you in the direction of tickets and further information, but sadly the whole event sold out almost immediately, even before I could share the news on any channels (almost before it was confirmed I was playing, if you can believe that). Heartfelt apologies, fellow tape heads. Hopefully they’ll be more of this stuff in the future…

Being given access to such an extraordinary body of unreleased recordings from this most maverick of composers has been an honour and a privilege, although I can tell you that getting it back to Penge all the way from the Trunk compound was a rather nerve-wracking experience – I kept expecting my tote bag of sonic treasures to be snatched at any moment by avant garde muggers. Thankfully tapes and bearer alike arrived at Fog Towers in one piece, and while I naturally can’t divulge any of the audio contents on these pages or anywhere else, I’m sure Jonny won’t mind my sharing a few tantalising glimpses of Basil’s handwritten sleevenotes.

And what of those aforementioned undivulged contents? Well, it’s a mixture of fleshed out compositions, tape experiments, field recordings, electronic doodles, plus – as you’ll notice – PIGS. And as far as I’m concerned they can and should serve as a much-needed call-out to all those of us working in similar fields to pull our socks up and just DO IT BETTER! And just think – these are merely a few tapes out of hundreds in the Kirchin collection! Hopefully they’ll all see the light of day at some point, but in the meantime, just remember: Basil Kirchin is your friend.

My Special Message: Pigs

…And I made another new friend too!

Jonny and Frank

Continuing with tape, but on a slightly more accessible front, the excitement continues on Sunday 23rd when I’ll be contributing to the latest event from Palace Electrics as part of the 2019 Crystal Palace Festival. Three local artists have been asked to reinterpret a famous song that has the word ‘radio’ as its theme. No doubt you can readily guess what inspired the title:

I’ve been tasked with dismantling a 1985 rap classic from Mr. LL Cool J, though given the way the sessions are currently progressing, it’s less reinterpretation and more evisceration. I’m starting to wonder just how much control I actually have over my tape loop arsenal and whether in reality I’m just hanging on for dear life. Anyway, entry is FREE, it’s a killer line up and last time I played Palace Electrics it was absolutely banging, so you really can’t go wrong – and if you subscribe to that whole ‘mistake as hidden intention’ philosophy, neither can I! Seriously, Kirchin to Cool J in 72 hours – who else could boast such an unwieldily career arc?

Howlround at Palace Electrics, 2018. Photo by John Barrett

Rather belatedly, I must point you in the direction of an exclusive new Howlround track that appears on Warwick Bazaar 2018, a rather splendid download sampler from the titular Carlisle shop-cum-live venue that just happens to be my favourite Cumbrian-based shop-cum-live-venue-that-isn’t-Vinyl-Cafe – and that’s no mean accolade! It’s a compilation of some of the artists that played there last year and proves to be an impressively varied role call, featuring a string of excellent band names such as Death Bed, Cosmic Cat and the like, plus my old mucker Heartwood Institute aka Jonathan Sharp. Incidentally, Jonathan’s solo LP under his own name will shortly be dropping on Castles In Space and is already getting some very approving nods from those in the know – hopefully my own copy will be arriving any day now so I can join in with them!

In the meantime Warwick Bazaar 2018 is available now as a name-your-price download and I know a lot of care an attention has gone into this sampler, so do be sure to bung them a few quid. May I whet your appetite by hereby presenting the previously unreleased track ‘Middle Gelt’. A dear friend once described this track as ‘like angels wailing’, which I’m taking as a compliment despite the fact that she claimed playing it at four in the morning was freaking her out a bit:

Finally, do please head on over to the London’s Sound Heritage blog if you have a spare moment, where our latest post features a cache of vintage recordings from London’s Pirate past (pirate radio, that is, not the shivery timbers kind) courtesy of one DJ Wrongspeed. There’s also this exciting discovery we made as part of our regular #TapeBoxTuesday feature, which I’m still giggling about even now. Nice work, Caroline!

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All Cued-Up: Superstar DJs, Sounds From Below And The Strangest Song Ever

Hello you. It’s been a quiet couple of weeks on these pages, but relatively rowdy elsewhere. For starters, you may have heard the announcement that international snooker legend (and Howlround fan!) Mr. Steve Davis has now been announced as the superstar DJ special guest at this year’s Delaware Road festival, 17th/18th August in a top secret military complex somewhere near Stone Henge. I’m sure I’m not alone in being both a) very excited about this development and b) completely unable to say ‘Stone Henge’ without channelling my inner Nigel Tufnell. As if the lineup could get any more fantastic!

To celebrate this momentous news, Nick Taylor’s The Dream Machine have created the latest in what I hope will be a series of Delaware Road mixtapes. It’s the perfect soundtrack to accompany hasty ticket purchase or for staring at this rather super photo that I borrowed from elsewhere on the internet:

In other Howlround news, the machines and I recently unveiled a brand new and original sound design for the Under Ground London exhibition now on display at the London Metropolitan Archives in Farringdon. Designed for use at low-level and in accompaniment of archive footage of tube stations, sewers and civil defence installations, the soundtrack consists of Howlround tape loops combined with contemporary field recordings by London tour guide Andrea Vail. Obviously for optimum effectiveness it’s best to go down and view the work in situ, but those of you lacking speedy access to Farringdon can check out a brief extract below:

As explained on a nearby wall inside the exhibition space, our intention was to produce ‘…an abstract sound portrait of some of London’s hidden spaces[…] The intention here was to try and create an experience evocative of the sounds every Londoner will recognise: distant trains in tunnels, the squealing of wheels, the rush hour claustrophobia and the occasional sudden moments of unexpected calm and solitude. The creation of a modern soundtrack also acts as a slight juxtaposition to the more historical nature of the films on display, bringing the past into the present’.

Entry is free and this fascinating exhibition runs until 31st October 2019, which should be plenty of time for even the most geographically inconvenienced of you to pop down and check it out. Although I must add a note of caution, not all of it is for the squeamish:

The soundscape was produced as a spin off of sorts from the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project and is hopefully just one of many pieces of outreach and engagement work. The team are now over six months into this three year project to preserve and catalogue five thousand ‘at-risk’ analogue sound recordings and already we’ve unearthed all manner of fascinating artefacts, some of which end up online at our Londons Sound Heritage blog. My personal favourites so far have to include the embarrassment of riches on offer from the Inner London Education Authority, in particular this unassuming-looking tape ‘It’s A Gift’, which you can read more about in this blog post I wrote a few weeks ago entitled ‘The Strangest Song Ever Written?’

Finally, I’m pleased to announce an exclusive Howlround track closes the latest compilation from the ever-redoubtable A Year In the Country stable. The Watchers is the latest in the label’s long-running series of themed compilations and also features contributions from The Heartwood Institute, Grey Frequency, Field Lines Cartographer and many more. This time the theme was the ancient oaks of Britain and for my contribution I travelled down to Tilford, that picturesque village on the banks of the River Wey in Surrey. It’s the site of a good deal of happy memories (a significant portion of my childhood was spent in a nearby village), a rather nice pub (a significant portion of my childhood was spent never going there), and more pertinently an oak that is rumoured to be at least 800 years old. I’m willing to bet that in all those centuries it has witnessed very few things as ridiculous as the sight of your humble scribe scrabbling about in the dirt with a pair of contact mics, trying to persuade it to cooperate. But I hope you’ll agree that persistence has ultimately paid off. Pre-order your copy here.

Amongst Britain’s trees there are thought to be over 3,000 ancient oaks – those which date back 400 years or more – and of those trees more than 115 are 800 to 1,000 years old or more. They are part of a tree population that also includes ash trees that have lived for hundreds of years and a yew that is estimated to be between 2000-3000 years old or possibly many thousands of years older and that some consider to be the oldest living thing in Europe.These are living organisms which could be seen to be undertaking a very stately, still form of time travel, to be watchers and observers over the passing of the years, centuries and even millennia.

Given the nature of the album’s theme and the kaleidoscope of high-class experimental sounds to be found within the sleeve, I can’t help feeling that AYITC have missed a trick by not entitling this compilation ‘Bark Psychosis‘. You see what I did there? No, no, I’ll see myself out…