Friday, 9 February 2018

Pest


According to my diary, it was Sunday the 15th of February, 1998. I took my four channel Tandy mixer around to Ed's house, along with a couple of effects boxes - graphic equaliser, compressor, that sort of thing. It was a pretty basic set up, but I expected it would do the job, even though the actual details of what the job would entail were unclear. Ed was in a group called Attack Wave Pestrepeller, an improvised noise thing, and on this particular Sunday they were going to improvise noise in Ed's kitchen accompanied by a group of madrigal singers. No-one quite knew how it was going to work, or if it was going to work; but the singers seemed keen on the idea, and if anyone had grounds for reservations it would have been them, given that Pestrepeller probably weren't going anywhere near the Figgy Pudding song.

I knew Ed because we'd both been involved with small press comics publishing, and then discovered further common ground in weirdy music of the kind which often prompts witless twats to opine I wondered when they was gunna finish tuning up. Ed's enthusiasm extended to his publishing a magazine called The Sound Projector, and he roped me in to write for it, although most of what I came up with now makes me wince. Ed and I had recorded together, and I gather he had formed the impression of my knowing my way around a mixing console, which I do; and additionally he had this band with Harley, another cartoonist, and Savage Pencil.

My introduction to music beyond the Beatles and whatever shit Dave Lee Travis was playing that week had been facilitated back in February 1980 when I started buying Sounds music paper on a weekly basis. By far my favourite regular features of the paper were the tangential cartoon strips drawn by lil' Alan Moore under an assumed name, and Savage Pencil's superb Rock 'n' Roll Zoo, which probably changed the entire course of my life. Rock 'n' Roll Zoo was hilarious, vicious, amazing, fucking stupid, resembled a drug-addled scrawl, and couldn't be arsed to come up with a punchline half of the time; and I would probably still be hailing Savage Pencil as the greatest cartoonist of his generation had I never had the misfortune to meet the miserable fucker. As of Sunday the 15th of February, 1998, I was yet to meet the miserable fucker, and was therefore understandably excited to find myself in the immediate orbit of someone whose work I'd admired to the point of adoration.

Despite being mildly starstruck, I managed to contain my enthusiasm when introduced to Mr. Pencil who, after all, was really just some bloke Ed knew. I refrained from explaining how oh darn - my tail's fallen off again had probably been the greatest punchline in the history of graphic arts, or how he was probably directly responsible for my ever bothering to draw comics in the first place, because it would have been undignified and I didn't want to embarrass the guy. On the other hand, maybe that's what he actually wanted. It was difficult to tell. He was this little bloke, kind of rounded with a massive, grey beard and eyes suggesting sleepless nights - the self-made grumpy hamster of outsider art. He didn't look particularly happy and he didn't say much, at least not to me.

He had a Moog synth so I plumbed that into my mixer, then added Ed's Hammond organ - or whatever it was - and then Harley's guitar, assuming I correctly recall that he was playing a guitar; and there was a single microphone for the madrigal group at the other end of the kitchen. It was going to be chaotic, and my job was to attempt to maintain some sort of balance. The internet describes it thus:
Savage Pencil conceived the idea of combining the fearsome noise of Attack Wave Pestrepeller with the voices of madrigal singers. The idea was to combine two different sounds, but also two different approaches to making music; the singers, who could sight-read music, would be forced to improvise and sing without sheet music to guide them. The idea was tested in Ed's London kitchen, causing maximum distress to the neighbours for long, painful hours. The five singers struggled to be heard over a cacophony of feedback, organ drones and bitter grunts from Sav's Rogue Moog synth, although the handheld tape recordings of the sessions magically extracted the true essence of the event.

I'm thanked on The Cruel Sea, the CDR they released of the recording, although not thanked in the specific sense of having been involved. The magic which somehow just came about, perhaps as a sort of interference pattern resulting from the proximity of such fucking massive talents all in the same place, was, I might argue, essentially down to me keeping Savage Pencil's synth at the same volume, despite his turning the fucking thing up a notch every time I brought him down, so as to allow whatever the others were doing to be heard. Bizarrely, the Pencil seemed to appreciate this.

'He's very good, isn't he?' I heard him mutter to one of the others, marking my apparent graduation from just some cunt Ed knew to a person who is able to do things. It would have been nice for this to have been acknowledged in the above account. I feel somewhat sidelined by the suggestion that what you hear on The Cruel Sea occurred just by agency of some crazy magic, but never mind.

Anyway, we all went to the pub, because that was what we did in those days. The neutral environment seemed like it might be more conducive to conversation with my sullen hero, but it wasn't to be. I spoke to his wife, who was lovely and possibly long suffering. I spoke to himself and he ignored me. Being two decades past, I can no longer recall what I said, but it was almost certainly something safe, possibly something about the synth he had brought along, but he nevertheless ignored me. I made two or three direct addresses, at least one of which was tagged onto some utterance from elsewhere across the table. In each instance he looked directly at me for just a moment, then spoke to someone else, mostly prolonged name dropping from what I could hear. His voice took on the world weary drawl of a retired colonel or some jazz wanker. 'Yes… that was when I went to Los Angeles to interview the Grateful Dead...'

Realisation dawned upon me that for all his talent, the cunt wasn't actually worth talking to, and that contrary to assumptions, I wasn't amongst friends.

This is why you should never meet your heroes, I told myself.

They always turn out to be arseholes.

Every fucking time.

Then I count all of the heroes of mine whom I've met, some of whom I now count as friends, or at least chummy acquaintances, and I realise they don't always turn out to be arseholes.

It was just him.

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