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.
…And I made another new friend too!
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?
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!
Two exciting landmarks for #TapeboxTuesday this week: 1.) The discovery of the first D46 cassette our audio preservation engineer has ever seen in the wild and 2.) the fact that it contains what may be THE SHORTEST ORAL HISTORY EVER RECORDED!#SaveOurSounds @BLSoundHeritage pic.twitter.com/FsxotEdmC6
— LdnMetArchives (@LdnMetArchives) June 11, 2019
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…
Howlround are absolutely delighted to have been invited to contribute to the latest project devised by Musicity Global and Culture Mile in association with The Barbican. Inspired by the wide variety of remarkable architecture on offer here in the ancient heart of the nation’s Capital and officially launched at the recent Sound Unbound 2019 festival, MxCM has commissioned a number of musicians and sound artists to each produce an exclusive audio work inspired by a different location in and around the Barbican complex.
The resulting tracks are then geo-tagged precisely to their respective locations in question and can be listened to only by physically visiting that area and logging into MusicityGlobal.com using a smartphone. It’s both a treasure trove of hidden surprises from some of London’s most intriguing sonic talent and also a neat way of engaging with your surroundings – Howlround’s own track ‘Heavy Works’ was inspired by the Beech Street Tunnel right next to the world famous art complex and you can read more on the work’s gestation over at the Musicity Global blog. Essential reading for anyone wondering just what we were up to that early Sunday morning when we turned up on site with THIS:
‘In an age when so much music is available in an instant, we want to bring back the joy of seeking it out. We want our audience to venture out, to be active not passive consumers of contemporary music, to explore cities and to experience the urban environment in new and unexpected ways, though music that is entirely connected with it’. Musicity Global
For those of you who are feeling lazy, a limited edition cassette compilation of all ten tracks can be purchased exclusively from The Barbican Shop. Although let’s face it, that would hardly be in the spirit of the endeavour – and since you’re already on site you might as well explore the site and get some exercise!
Howlround are hereby most honoured and delighted to be featured in the latest edition of Electronic Sound magazine, a whole four pages devoted to the secret life of spools and new album The Debatable Lands. Our scribe is Ben Murphy and the gorgeous photography is by Antonio Curcetti. Plus the issue boasts a very snazzy pro-EU cover that compliments the Howlround values nicely!
Thanks must also to Neil Mason for arranging this feature and for saying such nice things about the new album in the previous issue. Copies of the LP and six additional digital bonus tracks can still be purchased here. Electronic Sound is available from all good record shops, some bad record shops and also your local branch of WH Smiths. Curiously, I purchased my own copy from the branch of Smiths in which I used to surreptitiously read DJ Mag as a teenager (my paper round wouldn’t quite stretch to buying records AND magazines about records) and coincidentally where I first read an article way back in 1994 that alerted me to the fact that this music I loved so much was called ‘Jungle’. Ben was previously the editor of DJ Mag as it turns out. Funny how these things move in cycles, isn’t it? Two seminal moments in the same shop, a mere 25 years apart (plus I got a birthday card for mother).
Anyway, the new Electronic Sound, including a special edition featuring a 7″ single by Deus is now available, and proves a stimulating read, as always. The only thing I would warn against is accidentally dropping the damn thing spine-first on your toe. You’ll be hopping around swearing like a sailor for at least half an hour…
Photo by Antonio Curcetti
Hello you. Welcome to the latest massively overdue update from Fog Towers. First off, I’m very excited to announce that Howlround will be playing at the latest Delaware Road event this summer, this time staged at an active military complex in the vicinity of Stone Henge. I’ll be playing alongside Merkaba Macabre and the Psyché Tropes crew, but that’s just for starters – check out the line-up above! Could be Buried Treasure’s most spectacular event yet, which is no mean feat given the extraordinary showcase they put on at Kelvedon Hatch (‘Secret’) Nuclear Bunker back in 2017. It’s certainly a testament to BT boss and chief strategist Alan Gubby that The Delaware Road has gone from being the germ of a screenplay to a concept album and now an ever-increasing community of like-minded, mutually supportive artists. Although it’s not until August, I’m really excited for this already, even if it does involve the prospect of having to remember how a tent works. Further information and tickets can be found here, and to whet your appetite further Alan has put together a promotional mixtape featuring manifold delights from the artists involved, including a brand new and exclusive collaboration from Howlround and Makaba Macabre, hopefully the first of many. Strap on your ear goggles and tune in below:
Secondly, huge thanks to Neil Mason for a glowing review of new Howlround LP The Debatable Lands in the latest issue of Electronic Sound magazine. First time I’ve ever had anyone describing my work using words like ‘magic’ and ‘seriously wild’ – and hopefully not the last time either!
Another large thank you must also go to Neil Kulkarni for an equally flattering review of my ‘spooky reptilian tape clatters’ appearing this month in The Wire. As I can’t include an image of it here (my phone is dead, my flatmate is away and it’s raining outside), I’ll just quote you some of the highlights:
‘[Y]ou start to feel it’s the machine’s making the decisions, the closed input one-take recording narrowing the walls and increasing the sense of intransigent, intractable progress towards oblivion. […] If an environment is suggested it’s not the desolate moors of his Cumbrian surroundings – it’s more aquatic and threatening too – teeth bared in the depths, the snarling arguments of a shoal of Baltic Pike or Humbolt Squid […] Smart horror directors should be getting this on their soundtracks.’
Absolutely chuffed to bits with the responses to the album so far – not bad for a record made on a dining room table with nothing but some novelty reindeer candlesticks and the occasional interruptions of two dogs and a baby! Anyway, The Debatable Lands is available now on Touch as a gorgeous vinyl LP with six additional download tracks. Order your copy here.
Continuing with the gratitude distribution, thanks also to everyone who came down to my first two shows of the year at Iklectik and the University of Surrey last month, supporting UnicaZürn and Eleh respectively. Iklectik as ever gave us a warm welcome and a packed house, plus a re-tweaked soundsystem to play with that I’m reliably informed made the walls shake during Howlround’s performance. It was certainly a heavy, rather squelchy set, featuring mostly stellar performances from the quartet, although the ever-mischievous ‘Delia’ suddenly threw a wobbly five minutes before showtime and remaining largely inactive throughout the performance. By pure coincidence, longtime friend and occasional Howlround biographer Pete Woodhead has captured the very moment when Delia gave up the ghost in the above image. You may have noticed the face I’m pulling – it’s an expression I’ve used quite often in my dealings with that pesky UHER. Thankfully the show was pulled off with what I think was the requisite amount of aplomb – UnicaZürn were fantastic as ever and I’m very much looking forward to hearing their forthcoming album later this year.
Amazing to share a stage with Eleh at the Moog Symposium too – even if his equipment did completely dwarf my own! I’m told this magnificent synth he was using is one of only three like it in the world and is kept by the University Of Surrey for use by their students and visiting dignitaries. Which basically means that despite it being twenty times bigger than my own setup, nobody has to worry about getting it home on the train afterwards. Wonder if they’d let me move in?!
Unfortunately, after all this excitement I now have to report that Howlround has had to be placed in a state of temporary hibernation: Following some erratic behaviour at the aforementioned live shows, Delia and three of the UHER machines so crucial to performing live successfully have had to be sent away for a much-needed servicing; whilst usually-trustworthy Revox B77 ‘Wendy’ is displaying all the worrying hallmarks of a machine that has recently been a tiny bit on fire:
What’s that smell? Oh, crap, I think one of the machines is burning again… 🔥😱 pic.twitter.com/FH19LrEC3f
— Howlround (@Howlroundmusic) February 24, 2019
Curse those cheap capacitors! Needless to say I’m bracing myself for a repair bill of Earth-shattering magnitude. And while it’s true that I’ve often made my best work on a severely limited setup, it’s going to be especially tricky this time without two of my more reliable ‘workhorse’ machines to call upon. Such wounds of separation were then awarded an additional heaping of salt this week with the sudden death of my phone (and I must apologise to anyone who has been trying to call or text me and been chagrined at my lack of response). So not the best week, technologically speaking, but Howlround will surely rise again – I was going to insert some sort of clumsy Phoenix analogy on the end of this sentence, but given Wendy’s current condition I fear that would be tempting fate.
Moving on, a very different type of heat is being generated over over on the freshly minted London Sound Heritage blog, where I’ve written a few words on the twin subjects of pop music and microwave ovens; thanks to a rather special cassette discovered in the London Metropolitan Archives. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned in these pages my current involvement in the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project (a nationwide attempt to preserve historic ‘at risk’ recordings in collaboration with the British Library), but we’re aiming to digitise 5,000 individual recordings over the next three years, of which ‘NEW WAVE COOKERY FOR THE 90’S’ (caps very much theirs) is just one especially strange example. Distributed to youth clubs around the turn of that decade, the cassette involves a rather breathless quiz featuring fifty relentless questions on those twin lode-stars of any young person’s life: pop music and microwave cookery. The winners would then be set the challenge of having to ‘devise’ and serve a microwave meal for the multi-award-winning lyricist Tim Rice (allegedly) in the hope of bagging themselves an Atari ST and a MAGNIFICENT TROPHY (their caps again). Oh, how we chortled in the office at the thought of the man behind Joseph, Evita et al. being sat at a high table in front of a crowd of expectant teenagers*, napkin at the ready, gazing wearily down at each of the deeply-unappetising cellophane-wrapped atrocities placed in front of him; all the whilst having someone with a clipboard hissing in his ear, ‘Listen, ducky, you agreed to the money – start making yum-yum noises for these little swines or I’ll have you microwaved!’ Different times, of course. Why not head over to the blog and take the test yourself, to see if you’re as smart as your average 1980s youth? Surely we must all be cleverer these days with the internet at our disposal, right?
Having soundly beaten the 1980s, fast forward yourself some quarter of a century to the heady, innocent summer of 2015 (seems a long time ago these days, doesn’t it?), when I was to be found working on a new composition in collaboration with one Mr. Ray Carmen, then operating under the nom de plume abandoned playground. The resulting track, ‘OH’, was composed using Ray’s micro cassette field recordings of trains, chimes and his infant daughter Grace; and would go on to open Howlround’s Tales From The Black Tangle LP later that year.
Why am I mentioning all this now? Well, the temptation to distance myself from the state-of-affairs in 2019 notwithstanding, it’s because Ray has recently rebranded this solo project as The Ghost Lilies and included ‘OH” in a new compilation album entitled Over The Hill, alongside numerous other extracts from his lengthy back-catalogue, many of which are long out-of-print, And it’s free too! I’d advise you to head over and give the album a (metaphorical) spin – and to hasten you along, I thought I’d give the original ‘promoH’ video another airing. Made on my kitchen table with a budget of $0, please re-enjoy some tiny train action, oh grateful universe!
Ray’s other various activities (which at last count registered as ‘innumerable’) can be further traced via his website. And as for Grace, I believe she’s blossomed into one smart cookie and might actually be about to start a PHD or something. Kids these days…, it really is mind-blowing.
Speaking of old tracks coming back to haunt me, excited to announce a revised and expanded edition of A Year In The Country’s 2016 compilation The Quietened Village is now available for pre-order and will be officially released this week. Originally surfacing in 2016, it now boasts two new tracks by Field Lines Cartographer and my Cumbrian sparring partner The Heartwood Institute, an exclusive Howlround track and recently expanded sleevenotes, badges and stickers. Limited hand-made editions as ever, so don’t sleep on this one, especially if you missed out last time. Order your copy here, then spend some time poking around A Year In The Country’s blog, which never fails to be a stimulating read. And unlike this website, it’s updated regularly!
*I mean ‘full of expectation’, not ‘pregnant’. Just wanted to clarify.
Seven Inches For Cash – Exclusive New Howlround Single For Resonance FM Fundraiser – Three Copies Only!Posted: February 5, 2019
It’s that time once again when the world’s greatest radio station Resonance 104.4FM asks you to dip into your pockets and help to support its activities for another year. The award-winning station continues to broadcast unique and ear-opening content across London on FM and far, far away via ResonanceFM.com and it’s recently launched DAB platforms; with all programme-makers and the vast majority of staff giving their services entirely for free. But it’s an expensive business and each year Resonance faces a genuine struggle to make ends meet. That’s why their annual fundraiser, held every February is such a crucial part of the station’s calendar.
There’s a programme of fantastic events coming up over the next week or so as well as the usual Ebay auction, with lots of covetable items and experiences up for grabs. For my part, I’m very excited to present another brand new Howlround 7″, featuring two classic unreleased tracks from the vaults. Only three copies exist and you can visit their individual pages on the Resonance auction site here, here and here. The tracks will not be re-pressed or reissued anywhere else (which is actually a bit of a shame as they’re two of my favourites). A big thank you must go to Dan at Onecutvinyl.com, who once again has donated his time and services for free. Resonance salutes you, Dan!
Bidding ends 9pm February 10th, so don’t sleep on these if you want one. To whet your appetite and hopefully encourage a final flurry of bidding, the A-side will be played on the Dexter Bentley Pay As You Go Hello Goodbye Show this Saturday (as part of the fundraiser Dexter Bentley is auctioning off his airtime at the rate of £10 per minute – visit hellogoodbyeshow.com to find out more), but other than that brief airing, nobody apart from the lucky winners will ever hear these tracks. So please make your bids nice and high – they’re beautiful records and I think we can all agree it’s a thoroughly worthy cause. Visit fundraiser.resonance.fm to find out more and get involved.