eject the tape: rfm moans about the format, champions the content

October 17, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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Clive Henry / Joined By Wire – split (tape, Soundholes, #060, edition of 100)

Joined By Wire – ERA END and/or BAJM! (tape and 12 page A6 booklet, self-released as part of Bang the Bore Forum tape exchange, edition of 15)

BBBlood – Untitled (tape, Beartown Records)

Cestine – Other Half / Bright Encounter (tape, Rok Lok Records, #97, edition of 40 or download)

Dear Beloved Henry / Albert Materia – split (recycled tape, Hyster Tapes, HYSTER13)

Leitmotiv Limbo – LIMBO / WIND SWEPT (self-released tape)

Stamina Nudes – Discipline of Exploding Bridges (tape, Stolen Head)

harsh noise wall (of tapes)

Apologies for not writing more reviews over the last couple of months.  I’ve been waiting for two things to wear off: the effects of a nasty virus and the novelty of being on Twitter.  Both have rather dragged on.  Anyway…

As part of this year’s fabulous TUSK Festival Joe Murray agreed to curate a small exhibition of tape label art titled Everyone Loves Tapes These Days.  Looking for someone to write a brief wall text Joe reached out to his editor here at RFM and I replied with the following diatribe:

Interesting, and thanks for thinking of me – I’m flattered.  However, I wonder if I am exactly the right guy for the job.  Dare I say it?  OK, deep breath: I’ve pretty much fallen out of love with tapes.  I appreciate the determined anti-commercialism that they represent nowadays, and they are a good archive medium,  but the format is cumbersome, inconvenient, space consuming and has no sonic advantages over other formats.  Those beardies that talk about its ‘unique low end’ are talking out of their own low ends. I suppose I still do like the clacky sound of taking them in and out of their cases but if everything went download/CD-r tomorrow I wouldn’t care. Tapes = the price you pay for being a Culver fan.  I might even go a bit further: what used to be a democratic, punk (‘home taping is killing music!’ well, GOOD) format has mutated over the years into a symbol of hipster elitism – maybe not in the context of the no-audience underground but that is what anyone vaguely knowledgeable about music looking in from outside would see.  Tape walkmans aren’t as an awful an affectation as manual typewriters but, hey, matter of time…

Heh, heh – ain’t I naughty, eh?  So do I actually believe all that or did Joe just catch me in a mischievous, belligerent mood?  A bit of both, I think.  Some clarifications and addenda are necessary.

Firstly, that bit about being an archive medium is true enuff – they won’t play after the aliens come and destroy civilisation with a massive electro-magnetic pulse but they will last until then which is more than can be said for CD-rs etc.  Dude, my Mum has had that Billy Joel tape, like, for ever.

Secondly, I do really like the clacky sound of removing a tape from it’s box and sliding it into the deck.  I also think the Tabs Out Podcast twitter feed is really funny.  So that’s two tape related things that are good – fair as Solomon, me.

Thirdly, and more contentiously, the determined anti-commercialism/hipster elitism tension.  I haven’t closely followed the rise of tape ‘culture’ but I’m sure arguments must have raged/might still be raging about this subject on corners of the internet that I am blissfully unaware of.  I don’t have the energy or inclination to take a side.  However there is one aspect of the business that I’m tempted to take a hard line on.  Now, I have nothing but love for truly tape only noise labels (the ne plus ultra in the UK being Matching Head, of course – a label with no official internet presence, untouched by fashion, driven purely by the uncompromising vision of Lee ‘Culver’ Stokoe) but raise an eyebrow at self-described ‘tape labels’ that also offer downloads.  Personally I prefer this arrangement for reasons given above – 98% of my musical appreciation is done via mp3 player – but I would argue that by offering downloads you can ditch the word ‘tape’ because yours is just a… label.  Catch me in the same mischievous, belligerent mood that greeted Joe’s innocent request and I might say that you were actually a label providing music in the preferred, most convenient format of the day alongside unnecessary physical versions meant to tempt daft hipster object-fetishists – a demographic always keen to reify counter-cultural heft into something that can be neatly displayed on a shelf.

Heh, heh – more naughtiness – comments genuinely welcome.  I am open to being convinced otherwise.

So, with that all in mind, my eyes wander to the tape section of the RFM review pile and I decide that a round-up is long overdue.  Never mind my misgivings about the format, it’s the content that really matters right?  Let’s see.

jbw and clivejbw - era end

Clive Henry / Joined By Wire – split

Joined By Wire – ERA END and/or BAJM!

Boy, have I slept on these two tapes – Stephen of joinedbywire kindly sent me these months ago.  Mea culpa.

Clive Henry‘s side of the split tape is like waking from a blackout caused by a blow to the head and piecing together the events that led to the assault.  Bursts of vision-blurring pain, repeated verbal tics that refuse to resolve into coherent speech, stumbling.  Or maybe it is Ted Hughes’s The Iron Man reassembling itself the morning after falling off that cliff.  I like it very much.

Stephen’s side is perhaps not as nostrils-flaring, full-on psych as previous JBW releases admired on this blog but is no less terrific for being dialled down a notch.  Instead what we have are a group of multi-limbed clockwork toys of indeterminate form defying the laws of thermodynamics by winding each other up into a clicking, buzzing, writhing mass of mechanical energy.

Available from SoundHoles.

ERA END and/or BAJM! is Stephen’s contribution to a tape-swap project organised via the Bang the Bore forum.  I was not involved in this so am grateful to him for sending me this spare copy – the last of an edition of 15. As ever, I deeply impressed with Stephen’s graphic work and faultless attention to detail – see photo for all the elements that make up this package – especially as this was originally only to be seen by the dozen people signed up to take part.  The racket this time is up in the red.  Thick clouds of noise create an atmosphere of salty feverishness with occasional sinus clearing bursts of stomping distortobeatz.  That said, there are passages of relative calm too – imagine some brute devolved remnant of far-future humanity worshipping the one remaining artefact of our decadent age: a broken tape walkman.

bbblood - untitled - beartown

BBBlood – Untitled

Paul Watson is a current scene leader in what I’ve always thought of as ‘proper’ noise.  That is: a visceral racket created by rough-housing with physical objects, by combining field and domestic recordings and by filtering the lot through a rag-tag tabletop of battered and home-made electronics.  However, that is not to belittle the skill and care with which Paul puts these recordings together.  The sounds are not ends in themselves but chosen, ordered and edited as a means to establishing an atmosphere.  His latest recordings eschew ‘harshness’ almost entirely and the listener is led through a post-industrial landscape of broken glass and burning tyres with, dare I say it, delicacy and finesse.

I can sense the leather-jacket owning section of my readership twitching with unease but don’t worry – I’m not saying Paul has gone all Nick Drake on us.  He still get his balls out on occasion – and so magnificent are his plums that it is no wonder the crowd goes fucking apeshit when they are displayed.  What I’m saying is the flashes of nad are appropriate and proportionate to the larger task at hand.

Essential, of course.  Available from Beartown Records.

cestine

Cestine – Other Half / Bright Encounter

This recording by Cestine, the duo of Dominic Coppola and Theodore Schafer, hovers shimmering between the ‘nothing music’ of Karina ESP I described a few posts ago and the ‘extraction music‘ of Dan Thomas et al that I have been banging on about this year.  Two tracks, each lasting fifteen minutes exactly, contain slowly cycling electronics augmented with field recordings – birds, the sea maybe, children – and snatches of whispered conversation, perhaps partially overheard whilst daydreaming, perhaps snatches of radio broadcasts crackling between the stations.  It is constructed with a robust attention to detail that allows for deep, repeat listening but conveys a vulnerability, a brittleness too.  The contemplative reverie it induces is bitter-sweet and emotionally complicated, like turning over the memory of an important friendship, now long lost.  Recommended highly.

Available from Rok Lok Records.

dear beloved henry

Dear Beloved Henry / Albert Materia – split

Hyster Tapes are punk as all fuck – black and white J-card, recycled tapes, photocopied flier advertising their warez (pictured) – and I wholeheartedly approve.  Joe grokked the FOUR LETTER WORLD compilation back in March and as a result Heikki of the label kindly sent this too.  Gotta keep that goodwill circulating – keeps it fresh and vital.

The Dear Beloved Henry side of this split, one 24 minute track titled ‘Advent’, is one of the best things I’ve heard all year.  It is deceptively simple in execution: a flowing electronic drone groove with a vaguely East Asian feel – like 1970s Krautrock that has been listening to a bunch of gamelan LPs – works through the variations.  However, every so often a magnetic pull distorts it off course and adds an intriguing, complicating layer of discordance.  It’s like it was mastered to VHS and someone is now messing with the tracking.  Is this an artefact of duping it to an old recycled tape or is this woosiness wholly intended?  The result is magical either way.

Sadly the Albert Materia side, several tracks of fractured poetry with piano accompaniment, was not for me.  Can’t win ’em all, eh?

Available from Hyster Tapes – email: plaa@pcuf.fi

leitmotiv limbo

Leitmotiv Limbo – LIMBO / WIND SWEPT

Also sent as result of Joe’s FOUR LETTER WORLD review.  In ‘Limbo’ Elijah Vartto (umlauts over the vowels – apologies for the limitations of the WordPress editor) conjures an alien souk from the echoed honking of an unspecified wind instrument and stick-in-bucket metallic rhythms.  The point of view changes every few minutes and gradually a scene is set, protagonists introduced.  This comes together in a surprising burst of new wave pop before retreating to the abstract – a menacing bassy warble dragging us down to an underground bunker full of robot soldiers.

‘Wind Swept’ uses field recordings phased to sound like the fuelling of spacecaft over which mournful, austere jazz blowing accompanies growling, heavily filtered vocals.  It’s the blues played by a band whose home-world was destroyed as a display of power intended to tame a petulant rebel princess.  Guitar jangles like the rigging of boats.  All eventually peters out to a gargling throb.

Comparisons have been made elsewhere to early Cabaret Voltaire.  This is apt and, of course, a very good thing.

Available from Elijah himself.

stamina nudes

Stamina Nudes – Discipline of Exploding Bridges

Finally then, what might be my pick of the bunch.  Bryan (whose surname I suddenly realise I don’t know) operates in an adjoining laboratory to meta-musical collage-jockeys Spoils & Relics (indeed, I recently saw him play as a duo with that #KieronPiercy).  The shared working method involves isolating sounds, sanding off their contexts and reassembling them into new fragmentary narratives – a perversely delicious anti-archaeology.  Here Bryan invokes a dystopian, science fictional vibe but builds in a wry distance that stops it becoming self-important or parodic. The balance and compelling flow he maintains are both very impressive.  In summary: I dig this.

This album scores maximum ideological purity points too.  It was slipped to me, in person, by the artist, as we sat on a bench, under a tree, in a park, with Dan Thomas, one sunny lunchtime – a clandestine, samizdat-style handover.  Now that is tape only.

I’ve no idea in what sense this this might be ‘available’ but you can email Bryan and ask: dorh@hotmail.co.uk

—ooOoo—

are after the rain the best band in britain?

February 13, 2013 at 8:40 am | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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After the Rain – The Night Must Fall

(CD, joint release by ATfield, Memoirs of an Aesthete & Bang the Bore)

after the rain - the night must fall

…Phil Todd certainly thinks so and I suspect Seth Cooke agrees with him too.  Bold claims need striking evidence, eh?  Well, before I present my own findings you will have to endure a lengthy preamble.  Get that finger off the scroll button – I know the anticipation is killing but, as you can’t actually buy this yet, there is plenty of time for musing…

Sometimes it is embarrassing to think how little I know about music.  It has been a driving force in my life for 30 years and I have been recording, performing and promoting music for over a decade (well, on and off).  I can pontificate for hours about subjects within my area of ‘expertise’ – this blog tops 100,000 words in total – but if you were to say to me ‘yeah, and what key is that in?’ then all I could do would be to stare at you blankly and guess.  The black keys?  I dunno.  Despite years of experience developing a finely honed aesthetic I still know almost nothing about the technicalities of how this art form works.

My knowledge of musical history and the traditions outside of my field are similarly patchy.  Whilst I don’t agree with Noel Fielding’s Vince in The Mighty Boosh when he describes all music prior to Human League as ‘tuning up’ I certainly understand the joke and have a good, self-deprecating laugh at my own limitations.  With regards to ‘world music’ – if it wasn’t sampled by Cabaret Voltaire or encountered during the breathless couple of months I spent as a teenager trawling the libraries of West Sussex for gamelan CDs and listening to Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares then it is lost on me.

I’m not proud of this, I’m just being honest about the situation as it has a bearing on the review to come.  I readily admit that a grasp of historical context, of critical theory and a proficiency in the technical and formal aspects of composition and performance can add a layer of nuance, detail and sophistication to musical appreciation.  Just as a grasp of allegory and technique are invaluable in deciphering masterworks of art history separated from our current cultural idiom by time and/or distance.  Those prepared to learn are rewarded for their effort.

But is this always necessary?  Can’t I just like what I like?  Just get my groove on?  There’s a story about how a collaboration between Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix came to naught because the latter didn’t read music and thus could do nothing with the compositions the former sent over.  ‘Aww, man, tragedy!’ I thought when I first heard about it, then, later: ‘what a ridiculous waste.’  To nix a possibility as mouth-watering as this because Hendrix had no formal musical education is criminally dumb.  What does it matter?  Get in the studio and improvise – play jazz for fuck’s sake.

Away from music one of my other interests, as alluded to above, is art history.  I have been lucky enough to stand in front of some of the most striking products of human creativity – say, for example, Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice, the most perfect man-made object I have ever encountered – and have found myself transported by an unmediated, awestruck reverie in which all ‘learning’ just falls away, irrelevant.  Can you imagine Titian providing the now ubiquitous ‘artist statement’ by way of explanation?  The idea is grotesque.

Thus with ground prepared – rock of theory on one side, hard place of intuition on the other – we come to The Night Must Fall by After the Rain. I want to convince you that it is wonderful but how to go about it? Well, first an infodump:

After The Rain was formed in 2009 in Southampton, UK, by instrumentalists/composers Hossein Hadisi (Iran), Ignacio Agrimbau (Argentina) and Joe Kelly (UK). They met at the University of Southampton, where they studied composition under Michael Finnissy. Originally emerging as the last mutation of The Hola, an eclectic ensemble founded by Agrimbau in 2005, After The Rain’s sound combines elements from electroacoustics, ‘free’ improvisation, and DIY aesthetics. More importantly, the group uses performance practices and creative methods derived from Persian classical music, which is at the centre of Hadisi and Agrimbau’s research projects.

This blurb accompanied the inclusion of the track ‘Distance III’ on one of those dreary compilation CDs that come with pointless snore-fest The Wire magazine – more on this track later. The description is as dry and cold as hotel toast but it will do to get the chronology and spellings correct. It also hints at the difficulties that lie ahead for an ignoramus such as me: “the group uses performance practices and creative methods derived from Persian classical music, which is at the centre of Hadisi and Agrimbau’s research projects.” Whoo boy – rumbled!

How much does this last point matter? Well, I don’t need to know (presumably) Farsi as the lyrics are helpfully translated into English in the booklet. Do I need to know anything about Persian Classical music or the band members’ research projects? Hmmm… it might help. I can get with the electroacoustic buzzing. That clatter-scratch is perfectly within my usual remit, but the ringing metal percussion, breathy, snorted flute (or flute-ish wind instrument) and guttural vocals – mellifluous or hacking in turn – are tricky. How much is rehearsed, how much improvised? I have no way of knowing. There is some exquisite violin playing on this but I find myself reaching for clichés such as ‘mournful’ to describe its beautiful, emotionally electrifying harmonics. I find myself humbled, discombobulated and wanting to learn.

But enuff of brains, what about guts? What does it feel like? Well, it feels great, thanks for asking. Whilst on the level of theory my ignorance is a hindrance, down here it is a positive boon. Never mind the subtle nuances and clever allusions of the musicologists, the alien nature of this racket is glorious and eye-opening. There is plenty of meditative content but nothing that can be slipped into like a warm bath, I’m kept on my guard, even when lulled. As well as the delight of being surprised I’m totally grooving on trying to figure this stuff out and then, when I can’t, just letting it carry me along. Like a wave washing me up on a shore full of unfathomable sea-worn objects and strangely knotted driftwood. Is it cheating to relish the rewards of not knowing what the fuck is going on? I hope not, because that is what I am doing.

So finally we come to the beginning.  The first track on this album is called ‘Distance III’ and is an indescribable marvel that works perfectly on both the levels I have been talking about.  It’s smart as a magic trick: a mysterious delight, a thrilling intellectual puzzle and it’s as visceral as a giant octopus attack.  It isn’t representative of the album as a whole (which, in general, involves a lot more percussive racket) but that is OK because it isn’t representative of anything, or at least anything that I currently understand.  Three minutes of genius.  No wonder that the band picked it for the Wire magazine CD, no wonder Seth Cooke used it to kick off Missing Nothing – his gargantuan, 6 CD-r, fund raising compilation for Bang the Bore.  On that website, which Seth co-curates, you can watch a video of the band performing this track live at a gig in Leeds that I was lucky enough to attend.  They split the audience – which you know is a good sign.

Sadly, this album is not yet commonly available.  Despite being completed last year it has been stuck in ‘development hell’ ever since.  If you’d like to find out more, perhaps help provide the finance so sorely needed to get it distributed, then email via Bang the Bore – bangthebore@gmail.com – and the caretakers there will happily put you in touch with the band.

the rewards of no rewards: musings on no-audience economics

September 15, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Posted in live music, musings, no audience underground | 5 Comments
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So here I am trying to think of something clever and elegant to say about some clever and elegant music by some clever and elegant people but failing because my train of thought keeps being derailed.  The other day, as we were strolling about the grounds of Midwich Mansions, Daniel Thomas and I had an interesting conversation about the economics of music with reference to live music and the structure of the no-audience underground in particular.  This has led to some intrusive musing which has been blocking my attempts at writing reviews and which I will have to write down in order to clear from my head.  No!  Come back, where are you going?  This will be really interesting, I promise…

OK, leaving London to one side as it has its own rules, experience has shown me that most UK conurbations of city-ish size can rustle up 20 people interested enough in the type of experimental music RFM covers to turn up to gigs.  10 or less if you are unfortunate, 30 plus if your scene is thriving.  Should you wish to perform in this ‘arena’ then these people are your audience: the subset of this crowd who can turn up on that evening.

Marketing and promotion do little to alter these numbers.  This is because music of this type will always be a fringe interest (ignoring little blooms of hipster popularity every now and again) but that fringe is well-informed and inquisitive.  As long as the gig is plugged in whatever the usual places are (for example in Leeds we have the essential Cops and Robbers) then the cognoscenti will find out about it and do their best to roll up.

Sadly performers should expect very little pay, if anything, for their endeavours.  This is for two main reasons.  Firstly, having money dulls the mind and erodes taste so no-one interesting ever has any.  Thus, by definition, we are too brilliant to be anything other than skint.  Secondly, for almost everyone involved in the no-audience underground – artists, promoters, labels, writers and so on – this is a leisure activity, a *ahem* ‘lifestyle choice’.  No matter how driven we are to create and to present our creations to others, this is a not a living and anyone who expects decent money in return for their participation in what is, to be brutally frank, a hobby is, to be a bit less brutally frank, optimistic.

A few weeks ago I came late to a thread on the Bang the Bore forum started in June by frequent poster KNICKERS.  It was called ‘fair trade music’ and started thus:

<link to article arguing for the fair remuneration of artists and against illegal downloading>

This article talks about it as a joke – the idea that we buy coffee which is fair trade because we want to see the labourers remunerated fairly for their labours. Why don’t music-labourers get remunerated fairly for their labour? Over to you.

My initial response to this was the thought ‘I don’t know any music-labourers’.  I know dozens of often very dedicated hobbyists but no-one who makes a sizeable chunk of their income via their musical endeavour.  ‘Music-labourers’ in my humble context struck me as daft as saying ‘angling-labourers’ or ‘model-railway-enthusiast-labourers’ – sure, there might be some money in it, I suppose, but there is certainly no right to expect there be money in it.  I didn’t post a reply though for two reasons.  The first is that it would have been a bit disrespectful.  The Bang the Bore forum does attract comments from some pretty serious ‘real’ musician types and I can only say ‘good luck’ to those who are trying to find a way to pay the bills with non-pop/rock performance.  The second is that I thought the ‘debate’ was satisfactorily concluded by the second comment, a one line reply from that tousle-haired scamp Duncan Harrison:

COS MORE THAN 20 PEOPLE IN MY TOWN ARE INTERESTED IN COFFEEE AAAYOOOOO!!!!

Well, quite – no manners, but the chap has boiled down my point to its essence.  All the arguments and discussions about copyright, ‘piracy’, new versus old ‘business models’, fair levels of remuneration, marketing, promotion, the ‘physical’ versus the downloadable etc. that clutter the internet ad nauseum (including, I have to admit, a few points made by yours truly on this blog) are irrelevant to us because no one is interested in what we do.  There seem to be two possible reactions to this undeniably true conclusion: a) shake your fist at the gods and complain about the unfairness of your genius going unrecognized and unrewarded or b) take strength from its gloriously liberating implications.  I say go with the latter.

I’m afraid that if your idea of ‘reward’ is more than some taxi money, a few quid in your paypal account and a glowing review on radiofreemidwich then you are going to have to do something else.  But if you aren’t bothered, in fact if you are driven to create by an urge independent of possible rewards then you can do whatever you want purely for the love of it and only subject to the constraints that we have to accommodate in every other aspect of our lives (money, family, employment etc.).  This simple, eye-opening fact is truly heartening and this blog is testament to the many terrifically talented artists who are grasping this opportunity and wringing as much joy as they can out of it, sometimes in difficult circumstances.

Right, there was more but that seems like an inspiring high-point to end on.  Now I’m off to stuff duvets into bin-liners so Aqua Dentata and BBBlood (see below) don’t have to freeze as they kip on Dan’s floor tonight…

bang the bore celebrates fencing flatworm recordings part two

November 12, 2011 at 10:51 am | Posted in blog info, fencing flatworm, midwich, musings, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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I am delighted to announce that part two of Bang the Bore’s article about fencing flatworm recordings, oTo tapes, midwich and this blog is now available to peruse.  I was in an expansive mood throughout this interview so it may be wise to don your smoking jacket, mix a martini and replenish your chip’n’dip before settling down.  I hope you find much of interest.  It was certainly a lot of fun to do and has inspired my recent creative endeavours (of which more anon).  Thanks again to Seth and Pete for doing an amazing amount of homework and asking some incisive and entertaining questions. 

Whilst I’m in self-congratulation mode, may I also note that RFM recently enjoyed its 11,000th ‘hit’ – a total up 175% on this time nine months ago.  The last 1000 hits have come in less than a month!  I am quietly proud of this modest result and would like to thank all those who have visited and contributed.  Cheers folks – I’m touched. 

Finally, I have also updated the ‘About me and this blog’ page (tab above) to give a more accurate account of what this blog has become over the (almost) two years of its existence.

bang the bore celebrates fencing flatworm recordings part one

September 28, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Posted in blog info, fencing flatworm, midwich, musings, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Hello to anyone visiting after reading Pete Coward and Seth Cooke’s lovely article posted at Bang the Bore about my work with fencing flatworm, oTo and this blog.  I hope you find much of interest here, not least many free-to-download mp3s of FFR releases.  Should you be a regular reader wondering what I’m talking about then mix yourself a drink, settle down and click here.

Part one is an article written by Pete Coward (described by Seth as: “bootlegger/blagger and Wire website tech guru”, known only to me as “that guy who used to buy stuff that I met at that one show once”) about FFR and its philosophy.  His thoughts are insightful, generous and laid out with panache and I am grateful to the point of jaw-dropping amazement that he gave my (*ahem*) legacy (*snigger*) such considered consideration.  Part two, to come in a fortnight or so, is a lengthy email interview with yours truly conducted by Seth with Pete chipping in.  I hope you find the exchange as entertaining to read as it was to write.

Being involved in this project has been great fun and, of course, enormously flattering.  I enjoyed having to think hard about what motivated the Rob of ten years ago; it was a very interesting experience to apply the benefit of hindsight to the FFR/Termite Club days.  Sorting all that out in my head is one of the major factors inspiring my continued reactivation of midwich (watch this space).  Should you not be aware of Bang the Bore I heartily recommend frequent and substantial visits.  It is a force for the good.

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