Tuesday, February 27, 2007


This is my 'Kes'. Hope you don't mind the indulgence.

Yes, similar enough this end, *. My first band just happened, amongst my friends at the time, growing up in St. Helens. We were 16, 17, or 18. It was 1981, I think. We cobbled together rudimentary, just about workable instruments and amplification, and installed ourselves in one friend's garage. The bass, I recall, was through an old hi-fi amp, and a speaker cabinet I made, using two 12" speakers from a shop selling ex-military equipment. We improvised a song, 'What You Gonna Do When the System Fails?'; all wailing that line, acoustically, over the barely in-tune din. It was Em, G, D all the way through; three guitars, bass, drums. There was a lovely Farfisa Organ - complete with fixed stand; but I don't remember that being used. I have a tape of the session. The neighbours eventually had us stopped. We were punk hippies - and I think we actually consciously thought that, too. Gatherings entailed acoustic guitar jams in the street or in living-rooms, sometimes with tiny congas, improvising words; often working out Floyd, Barrett, and Hawkwind songs. After that, we rented the basement of a pub, then used the Tory Club. We got lots of trouble from people in the latter, trying to play snooker above. Often we got threatened. We used to carry all the equipment through the streets - speaker cabs included - from my house to these locations, about an eighth of a mile, I suppose. Must have looked strange. As we progressed, we worked out half-versions of Floyd and Hawkwind songs: Spirit of the Age, Silver Machine, Careful With That Axe Eugene. I became songwriter; early songs were relatively complex, too, in an attempt at Prog-style, but with Punk technique. Gong was an influence. 1982 was spent like that; getting better on instruments and at writing. By 1983, that era of friends was ending - as these things do; as people got serious girlfriends, started serious jobs, joined the army. A couple of us hooked up with a new friend, a guitarist - who I was teaching a few things to at the time. We got heavier; and by then, we were a half-decent Proggish rock band, playing versions of songs by, for example, Rush, and writing songs in weird time signatures and in odd keys ourselves, all Prog-macho. 1984 saw that person get that serious job and be replaced by another, much better guitarist - whose music shop ad we answered. That association led to real development, getting into New Wave proper, Jazz, ECM Jazz, improv, and other associations with other people far and wide. That finally folded in 1988 - after numerous permutations, attitudes, and half- and fully-formed strategies. The following year, I formed what became named Gnarl - not by me, and a name I still despise. But a great time of real adventure and achievement. The idea here was pure nihilism: to hook up with all the maddest, weirdest people I had met on my musician travels, and make a band, playing nasty, discordant music. It started from improv. But most of the compositions which came out of that period stand up today, in my view. That lasted until I and others went to university in 1991. Gnarl, as they say, could've been a contender. Way ahead of its time - I still think that. I'm still drawn to the idea of horror-noise. Gnarl came from King Crimson, Big Black, and The Butthole Surfers, but the result was Wolf Eyes before Wolf Eyes, but more literate, with greater variety, and ultimately darker. Then murmurists emerged from my degree, as an idea. During this, several of us got together and improvised - what I called Classwar Karaoke. Again, I venture to say that this was some way ahead of its time, and I don't think we realised, being too busy with studies and too geographically-spread. These sessions are filled with amazing and complex art-music, and only 10 or so years after all that wailing in a garage. Comedy became an element, too. Then, for me, it was the Doctorate full-on - and me going monk-like and off-the-map. I did make, what I called, Brown Music during this time: the idea of mixing all tonalities together, a kind of maximalist experiment. This was improv, home-studio-based, agit prop, using samples, minimal instrumentation, and, again, with comedy as an aspect. With the Doctorate completed in 2002, I got a couple of us got together - as a band, with drums loud in a room, first time for me for 11 years. We improvised a couple of times. I was so rusty, and by now playing a six string bass, to make things worse. It was somewhat too rock band-like for me; but good to be in that situation again after so long. By 2003, with a few changes of personnel, this became formally murmurists - an improving art group, of musicians and non-musicians. We met regularly, at a place in Wigan, and the recordings from this period, of 2003-2005, are wild and always interesting, and with some genuinely sublime passages and sequences, often consistently so for a number of hours. We usually played for five hours without stopping. I cherish this material to this day. From a initial four-piece - of two basses, keys, drums, but with everyone messing with minidisc, cd players and the like - this slimmed to a two-piece, and culminated in playing the 2005 Sonorities festival in Belfast. Weeks after that, I moved to Northampton. Months after that, I hooked up with locals and formed another incarnation of murmurists - again improving. From a loose collective - of six, put together to play live on a radio show - this became three. This version, over a six month period, rehearsed a handful of times, played a handful of times, and then folded at my suggestion in October 2006. I was glad to see the back of it - for its culture of piecemeal commitment admixed with namedropping big-saying and because, compared with the up-north-version, it was musically, artistically and socially inferior. Quality in all these departments has to be the thing, I feel. If one is daft enough to commit one's time to artistic pursuits, it has to add up to fun, personal development, sharing, meeting interesting people, sharing insights, sharing findings; an alt-economy, strong, and removed from all that grey in the mainstream. I see bands as that, in essence. murmurists is still punk-hippie. Everyone involved now feels that and has it as a clear idea.

Best wishes



Blogger Inconsequential said...

cool, nice to know where you came from :)

wouldn't mind a listen to your early song...

wonder if it's quite as I imagine, having been subjected to various preactise sessions of a few different bands now, including my now neighbour when he decided double bass would be a fun sound...
Yes they can be good...but the learning stage requires some fortitude.
Anyway, creating anything for fun, is, well, fun, and therefore quite worth while. Hope you keep at it for as long as you actually enjoy it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 8:17:00 am  
Blogger Cocaine Jesus said...

course you could always be a hunk pippie

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 2:27:00 pm  
Blogger Dr Anthony Donovan said...

Thanks Inc. Was originally sent as an email - to Anthony, actually. But I'm working up this CV-ish piece. The entry itself is fully factual. But the eventual CV will be more 'stray', surreal. I think the Kes-style early years are interesting. There was an instance prior to or contemporary with the garage 'gig, though; where several of us played, improvised, live in my mum and dad's backyard. There was me on bass - through a tiny combo, faced to the grass, heavily-distorted, barely making notes; ditto another on guitar - either Dolly or Gayg; and my mate, Dino, playing an old wardrobe with a heavy socket-wrench, as drums. Again, we sang acoustically. I'd love to have a recording of that, but none exists. Before that, at the age of 13, I got a tape recorder for xmas. I set up various things in the kitchen, filled the washing-up bowl with water, and improvised noises, vocal sounds and the like, and called it 'Dysentery', like one would at that age. Again, no recording exists, presumed lost or damaged then thrown away.

Thursday, March 01, 2007 1:20:00 pm  
Blogger St. Anthony said...

Wardrobe and wrench as percussion ... excellent.

Thursday, March 01, 2007 1:54:00 pm  
Blogger Dr Anthony Donovan said...

Cheers, Anthony. That's what I thought and still think: make-do, instinctive avant-gardism.

The wrench I used to carry around with me, actually - for protection, in those dangerous early 80s times, of skinheads, and me and my circle with hair down our backs. The wrench's name - a vulgarisation of skinhead basher - was Scon-Yed-Bash-Er. It was a huge thing, with a nice snug red plastic handle. Most effective.

Thursday, March 01, 2007 10:04:00 pm  
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