Sunday 20 January 2013

Phil Minton at Kraak

Manchester, Jan 17  

We're agreed that Phil Minton is a giant, a force of nature and a singular character. He belongs to that heroic generation of British musicians who carved an individual language out of the materials they inherited. Think Stan Tracey, Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, Derek Bailey, Maggie Nichols. 

It seems to be the fate of true originals to be discovered and adopted by each new generation, to the exclusion of preceding generations and with not a hint of a wide audience. So it was that Minton appeared in Manchester's Kraak Gallery - an unconventional and unheated space in a warehouse situated between Stevenson Square and Ancoats - with a devoted following of feral boho types in hoods. He performed in a duo with Luke Poot, who might be described as Little Phil, as he fills much the same role that Little Frank provided for the late Frank Sidebottom. 

As those few in attendance all needed an outlet for their own creative efforts, there was a lengthy list of support acts, with interminable gaps in-between them . SN IV BH actually weren't bad: guitar excursions in an acid-tinged rambling style, given structure and form by irregular tap tappings on various percussive oddments and the floor of Kraak. 

Roases aka Gareth Alan Howells looped feedback noise, and well, fed it back, at a hideous volume. It was radical in theory, insufferable in execution, and a severe endurance test for some of us. Howells considered it a great success. 

The word for Belied Gunaiko aka Kelly Jones is shamanistic. She produced eerie electronic noises by tapping a wired-up flute and, when she finally blew into it, instead of the expected woodwind trill, out came some ancestral voice, senior to Jones by several hundred years, intoning in a ritualistic, spooky way. It was impressive, glacial and joyless, and proves conclusively that shamanism and swing are mutually exclusive activities. 

I was reminded (there was plenty of time for reflection) of a free jazz gig many years ago, when improvising trombonist Alan Tomlinson appeared with an avant-garde combo that happened to include the promoters. He played percussion and she played trombone, if I remember aright. Let's call them Steve and Judy. Anyway, Steve and Judy left in haste at the end of the night to catch a screening of Night of the Demon on TV. "That's the trouble," said Tomlinson, turning to the nearest person, who happened to be me. "This business just attracts fucking dilettantes!" I clucked sympathetically, before dashing off to catch Night of the Demon myself.

And so to the long-awaited finale. Phil Minton has single-handedly created a rich earthy kind of body music. A typical performance will contain a variety of shrieking, burping, spitting, gasping, moaning, whining, hissing, belching, squalling, hooting, snorting, cooing and choking (I'm indebted to Christian Marclay for this partial list). His acolyte, Luke Poot, has reduced this to the simple business of retching, doubtlessly honed to perfection by his Saturday night revels. He was a distraction. Like Derek Bailey, Minton's radicalism is in inverse proportion to actual volume. He is very, very quiet; he achieves his effects by purely acoustic means, and demands complete attention. He didn't get it this evening. A chap from the audience invaded the space, and was moved to slap a cushioned stool and ululate ineffectually. 

Has anyone seen Themroc? It was a bit like that. 

In short, the evening was full of prat-like behaviour both before and during Phil Minton's set, which was too short to redeem such a very long evening, and Little Phil effectively sabotaged Big Phil. 

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