"there are immaturities, but there are immensities" - Bright Star (dir. Jane Campion)>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
"the fear of being wrong can keep you from being anything at all" - Nayland Blake >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> "It may be foolish to be foolish, but, somehow, even more so, to not be" - Airport Through The Trees
Futile and foolish to analyse humour, of course, but there are some things worth noting about the Ivor Cutler experience. Often his humour lies in the confrontation between surreal or absurdly tragic phenomena, and small-minded people, who can only react within the terms of conventional propriety. Like the story of a boy who plants himself in the soil so as to grow taller. His toes take root, grow into someone else's garden, but his mother's comment is: "Luckily, it's someone we know."
Generally, Cutler extracts humour from the damage we inflict on each other, the petty immiseration of family life or just everyday brutalisation (e.g. his song about big men with intimidatingly hearty handshakes — "Put it there!/Crunch! Crunch!").
He has things to say too, being a feminist and an ecologist. His anthropomorphism is fantastical but polemical too, reminding us that this isn't our world, that the creatures have independent lives. His compassion extends to the vegetable and mineral: "we even murder salt". Cutler delights in unprivileging humanity, showing us our comeuppance, as in the story of being snubbed by a talking stone.
One prose-poem ends with a contradiction: "She was a simple and direct woman, though oblique and complicated." A perfect description of Cutler's work — like a dream, it combines lucidity and opacity, seems impossibly pregnant with meaning and yet quite blank.
The obvious template for the jags and splinters of the Fire
Engines sound is Captain Beefheart. But their most thrilling songs remind me
even more of James Brown. Perhaps they never listened to him, but I’ll bet they
were inspired by an idea of Brown’s
music, as mediated by James Chance: funk as frenzy and possession. Just listen
to “Get Up & Use Me” (either of the two versions on this compilation of
unreleased material will do). From the subfunk bassline through the two
guitars’ frictional mesh of screeching slide and itchy rhythm, to Davy
Henderson’s parched yelp, it’s obvious that Fire Engines listened closely to No New York and Buy The Contortions. Even the title constitutes homage in two
parts, the first half echoing the pride and dignity ofJB’s “Get Up, Get Into It and Get Involved,”
the second nodding to JC’s masochistic self-abasement.
Fire Engines had a terrific way with song titles: “Hungry
Beat”, “Meat Whiplash,” “New Things In Cartons.”But they weren’t exactly songsmiths. So Bob
Last, founder of Edinburgh’s
Pop:Aural label, cleverly reframed the group by persuading them to record Lubricate Your Living Room,an instrumental mini-LP of “background beat
for action people”. Livewire Your Nervous System, more like: far from Eno’s aural
tranquilizers, this was ambient as buzz music, a spiky cloud of sonic
amphetamine designed to get you in the right mood--keen of nerve, ebullient,
restless--before going out on the town.
Along with a pre-Pop: Aural session produced by the
wonderfully named Wilf Smarties, Codex Teenage Premonition captures Fire Engines lubricating some
big rooms in Edinburgh, withfour songs
from the group’s debut gig and six from another performance closer to the end
of their brief lifespan. Both concerts feature their #1 tune, “Discord,” a
shard-scattering groove that’s like The Fall’s “Fiery Jack” rooted in funk
rather than rockabilly.The later show
is prefaced by a snippet of Henderson
vowing to do “two 15 minute sets” with a half-hour gap between. Playing fifteen
minute gigs wasn’t a gimmick but the logical structural extension of the
group’s commitment to compression: twice the energy into half the time. Like
James Brown, Fire Engines had ants in their pants, but zero angst. Codex
preserves their euphoria and NRG like a case of vintage Red Bull.
INTERVIEW WITH DAVY HENDERSON
It’s pretty amazing
that Fire Engines’ very first performance was documented.
Our bassistGraham [Main] had been keeping the tape under his bed for 25
years! That debut gig was the best thing we ever did. We should have split up
afterwards, ‘cos we didn’t get any better, and I mean that! It sounds like an
emergence, like something coming from a swamp. Most people know our Pop: Aural
stuff, but this compilation is all about the whole year we existed before
hooking up with Bob Last. We had a single on Codex, this label started by Angus Groovy. Another reason to
release the session and the live stuff is that the songs were never recorded as
they were written and performed, 2 ½ minute songs. Lubricate was like a remix project, except played live--the songs
were extended,the vocals were left
influenced a bunch of scritchy-scratchy Eighties bands like June Brides and
Membranes, then dipped off the radar a bit. It must be sweet getting all this
love from such as Franz Ferdinand, covering “Get Up and Use Me.”
It all really started when we got asked to reform to play
with the Magic Band. We wouldn’t have done it for anybody else. But if Don Van
Vliet himself had been involved, we would have been too scared! Not long after,
Franz invited us to play at a surprise gig for their fans. They gave away a
free single to the audience, all 5000 of them, with their cover of “Get Up” on
one side and us covering their “Jacqueline” on the other. But we’re not coming
out of retirement--just a couple more gigs and that’s it!