Four or five approaches to The Necks (more or less oblique)

PB kit


















In Motion

Some years ago, in the first days of mobile phones with cameras, I shot some moving image from a train window. I was just messing about…seeing what the camera could do in movie mode. I guess that because of some ‘primitive’ processing technology, the camera couldn’t keep up with the speed of the movement. Almost everything was blurred, the vague green skyline of trees shooting past, lots of rail-side detritus going by out of focus. But what I really liked was the effect of passing telephone poles. In my ‘film’ these appeared as diagonals rather than verticals. The digital image processed from the top to the bottom and it couldn’t cope with the passage of the poles. This lost movie came back into my mind as I listened to the Necks at Cafe Oto a few weeks back. There is often something in their music that seems to refer to landscape and movement but as part of the process of synthesis it comes out twisted and distorted. On the second night of the two gigs that I attended I wrote in my notebook: ‘weather, landscape, machinery’. An atmosphere, a place, musical instruments.



On the morning of 5th November (between the two Necks gigs) I woke up earlier than usual and listened to the radio. At 05:58 on BBC Radio 4 there was ‘Tweet of the Day; the Redshank’. All of the programmes are available to listen to here:…scroll down and you will find the redshank broadcast.

In my slightly drowsy state I imagined the redshank joining the Necks in a long improvisation. Three machines (piano, bass and drums) plus voice.

The next day The Necks were in the BBC’s Maida Vale studios recording with Evan Parker (the saxophone as voice). You can read about this session at Richard Williams’ blog here:

And if you are fast you can download the session here:

Of course, unlike The Necks, Parker has previous in avian collaboration. If you can find it, listen to his album ‘Evan Parker with Birds’ (trd001).


The Delirium of Beginning/The Anxiety of Ending

I remember in 1990 as Caroline and I set off for an unseasonal trip to Skye we dropped in to see her father, Philip. He was ill and didn’t get out much then and said to us just before we left: ‘It’s wonderful setting out on the road…’ He was probably a little jealous of the trip were about to undertake but he said it with genuine enthusiasm. This music always has that sense of setting out on a journey…one step, one foot down on the pedal, one deep breath and away. And then as the sound develops and the musicians and listeners find themselves all in the same vehicle, treading the same path, traveling the same road, (for me at least) a tension creeps in. I think: ‘how did we get here from there? I remember where we were but the journey so far is a bit hazy…right now it is in sharp focus but what’s been going on?’ And then I think: ‘how does this end?’ And I wonder if there is some of this anxiety built into the performance for the players too. And is it the same for all improvising musicians? I’ve heard musicians fluffing the end of improvisations, faltering when they should be decisive, not quite knowing how to stop. (See Miles Davis’s advice to Coltrane on this point) Has that got to do with being too relaxed about the shape of the journey – somehow believing that it goes on forever? The Necks have been playing together for many years now and they have a sense of time and space that has milestones, landmarks, triangulation points…they know how to stop but also know that they need to keep listening to each other and keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. They know when to brake in a way that their listeners maybe don’t…it keeps us guessing. Each Necks session is a familiar journey made strange.

Lloyd Swanton, 4. xi. 13

Lloyd Swanton, 4. xi. 13

4. xi. 13

4. xi. 13

4. xi. 13

4. xi. 13

5. xi. 13
5. xi. 13


’49 Americans’ + 3 Americans



49 Americans, Café Oto, 4th May 2013.

Fol Chen, Shacklewell Arms, 5th May 2013.


Some points:

  1. Though there are a lot of them, 49 Americans are not what they seem…not even a band according to David Toop. (“Think of The 49 Americans as a band, in the conventional sense, and you’re lost.”) Maybe there have been 49 members since their inception…who knows? Tonight there are about 20 of them.
  2. The 3 Americans are really three Americans though. From Los Angeles, Cailfornia.
  3. Andrew ‘Giblet’ Brenner, the 49 American’s moving force, used this as a throw away line between numbers: ‘We are the 49 Americans…people playing at playing music.’
  4. How did it come about that Fol Chen got Brian Cox to do a spoken word version of ‘In Ruins’(‘A message from the subcommittee for public safety’)? ‘The bonfires are blocking the streets tonight…’
  5. As far as I can tell the 49 Americans have reformed tonight (for one night?) to launch the recently re-released albums ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and ‘We Know Nonsense’.
  6. How does it make sense for a 3 piece (there are more of them really…but tonight they are a 3 piece) twisted-pop band from California to play a gig in the sleazy back room of a hipster pub in Dalston – for free? After the gig I put this question to the singer, she said: ‘Don’t ask..’.
  7. The 49 Americans play damaged rather than twisted music. They are all ‘proper’ musicians who have not/hardly rehearsed. But beautiful moments of synchronous funk emerge nevertheless.
  8. Fol Chen, on the other hand, play things that they have clearly been working on but in an off-hand, devil-may-care and also exhilarating way.
  9. The 49 Americans have two special guests who are kind of in the not-band but who are also apart from them. Leafcutter John provides some tasty electronic noises and Alice Grant sings…at one point they assemble a song from lines chosen at random form 49 American titles.
  10. Fol Chen have got a singer, a drummer and a guitarist and some electronic backing tracks to fill-in vital twiddly baroque  bits.
  11. Fol Chen have one red light slightly behind them and to the left. They play on a small raised stage with the drummer in an arched alcove at the back. For the last number the guitarist gets off the stage and plays in the audience looking back at the band. But this seems un-theatrical- as if he just wants to see what it might be like to be in the audience.
  12. At Oto, the 49 Americans had a bit more light than the audience though they were not lit in any conventional sense. They have long breaks between songs while the musicians re-arrange themselves.
  13. And 14. Consecutive nights in Dalston about a quarter of a mile apart. What makes the conditions for this to happen and for it all to seem quite ordinary?
    The 49 Americans

    The 49 Americans



Fol Chen

Fol Chen