Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Nature Prance: David Thomas' Solo Albums 1981-1987: Winter Comes Home

Stormy Weather

(There is a very good chance I'll get back to my 'Nature Prance' series very shortly. Having successfully (?) manoeuvred the hard interstitial bits following Sound of the Sand I found myself a little perplexed by how to handle the Winter Comes Home tracks which are basically monologues mixed with recitations of Pere Ubu lyrics. To tackle this I've been listening to two Pere Ubu live shows from the approximate period, both available from the Hearpen site. And really good. But at the same time I've got sleeve notes to write for the Panel of Judges reissue, I've got a record cover to draw, and I've got a bunch of amazing new albums to listen to - Peter Escott's album, the new Ocean Party album, and then I only went and bought a few great old albums, like Simon and Garfunkel's third album and another record by the Roches, I know both of these are going to be stayers round here, and this is all on top of a huge time at work. So... gonna keep on trying. While  you wait for me to regroup, here is a picture of a bad dog who has taken a bread roll from a backyard where a bad neighbour has decided missing palings from a fence and leaving bread rolls lying in your yard is a good idea.)

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Nature Prance: David Thomas' Solo Albums 1981-87: Winter Comes Home

'A Day Such as This'

David Thomas’ second solo album (as ‘David Thomas and his Legs’, though the front cover merely lists the three contributing musicians) is Winter Comes Home. It is a live recording of a show he, Lindsay Cooper and Chris Cutler put on in Erding, ‘a town north-east of Munchen, West Germany' on 11 December 1982. It is largely a spoken word performance, for which Cutler and Cooper periodically provide atmospheric and presumably largely improvised backing.

In the sleevenotes to the compilation Monster, Thomas explains why Winter Comes Home has no place in the CD box set of his solo material:

BTW Winter Comes Home does not exist. According to the Authorized View, it never did exist and so, it never will exist. Those who claim to own copies are troublemakers. Report them to the Grocery Police. 

More recently, Thomas has made the album available for download, stating simply ‘This album has been out of print for decades now - the master tapes were lost long ago. Recently Paul Hamann at Suma digitally transfered and mastered a virgin vinyl copy of the album.’ (Find it here)

In taking on such a rare form for a rock musician, blending performance poetry, stand up comedy, public expostulation, theatre and music, Thomas was really making a bold move. Like the single of ‘I Didn’t Have a Very Good Time’, which may or may not have been too arcane for the already extremely arcane Sound of the Sand, Winter Comes Home was (presumably) too obscure a project for the Rough Trade label and was, instead, released on Chris Cutler’s own record label, Recommended. The calligraphy on the back cover is typical of many Recommended releases, and is Cutler’s own.

Cutler had already worked with Thomas, to a minor capacity, on his recording of ‘Sloop John B’ on Sound of the Sand. Here, Cutler was required to be part of the band recording backing to a pre-recorded vocal – never an easy task. John Greaves, the other half of Henry Cow’s rhythm section with Cutler, also played on that album. Greaves does not appear on subsequent Thomas releases, but another Henry Cow member, the late Lindsay Cooper, was to appear on a number of future albums; this was the first.

An additionally unusual element of the Winter Comes Home album and the tour it represents is the ‘text’ Thomas is using. Though Sound of the Sand had been released by the time of this show, the works Thomas is performing are Pere Ubu lyrics, largely from the band’s most recent album from that time, Song of the Bailing Man; ‘Rhapsody in Pink’ was a track from the previous album Art of Walking. These are blended, on the album, with commentary and monologues from Thomas.

To add to what might be seen as the perversity of this approach, it should be borne in mind that Thomas (and indeed Pere Ubu) was seen at this time by many having lost direction, particularly lyrically, though also musically. Whereas the trend amongst new wave (now often called postpunk) bands of the early 1980s was for depressive, harrowing and thereby ‘meaningful’ lyrics exploring a ‘dark side’, Pere Ubu had completely eschewed such output by 1981/2 – which they had already shown on Dub Housing they were more than capable of generating, should the need be apparent. Instead, Thomas’ work these days was primarily about birds, hats, walking and other profoundly mundane elements of daily life; the effect for many was childishly na├»ve, irritatingly rootless and perverse. Why would a band who had made their name firstly with proto-punk, Hawkwindesque rock – and then with cutting-edge new wave paranoid angst before moving into often uneasy-listening, edgy experimental material – then turn to idle whimsy? Song of the Bailing Man is probably regarded by many as the nadir of Pere Ubu’s output (yes – it’s due for reassessment, like everything) largely for this reason.

How, then, to write about these tracks? There are, of course, numerous possibilities. However, it strikes me that this, like the next Thomas album Variations on a Theme, can be regarded as a series of songs with (at least) two iterations, and the truth of the matter lies in the contrast between the two.

‘The theme for tonight,’ Thomas says at the start of the record, ‘comes in the form of a question “is hyperbole man’s best rhetorical friend?” This is also printed on the back of the sleeve as the overarching concept for the album. He describes hyberbole (he’s translating, remember, for a German audience who incidentally seem to find as much humour in his intonation and crazy voices as his actual words – not to suggest they’re not fluent in English, obviously they are) as speaking ‘more than the truth… to create a vivid impression’. ‘A Day Such as This’ is, of course the perfect song to illustrate this concept. On Song of the Bailing Man it’s brisk and breezy; on Winter Comes Home Thomas teases out all manner of possibilities. He repeats the first line twice; then Lindsay Cooper and Thomas work around the ‘H.Y.P.E.R.B.- O.L.E.’ refrain in a number of ways; the second time, Cutler joins them and turns the whole into something of a folk dance. (‘He plays drums like he’s singing’, Thomas says in the Monster sleevenotes).

During this performance, on some occasions Thomas is singing the song as it’s known on Song of the Bailing Man then on others, drifts off into his speaking voice.

So we might be encouraged to think, then, that this particular rendition of this track (and indeed the whole performance/album) has been created to showcase Thomas’ abilities as a lyricist, and a misunderstood lyricist at that. The ‘nature prance’ is not, as it might superficially appear, a random, incidental gathering of wry and musings on the passing show; it’s a thoughtful inquiry into the workings of language and observation. In that regard, while it is probably the weakest track on this peculiar album, it sets up the remainder admirably.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nature Prance: David Thomas' solo albums 1981-1987: Vocal Performances (and Song of the Bailing Man)

Song of the Bailing Man and Vocal Performances

It was my intention to not delve into the minutiae of the solo Thomas oeuvre - b-sides, rare tracks etc - in these posts but rather to talk about individual album tracks. But things get messy, particularly as the uncovering of the tracks is something of a journey of discovery or rediscovery. I discovered the online Sound of the Sand outtakes a few weeks ago and figured I could hardly ignore them, particularly as they (now) form a legitimate release. And I had been rueing the absence of my copy of the 12" Vocal Performances until, a few days ago - I found it. Both of these recordings are missing links of differing stripes. We need them to understand the bridges and chasms between Pere Ubu and David Thomas solo, particularly given the recording release schedules involved:

June 1980 release of Pere Ubu's The Art of Walking
March 1981 release of Pere Ubu's 390 Degrees of Simulated Stereo (archival late 70s recordings)
Jan 1981 first recording for Sound of the Sand (Atom Mind/ As Shoes Go By/Happy to See You)
October 1981 release of Sound of the Sand
August 1981-Jan 1982 recording of Song of the Bailing Man 
September 1982 release of Pere Ubu's Song of the Bailing Man
1982 release of Vocal Performances 
1982 release of Winter Comes Home 

I have to concede I cobbled the above list together from the internet grabbing every month/year release date I could - which probably in the scheme of things isn't such a reliable approach. Nevertheless these records had to be made some time and plainly there's a crossover between the first David Thomas solo forays and the 'last' Pere Ubu album (last for eight years, at any rate). While Sound of the Sand and Song of the Bailing Man were released 11 months apart, the recording sessions for the two were apparently quite close together (and involved at four of the same participants, if you count Mayo Thompson - Tony Maimone must have been wondering what he'd done wrong).

I propose herewith to deal with the actual Vocal Performances tracks thus: 'Sloop John B' has been discussed a few weeks back, in its augmented incarnation as a track on Sound of the Sand. Easy. 'Petrified' I will discuss in a few weeks' time, when I talk about the inclusion of another version of a comparable 'vocal performance' of the song on the Winter Comes Home album.

Winter Comes Home is a seven-track LP, and six of the seven tracks are versions of songs from Song of the Bailing Man. Winter Comes Home is so stark and word-heavy, that one way into it is to make comparison with Song of the Bailing Man's band arrangements. Which is what I plan to do.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

having some work done

I always liked this concrete sewer cover with the old Broadmeadows City Council initials on it, smashed and useless and dangerous as it was. Well, that highlighting suggests to me that its days are numbered, and possibly numbered in less than four figures.
As for whatever's here - a bit of erosion by a kerb I think - it's obviously been given high priority status by someone with some yellow paint and orange plastic fencing material.
Shopping trolley for scale. It was hard to get it into place, and harder to take it back.
 Perhaps the next project will be the big concrete mushroom, who knows.
Barry having a larf. Or as autocorrect says, 'a lard' - cruel.
 The gaily painted, um, sewer thing I suppose.
 What indeed
 This was the burnt patch from earlier this year. It looks almost fine now. Actually it looks like someone was buried there but I doubt they were.
 'Bye Ferdy