clough, truant, termite club, phil todd and the lost second album

May 21, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Posted in fencing flatworm, musings, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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ff010 truant – zellaby’s beautiful sacrifice

Michael Clough, known universally as Clough, or Cloughy to his closest confidants, bestrode the Leeds experimental music scene like a loose-limbed, roll-up-smoking colossus.  A scholar of improvised music, a dry wit and as Yorkshire as a pontefract cake, he played bass in the legendary kraut/prog outfit Rancid Poultry and their successors PRP Group.  The latter were so rigourously mysterious that, despite a weekly rehearsal commitment, the trio’s compulsive perfectionism meant recordings were rare and gigs vanishingly uncommon.  He also manipulated squiggle-boxes for microsound troupe Klunk and helped run the Leeds free-music institution Termite Club.  It is through the latter that we came to be friends.

Cloughy, like Julian who I was bromancing at a similar time, was one of those chaps I was always glad to see at gigs because I knew that, in his company, the night would be fun no matter the quality of the music.  We met for lunch, along with Neil Campbell, once a week to talk nonsense about music and when I picture him he is always wearing a shirt (sleeves rolled up) and tie as he had always ‘come straight from work’.  I left his wedding reception early in order to see Whitehouse.  It was perhaps inevitable, given our shared interest in long-form electronic music, that we would hatch a band together.

The name ‘Truant’ came about, I think, as a kind of joke: Cloughy was busy with PRP Group, I was busy with midwich/fencing flatworm – Truant was what we did when we were bunking off.  The idea was simple: we would create semi-improvised, fairly lengthy tracks constructed from loops and throbs ‘playing themselves’ over which Clough would add a moody bassline.  Our very first attempt was recorded for posterity, prosaically titled ‘rehearsal’ and skillfully mixed by Cloughy into something we both thought promising.  You can hear it by clicking on…

In fact, so proud was I of this swing-and-hit that I clipped two bits out to be the A and B sides of a 7″ single.  Money stopped this from being realised, unfortunately, so why not imagine sliding a black disc onto a turntable as you click on the below:

  1. church and state part 1
  2. church and state part 2

There were three gigs I can remember (by which I mean document – I keep my memories in box files as my head is not entirely reliable), all of which took place in the space-age year 2000.

The gig above was on a blisteringly hot summer Sunday.  We throbbed and shimmered as people rolled up then joined in with the slack-jawed-but-delighted response to outsider magician June Powers.  He entertained us with a set of untricks that had us worrying about his mental health.  This was so odd that if its reality wasn’t confirmed by the poster I’d have thought that I dreamt it.  Vibracathedral were in their prime and finally put to bed all those Velvet Underground comparisons by playing with their backs to the audience behind a curtain of silver tinsel – you see?  Nothing like ’em!  Note comical entrance fee – those were’t days, eh?

Secondly came one of my favourite experiences of playing live.  Again at the Royal Park, again sweltering – though this time due to being rammed with people.  As Jackie-O Motherfucker had about 27 members and the stage was full of gear, we set up at the mixing desk.  The vibrations from our bass-heavy set started the drum skins hissing and strings vibrating until the instruments on stage were playing themselves.  When Jackie-O came on they jammed along with us before, as we faded out, beginning their meandering proper.  It was a magical moment for me.

The third and final gig of 2000 was at the terrific Termite Club Festival in November.  In between this and the last gig Truant had become a power trio with the addition of Phil Todd on guitar.  Phil had recently moved to Leeds from Stoke and needed to be distracted from his oatcake withdrawal.  He did this by getting involved with every musical project within a five mile radius of the Adelphi Hotel (now cruelly gentrified, alas).

I remember this weekend very fondly despite many of the reasons for doing so being ignoble or infamous.  Cloughy and I were on the door on Friday and the headliners V/VM gave us a bunch of CDs to sell on their behalf.  After their gruelling set of mangled pop covers we gave this unwanted product back to a guy we thought was a member of the band.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t and the bewildered punter scarpered with his unexpected haul.  In our defense V/VM were playing wearing masks, but they were unimpressed with our gaffe and later made caustic remarks about Arts Council funded gigs which I suspect were aimed at us.  Oops.

The headliner booked for Saturday was legendary improv guitarist Derek Bailey (who sadly died in 2005 – rest in peace, Derek).  A few days before the show, I was sat staring at the peeling wallpaper in my slug-infested hovel when the ‘phone rang: it was him!  At first I was so star-struck that I didn’t really cotton on to what he was saying.  “Holy fuck!  Derek Bailey is speaking to me!” I thought, “He’s telling me that he has the shits so bad he has to cancel!  Amazing!  Hang on, wait a minute – what was that?!”  Luckily, Paul Hession (officially the best percussionist in the UK) who had been booked as Bailey’s foil roped in fellow free-jazz wildmen Mick Beck (wind) and Pat Thomas (keys) to play instead.  They delighted the crowd by channelling the spirit of Sun Ra and tearing the place up.  Sometime later Mick offered me the recording of this set to release on fencing flatworm and I bit his hand off.

But I get ahead of myself – earlier it was our turn.  I was already jittery having been shouted at by Mick Flower of Vibracathedral for standing on a snake’s nest of cables that was apparently a vital component of his set-up (though now I suspect he was joking with me – not always easy to tell).  I attempted to gloss over my nerves with beer and volume.  I was ‘playing’ a loop of vinyl out-groove crackle that was layered and amplified into a wall of white noise, Cloughy’s vintage synth gave out a bowel-churning wobble, Phil took the role of the absent Bailey and crashed out some improv guitar.  We had people pressed against the back wall of the venue, including some hapless work colleagues who had turned up out of politeness and had no idea what was happening.  I enjoyed it but Phil was grumpy that I had drowned out his solos.  I thought we were ‘sparring’ but was apparently mistaken.  Heh, heh – I’ll never understand how improv is supposed to ‘work’.  Maybe we should have rehearsed.

Anyway, I’m unsure of the chronology but the first album must have been recorded around this time, as a three piece, in Cloughy’s attic, mixed by him and released as ‘zellaby’s beautiful sacrifice’ by me on ffr.  One track, titled that fight you lost, clocking in at well over half an hour, built from relentless throbbing (Clough), loops and swooshes (me) and guitar maltreated in various interesting ways (Phil).  Phil is dismissive of his playing on this piece but I dig it.  All hipster fans of Emeralds please note: this is how it should be done.

At some later date the three of us returned to the attic to record the follow up and here began the end of Truant.  The recording was, I think,  more ambitious and more accomplished than our first attempt and I was impressed with the first mix.  However, as I remember it (and note: I am an unreliable narrator) Clough wanted less guitar and Phil, unsurprisingly, wanted more.  The issue was never resolved, the album, ironically titled ‘The Truant Accord’, was quietly shelved, and Truant ceased to be.  I was pleased to have done something so rock ‘n’ roll as to split up over musical differences but other than that the situation sucked.  Years past.

I realise that throughout I have been referring to Cloughy in the past tense.  This is not a eulogy, the guy hasn’t died.  It’s worse: he moved to London.  Ha!  I jest.  He and his better half Marie are enjoying life in the seething metropolis and getting on with the business of raising a kid.  We had drifted apart but, in an amusing piece of synchronicity, he got in touch via this blog at almost exactly the same time Phil and I dug out and re-listened to the long lost second Truant album.  We did this independently of each other – the time is obviously ripe.  All disagreements have been forgotten and when a CD-r was suggested there was a vigorous nodding of heads.

So watch this space.  Coming soon on Memoirs of an Aesthete/fencing flatworm recordings…

EDIT: Phil offers a correction: 

If I remember rightly, the 2nd CD didn’t get released cos I wanted to hold out to find a label who would do it as a proper CD –  never happened needless to say…

Heh, heh – told you I wasn’t to be trusted!  Hah – I’m gonna front it out: I’m a storyteller, not a historian…

4 Comments »

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  1. and if I remember correctly, I don’t think Phil was happy with the first attempt at guitar on the long final track, so I suggested releasing it without the guitar on that track, as I’d been listening to it like that for a while and enjoying it. This spurred Phil on to get me to come round his house and re-record the tracks, which he knocked off in one afternoon (first takes, too), and very lovely they were indeed.
    Had forgotten the V/Vm debacle – I was probably a bit drunk, and definitely reeling from the sudden transformation of the termite club from no-audience(TM, Rob H) mainstay to ram-packed gig-to-be-at. Nice to see a repro of one of my photocopy art posters as well. More work went into those than would first appear. And that Beck/Thomas/Hession set was a blinder

    • Ahh… the full story emerges from the mist. Cheers Cloughy. And we were *definitely* guilty of being drunk-in-charge-of-a-termite-festival at the V/Vm show! Rob x

  2. that tooth extraction poster raised a smile – Ali had just had a tooth pulled + came home w/ this daft-looking NHS leaflet. i needed to come up w/ a termite poster … bloody easy that was … i remember laughing out loud a lot when i was pritt-sticking it together, + Ali being slightly disconcerted I’d find tooth extraction so funny (she was rinsing w/ salt water a thte time, mind)

  3. Nice John Wyndham reference. Looking forward to hearing this ‘explosive’ release!
    Thanks for the memories!


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