Skullflower/Andrew King/Tor Invocation Band @ Inkfolk, Hebden Bridge

Posted by vibrations on 21-12-15

It's always sad when creative, innovative promoters hang up their worry beads and opt for a more peaceful, saner life. This was the last gig put on by Hebden Bridge based outfit Was Ist Das?, as one man operator Ned sets about emigrating to the US. Markets don't come more niche than the uncompromising art, noise and improv WID? specialised in, and the region will be culturally the poorer for its passing.

As an opener for this Swansong, the specially convened for the event, one off performance only Tor Invocation Band gave a thrilling demonstration of the possibilities of applying the tools of noise, drone and psych rock to a continuous improvisation driven by relentless, nagging tension. I guess it helps that the members (including the likes of Sophie Cooper and Chris Hladowski) probably know each other well enough to dispense with any introductory niceties and just go for it. At the end as the reverberating thrum dies down, violiaist Jorge Boehringer quietly asks "Are we going to play another one?" They don’t, but no-one would have minded if they’d played all night.

Describing Andrew King as a folk singer would be accurate enough, but that gives no clue to the commitment he brings to researching the form (testified by the detailed information he gives about each song) nor to the stark, sometimes brutal, minimalist settings and arrangements he gives to songs older than most people alive (one from the 13th Century no less) to drag them shrieking into the present day. King sings a capella, with percussion and backings tapes, and for the last few songs is joined by the headliners Matthew Bower and Samantha Davies. The penchant for some noise artists to gravitate towards folkish settings is a curious one, the nature of the two forms seemingly contradictory and difficult to reconcile. But the argument that noise and extreme repetition call to, and from, a deep and ancient strand of human nature provides interesting points of linkage with folk song traditions that seem to be enough. And while the lyrics of some of King’s songs lack the depth and sophistication of more modern practitioners, the arrangements are bold, dramatic and almost theatrical.

Skullflowerproper start almost by accident, as it becomes obvious Samantha Davies is not tuning up at all but laying down blocks of heavy guitar distortion meant to be the foundations of what is about to emerge, while Matthew Bower busies himself with stoking up a billowing pot of incense and checking his amps and guitars one last time. A sense of ritual is strong in what Skullflower do, the idea that the duo are about tapping into and releasing primitive and primal aspects of human expression through the liberation of barely controlled noise. The noise and smoke are building nicely, until it becomes clear that something has ‘gone wrong’. Davies stops playing and merely examines her amp settings, while Bower’s opening, spindly guitar explorations cease and he starts flitting between laptop and guitar. After a while a thudding industrial rhythm track erupts into life and although this appears to be the hitherto missing element, Bower at least seems to have lost interest in the whole enterprise and after a few desultory arcs of feedback, the guitar comes off and he lopes to the back of the room. Davies asks “Have we finished?” and it would appear that they have. It almost seems perverse to claim something went ‘wrong’ at an improvised noise gig, but it was obvious that things did not go at all how Bower had expected or planned. And so the gig ended on an oddly muted note, the anticipated transportation through noise stalled, and the incense quickly dowsed because no one likes smoke anymore.

Steve Walsh

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