Saturday, August 7, 2010

Graham Lambkin | Call Back The Giants | Helm - Cafe Oto, London 6 August 2010

There are a small number of artists who are very special to me. And when I go to their gigs, the performance is almost an irrelevance. It is enough simply to know that I am in the same room with them.

This performance is one of those opportunities. And in the case of Graham Lambkin a rare one. I have followed his singular body of work for a long time. Tonight he will be reading from his recent poetry collection. But first there are other artists performing on who it’s interesting to report.

Helm is a very neatly dressed young man. He starts his set with a lovely long open drone. Like the sound of electricity pylons nicely amplified. Resting on a small snare drum is an upturned cymbal. A small metal object rests on it. Possibly a contact microphone. Harsher metallic drilling noises are added. Presumably from the vibration of the cymbal. Then again, that stuff might just have been left there and is playing no part in the set. There is a claustrophobic feel to the sound. As if a submarine is crushed whilst an alarm clock rings unendingly. Or if a rusty door hinge screams as it is slowly tortured.

As if the presence of Graham Lambkin were not enough, the late addition of Call Back The Giants is an exciting bonus. They are the new project of Tim Goss who, like Lambkin, is an alumni of The Shadow Ring. The spectre of that band looms over his set. The distinctive primitivism keyboard sound harks back to their classic albums. Surreal dark tales are narrated in a blank deadpan. Goss is joined for the first half of his set by, I am guessing, his daughter. She helps weird out his keyboard sounds and her young voice counterpoints Goss’s bleak intonations. Like the greatest Shadow Ring moments it is uncomfortable, unsettling, unique.

Whilst Goss carries the Shadow Ring torch Graham Lambkin’s career has continued to move in the directions heralded by their later records. In Transmission and then in his own solo work he explored tonal soundscapes and musique concrete.

This evening though he is here to promote the publication of 'Dripping Junk' a book of his drawings. That’s not going to make a performance so he reads from his poetry collection ‘Dumb answer to miracles’, published in a tiny run last year.

The poems are very short. Providing Polaroids of Lambkin’s mind which seems phase shifted to a reality slightly out of sync with our own. The ordinary is made odd, the familiar, peculiar. Several poems cause the audience to laugh but never confidently. There is always a flicker of doubt. Is this a serious or humorous observation? Does my laughter betray a failure to engage intellectually? I embrace the ambiguity.

Lambkin downs four large whiskies during his set, observing: “It’s thirsty work.” The readings are punctuated with what sounds like a child’s recorder being played. The poor acoustics of the recordings distort the sound, adding to a uneasy, haunting, melancholy. As I make my way home through the night one line echoes in my mind: “We are all complex piss.” I do not understand it. But the pleasure of Lambkin’s work is in the attempt to decipher it.

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