Friday, 30 January 2015

Ponte City

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh until April 26th
Four stars

'Live in Ponte', declaims the mantra on a poster depicting some glossy
urban paradise, 'and never go out.'  For the  54-storey circular folly
that still towers over Johannesburg's skyline and which was originally
built in 1976 to house South Africa's white elite, alas, things didn't
quite work out like that. By the time South African photographer
Mikhael Subotsky and British artist Patrick Waterhouse came calling,
the concrete monstrosity was largely occupied by black residents who
moved in following the collapse of apartheid, although many had
subsequently been evicted by predatory property developers.

The result of Subotsky and Waterhouse's five year study in this
international collaboration between the SNPG, Le Bal, Paris and FoMu
Antwerp is an expansive piece of impressionistic photo-journalism that
combines archive and found material alongside fresh images and texts
documenting a community which survives in spite of assorted social
upheavals and financial collapses.

Portraits of residents and their apartments sit next to the detritus
found in abandoned units and news cuttings charting this
nouveau-Babel's chequered history. A startled child's face on a tatty
postcard sums things up with the caption, 'Don't let the future take
you by surprise', in this damning indictment of how the global
conspiracies of gentrification and botched attempts at social
engineering are the real things needing demolished.

The List, January 2015

ends

To Kill A Mockingbird - Timothy Sheader on Staging Harper Lee's Classic Novel

When Harper Lee's novel To Kill A Mockingbird was reported to have been
banned from GCSE reading lists in England and Wales last year alongside
other works by American writers at the behest of UK Education Secretary
Michael Gove, there was an understandable outcry. Here, after all, was
an iconic and much-loved Pulitzer Prize winner which, since its
publication in 1960, has become a modern classic.

As Regent's Park Theatre set off on a tour of Timothy Sheader's hit
west end staging of the novel which takes in three Scottish cities,
what the incident highlighted was just how much of a bond readers who
grew up with To Kill A Mockingbird maintain with it throughout their
adult life.

“I watched what Michael Gove was saying,” says Sheader, “and he said
that he wanted more of Charles Dickens, who I think is wonderful and
writes great universal stories and creates wonderful characters, but
they're not really about life in the same way that To Kill A
Mockingbird is or in the way that John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is.
I think this was a personal bĂȘte noir of Michael Gove's, and I think he
regrets it.

“It's interesting, because Meera Syal's novel, Anita and Me, was chosen
by some schools to go on the syllabus in place of some of the American
works, and there was this delicious irony, because Syal said she only
became a writer because of reading Harper Lee.”

Set in a small town in deep south Alabama during the 1930s depression,
the book's story, as told by Scout Finch recalling events when she was
a young Tomboy, focuses on the trial of a black man accused of raping a
white woman, with Scout's widowed lawyer father tasked to defend the
accused. What follows, as Scout, her brother Jem and their friend Dill
watch the trial, is a study of how institutionalised racism and
prejudice can lead to injustice. It is also a rites of passage for
Scout, who wakes up to her own attitudes towards the largely unseen
figure of Boo Radley, the town's reclusive eccentric.

“It's a beautiful novel,” says Sheader, “but it's also a plea for
tolerance. I think most of us read it at a certain time in our lives,
as young adults, so we have that shared experience. Because of that,
there's an interesting psychology that goes on about what happens when
we revisit it as adults, and that's about being able to see both sides
of the coin. When you read the book as an eleven or twelve year old,
you share that same sense of exasperation about the injustices there
are in the world that Scout does, but when you're older, you're more
used to how the world works. It's something quite rare in theatre, in
that around ninety per cent of our audience will have read the book.
Part of the joy of our production is knowing that and celebrating it.”

Sheader's production opens up Lee's story by engaging with the audience
– be it made up of grown-ups or children – in a way more directly than
a naturalistic rendering of Christopher Sergel's adaptation might do.

“We read the book onstage,” Sheader says of the production's framing
device. “The actors are in modern dress, and there are twelve different
copies of the book onstage, which the actors read from in their own
accents., as if they're reading it at home. Then gradually through this
feat of shared imagination we usher these three children and Scout's
father Atticus onstage. The book is full of beautiful bits of prose
which don't always translate, and sometimes you just need to hear those
lines beyond the pure dialogue.

While Lee's book was an instant best seller when it was first
published, the story was brought into public consciousness even more by
the Robert Mulligan directed cinema adaptation, which starred Gregory
Peck as Atticus and Robert Duvall as Boo Radley. Both the film and
stage adaptations have gone some considerable way to keeping Lee's
novel evergreen.

“To Kill A Mockingbird gets done a lot onstage in much the same way as
Shakespeare does,” Sheader points out. “That's partly to do with the
different generations which it attracts. There are people who grew up
with the book who bring their children or their grand-children, so it's
not something that ever really stands still.”

Beyond the story's cross-generational appeal, an allure has grown up
around the book more to do with its author and the fact that the now
eighty-eight year old Lee has never published another book. Lee had
taken elements of her own Alabama childhood for To Kill A Mockingbird,
although she has always denied the book was autobiography.

Following the book's publication, Lee worked with her childhood friend
Truman Capote – who her character Dill is partly based on – researching
what end up as his 'factual novel', In Cold Blood, and rarely appeared
in public. While this stoked the sorts of unfounded rumours that
usually accompany any artist's withdrawal from public life, the truth
was probably more mundane.

“Maybe she's had a wonderful life,” Sheader speculates. “Where do you
go after writing something like To Kill A Mockingbird?  Most writers
really have four great works and maybe twenty mediocre ones, so she
just thought after writing one that's it.”

As Sheader's production has already proved, as far as To Kill A
Mockingbird is concerned, that is far from it.

“Anything we're doing is purely to honour both Harper Lee and the
novel,” he says,  “and as a story
I don't think it's lost any of it's emotional resonance. On one level
it tells a beautiful story which we can all enjoy, one which crosses
barriers of culture, age and race. It's a story that's a plea for
tolerance and justice, not just with race, but, with Boo Radley, how
people who are deemed to be a bit different are treated. The story also
asks you to try and imagine what's going on beyond what's immediately
apparent, and to look beneath the surface and into our own prejudices.
That's as important a life lesson to have now as it was when the book
was written.”

To Kill A Mockingbird, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, February 3-7; King's
Theatre, Edinburgh, February 9-14; His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen,
February 16-21.
www.atgtickets.com

The Herald, January 29th 2015

ends

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Garden

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

In a windowless high-rise built where the Sun no longer shines, the
entire world seems to be closing in on Jane and Mac, the listless
couple at the centre of this short opera penned by real life partners,
playwright Zinnie Harris and composer John Harris. The concrete
landscape they've created for Jane and Mac is grey and empty, their
lives barren of feeling as each struggles with their own private ennui.

When a small weed appears beneath the lino, having seemingly grown up
through breeze-block like some Ballardian bean-stalk, it's flash of
green suggests a life beyond the four walls for them both. When what
turns out to be an apple tree keeps growing back, refusing to be
pruned, its persistence awakens in Jane and Mac a desire which
transcends beyond the numbness, even as they self-medicate their way to
oblivion,

Commissioned and presented by the Aberdeen-based Sound festival of new
music and adapted from Zinnie Harris' short play, this musical version
begins with a low electronic hum that builds to a series of electric
keyboard motifs underscoring Alan McHugh and Pauline Knowles'
part-sung, part-spoken exchanges.

There's an underlying sadness to the performances in Zinnie Harris'
production, which takes
urban alienation to its logically dystopian limit before taking a leap
into more idyllic Ray Bradbury territory where the couple can breathe.
Knowles and McHugh play off each other beautifully, their voices
plaintive, their expressions pained, their hopes ultimately dashed.

At forty minutes, the Harris' story can stand alongside anything from
the late twentieth century new wave of ecologically-inclined short-form
science-fiction, even as it hints of fresh Edens to come.


The Herald, January 27th 2014



ends

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Filter's Macbeth

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars
When what looks like a bunch of black and grey clad technicians huddle
around a bank of home-made electronic instruments at the centre of an
otherwise bare stage to make assorted retro-futurist beeps and bloops
worthy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the penny drops that sound and
fury will most likely be at the heart of the Filter company's
seventy-five minute truncation of Shakespeare's Scottish play.

As it is, this follow-up to the company's take on the far frothier
Twelfth Night, which toured to the Citizens last year, is an oddly
restrained affair, in which any eerieness in the collectively created
co-production with Bristol's Tobacco Factory comes from Tom Haines'
soundtrack. Here an ever rolling set of witches culled from the cast of
seven become the show's house band, ghosts in the machine both driving
and manipulating the action as they tune in on it like some diabolical
branch of the Stasi or GCHQ. Poppy Miller's quietly driven Lady Macbeth
listens in too, seeming to have bugged her would-be king in an unspoken
conspiracy fired by surveillance culture.

While Lady M draws cartoon hearts in red marker pen on Duncan's bare
torso, Ferdy Roberts' be-denimed Macbeth is privy to the play's
inevitable denouement when he's passed a dog-eared copy of Brodie's
Notes. He gets to snog both Lady M and Banquo playing Blind Man's Buff
at his coronation feast, though when Lady Macbeth fills a line of
fun-size goody bags with crisps, Coke and cheesy Wotsits, it more
resembles a hipsters tea party. All of which certainly signifies
something in this youthful reading of the play, even if its makers
don't always know what.


The Herald, January 22nd 2015


ends

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Faith Healer

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
“Spend your life in show-business and you become a philosopher,” says
Teddy, the spiv-like manager and touring partner of The Fantastic
Francis Hardy in the third of four monologues that make up Brian
Friel's haunting dramatic meditation on the the unreliable powers of an
inconsistent muse, and how those powers can trap their carrier in their
own self-destructive mythology.

Before Teddy met Frank, his world was occupied by bagpipe-playing
whippets and other end-of-the-pier acts. Once their paths crossed, it
was an endless itinerary of one-night stands in isolated towns and
villages in Scotland and Wales where miracles sometimes happened. Like
an ageing rock band, Frank, Teddy and Frank's wife Grace embark on a
never-ending tour of backwoods venues struggling to recapture the
alchemical spark that once made Frank great in-between burying himself
in booze and antagonising strangers and intimates.

It is Frank who frames the play with the first and last of the play's
quartet of conflicting confessionals. A dynamic Sean O'Callaghan
invests Frank with shabby vulnerability in John Dove's poignant and
powerful production. Possessed by a mercurial restlessness, O'Callaghan
is never still for a second as he whirls about Michael Taylor's church
hall set, declaiming Frank's version of his peaceful downfall during
his return to Ireland.

Once Niamh McCann's Grace tells all from her London bedsit, the
contradictions of Frank's account become plain as she unravels her own
tragedy. After the interval, Patrick Driver's Teddy is almost light
relief in his bluff description of events. It's significant that the
manager is the only survivor in this mighty metaphor for art, and the
life and death that fuel it.

The Herald, January 20th 2014

ends  

Susannah Armitage - Producing A Play, A Pie and A Pint

In the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, a huddle of four young women sit
in closed ranks formation in the new writing venue's busy lunchtime
bar. At the centre of the gathering, whoo include Traverse associate
director Emma Callander and former Perth Theatre head now in charge of
Sherman Cymru in Cardiff, Rachel O'Riordan, is Susannah Armitage. The
subject of discussion is the ever-expanding enterprise that is A Play,
A Pie and A Pint, the lunchtime theatre set up a decade ago at Oran Mor
in the west end of Glasgow by former head of Wildcat Stage Productions
and co-founder of 7:84 Scotland, David MacLennan.

The premise of the operation was simple. Put short new plays on at
lunchtime for a week on a minimal budget, throw a glass of what you
fancy and a pie of your choice in with the ticket price, and see what
happens. Up until then, there was little history of lunchtime theatre
in Scotland, but A Play, A Pie and A Pint's quick turnover of work
quickly became a must-see phenomenon, its cheap and cheerful philosophy
pre-dating austerity culture and going against the grain of glossier
fare.

Many works first seen at Oran Mor went on to have theatrical lives
beyond their spiritual home, and ongoing partnerships were forged with
companies ranging from the similarly pocket-sized Bewley's cafe theatre
in Dublin to the National Theatre of Scotland. Much of the success of A
Play, A Pie and A Pint was down to MacLennan's shrewd charm, an ability
to recognise a good idea when he saw one, and a knack for working with
talented people.

One of those people was Armitage, who began working as MacLennan's
deputy producer at Oran Mor in 2008. Since MacLennan sadly passed away
last year, Armitage has stepped into her mentor's shoes, and the season
of a staggering nineteen plays that opens next Monday with Anne Hogg's
play, Butterfly, will be her first full season as A Play, A Pie and 
Pint's sole producer. Under MacLennan's guidance, and with a huge
supportive network of collaborators beside her, Armitage effectively
graduated through a unique theatrical boot-room to take up her new
role, even as she continues to work with the innovative Vox Motus
company, who she also produces.

“I really miss David,” says Armitage once her meeting is over, “but
I've been working with him for so long on A Play, A Pie and A Pint that
it's something I really want to carry on doing. I miss him on a
personal level, and I also miss the working relationship we had. One of
the wonderful things about David was the way he took risks and took a
chance on people if they had a good idea. David had faith in me, so
hopefully I can carry on with his ethos.”

The nineteen plays that make up the new season of A Play, A Pie and A
Pint features new writing by familiar PPP names such as Sandy Nelson,
Davey Anderson and Paddy Cunneen, as well as work by less well known
artists. Some of the work being shown was developed by writers who were
part of the Traverse Theatre's Traverse 50 initiative, and there will
also be  Gaelic language take on Whisky Galore and a series of works
from Russia and the Ukraine. Later in the season there is also the
first sighting of a new play by poet and novelist Alan Spence for some
time.

No Nothing is PPP's first collaboration with Aberdeen Performing Arts,
and imagines a celestial meeting between poet Edwin Morgan and trade
unionist Jimmy Reid.

“It's beautifully written,” says Armitage, “and has these two iconic
figures having this political flyting in a way that is really quite
magical.”

There are further collaborations with Ayr's Gaiety Theatre and Sherman
Cymru.

“We're trying to build up how we work with other venues,” Armitage
says, “and how we get scripts from elsewhere. The international
collaborations we do were one of the things I was originally brought in
to try and develop, so now we have the Russian and Ukrainian plays,
which have been in development for ages, and we've lots of other things
in the pipeline as well.”

Originally from the Black Isle in Cromartyshire, Armitage studied
Scottish Literature and Theatre Studies at Glasgow University before
working in the admin department at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow during
current executive producer of the National Theatre of Scotland, Neil
Murray's tenure in charge of the building. At the time, having an
executive producer running an organisation rather than a rehearsal
room-based artistic director was relatively rare, and Armitage learnt
much from the experience before she joined MacLennan on the
recommendation of playwright, composer and PPP regular, Cunneen.

“It was a completely different way of working,” Armitage says of her
arrival at Oran Mor. “It's not like working in a building or with a
company that has a big marketing department, but one of the great
lessons I took from David is the ability to say yes. If you've got a
good idea, just do it, and get as much work onstage as possible. It's
also great being able to work with companies who do have more resources
than us in terms of development. That way I think we can get the best
of all worlds.”

With this in mind, this season also somewhat remarkably sees A Play, A
Pie and A Pint produce its 350th play. For the occasion, Armitage and
co have teamed up with the Philadelphia-based Tiny Dynamite company,
who adopted the PPP model for their own work, and have performed some
of the plays first seen in Glasgow.

“It seems fitting somehow that we do an American play from their
programme,” says Armitage. “Tiny Dynamite have been so supportive of
what we do, so it's important to develop a two-way relationship.”

Armitage is keen to spread the Play, Pie and Pint net even wider.

“My aim is to keep the basic model,” she says, “but to try and develop
more relationships.
I think it's important to keep the ethos, the heart and the momentum of
A Play, A Pie and A Pint in much the same way as we have been doing,
and to build on that. I think it's important too to keep the political
edge of A Play, A Pie and A Pint, in whatever form. There's something
about the rawness and immediacy of getting work on so quickly that
makes it really direct. A Play, A Pie and A Pint will always be David's
baby, but I think it has its own personality and weight now to go
forward and continue everything he started and try and make it even
better.”

The Spring 2015 season of A Play, A Pie and A Pint begins at Oran Mor,
Glasgow on January 26 with Butterfly by Anne Hogg.
www.oran-mor.co.uk

The Herald, January 20th 2015

ends

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Sexual Objects – Softly Softly With Marshmallow

When The Sexual Objects release their second album, Marshmallow, this
week, this long-awaited follow-up to their 2010 debut, Cucumber, will
be a singular experience bar none. Ever the conceptualists, the
Edinburgh sired quintet led by Davy Henderson, a key figure in the
Sound of Young Scotland ever since his first band, Fire Engines,
announced themselves to the world in 1980 with the breathless fury of
alt. muzak mini-album, Lubricate Your Living Room, will put out their
new opus in a uniquely bespoke fashion.

While an accompanying set of instrumentals magnificently christened
Cream Split Up and currently garnering airplay care of Marc Riley on
BBC 6Music will be heard on 10'' vinyl, Marshmallow will be let loose
into the world in an edition of, well, you choose. Because, while the
album is technically self-released on the SOBs own Eyelids in the Rain
micro-label in conjunction with the Creeping Bent Organisation, as was
their 2013 digital only single, Feels With Me, Henderson and co have
opted to put a solitary vinyl edition of Marshmallow up for auction on
eBay.

With the highest bidder also winning the rights to the recordings, they
will subsequently be able to release as many or as few copies of
Marshmallow as they like in whatever format they fancy. Or, if they
wanted to be exclusive to the point of selfishness, they could simply
hoard the tapes away in their metaphorical attic, with the split-screen
sunshine-laden avant-pop appropriations contained therein never to be
heard again except when the band play one of their glorious live shows.

“I had this idea when I was in Win,” says Henderson of a concept that's
been percolating since he fronted his glossy 1980s pop combo. “Wouldn't
it be great to release one copy of an album so it's  like a painting?
It becomes an object. I just thought it would be great to make an
artefact like that, but because you're signed to a major label that
freaks them out. Whereas now, everybody can have a record label, the
same way they can be in a band, so it's an experiment as well, to find
out and experience the mechanics of the whole process of putting out a
record.

“It's also about the fact that music's become so valueless. You can buy
two drinks and it'll cost you a tenner, then you can go to Fopp and buy
Vintage Violence by John Cale, one of the most beautiful, life-changing
records you'll ever hear, for three quid, and it will last you forever.
Music is the most disposable, disrespected thing. Its almost like
you're scum. Its cheaper than a sandwich,” Henderson drawls, “but not
as heavy.”

Henderson is perched on the corner of the stage of Edinburgh's Voodoo
Rooms club alongside SOBs drummer and long-term collaborator Iain
Holford. A few hours later both men will be onstage alongside their
fellow Objects, guitarists Simon Smeeton and Graham Wann,and bass
player and head honcho of Creeping Bent, Douglas MacIntyre, opening up
for Vic Godard & Subway Sect, who are performing one of their Northern
Soul-tinged 1979 Now shows.

Then, Henderson will appear hoodied-up in shades and a Cheshire Cat
grin and announce himself as Martin Scorsese before  filming the
audience as he gets them to chant a celebratory 'Marshmallow!' Just
now, however, the stage is empty, with the odd passing waitress
oblivious to the conspiracy unfolding beside them. It's a conspiracy,
it seems, which has been inspired in part by U2.

“I remember the Fire Engines playing with U2 in Valentino's in
Edinburgh,” Henderson says of a 1981 club show with the future
messiahs. “We were sound-checking, and Bono came in singing Ave Maria.
It's interesting the radius that developed from out of that little
pebble-drop, and the choices we made as a band and the choices they
made, so now they're an industrial corporation, who, by dropping
five-hundred million copies of their album onto iTunes automatically,
completely devalued their music to the level of it becoming spam.
That's not rock and roll. That's fascism. So we're actually doing
something that's more than polar opposite of what they're doing. It's
not just the opposite. It's like a black hole inversion.”

In this sense, Henderson is the ultimate parallel universe pop/art
star, whose back-pages have straddled several generations of post-punk
glamorama, and without whom Franz Ferdinand wouldn't have been able to
cut the well-observed moves that made them famous. Franz Ferdinand are
quite open about their musical debt to Fire Engines, and covered their
song, Get Up and Use Me, on a split single with with a briefly
reignited Engines, who played Franz's Jacqueline.

Henderson was sparked into musical  life after he and pretty much
anyone who went on to make the original Sound of Young Scotland
witnessed Vic Godard's Subway Sect and The Slits supporting The Clash
on the Edinburgh leg of the 1977 White Riot tour. Henderson's first
band, Dirty Reds, eventually morphed into one of the most exhilarating
bands around.

Even then Henderson dealt in concepts. 'Fire Engines or Boredom – You
Can't Have Both' declaimed the posters for a band who played
fifteen-minute sets and took part in revolutionary theatre shows.

Fire Engines had developed in Edinburgh alongside Scars and others
around Bob Last and Hilary Morrison's Fast Product label, which was led
by ideas and design as much as the music they were wrapped around.
While Alan Horne wanted the band for Postcard Records, Fire Engines
eventually released the primitive mood music of their only album,
Lubricate Your Living Room, for Last's post-Fast Pop:Aural operation.
As with Fast Product, a critical flirtation with consumerism and
packaging was essential to Pop:Aural's modus operandi.

Fire Engines too flirted with the mainstream on string-laden single,
Candyskin, a Peel session cover of Heaven 17's (We Don't Need This)
Fascist Groove Thang - before the Human League splinter group had
released their debut single – and their 12'' swan-song, Big Gold Dream.

This era is documented on the soon to be released The Sound of Young
Scotland, a pair of feature-length documentaries which mixes up
rarely-seen archive footage with new interviews with pretty much
everyone who shaped the times, including a magnificently be-shaded
Henderson.

Henderson attempted major label pop entryism with his next band, Win,
whose glossily produced first single, You've Got The Power,
soundtracked a 1980s TV lager ad, while two knowing albums never quite
crossed over. He got back to basics with The Nectarine No.9, producing
a plethora of low-slung three-guitar noir epics and lo-fi collages
across a slew of albums spread throughout a decade that crossed into a
new century.

It is the Nectarines final line-up that make up the core of The Sexual
Objects, who serve up a brighter, loucher and altogether sassier if
equally skewed take on post-punk-and-roll. Their single, Here Come The
Rubber Cops, first released in 2008, was produced by Boards of Canada,
while on Cucumber, Prince, T Rex and Todd Rungren were all in the mix,
as they have been, really, since Fire Engines days.

In the intervening four years since Cucumber, The SOBs forged an
ongoing relationship with Vic Godard, with whom they frequently play
(sometimes as The Sectual Objects). Henderson, meanwhile, appeared on
Primal Scream's 2013 album, More Light, playing on Invisible City and
Turn Each Other Inside Out while sharing studio space with Sun Ra's
Arkestra, whose Rocket No 9 Henderson covered with the Nectarines. (Sun
Ra, incidentally, used to release albums on his own El Saturn imprint
in editions of no more than seventy-five, which would be sold at shows
or by mail order or else distributed by hand).

Live, The Sexual Objects have been on fire, from covering Henderson's
own You've Got The Power to open their set playing a Glasgow show with
The Pop Group, to 'reconvening' The Nectarine No 9 to play their dark
1995 masterpiece, Saint Jack – originally released on the briefly
revived Postcard label -  in full, to numerous shows with Godard. With
the auction announced during this week's Marc Riley session and more
live shows pending, it is a happy accident that Marshmallow's last day
of sale will fall on January 25th, which is not only Burns Night, but
thirty-four years to the day since Fire Engines and U2 shared a stage.

“The Sexual Objects was only meant to be a temporary thing for two
years to do a bunch of singles that became Cucumber,” Henderson says.
“That was based on the idea of how classic sixties and seventies songs
could recycle each other so they were almost exactly the same, the
classic ones being The Kinks doing You Really Got Me and All Day and
All of the Night.

“Then around the time of Davy Graham dying, I started finding out about
detuning the guitar, and what you could do with that, and I also
started listening to Cream, who I'd always resisted for years, but it's
this really free and anarchic pop. So Marshmallow is a guitar album,
and it's a pop album, and there's that really American guitar playing,
like the Beach Boys meets Rock and Roll Animal or something.”

Henderson talks in abstracts about Marshmallow in terms of colour, and
likens it to the vivid light-scapes of American artist James Turrell.

“It's full of really saturated chords,” says Henderson, before
expressing a desire to perform the album at the centre of a room of
living colour. “The record tries to emulate artists who use really
saturated colours to create these unimagined landscapes. It's a form of
appropriation that tries to emulate colour sonically.”

This writer has been privileged to have had a hand-packaged Cdr of
Marshmallow in his possession ever since it was handed over in a Jiffy
bag by Henderson one afternoon in Edinburgh's Waverley Station as if it
was contraband in some equally home-made espionage thriller. The
cloak-and-dagger effect continued throughout numerous text message
exchanges.

'Now's the time to destroy yr. Compact Disc simulation of Marshmallow /
Kultcream...' Henderson wrote in the gloriously idiosyncratic style
that fuels his lyrics. '...for your own security please provide
photographic evidence of defunct CD...'

Henderson's Mission Impossible style missive was followed up with talk
of a 'technical Hitchcock' or else a teasing 'ssshh!' and signed
'William Franklin' in homage to the 1970s TV ads for Schweppes soft
drinks.

As implied, the agreement then was that, as there was to only be one
copy of Marshmallow in existence to be auctioned, this 'advance'
bootleg was to be destroyed once the genuine article was put on the
market. While hardly the K Foundation torching a million quid,
Henderson's instructions nevertheless smack of Gustav Metzger's notions
of auto-destructive art that went on to inspire Pete Townsend to smash
his guitars in a calculated fit of Mod abandon.

In an age of built-in obsolescence, both my inner consumer and my inner
collector are having trouble letting go of something so precious. At
time of writing, the Cdr is still in one piece, but that will have to
end soon.

Both the hand-crafted cardboard sleeve and the Cdr itself are covered
in stickers on which track-listings are typed with what looks like was
probably an old-school Remington or Olivetti, complete with Tippex-free
crossings out. Two more stickers on the sleeve have faint pencil
scrawls on them.

'Oh no!!' reads the first beneath the track-listing for side 1, “Life
in tatters cos of the flippin' Wu Tang Clan! What am I gonna do?'

The message continues on the other side, beneath the listings for side
2. '...someone help me, help me please!' it reads, then, just in case,
'Donny Osmond, Puppy Love 1972.'

The Wu Tangs reference was inspired by the veteran hip hop collective's
2014 release of compilation album, The Wu – One Night in Shaolin. Like
Marshmallow, The Wu's collection of unreleased material has not been
released commercially, but in a silver-and-nickel boxed edition of one.
The aim was to tour this as an objet d'art around galleries and
festivals before being sold off, reputedly for millions, to the highest
bidder.

In sound, at least, Marshmallow is equally priceless. Where Cucumber
was a loosely knitted-together singles collection, Marshmallow feels
richer, more fleshed out, and, as Henderson has hinted, wears its
influences on its sunshine-dappled sleeve. While Cream Split Up
features titles such as Robert Quine, Ron Asheton (which comes with a
video by original Jesus and Mary Chain bass player and long-term indie
auteur Douglas Hart) and Tel-Ray Collins (plus one named after BBC
Radio 2 newsreader Fenella Fudge), a key song on Marshmallow is
tellingly called Kevin Ayers.

With nine tracks split over two sides, the Marshmallow side features
five songs, which are followed by a quartet of instrumentals on the
Kultcream side. The opening Cincinnati Blooms sets the tone with an
opening guitar salvo that grooves its way through a pre-punk rifferama
married to 1970s synth swirls that eventually give way to lyrics that
reference Davy Graham.

The following Sometimes is equally knee-deep in knowingly 1970s Mick
Ronson style iconography that comes gift-wrapped with a warmth that
permeates throughout the record. If there was any justice and these
things mattered anymore, it would be a smash hit single. 'I Get My
Kicks/Nickin' Licks/From Your Town' is as telling as it gets, and is
the perfect cue for Kevin Ayers, a suitably kooky confection that
twists its way into a vocoder-led stratosphere.

The pace calms down for the title track, a piano and harmony led slow
dance through some strung-out Lou Reed style melancholy that gives way
to The Shadow of Jet Plane's opening mediaeval style acoustic guitar
refrain that name-checks doomed singer/songwriter Judee Sill before
taking flight.

In marked contrast, the Kultcream side features four instrumentals. The
first, Astrastube, is an exploratory set of guitar patterns that
reflects back on themselves, while Anglia Wagen is so darn wiggy it
could be sound-tracking a psychedelic science-fiction beach party. It
is the fifteen-minute sprawl of Squash, however, that forms Kultcream's
centrepiece.

As it swaggers into view, it inadvertently poaches the melody from Rod
Stewart's Hot Legs, only to take a woozy-assed detour more akin to the
Twin Peaks bar-band on an even more out-there trip. Finally, Pye Hill
no.1 (or Leaflet according to Henderson's home-made sleeve) is a brief
sketch composed by Holford in which a vintage keyboard sounds
transformed into a choir of angels trying to beam their way heavenwards.

It's the perfect outro to what is possibly the most complete-sounding
collection Henderson has made during his assorted musical adventures to
date, and it would be a crying shame if no-one else got to hear it.

Of course, the release of both Marshmallow and Cream Split Up already
look like something of a curse. Since they were recorded, former Cream
bass player Jack Bruce has passed away. More recently, Bono from U2 has
been in an accident which, he says, may prevent him from ever playing
the guitar again.

Would-be collectors should pay no heed to such superstitious
tittle-tattle, however. After all, if they do take a chance on
Marshmallow, they will own 100% reproduction rights to the record
forever. No review copies will be sent out.

“We don't know what the outcome of this will be,” Henderson admits.
“It's an experiment, and, like all experiments, it may fail, but that
doesn't matter.”

The Sexual Objects play Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, as part of
Independent Venue Week, on January 29th, supported by Snide Rhythms.
Marshmallow will be up for auction on eBay for ten days only from
January 15th-25th.
http://www.sneakypetes.co.uk/

The Quietus, January 2015.

ends