August 19th, 2016 | Published in Blog
19th April marked Bang the Bore’s 7th Birthday. Clive Henry and I started the event in a dingy pub music room in Southampton. So we’ve scribbled some of our thoughts down and thought we’d share them with you.
Clive: hard to know where to start, so we may as well go from the beginning: having our ‘headliner’ pull out with a few hours notice on the afternoon of the first gig…
luckily, it improved from there. those gigs at the hobbit pub, in southampton, were – looking back – embarrassingly good for fledgling promoters. this was entirely down to some of the great acts we put on; filling a room in a city where previously it had felt like there was nothing of this nature happening. on this note, watching the incredible mark sanders play an equally incredible solo drum set, to a room of around thirty-five people, just felt amazing. yes, the gigs were free – with donations encouraged; but that felt like a real high point, to have that many people in southampton, watching a solo percussion improv set. good times. and people traveled too: we had regular visitors from portsmouth, bournemouth way, brighton, even the isle of wight. later, when seth moved to leeds, he’d bring a van-load of northern folk down too. too many projects to mention, but a few personal ear-delights for me were: mark sanders, kev petals, the three-pronged east sussex attack of bad orb, andrew clare and jason williams, mark durgan, spoils and relics, bricky, dogeeseseegod, rick jensen trio, gokkun, seth cooke and skjolbrot.
a particular memory of the hobbit days, was the official ‘good gig’ yardstick. this involved a certain member of the bar staff coming into the room at some point, and loudly declaring “LOAD OF BOLLOCKS”. he did this at every gig, i believe, without fail; and it was through his efforts that we knew we must be doing something right.
obviously, as you can see, we were incredibly welcome at the hobbit; and they got rid of us soon enough.
this led – i forget how, precisely – to a new home at the uni of southampton art gallery: the john hansard gallery. the gallery were, and remain, complete sweethearts. incredibly keen and accommodating, despite me trampling over part of the exhibition at the first gig… that first gig was another revelation: so many people – and we hardly knew any of them. the hansard gigs, in fitting with our new surroundings, were more conceptually driven (and arguably ‘high brow’) – and in truth, finding people who could perform something reflecting the current exhibition’s ideas and themes become more and more difficult, really. but again, too many great performances to list… however: stephen cornford, will montgomery, robert curgenven, kostis kilymis, hossein hadisi… the twelve tapes performance at the hansard was pretty brutal. i think i was worried that the sound wouldn’t fill the space, leading to me cranking the scattered stereos quite high. it would be a reasonable statement to say that the resulting drone nearly sent me insane. we literally created a toxic environment. i am in everlasting debt to kev nickells, who – after several hours – suggested, “shall we turn it down a bit?”. he did, and it revealed a quite beautiful sound; flavouring the gallery like perfume, rather than obliterating the space.
(digression: i’m very proud of the fact that BtB gig posters have always been incredibly strong and beautiful)
in and around this, seth was busy organising gigs in leeds, and we were lucky enough to both play (in a trio with kevin sanders) with john butcher/gino robair, and paul hession, in a fantastic old church there. john butcher + a curled length of pipe = a god. talking of which, perhaps BtB’s best moment was putting on mr butcher in a medieval vault in southampton. this was very much ‘a proper gig’ – seth even organised a mobile loo outside. i also managed to miss this landmark in southampton’s history, by being dragged on tour. Hum.
also in and around this, we got involved in supernormal festival. kev nickells paved the way, here, persuading seth and my good self to play in a thirty-six hour improv performance. thats two occasions where BtB has nearly cracked my fragile brain. after this, kev arranged a wider role for BtB in the festival; with a remit to organise the more experimental/avant/improv side of supernormal’s music. this led to some great performances (organised and ad hoc), as well as the iconic supernormal moment: the bald knobbers’ cacophonous and masked procession into the woods. kev failed in his attempt to persuade the festival organisers to put vomir on the main stage, and for this i offer him the most eternal respect.
(second digression: BtB has produced various collaborations and compilations, but special note goes to missing nothing and here; which both collected up some great sounds)
at some point, mr cooke moved to bristol, and thats where BtB now focuses. it should be clear that seth is (and always has been) the driving force behind the collective. i could never praise or thank him enough for that. he’s aided in bristol by messers daniel bennett and dominic lash, both wonderful chaps and terrifying musicians. marooned as i am in southampton, i get to a few bristol BtBs, but not enough as i’d like to, or should.
this state of maroonedness (yup), brings up perhaps the greatest impact of bang the bore, for me: its desire to create a platform and space for people to cross paths, and make new paths. that was the initial premise, really: to start something in southampton, and hope that it would bring people out of the woodwork – dare we say it, to create a scene? this notion of collaboration is really a very special thing, and – as someone who spends most of his time in his room, making stupid noises on his own – its something that i feel so strongly whenever i go to a BtB gig. just to be in a room with other people of similar interests and ambitions is incredible empowering and encouraging. its not even necessarily a case of playing together – just sharing our ventures and efforts with each other is important and strengthening. it creates an atmosphere of community and support, of inspiration and motivation. easy words to sneer at, but its the reason why every bunch of losers who try to do something in their empty town, belong in the most highest and venerated.
Seth: Picking up the baton from Clive…
Bang the Bore’s venue switch from the Hobbit to the John Hansard Gallery marked a major turning point for me. Our final two events at The Hobbit were themed by accident – I glanced at the lineups and saw that one was skewed to improv, the other to instrument builders, so it seemed logical to lampshade it. Then we put on John Butcher and Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting In A Room in Southampton’s medieval vaults, which was more of a conscious programming choice. When the Hobbit kicked us out Ben Piekut – then a lecturer at Southampton University – put us in touch with the Hansard. The gallery was just about to host Jane and Louise Wilson’s Atomgrad, an exhibition of photographs taken in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. So I drafted Daniel Bennett and Richard Thomas, told the gallery we could do an event themed around nuclear power, and we worked our arses off to do it justice. I was desperate for a new venue and I hoped that pitching a themed event would swing the gallery in our favour. The result was Zone of Alienation, which is one of the two events of which I’m most proud. We made recordings inside cooling towers, collected 1950s recordings of songs themed around nuclear power, assembled video collages, and reworked compositions by Iannis Xenakis (Concret PH, renamed Concret BP), Alvin Lucier (Clocker, renamed Counter) and Frederick R.C. Clarke and Richard Granville Jones (God of Concrete, God of Steel). The Hansard invited us to stay, free of charge – on the condition that all our events were themed around their exhibitions.
Most of my music and recordings have their origins in the Hansard’s rather loaded generosity. Up to that point I’d mostly been a drummer. I stumbled into a wider practice because I wanted a free venue, and the blessing/curse of having to base our shows around their exhibitions changed the way I thought about music almost entirely by accident. We did two years of shows at the gallery, with shows themed around the voice, collaboration, error, sonification and water. But in my opinion the best show Bang the Bore ever staged was our final Hansard event, Displacement Activity, themed around the art of Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt and featuring Sarah Hughes, Dom Lash, Will Montgomery, David Stent and Neil Chapman. Working with places, alongside a certain spiteful attitude towards field recording, has been part of my recording practice ever since.
These two years probably ruined me for promoting normal concerts. But moving to Bristol also saw a broadening of the collective, with Dom Lash, Daniel Bennett, Stephen Cornford and Stuart Chalmers all getting involved. That coincided with my career starting, resulting in me taking more of a supporting role for the next couple of years to try to balance work, promoting and music. So the promotional apparatus continued to be useful in someone else’s hands.
That kind of fluidity is what keeps Bang the Bore interesting. It tends to become whatever it needs to be for each town or venue. There’s nothing particularly coherent about it besides adaptation to the environment – we get made an offer, or a possibility presents itself, and if it’s sufficiently compelling we make it the next thing on the to do list. At this point in 2017, the compelling thing is for the events to lie fallow for a while (well, after our event on 15th May). A combination of wanting a promotion at work, a new baby on the way, a lot of DIY to do in our new house and four long overdue records that need releasing on Every Contact Needs a Trace (including Twelve Tapes, which Clive mentions above). I’ve got a ton of concert footage from our last couple of years edited and ready to publish, so expect a steady stream of material to emerge on the website during the period in which our events go quiet. You can also expect some new music via the BtB netlabel, depending on whether a couple of contributors get their acts together. At this point Bang the Bore is mostly just me again, with past members of the collective either needing to refocus onto other activities or just being geographically distant. But if the right person or people wanted to pick up the baton with events, they’d be welcome to do so. Just because I need a brief break doesn’t mean Bang the Bore has to.
A few final thoughts. Clive’s comments about feeling marooned have me thinking back to the old days in Southampton, where we really were the only game in town. Bang the Bore, back then, was about filling that hole on the South coast, about not wanting to drive to London, Bristol or Brighton in order to see a show. There was a strong sense of community and collaboration, which continued into the first couple of years of the Bang the Bore forum. When BtB events start up again, they probably won’t be like they have been for the last few years. They’ll probably be less familiar, more uncomfortable, harder to get to or harder to find, with a greater emphasis on shared activity and less of an emphasis on performers playing to an audience. As a result of that we’ll probably attract fewer out-of-town performers, as they tend to like to show up and do what they were going to do anyway – whereas I think I’d like a world in which people try to fit in to something larger than their own sense of their own activities. That might well end up losing us audience members, which isn’t the objective but also won’t necessarily stop us from doing it.
But I reserve the right to drift where the wind is blowing – if the collective grows, and the collective will changes, then that’s what I’ll support. But for now this is mostly just me, so things may start to drift closer to my interests. There are a few things that need to get sorted first, then we’ll see what happens.