As I travelled from the city centre towards an alley between the back of Chinatown and the thirteenth century castle walls, encountering various characters to whom I hastened past, I began to remember the path that I used to walk to get to Morden Tower seven or so years ago, when I heard about the poetry nights that they had, to which I had been invited to by my friends Graeme Walker and Maggie Tran. There is the smell of cooking and an uncanny climate of cool air against busy heat. The stone is worn down and the path is obstructed from time to time with garbage disposal bins. But as in life, the hidden treasures are often obscured by unwanted and uninviting elements. But despite these, it is worth going up those aged stone steps and enter into a room that has seen the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Ivor Cutler and many other great poets. Tonight, as I enter into the space, paying the entry fee, I was about to witness another kind of creative expression; of music that exists on the fringes of culture. I may not have classical training, but I know what I like to hear and I can only describe them the way that I feel.
As I sat down on one of the many chairs, watching people set up their equipment and talking to my friends who came in after me, the room begins to fill in the intimately spaced room. After some time had passed, the first act, BEAUTY PAGEANT, come to the stage (a space with no chairs occupying it) and ask everyone to stand up so that they could “look us in the eyes”. Consisting of Marie Thompson on guitar, Helen Papaioannou on the sax and drummer Mike Smith, they start with a noise based combination that strikes me of energetic jazz, punk can do and the slightest hint of minimal pop words mixed together to create a beat that was hard for me not to keep in time with it. Even the visuals of seeing them work their instruments was intriguing, but the music kept most of my attention with boisterous volumed long notes being the name of the game. There were a few moments in which I wished I had some ear plugs to just cover over the intensity of the sound, but I think they were fairly quiet compared to the next act.
After having some fresh air outside and coming back in, BASILLICA (not the band, as my friend had informed me, but solo guitarist Mike Vest) was sitting down on the floor next to the amps with perhaps the most beautiful electric guitar I have ever seen (It made me think that it could have been used by a variety of black metal/ death metal/ noise metal guitarists, all glossy black and geometrically shaped.) When he started to play, I could feel the vibrating intensity of the volume hitting near maximum noise level within my body. The noise was magnificent to listen to, but again there were points where I wanted to cover the intensity with ear plugs so I could listen to the music, so I end up covering my right ear to personally cut the volume and yet still listen. As I look around amongst the audience, I see one man who was experienced enough to bring ear plugs and next to me was a young man who, despite covering his ears, seemed to be facing discomfort. But then, I think that the noise music of Mike Vest (to whom I compared him, in my inexperience, to Sunn O))) ) is not meant to be an easy listening experience. I would probably go to see him play again, but with ear plugs and wine to fully experience it.
Again getting some fresh air and walking pass a drunken man (who was not there for the music), the third act starts to set up their equipment. TRANS/ HUMAN (the collaborative efforts of Sheffield based musicians Luke Twyman and Adam Denton) set up a variety of equipment on their table ready to be played and as they do so, in comes their special guest, KRIS CANAVAN, who is going to perform alongside to their music. After finally finishing preparations with with the artist setting out some cloth on the floor and exiting the room, the music begins and unlike the other two acts, they have the volume at point thats unnervingly between being quiet and loud, as they start plucking at an electric guitar with a screwdriver. This goes beyond the realm of usual musicality with what seems like a complete upheaval of traditional methods and techniques to create a dual sensory delight of sound and visual. The music transcended my ideas of what live music could very be; they become something that has to be remembered not by documented sound or pre-recorded polish, but the raw magnificence of feeling and knowing that even if you couldn’t remember the music entirely, you would remember the feeling.
This could also be transferred here when I am describing the performance work of KRIS CANAVAN, to which I have much more experience of knowing and understanding what is going on. Arriving at the mid-point during TRANS/HUMAN’s gig, he comes into the room, a quiet potent presence, dressed only in long john underwear, wearing a dental jaw lock in his mouth to reveal the teeth in his mouth and carrying an unknown object, which appeared to be a dry earthen block with what seemed to be a piece of thick root. He walks toward the cloth, settling down and covering what seemed to be a coin (either a £2 coin or one of the Euro coins, neither of which I can confirm) with red tape. As he finishes this task quietly, he charges into the object with his fists flying in and out of the dust-like element revealing the root, the mercurial change of his temperament offsetting the audience and making them go into defensive postures. The music syncs with his actions, the clouds surrounding him like the eye of the storm. I stand up and watch, my heart thumping hard and fast, feeling like witnessing this trans-mutating action was momentarily like the loss of the illusion that had been smashed apart by the physical act of violent protest against the root of many problems. After a time had passed, he throws the root (bone?) into the audience and walks out, the music of TRANS/HUMAN still playing. The aggression (or perhaps the act of witnessing aggression) was invigorating to me.
As I walked out of the tower, I felt a great sense of being uplifted in my experience of the night. But I also felt that if i didn’t hear about this through my friends, I may not have been able to witness such a night and that is a shame, as I think Morden Tower has so much to offer in terms of culture and experimentation. Perhaps it is time that there should be more people trying to bring the history and cultural splendour of the tower up to date with more people. I should know: I lost touch with it once and I don’t really wish to lose it again.