GDFAF #10: Bark! (16/10/7)
GDFAF number ten was another one I didn’t have a solid plan for. I was vaguely tempted by The Rumblestrips at The Academy 2 (after having read many good notices about them from Baron ‘n’ Ben), but I’ve already been to that venue once this fortnight and didn’t want to risk puking up a f’n lung by going again. I was also tempted by The Proclaimers at The Civic, but I have seen them before and (as much as I like them) I don’t think they’re the sort of band one would get more out of by seeing them multiple times.
Casting round on the internet for ideas led down a very goodfaffy path – Bark! at The Lamp Tavern in Digbeth. An act I didn’t know at a venue I’d never been to before and of which I only had a hazy idea of the location. Perfect. Going Deaf For A Fortnight epitomised.
I loved The Lamp Tavern straight away. It’s a really nice proper pub, with loads of real ales (for which they seem to have won numerous awards). I was annoyed that I’d already been drinking lager, but there we go. It’s a little bit out of the way compared to everywhere else, but I can assure you I’ll be heading back at some point.
Bark!, then. Although I’m open to anything and everything, I don’t encounter a lot of genuine avant-garde jazz in my daily runnings. This gig was something a bit different for me. On one flank, we had a man playing a prepared five string guitar with a wide variety of household objects. I think we’ve probably all seen a violin bow used for the purpose before, but not necessarily a comb or a butter knife (MTO/Brian Duffy’s “Surplus value in things that seem redundant” concept came to mind for the second night running). At the other wing, a chap sat in front of the electronics and triggered samples (was he processing some of the sounds from the guitar, too? I’m not sure). He had the look of an evil genius about him. Finally, a drummer made up the centrepiece. He was interesting to watch as well as listen to – not only did he make use of more sundry objects (tin bowls, lengths of wire etc) in a few different ways (banging and clanging them together as well as scattering them across the drumkit, both to hit with his sticks and to alter the timbre of other bits of the kit he struck), but he seemed… manic. His playing style was not based on any sort of economy of motion in the slightest – when not actually hitting anything his hands would still be frantically quivering and shaking around. It looked like air-drumming at times, in fact. Combine it with the way he held his mouth while playing and you might have mistaken him for being autistic (and that’s not meant as an insult in the least, just an observation) (EDIT LATER ON: I apologise for this. “Autistic” isn’t what I mean at all. I am genuinely sorry about that idiotic phrasing on my part).
I couldn’t follow what they were doing of course. I’m not completely sure there was anything you’re meant to follow, as such, although looking around at other faces in the room people certainly appeared to have latched on to some sort of clever musicianly undertow that I couldn’t see or hear. I don’t think that’s important, though – whatever they may or may not have been trying to express, I got something out of it (yes, yes, ‘Death Of The Author’ and so on). Firstly it was a spectacle to look at. Beyond this, we had the way that moments of order seemed to arise out of the chaos. Every now and then things seemingly clicked together. I couldn’t tell whether they were actually trying for this, or not – throughout they kept me on my toes wondering whether they were trying to play together, or completely independently, or some mixture (at quite a few moments it felt to me like two of them were going mad on their own and the third was tasked with tying the whole thing together. I’m probably completely wrong, but that’s how it felt). It was also interesting to note that – although mostly a-rhythmic (to my lugholes, anyway) – the odd moments of rhythm that did arise seemed to be primarily from the guitarist, even though at other times you could see him consciously checking himself and refusing to fall into too consistent a pattern.
The most important thing I can say is that it asked questions of me, and I think ‘thought provoking’ is a very good thing for music to be. I enjoyed it.
The (very friendly and affable, it has to said) promoter chap wheeled in a prepared piano to play and invited those who had brought along instruments (i.e. about a third of the 10-15 strong audience) to come and have a bit of a jam, with and at times without members of Bark!. This was a bit more hit and miss, as one might expect, although certainly had its moments. The trio of the three fellas on brass was expecially nice, and even amusing when it seemed to get into a macho “I can tootle higher notes than you” contest in the middle.
So, record this gig as “The One Where Russ L Didn’t Really Understand What Was Going On But Quite Liked It Anyway.” And I’ll definitely be going back to The Lamp Tavern.