This was a night that Quiet Shoes, Dee-Scripter and myself had been looking forward to for some time. In fact Dee-Scripter had introduced me to Aidan Moffat via Arab Strap some 10 years ago and was my point of inception for becoming a fan. During university I managed to slump into some pretty dark times and it was the sweet nihilistic words of Aidan Moffat who played a part in dragging me through those times and out the other side. I drew from him as an influence when writing poetry for the course and am ashamed to admit that some recordings of what I wrote has me attempting a Scottish accent because it unlocked so much in the way of rhyming and it makes being depressed or down sound really good.
We arrived at the venue and waited a good ten minutes in the rain for Dee to turn up, I like to think that the rain was part of the performance, getting you ready for what was ahead with an ashen sky and soggy skin. A stark contrast to the immaculate and brightly lit interior of the Rough Trade shop / venue. It was a good scope out ready for Psych Fest as we didn’t know much about the venue at all.
What I will conclude is that it’s functional. That’s it really, it has a bar, a seated area and a performance area. I don’t know if it’s because it’s relatively new but the venue itself had no atmosphere, it was sterile and clinical. There was a stage with instruments on it, some speakers, a sound desk area, some folded seats, it was a dark room.. the floor wasn’t sticky, there was no smell, no stickers, no posters, no ambience whatsoever, it was totally blank and flat. The single worst aspect of the entire building those is the door into the venue from the bar. What you don’t want during a sublime gig is to be interrupted by a harsh light every 10/30 seconds with someone absent mindedly walking in shouting ‘oh they’ve started’ or ‘is it this way?’ – this is a consensus that the three of us concluded rather quickly and upon our post-gig earwigging ascertained that it was shared with other audience members.
Setting that aside though, the sound was exceptional, I did think I spied the sound lady from The Old England who is always on form but I may have been wrong (I know Aidan Moffat & RM had their own touring sound person there too).
So, setting aside the issue of the door let’s get to it…
Siobhan Wilson tried to kill me. Armed with a guitar and the softest voice I have heard in a long time she was able to breakdown all external barriers that I have painstakingly erected in an attempt to keep emotion on one side and logic on the other and she broke it all up into pieces and danced around in my chest, commanding me to feel. I couldn’t fight it because it felt incredibly natural, the celtic lilt to her voice, the delicate brushing of the guitar strings coming through plain as day with a snow-like purity, making me think of the old road trips we took to Talybont as a kid, seeing the waterfalls and the ancient forests, it was like mother-nature herself had appeared before us as a singer and with a single, effortless stroke of strings and an equally effortless psiren like vocal mist completely destroyed and re-arranged everything that was known, or will be known.
Would there be any essence of us left as people before the next act take to the stage? Was this some form of beautiful punishment, or just a pure reminder of feelings and experience? Did anyone else feel like that or just me?
Sure you could look at it from a ‘top layer’ perspective and say ohh that’s celtic influenced indie folk or some other labels and words like iridescent but until you experience it for yourself with your own ears and your own vulnerabilities there’s nothing on this earth that will do it justice.
AIDAN MOFFAT & RM HUBBERT
On a number of occasions The Shoracle has told me to listen to the album put out by Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert but I refused on the grounds that I’d see it / hear it and purchase it on the night of the performance and whilst I nailed two of these, I also forgot to take cash monies so haven’t completed the latter.
The only time I have seen Aidan himself is in the video for Afternoon Soaps (Arab Strap) which goes back a number of years and to re-iterate what he said on the night he was carrying the sexy teacher look off really well in the present. Again though, we’re getting hung up on the wrong aspects of the show… what surprised me the most was how funny he was. I guess having only known his work and nothing outside of that it was never likely that I’d paint a picture of someone so dry and witty as was the man stood in front of me now, but he was, highly entertaining and laugh inducing. Often referring to some of the darker songs as happy. If AM or RM were going to give up music then certainly comedy writing would be a realistic goal for them both.
As to be expected their performance was utterly beautiful and (almost) seamless, with the promise of any ‘fucked up’ songs being replayed at the end. At times it baffled me how such sparse guitar, barely existing drums and unsubstantiated bass notes were capable of creating such a full and thick sound on which Mr Moffat could place his words with lullaby precision. RM’s fingers were dancing so delicately over the strings at times it seemed unpossible that sound was happening, but it was. A word that I’ve used a lot lately (because I only have so many of them and I’m trying to find more) is nuanced which certainly applies here what with all the delicate twinkly bits to listen out for.
It was much like being in a taxi that Mr. Moffat was behind the wheels of, he’s telling you tales of people he has met from all walks of life and whilst you’re listening to these tales of ordinary, damaged individuals you’re looking out of the window, the scenery of which is the music and you’re noticing all these innocuous yet delicate events taking place, a couple hugging, someone helping someone else with their bag, two friends seeing each other in the street. Normal, relatable events that are so easily taken for granted but when there is a commentator sat with you on the outside, looking in (or the inside looking out) you’re drawn to these moments, you notice them and you appreciate them.
And that was it really… we left that sublime show feeling a feeling of blissful emptiness, we’d given ourselves over to the music makers and in exchange they sucked everything out and left us only what they had created. As a result, upon meeting Mr. Moffat I just said something along the lines of ‘I love you you’re great’ like a babbling twat. But y’know, it was his fault.
It’s not often that I attend a gig alone, certainly not gigs that you know are going to exceptionally loud and raucous, but when I bought my ticket I figured I’d probably see someone I knew there and it would all be okay.
I had first discovered Weedeater by accident during one of many Youtube explorations into the unknown, ‘I like this’ thought I, much like Gregg Wallace as I discovered more and more of their records. It then became clear that they’re well known in the stoner, sludgy brown sound world of music which happens to be one of my favourite places to reside you. In the murky swamp of down-tuned instruments surrounded by a thick green haze and slumped up buddies with slits for eyes, contemplating everything and nothing at the same time… delicious.
So, ticketed up and as baked as any dessert on a Sunday at my Nan’s house I ventured off, like I have many many times before into the great musical unknown, albeit alone.
It was a four band night but due to the aforementioned stonededness I completely missed the first act but I did manage to arrive just in time for Lacertillia. A new band to me so I had the joy of experience them with total ear-blindedness and holy fuck what a show they put on. The room was pumping and sweating in a synchronised fashion to the shaggy-haired singer who was moving faster than my eyes could calculate. They were an unrelenting battering ram of psychedelic thunder, basically you opened the door and let them in or they were breaking through, simple as that.
I was standing on the little raised bit where the booths are located so that I could see over the crowd and protect my weak and spasticated body from the throng of long haired, darkly dressed doom lovers who created a seemingly impenetrable wall between me (safe) and the band (dangerous). I was wrong, no sooner had I pondered my own safety had the front-man locked eyes with me and I guess decided ‘he’s too safe’ because the next thing I new, the safety wall of r0ckers parted and the singer was marching up to me with determination, he was then mere inches from my face injecting the words to the song with such severity into my body that I thought I was going to burst into tears, or explode, or both.
He then proceeded to role back across the floor, through the crowd back to his domain, having left me weak and afraid, succumbing to the hold of the music and energy within the room. Fuck yes.
If dragons are real in Wales it’s these guys, these guys are the dragons. I never knew they existed until this night but yup, they do and they’re a force NOT to be reckoned with. Fan or not (and we is), they’ll eat you up regardless. Bandcamp; here.
The second ear-blind musical venture for me of this evening was ASG What a kick ass band… there were elements of deliciously raw prog, like, a pinch of Caress of Steel with the conjuring of images like brave warriors, mountains and quests, but at the same time they made me think of getting stoned and going to an arcade, and I was thinking of nineties pop culture references and VHS players… which in turn made me think of Regular Show. And so for me, as they performed these great quest-going megaballads of psychedelic, progeological and mega-rocking rockery I was taken on a journey (at one point on a giant bird type thing) over an immense kingdom of arcades, little thatched villages, kings, queens and magic and I’ve concluded that that must be what North Carolina looks like.
The Winusover album is a cacophony of sharp guitar over marching drums that conjure images of great war zones of mystical creatures battling it out for good and evil with the war cries and narratives of this incredible unwinding tapestry of musical story telling beautifully sung or awingly screamed by Jason Shi.
So, if like me you love the brown, boognish sounds of st0ner rock at it’s finest – you need to check these guys out. And if you know about them then you should feel bad for not telling me sooner! Bandcamp; here
Also hailing from North Carolina which I am starting to suspect is the birth place, or at least spawn point or incubation chamber for all great stoner bands is Weedeater the legends of their genre. The first track I ever heard was ‘Alone’ which was insanely misleading but by this point I was far more versed in their music which is so low down doomy dirge that it’s the musical underlay to the carpet of convention. I half expected Dave Collins to release a small pig into the crowd because as soon as they showed up I knew that we would be going on a hootenanny and hootenanny we surely went on.
As they kicked into action with their incredible ability to make every instrument including drums AND voices growl (something I thought unpossible) I felt the notion that what we needed was some bales of hay and a few bongs. It didn’t help that there was a glorious smell of cannabis emanating around me (that later transpired to BE me, escaping my pores via sweat) I considered licking myself but thought better of it.
Dave Collins moves around like a man possessed which in a way I like to think that he is at the time, his raw, throaty bellows, refined by years of Jim Bean consumption are the dark lullabies you only want to hear in this context. His thumbs which I imagine to be like densely packed wire wool from years of plucking bass strings danced across those thick strings, plunging us into the doldrums with riffs as gloomy as a haunted forest and a tempo that of whomever is attempting to escape the haunted forest.
But the crowd loved being in the forest, they loved being doused with whiskey, they loved the surrealistic jesterisations of Dave Collins dancing around, like the Pied Piper leading us down the foggy rabbit hole into another world, a safe world of substance abuse and never ending tinitus. This is where we wanted to go and that’s where we went and it was delicious. Website; here
Now and then we expect to go to a gig with the expectation of an enjoyably linear evening. One where everything is fine and grand and we have a nice time but nothing notably out of the ordinary takes place. This was not one of those nights. The Lovely Eggs have been on our radar since 2009 when we first went to see them under the advisement of The Shoracle at Ten Feet Tall in Cardiff, the night was tremendous and since then we have made every effort to attend their Welsh shows, firstly because they are an exceptional band who never fail to entertain and secondly they’ve always confessed an affinity with coming to Cardiff of which we feel should be respected, it’s a mutual appreciation between audience and band which should be maintained and respected by all.
On this particular evening Arbiter Titan was due to attend with myself and Dee-Scripter a rogue agent of The Shonk. Sadly AT was unable to attend due to ‘recital’ reasons (he can be so cryptic) so I was accompanied by The Duchess (Of Earl) another Eggs fan. A few months ago we had caught The Eggs and Mr Ben & The Bens in Cardiff during their last tour, they were accompanied by Porky The Poet (Phil Jupitus) and as usual it was another tremendous night. With this in mind we were excited to be travelling across to Bristol to one of my favourite venues of the big city, The Exchange.
Given the sound guys (I think his name is Tim?) love of bass and ability to blend all sounds perfectly I knew the set was going to be epic, for many years I’ve coveted Holly’s Selmer Bass & Treble amplifier and I was very excited to see how it sounded on this particular evening, I was not disappointed. Although I am getting ahead of myself now…
Mr Ben & The Bens
First to take to the stage was Mr Ben & The Bens a delightful band from Lancaster. They played an absolutely solid set in which no trumpets were squished (sadly an event which took place previously in Cardiff), we don’t normally talk about band appearance but the four-piece were rocking some lovely tea-cosy esque hats and an assortment of smocks and paint covered overalls which alluded playfully to the idea that they’d just come out of an art/music studio after locking themselves in there since the last time we had seen them and perhaps they did. The set was absolutely solid and sounded immense, the preponderance of bass juxtaposed with Mr. Ben’s immaculate ‘high’ voice (there’s a word for it I’m sure) with all the nuanced bass, guitar, drums and keys delicately decorated about in each tune provided the perfect recipe and mix for the fluffy song cake that they served up to us. We noted that Mr Ben in particular seemed a little more relaxed or comfortable than last time, not to detract from the brilliance of the Cardiff show but there was certain improvement that comes with playing and practicing and all the stuff I don’t do as a musician, this show was proof that it pays off.
I’ll note at this point that How We Used to Write is The Duchesses’ favourite tune whereas mine is The Bluest Blues, I just love that cheeky little riff (almost math-rock influenced) and then the organ drops giving it an Elvis Costello sort of feel, or um… Vampire Weekend.. I don’t like to make too many comparisons because the bottom line is that it’s Mr. Ben & The Bens.
The new album is coming out, or has come out and it’s called Happy Shopper, I could look it up for you but you should do it because then you’ll buy it, it’s out on Bingo Records which is a concept I wish I could sustain down here – a record label operating from a house as a community venture, what’s not to love? If memory serves correctly the drummer of MRBATB is the King of it or something.
We highly recommend this band for your viewing and seeing pleasure and we very hope to see them again.
It was nice to see that one of the support slots on this tour had been passed along to another poet, I find that sometimes it serves as a nice break between seeing three back to back bands but it’s also good to see people of different musical and literary backgrounds supporting one another, although if you go to a poetry recital night it’s rare that they bring a punk band for the interim slot, and if you DO go to a poetry recital and attempt to punk you are often banned as we have found.
After seeing Rob Auton perform and THEN reading some of the critical reviews provided by the likes of The Daily Mail… and I ask you at this point, how on earth is possible for The Daily Mail to attend The Fringe or anything remotely literary, artistic or liberal, what the fuck? They have no place there because they have no understanding of any of it. Wankers.
Anyway… sorry (AT will reprimand me for such digression) anyone observing that sparrows have their lives together more than themselves is a genius in my books, I mean for a start it’s true and it’s one of those observations that you wish you’d made yourself.
“My book is for sale out there, it’s £10 and if you think that’s a lot… you can save up” – Rob Auton
I found that his awkward almost reluctance to be on stage and address an audience to be highly entertaining. Far too often we are fed (not us personally as we have taste) immaculate and glossy performers, entertainers and jesters who embrace the stage and overact, play up to the situation.. Rob Auton does the opposite. I saw it as a gentle reminded that the audience does not own the performer and our assumptions of them prior to stage time shouldn’t be what we lean on in certainty. Here was Rob Auton destroying all pre-requisites by being too apathetic to be awkward, too awkward to be nervous and too nervous to care, like a substitute teacher who knows his contract is up, he made no effort to control the crowd but rather, in an unspoken fashion directed his talent and skill to those willing to listen. Critics are wankers, anything they don’t understand they assume is rubbish or they poke holes in it, we’ve no time for them. Rob Auton is great, buy his book.
The Lovely Eggs
No fucking about, Dave & Holly (Or Mr & Mrs. Eggs) were on stage like Strongbow powered bullets and caning out the hits before we had time to blink. I got all daft over that uhhhhhhmazing guitar sound (amp, I am coming for you) and the crowd which at this point we noticed was a seriously diverse mix of ages went totally mental.
There was a Pondie stood next to us, representing two of the greatest bands in the world with his T-shirt and his scarf, I forgot my scarf because I’m an idiot so I just stood next to his scarf each time he raised it!
Everyone was having a great time, Dee-Scripter was happy because there was a Harry Shearer lookalike having a right old jig in front of him. Then out of nowhere a bunch of balloons turned up and it felt like a low-cost attempt at recreating a Flaming Lips scenario which was hilarious to me because despite there only being 4 balloons on this particular evening, it was way better than Flaming Lips could ever hope to think to achieve (and I had a great time at that show)…
…then it got to a point in the set where it sort of went off on one, a bit unexpected like, but exciting because none of us knew what was going on and sometimes that is a great feeling. Holly had all kinds of vocal effects going on and I was trying to pick out what she was saying / singing over Dave’s metronomical super drumming… guitar… plays… anyone? Who, what? What is she asking for?
‘Are there really no women in here who play guitar’ I finally heard her say as the effects eeked out. ‘Holy shit’ I began pointing at The Duchess ‘woo, over here, look at this one’ – ‘what what what’ Said TD. in all the confusion ‘you play guitar!’ I stated and as she realised that this was true, so raised her hand and was noticed by Holly who said ‘come up here’.
Well shit. Didn’t see that coming.
Up TD went onto the stage, around Dave, behind the big stacky speaker thing whereupon she was bestowed Holly’s guitar and told ‘can you play E… wait, not E… I’m a bit wasted, it’s in D, you can use the wah if you like’ and there it was, TD. on stage with The Lovely Eggs, whodda thunk it. Getting in the groove with Dave as Holly went all Lux Interior and climbed up onto the speakers making all hypnotic noises thanks to vocal delay.
The crowd in its entirety was mesmerised and whirling dervish to the cacophony of the hypnotical music that was happening, I think if Holly hadn’t eventually climbed down from the speakers and reclaimed her guitar we might all still be there now.
Once again, this exceptional duo had smashed out a set of whimsical, rockical, magical tunes that you’d think at least four people were playing at any given time, each and everyone of us had been blasted with the bespoke joy only these two can bring and once again we were all reminded of the power of ‘Fuck It’ – it’s at this point you realise that they’re more than a band, they’re a therapy. A medical requirement to continue through the fog of modern life, now and then when things get too much you have to nip off to the side and experience some true to form Lovely Eggs psych punk, or if you’re mind is that frazzled take it back to an earlier album and enjoy one of the lighter tunes about lemons or birds. There’s something for everyone regardless of your delicate mental state and I reckon if you give them a listen you might ditch your depressants in favour. (Don’t really do that, I’m not a doctor) But DO check them out if you haven’t, which should be a crime by now.
By this point it might be a seriously liberal use of the term ‘anti-folk’, I mean, what the fuck could have prepared me for this performance? And more to the point, who is ever going to top it? Going to an ultimate gig is just as much a worry as it is a blessing because who knows how many need to tick over before the next ultimate one?
I’m pretty secure in the idea that it was the headline act of a gig that I was attending but it could equally have been a public awareness video highlighting the awesome effects of longterm drinking and cocaine and I mean that in the best possible way.
Like a hyperactive child B.A Johnston darted from instrument to instrument across the stage with no inhibitions, just bollocking out tune after tune with incredible titles like ‘how many ribeye steaks can by chubby, unwashed fingers cram into the waistband of my uniform’ (as seen below and I lose my shit every time I see it).
I was grateful I didn’t have a drink with me for Mr. Johnston made it his mission to ensure that audience members downed whatever they had on them and down they did, can into the forehead off to another. A sizeable amount of the performance took place off stage, somewhat breaking the forth wall but I do like a performer that likes to explore his surroundings, like a large, bearded bee, floating around at impossible speed and agility.
From the infinite ‘Who are you looking at Dickhead’ T-shirts to the curious looking Blackberry Passport containing an array of midi-esque backing tracks for the multi-genred and at times genreless tunes of social injustic, household appliances and burgers.
These are all important factors of life and you need to remember that as well people writing love songs and all that bollocks you need people to write about the other stuff too, it’s all important. It’s like, how we need businesspeople and refuse collectors, we don’t all like to admit that they’re there but they are and in this case it makes for an incredibly enjoyable show, an insight into the frantic mind of someone who either never gave a fuck and does it because they do it, or they once gave a fuck then thought fuck it and no more fucks were given.
Now… those who know me will know that I am not a fan of encores, to me it’s like shouting ‘hey we paid you, play more you cheap bastard’ and I don’t dig that, BUT there was an exception here for I felt that more was needed, I needed to know, like the rest of the audience where this would go…
‘If I play one more will you come with me on a journey?’ BA, now topless, sweaty but as unforgivingly energetic as the start of the show asked us. ‘Yessss’ we all shouted, expecting a musical journey. ‘FOLLOW ME’ came his response and with that he leapt off the stage and like the Pied Piper led the entire audience down to the mens-room in the basement to perform his final song and for us to sing it to in one of the greatest acoustic locations of any building.
And yeah… that’s what happened… we all sort of meandered out of the toilets after the song, with some guys realising ‘actually I need a wee’ and turning around to go back in. Everything felt a little confusing afterwards like reality was a bit alien to us all.
Needless to say it’s one of the top gigs of the year and given the number attended so far we have to solidly give B.A Johnston the OFFICIAL ‘The Shonk’ Gregg Wallace ‘I like that’ seal of approval.
‘How Many Ribeye Steaks…’
‘I’ve Got A Deep Fryer In My Bedroom…’
‘I Wanna Drink In A Bar…’
Bringing us back to home soil and deviating to an entirely new arena of anti-folk was none other than one of our favourite Cardiff Indiearchi bands (or Marindie) Quiet Maurader. In fact I daresay they are one of our all time favourite Cardiff bands with exception to maybe… MY NAME IS IAN. (I jest of course, both on par.)
In fact, both bands sit on the chart here at my Shonk desk as ‘most seen bands ever’ ranking about 6/7 times! In fact, the only reason I know about either is through my love of The Burning Hell, so without a doubt the cosmic Canadian theme of the night was well maintained, I think QM and MNII only ever play alongside Canadians maybe? Perhaps it’s their secret to longevity, either way I hope they carry on with it because I love them both and never tire of watching them.
As usual QM were on brilliant form which was admirable because I seem to recall them being at Le Pub for some time prior to the gig starting and were in a slightly merry state upon climbing the stage and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
What followed was a repertoire of some of my favourite love songs with delicate nuances and profound messages, all based on the fascinating life of apparent doctor and egg fanatic Simon. There are a couple other cross over characters in the band including Ian from MY NAME IS IAN (He’s not actually called Ian but it sort of stuck here since the first time we saw them, sorry if you’re reading this Ian/notIan) and Francesca who is Francesca’s Word Salad, another fantastic Cardiffy anti-folk performer that wears hats and I’m sure I remember puppets!
‘Eggs eggs, eggs eggs eggs eggs eggs, eggs eggs eggs eggs eggs, eggs eggs eggs eggs…’ – Eggs, Quiet Maurader
All comedy aside they’re a fantastic band that perfectly blend indie and mariachi with witty, dry and darkly humorous songs about business deals, disgusting men, chasing women in the woods and growing a moustache. (I still have my Bert Reynolds mask from the first gig because as a trinket) – with such an extensive plethora of themes constructed with two unlikely musical genres what isn’t to love?
Nothing, that’s what.
Oh and if anyone knows about cutting cards and cardestry please get in touch with the band’s bassist because he’s getting well into it, we had a lovely discussion about it!
So go and see them!
Read part four here
Taking us South of the border but not super south, so more middle, basically Ohio… well, literally Ohio was Micah Schnabel a singer songwriter from Ohio who lives in Ohio. I was mesmerised by his set of hoarse, rapid vocals ofter cascadingly rampant guitar. His voice was like butter icing escaping from hit at an alarming rate, like he was channelling this nihilistic yet liberally optimistic documentation of his life and experiences from another world, behind the veil.
There was a melancholy to his words but a balance to his songs. Each one a perfect blend of negative or potentially unsavoury life moments reflected against the positive and exciting moments, there was a down-to-earthedness to these words that made it all the more relatable, like he was the Billy Bragg that I needed to reflect my life against and conclude that ‘hey this guy has ended up in some fucked up places that sound similar and he’s doing okay, that helps’. There was a depth to all of it but before you could drown in nostalgia and hindsight related sadness based on your own shitty life the tempo and that exquisite voice would drag you out of that swamp and make you think ‘Fuck it! Fuck yeah! Fuck!’ and you’d be jigging and jiving and being livid at stuff.
Post performance and poised with pad and pen I commenced my ‘that was awesome’ awkward conversation which, some seven milliseconds in served to confirm what a genuinely nice and down to earth person he is, further evidence and affirmation that things are never that bad, no matter where we come from or what happens, if we stay positive and remain united with other positive people things will be fun and exciting.
Then a friend of The Shonk and I bombarded him with information about The Chartists and went off to drink more!
His Facebook music page is here!
Read part three here
There’s a place hidden in plain sight, an innocuous venue seamlessly disguised as something as beige and bland as a doctor’s waiting room. A place where the uninhabited can sneak away from the inhibiteds that wander the streets in branded clothing, comparing their Kanye’s and their Eds and rejecting anything that doesn’t follow their goal for social validation and approval.
A dark, cosy place so far off the beaten track that it’s in the middle of everywhere but unless you know, you don’t know and if you don’t know then this doesn’t matter. To not know is to not qualify, there is a game to be played to reach this destination. Even our dear Arbiter my most trusted comrade throughout my organisation is unaware of the place in which I speak. For I am but a proprietor of an archaic journalism factory, residing in total isolation in a dated penthouse, contactable only by vacuum tubes. But even I need to break free from time to time and allow myself to be driven, automatically across the mind-melding plateau of the musical hive mind.
I squeeze into the dumbweighter and thanks to my secret key am able to take it right down to the carpark (the staff don’t know that the shaft goes right through the tower). There I take The Shonk’s only vehicle pool car (a Morris Marina) out to the city and begin my quest.
To start with I had to find the right people, the types of crowds that might know of the place that I was looking for, it took a while, gaining trust, meeting people, discussing music, all the while remaining as aloof as possible for fear of blowing my cover. What if a Shonk staff member saw me? Fortunately I had a cunning disguise.
Eventually the place was mentioned, my ears pricked up as I heard the distinct name and I knew that I was heading in the right direction. A little more time and I would be invited, I was sure of it.
Finally after months of building relationships with some seriously cool cats, I was brought into the fold, told where I had to go and when. What do to and what to say, I felt excitement the likes of which I’ve not felt for many years, perhaps since the organisation moved to The Shonk Towers in the ’20s.
With my trusted outside world sherpa accompanying me across the dusty summer streets of the inner-city we found the place, so visible it wasn’t even there. A distinct knock saw the twitch of a curtain before finally a door opened to reveal a tall, kindly looking stranger with an inquisitive look to him, a look that was ready to play down anything we might say, in case we were imposters.
We dropped the names we knew and awaited a response, from there the stranger’s hand stretched out to shake mine and he introduced himself as ‘Dave’. We followed him into a dimly lit, cosy space that oozed of creativity. A space that felt as much as a private bar as it did someone’s living room, with a sturdy sound system and a plethora of instruments lined up and ready to go.
Within the shadows there were faces, relaxed and ecstatic from whatever created a pungent and hazy bi-product within the place. “I’m home” I thought. I turned to my sherpa but he was already at the front caressing the resident double-bass. It had begun, our endeavour into the musical unknown.
During the evening the house band grew and changed organically, evolving, building, driving, collapsing… time and time again. My tired and overseeing eyes witnessed the construction and journey of several musical pieces that were derived from very different places within the musicians, all providing a piece of them to be dropped into the melting pot of musical creation that was taking place before us.
And when we all reached the plateau, cornering at every nuanced crescendo like we were on some sort of idiosyncratic hill-walk we all got there together, we were all in it together. Whatever angst, pain or stress that was inside of us as individuals came out as a unit and was blended into the music never to be seen again. The audio cacophony produced by the ingredients leant to us from years of placating lives we didn’t ask for suddenly formed something beautiful and unique, something that would never be heard again in the same manner by anyone. Skills were irrelevant, this music was felt, nothing beyond basic familiarity with an instrument mattered because everything thereafter was not technical but raw and emotional. The perfect therapy.
My sherpa and I left at 0200 feeling almost empty, but not depleted. Exhausted but not tired, contented but agitated. It was like we’d burnt out 99% of what we had, but that 1% never runs out, it’s just used as a foundation for whatever comes next.
We returned to The Shonk towers and proceeded back to my domicile via the ominous dumbweighter system. Our secret outing as safe and sound as the location of where I speak. Perhaps the others there were proprietors of their own organisations, perhaps there were fellow arbiters there who had snuck out from their responsibilities. Who knows? To me it was about pushing boundaries, meeting people and being somewhere I hadn’t been before, not just geographically but emotionally, circumstantially, everythingly. For once we’ve repeated something as often as we have, no matter how unique to an outsider becomes liner and mundane to us and it’s important to break that cycle and discover more, never set, we are not jellies. We are people and unlike jellies we people like new and exciting things and we will never stop looking for them.
- Be kind and don’t listen to shit music. Your friend, The Great John Jenks Shonk.
Act one, night two of the three-for-three Le Pub challenge!
This was a night I’d had a ticket for for some time, but despite this I was still going in ear-blind, familiar only with Cardiff legends Quiet Marauder!
First to take to the stage was Geoff Berner, a lone gentleman of Canadian origins standing with an accordion over his shoulder and a drink in his hand, this image alone is enough to tell you that the night was going to be special, nay it was going to be laudacious, one to really stick in the nooks and crannies of one’s mind for years to come. He began to speak with this beautiful, cutting, Lynchian accent that made us pay attention, he told us stories of Canadian Folklore, their political issues and the wonders of travelling the great Canadian road, in a manner so potentially absurd that it had to be true. Like an uncertain uncle who has embarked on an inappropriate anecdote at his niece’s wedding he persevered, often about to start a song before remembering that there was more to tell. And there it was, that beautiful sound of laughter that starts off awkwardly, when the audience don’t quite know how to respond and as the set progressed the laughter became refined and we were on the path that Geoff Berner wanted us to be on. Following him down a sweet little Canadian suburb, marching along behind him as he serenaded us with his fantastically combined and uniquely unique blend of Klezmer influenced anti-folk that picked apart the picturesque neighbourhood that we were standing in.
The warm tones 0f the accordion provided the immaculate back-drop to song-stories (like songs but with stories) that provided the fine detail, pointing out the flaws in our fucked up but beautiful world. His latest album Canadiana Grotesquica is a perfectly assembled collection of social commentaries, tales and experiences that blend klezmer with an infusion of indie-folk qualities that make it ultimately GEOFF BERNER. Featuring a tapestry of instrumentation and guest vocals the album is a full sounding contrast to the minimal yet delightfully warm set that he delivered. One thing the album doesn’t have is his exceptional dry wit and devious tales of song origins that we were blessed with, that just goes to show how much you can miss from a performer if you only ever listen to them on tape or disc, the importance of live music isn’t just in seeing the songs played out in front of you, it’s all the little fiddly bits in between, the herbs and spices to a well cooked live-performance-soup if you will.
“Let’s have another benefit for the victims of the symptoms,
Where it’s forbidden to speak of the disease.” – Super Subtle Folk Song, from Canadiana Grotesquica
We had an insightful and enjoyable conversation after his performance (and a few more through the night) discussing community inclusion, the history of The Shonk, fictional german football teams and our mutual friends The Burning Hell, it all made for a very cosmic evening. “To get people involved you just have to go into the street and start bouncing a ball around”. It was certainly a discussion that I felt I had learnt something from, like how cool Canadians are all round for example.
Geoff’s set was the perfect opener for the bizarre evening that Tuesday proved to hold and I do hope to see him perform again. You should too!
His new album ‘Canadia Grotesquica’ is available for purchase and download, you can access it along with his previous works by clicking here.
Read part two here
Once upon a time…
In a small shack in some sandy area beneath a giant antennae a secret meeting took place. Those in attendance were David Lynch, Angelo Badlamenti, Miles Davis and Les Claypool. David had called the meeting and in his true cryptic fashion he simply explained to the others that he had an idea.
‘Gentlemen’ he began as Mr. Badlamenti, Mr Davis and Mr. Claypool all leant in through the thick cigarette smoke to take in his impending wisdom. ‘I have been working on a secret project, something so advanced that we have to promise from this point on that no one here will ever tell another living soul’
There was an agitated silence followed by anxious agreement, regardless of everyone’s word David Lynch made them all take a drag of his cigarette (that’s how he seals the deal).
He then went on to explain that he had finally broken through and created a machine that would allow the best facets of their minds to manifest as an actual, living person. He elaborated by telling the group that he wanted to combine their talents into a single entity ‘just ‘cos’ he concluded.
The discussion carried on deep into the night with each person discussing their concerns and asking questions, most of which Lynch answered by delicately waving his fingers and smiling. During the entire time Les Claypool said nothing because his tea had been laced with mushrooms and he was having a right ol’ trip.
What transpired next was perhaps one of the greatest scientific and artistic achievements of all time, Lynch took the rest of the group down to his secret laboratory and one by one he placed a modified colander onto their heads, pressed some switches and extracted what he was looking for.
When he was done he pointed at a large sealed vat ‘all the best bits are in there now, in a moment I will open the lid and we can see what we have to work with.’ He had a swig of coffee and took a drag of his cigarette, there was a hum of excitement between the group. Lynch wrapped his hand around the handle of the vat and began to twist.
‘NO!’ Exclaimed Les Claypool ‘THIS AINT RIGHT, I CANT BE PART OF THIS’ Les turned to leave but as if by magic David Lynch had a pistol in his other hand. ‘Why don’t you just sit on down over by the fan Les and cool down a moment. You’re part of this now’ Things were getting tense. Les sat by the fan. Lynch opened the vat.
What happened next is unclear, but the story is that five unassuming men stepped out of the VAT and shortly after Les Claypool tried to run away again. Lynch shot him in the leg and an argument ensued between Miles Davis and Lynch over what to name the group of people they had created (David wanted Lynch Mob, Davis wanted Miles Ahead, Les wanted a doctor and Angelo didn’t mind).
During this argument the five newly created forms of life absconded through an open vent and ran away into the night. They stole clothes from a thrift shop and boarded a ship to the UK to start new lives. There they discovered Leeds a place so liberal and diverse it would be impossible to find them amongst. They began busking using cardboard instruments they made from commercial trash and eventually raised enough money to buy real gear.
These guys hide in plain sight and legend has it that they emerge from the shadows with aliases tied to satirical news shows and there (and only there) they harness the powers of Lynch, Angelo, Miles & Les and create the most cathartic of atmospheres.
It is said that experiencing Shatner’s Bassoon (the band, not the deadly drug) is along the lines of what would happen if David Lynch remade Roger Rabbit with the aforementioned musicians that all vanished on the fateful night of the experiment.
A Shatner’s Bassoon set is wonderfully exhaustive because you are IN IT. I don’t think you have much choice, you just get taken and that’s that. Like the bullet in Les Claypool’s leg you are in there for the forseeable future and the sounds that are growing around you, drowning you in more rhythmn and synchronisity than you can handle is Les’s sweet musical blood.
Yeah there’s a lot of very strange metaphors going on here but this band overloaded my mind. There is so much to find in their pieces, I had to close my eyes for most of it and Arbiter Titan couldn’t help but laugh because of the utter absurdity of what we were witnessing. Jazz can take you to some crazy places, it can be (and in this case was) as inwardly exploratory as externally. Like the notes are climbing into your ears, wandering into your brain and pulling out all of your filing system. This is all happening whilst you’re trying to watch five guys whose hands are complete blurs as they seemingly run around the entire spectrum of musical notes in no specific order, except that there is order and they’re all hitting the same notes at the same time. The whole thing then starts to become mechanical, like you’re watching an engine and it’s generating this single mechanical loop of sound that’s bashing your brain in.
And that’s Shatner’s Bassoon, an overwhelming inward / outward experience of perfectly placed chaos that’s two parts organical to two parts mechanical. I’m not sure what else to say really, I was apprehensive enough about writing this because having looked at some ‘jazz reviews’ from actual reputable writers I’ve noticed that I’ve used very few of the words that they like, I mean, ‘cathartic’ was a huge step forward.
But… we write experience and when I was there watching them this is what happened, I figured ‘these have to be the guys that Lynch created in his secret laboratory that I probably read about once’.
Annnnnyway… they’re an amazing experience, the album is fantastic even if I don’t understand it in any particular way and I implore you to go and see them perform at the next available opportunity.
Also, we accidentally filmed the entire set because they were too overwhelming for us to operate equipment, here that is for you:
N.B – Their album is ‘aqua marine’ colour.