Culture: A Band You May Have Never Heard of That Deserves Your Full Attention; CD REVIEW AND PROFILE OUT OF COLD STORAGE: This Heat *****
Byline: Al Hutchins
Once in a mauvish blue moon, your ears run riot in hearing something different and that Frank Zappa comment that equates writing about music to dancing about architecture seems fabulously apt.
Where do you begin with a group that gets bracketed into some post-punk mailbox but has elements of metal, prog, psychedelia, chamber music and orchestral, fifties BBC radio drama and the BBC Radio-phonic workshop, lo-fi experimen-talism, Jamaican dub, electronica, krautrock, industrial, Beefheartian blues, a skittered kind of funk, the freedom of jazz and all manner of what is laughably called 'world' music, as well as - in a few instances - laying the blueprint for techno ?!
Taking its title from the converted cold store room of a disused meat pie factory in Brixton that became this trio's HQ, this six CD set (superbly annotated by the veteran writer/musician and one-time Henry Cow drummer Chris Cutler) is, at last, a fitting testament to this innovative and completely unsung South London trio from the late seventies.
Formed in 1976 by two "heads down musos" called Charles (Hay-ward and Bullen), who both kept bumping into each other on the improv circuit, they decided this was no basis for forming a group, then found their missing link & conduit in the charismatic shape of 'non-musician' Gareth Williams.
He was running the HMV shop in Leicester Square, stocking it with as many strange underground records as he could find, and had never thought about playing music.
Hayward had played drums (as well as melodica, kazoo, you name it) in various outfits which included the Roxy Music splinter band Quiet Sun, Bullen was primarily the guitar man (with a mean line in clarinets played in cupboards) and Williams started as a climbing the walls ranting and screaming frontman before settling down behind the organ that had belonged to Henry Cow.
There was no set line-up of who played what on which tune (all the tunes were different anyway), but all the group shared vocal duties with Bullen and each were obsessed with the possibilities of tape manipulation both on stage and in the studio.
You listen to their eponymous debut album (1979) which begins and ends with a sonic testcard and at times it is more like listening to a radio composition in the scope that is given your imagination to wander. You get a repetitive cavernous metallic riff morphing (40 seconds in) into itchy scratchy fretwork alongside a Dr Mabuse organ, back to the riff, then into a funky almost Prince-like guitar (later in a break the kit seems almost to be playing the opening to Shaft) which ushers in clattering extractor fan percussion alongside the repetitive drum riff.
The song finishes sped up into a fairground carousel before halting. If this were prog rock you'd be talking tracks of 15-20 minutes length but TH are notable for their concision given the amount of atmospheres they get to breed (and breathe) in a relatively short time frame.
No vocals? Well, it's not that vocals don't feature in T.H simply that they aren't needed in the way that verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge scenarios would dictate.
More when they do crop up (on the debut album it's a good ten minutes in) it's dramatically to bring to life (with clarinet, bells et al) a specific dramatic situation' a man drowning in extremity of ice cold water, in Not Waving, for example.
"Learn to love the water," he intones. "It will love you like there's no tomorrow". Before pausing to add, "There is no tomorrow". …