Hugs and Kisses #35: North Sea Radio Orchestra


Tuesday morning means another episode of Hugs and Kisses, a weekly column from UK-based music writer Mr. Everett True, publisher of Plan B Magazine, a title dedicated to writing about music (and media) with barely a nod towards demographics. Last week, Mr. True analyzed record blurbs on the new Pete and the Pirates. This week, the Converse-footed crit tells you about a concert in Brighton, UK. He does not care about SXSW. — The SOC waitstaff

Hugs and Kisses

The Continued Outbursts of Everett True

THIS WEEK: Neo-classical nightmares and the wonder of contexts

It isn’t rock’n’roll. Although the illustrations that William Blake was working on at the time of his death (for Dante’s Inferno) kicked a certain amount of 18th Century ass (if you prefer your self-righteous dreams plagued by nightmares), I totally grew out of his evangelical poetry around the same time I eschewed chamber music for the more, um, earthly pleasures of Blondie’s second album; and as for his (part) namesake William D Drake (formerly of horrendous prog-folk japesters The Cardiacs)…well, clearly he’s an erudite, witty and charming fellow, especially when faced with a piano and endless hours in which to hone his lyrical and musical witticisms, but. Can we just take that ‘but’ as an, “I find really myself irritated by music that aspires to be way too highbrow and semi-classical” and leave it at that?

So it’s rather odd that last night I took in a band — North Sea Radio Orchestra — that covered works by both the first and second, dipped firmly into the waters of both chamber music and po-faced snobbery, and still enjoyed the experience.

It was the context, entirely. Everything about the show was so wrong, and hence so right. It took place between the entirely un-New York hours of 7 and 9.30pm, in the austere, high-ceilinged surroundings of a Quakers Meeting House, tea and homemade cookies served in the interval, and I spent the majority of the North Sea set engaged in pleasant conversation with a close friend listening to the baroque warbling and increasingly rapturous applause through two closed doors. (This still provided way better sound quality than the “submerged in toilet bowl” hum that my computer’s RealTek settings seem determined to play iTunes upon.)

Indeed, I have long enjoyed experiencing rock concerts from the comfort of a toilet cubicle: many an otherwise dismal grunge night has been salvaged by a swift retirement from the volume. I guess earplugs serve the same purpose, but you can’t piss at the same time. Well, unless you’re being escorted by the Rolling Stones’ personal security through a stadium crowd, but that’s another story…

Back to Brighton, and the wonder of context. There wasn’t much about North Sea Radio Orchestra I enjoyed — certainly not the fiddly and needless, “aren’t I clever,” mock medieval guitar time signature changes, certainly not the chorus of beards and hippies backing up the smug woman engaged in rendering William Blake as lifeless as he undoubtedly is, certainly not the bassoon or tenor saxophone or stand-up chimes or string section or… look, don’t get me wrong. Taken individually, I’m sure all these folk are great value. It was just: I spent an entire evening in Melbourne with my future wife, hidden in a soundproof room, coughing harshly to string quartets, and I vowed never to be caught at anything similar again. And yet, here I was, Sunday night in Brighton — raining outside (that helped) — and I was really enjoying the experience. Especially if I closed my eyes and let the music move my mood whither the music would (mostly to Melbourne). I couldn’t understand it. Music that is anathema to the bottom of my Converse-wearing feet and yet I was basking in its…well, not glow. The mood was reverential, sombre. If you wanted to be nice, you’d say “elegiac,” but. Look, just leave that but where it stands. (The setting totally helped. I doubt if I’m going to be turning Christian any time soon, but if I ever did…trust me, these good Quaker fellows would be top of my list. Why, you don’t even have to believe in God to attend their meetings.)

Doubtless, much of my good feelings were also caused by seeing the first band up, the ever-vulnerable Crayola Lectern. On Casio, a crazed ex-Cardiac ploughing his way dutifully through a series of minor key changes. On trumpet, a Hamilton Yarn sending unassuming yet shimmering beauty soaring to the balcony, and sometimes speaking in tongues (lips) down his mouthpiece: plaintive, pleasing, poignant. And on piano, Mr Lectern himself, near self-deprecating in his Robert Wyatt fascination and stunningly beautiful with his chord changes, singing painfully funny and sometimes funnily painful strained lines about love and toddlers and mortality.

Crayola Lectern tick the same high musicality boxes as the band that followed, sure: but possess one crucial factor that the North Sea Radio Malarkey just don’t, just don’t get. They have heart.

Hugs And Kisses Top 5

Five songs Everett True has recently transferred to iTunes and is regretting, the sound quality is so malodorous

1. Leonard Nimoy, “Love Of The Common People” (from Highly Illogical)
Not a patch of William Shatner’s inspired cover of Pulp’s ‘Common People’…not even one inch.

2. The Nightingales, “The Crunch” (from What A Scream 1980-1986)
The Nightingales are the very definition of a sardonic, literate, blisteringly great live mid-Eighties (and into 2008) British band.

3. Aaron Neville, “Tell It Like It Is” (from Tell It Like It Is)
Oh yeah, baby.

4. My Robot Friend, “Walt Whitman” (from Hot Action!)
Kraftwerk this isn’t. Silicon Teens maybe…

5. Mudhoney, “Here Comes Sickness” (from Here Comes Sickness)
Not a bad record, this one, I guess. Not a bad fucking guitar sound either…