Up The Junction:
Omnipresent cigarette smoke, constant idle banter and the presence of a few pissed-up punters who clearly mistook The Junction for The Dog And Scrote. Welcome to the heart of the British gigging circuit.
Subtle, atmospheric and managing an air of dignity despite the inappropriate setting, Robert Fripp treated the part of the audience that was interested in listening to half an hour of glacial and graceful Soundscapes.
The last third of his set, which featured a more pronounced guitar solo voice over looped orchestral textures and constantly shifting melodic rhythm patterns provided a potent ending and my favourite section of the show. The ‘guitar as piano’ sequence that preceded this glorious finale was less to my taste, but still bore the unmistakeable mark of a still unique talent.
Although others found them distracting, I personally liked the visuals and for me, they gave the performance an added poignancy.
Because of them, the music came across as a suitably elegiac soundtrack to a Fripp mini-biopic that encompassed 36 years of a very particular and highly peculiar pop history. A story was imposed on the music where perhaps none existed (hence the criticisms) but as it was a story that I (and countless others) have an emotional connection to, I thought it added a powerful dimension to the performance.
Images of a younger RF at the piano with Peter Gabriel or striking a pose with Captain Eno were complemented by sad, stately, yearning string loops that provided a contemporary requiem for an irretrievable past that was shared by many of the audience members as well as by RF himself.
As someone who loved seeing Soundscapes at the QEH foyer, I’m not sure that The Junction was remotely the right place to see something so delicate and thoughtful, but at least some people seemed to genuinely enjoy the performance and the final response was noticeably warm. RF also treated the crowd to a typically eccentric end of tour monologue (beginning with the inevitable, ‘Good evening, Hippies”), which suggests that a second career as an intellectual Jethro is his for the asking.
Maybe it’s because I was spoilt as a teenager by all-seated, non-smoking venues such as the Manchester Apollo and the Manchester Library Theatre (where I once saw a stunning set by a chemically numbed Nico), I’ve never enjoyed the crammed, all-standing sweat-drenched, smoke-saturated atmosphere of the average Rock gig.
For me, the Rock Club isn’t somewhere that potentially fragile music can thrive or be listened to with any degree of attention to detail.
When No-Man played at similar (though smaller) venues in the early 1990s, we ended up getting louder and louder and killing whatever intimacy existed in the music. Ethereal ballads got dropped from the set and existing repertoire evolved into mutant Metal pastiches as Steven cranked up his guitar and I developed a mighty Bon Scott howl in order to get noticed. As a consequence, we’ve not played live for 12 years.
As a powerful and precise Rock band, Porcupine Tree can thrive in such an unforgiving venue and demand immediate attention from its audience, but the drifting and unimposing nature of Soundscapes are always going to lose out in such circumstances.
It was great to see some old No-Man fans, my Rock God friends and band mates (SW, Colin, the Barb etc…), as well as witnessing an excellent set from Robert, but under normal circumstances I’d actually pay to avoid seeing music at The Junction.
A drunken Lord Chilvers (demonstrating that blue blood and alcohol definitely don’t mix) provided after show japes aplenty, while fellow Warringtonian Jan Linton, author Jon Collins and Steve Hogarth offered amiable company.
As a fitting coda, I spent of most of the next day suffering from a constant headache and several vomiting fits. For those that don’t believe passive smoking has an effect on others, my Goth-white face (imagine Robert Smith after a month in Alaska) would have provided ample evidence to the contrary.
After having the first No-Man photo session in three years (a particularly productive day out in London that may have yielded enough images for the rest of our careers), I spent my Birthday with the Mayo Muse exploring the arcane delights of Granada and getting addicted to fragrant Pakistani tea (or liquid crack cocaine as we came to call it).
A city of surprising contrasts (conspicuous affluence/visible poverty, Eastern/Western architecture etc…), our particular high point was finding a café in a cave which afforded a magnificent panoramic view of the Alhambra.
Kilburn High Street this wasn’t.
Musically, I’ve completed more solo pieces that I’m unsure what to do with, while myself and Lee Dixon doppelganger Stephen Bennett have successfully managed to avoid getting any further with the delayed Henry Fool album (a release date of October 2012 seems optimistic).
Recent highlights have included BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction (presented by the beguiling Verity Sharp) playing tracks off No-Man’s ‘Speak’ (an album I still like a great deal and one that is about to get the superb Tonefloat vinyl treatment a la ‘Together We’re Stranger’).
Along with Vangelis Chilverdopolis, I performed a strong unannounced 4 song set at a Norwich Puppet Theatre event to celebrate the release of the new Kate Bush album ‘Aerial’ and Rob Jovanovic’s recent Bush biography.
A beautiful 200 seater converted church venue replete with bizarre puppet-themed décor, an attentive crowd and a clear sound made performing a joy. An equally unannounced improvised ambient set a fortnight later made performing such a misery, that myself and Baron Blade Runner considered giving up music there and then.
Welcome to the heart of the British gigging circuit.
Kate Bush – Aerial
John Martyn – Bless the Weather/Inside Out/Sunday’s Child re-masters
Tracey Emin – Strangeland
Nick Mason – Inside Out, A Personal History of Pink Floyd
Roger McGough – Summer With Monica
Where The Truth Lies