Three Blows: all-sound acoustic performance (2008)

St. Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh, 5 & 6th July 2008

Curated by Sarah Lowndes and produced by Katie Nicoll

A showcase of new music by Glasgow-based artists/musicians including the painters Tony Swain and Richard Wright, the filmmaker Luke Fowler and the sculptor Sarah Kenchington and experimental music pioneers Mayo Thompson (The Red Krayola) and Keith Rowe (AMM). During the weekend-long event, the participants performed music composed specifically for the oldest purpose-built concert hall in Scotland, St. Cecilia’s Hall.  The artists responded to this architecturally and acoustically unique environment with a series of performances that included unaccompanied singing, non-amplified improvisation and interactive mechanical music contraptions.

Detail of an instrument used by Rude Pravo during Three Blows (2008)
Detail of an instrument used by Rude Pravo during Three Blows (2008)

Artist biographies

Tattie Toes

Glasgow-based band Tattie Toes was formed in 2005 by bassist and vocalist Howie Reeve, puppeteer, accordionist and drummer Shane Connolly and Basque singer Nerea Bello. Reeve previously played bass for post-rock orientated outfits such as Shlebie and Maxton Grainger (with Chris Mack and Stevie Jones) and with Plates. Bello has previously collaborated with Connolly in German band Krakatit and also sung for world music band Zuba, while Connolly’s many musical projects include playing in Johnson and an on-going collaboration with Jer Reid and Stevie Jones. The trio improvised together over nine months before inviting violinist Rafe Fitzpatrick (ex-Johnson and G Plan) to join them. Reeve explains, ‘Everyone writes their own parts, whilst remaining open to suggestion from the others. We craft the music as a four piece – rhythms, melodies and feeling, they’re the criteria. We just attempt to make good music that’s accessible, exciting and expressive.’ For Three Blows, Tattie Toes performed an unorthodox and largely improvised set.

Nerea Bello and Rafe Fitzpatrick of Tattie Toes perform at Three Blows (2008)
Nerea Bello and Rafe Fitzpatrick of Tattie Toes perform at Three Blows (2008)

Correcto

Correcto frontman Danny Saunders describes the band as ‘a bit of a revolving door’ – as since they formed in Glasgow in 2003 the line-up has included curator Will Bradley, Franz Ferdinand’s Paul Thomson, and Patrick Doyle (The Royal We), Jake Lovatt (Uncle John & Whitelock and Colin Kearney (Bricolage). However, since the outset the two constants in Correcto’s spiky new-wave sound have been songwriter, singer and guitarist Saunders and guitarist Richard Wright. Both trained as artists –Wright is well known for his dazzling and often vast site-specific wall paintings, made using ‘the most direct and simple means possible’ – brushes and paint. Saunders is still involved in art as a producer/facilitator of installations, but attests, ‘I think music is the most exciting art form out there.’ Influences revealed on their eponymous debut album (released in 2007 on Domino records) included the Kinks, Velvet Underground, Brian Eno, the Ramones, Creation, Bob Dylan, The Smiths, The Modern Lovers and PiL or, as Saunders puts it, ‘all the good stuff’. For Three Blows, Saunders and Wright played a reworked acoustic set of Correcto songs.

Richard Wright and Danny Saunders of Correcto perform at Three Blows (2008)
Richard Wright and Danny Saunders of Correcto perform at Three Blows (2008)

Richard Youngs

Richard Youngs was born in Cambridge, England, and has been based in Glasgow since the early 90’s. Youngs has produced many prolific and diverse recordings, incorporating aspects of folk, experimental rock, improvisation and electronics. His extensive back catalogue of solo and collaborative work includes albums with Matthew Bower, Brian Lavelle, Neil Campbell, Stephen Todd, Makoto Kawabata, Alex Neilson, Andrew Paine/Ilk, Telstar Ponies and Simon Wickham-Smith/R!!!S!!! Youngs plays many instruments, often choosing the guitar, but he has been known to use the shakuhachi, theremin, oven tray, dulcimer, a home-made synthesizer (common on early recordings) and even a motorway bridge. He also released an album which was entirely a cappella. A Melody Maker review of his album Festival (1996), described him as ‘grand-meister of contemporary British improv, spiritual son of Eddie Prevost and Maddy Prior; gentle manipulator of English hymn-notics and religious incantations; protege, challenger and radicaliser of folk, blues, rock, minimalism and improvisation; translator for the sea and the rain and the sky; ambassador to war and peace, to love and anguish’. For Three Blows, Richard Youngs performed an unaccompanied vocal set.

Richard Youngs performing at Three Blows (2008)
Richard Youngs performing at Three Blows (2008)

Mayo Thompson

American, born Houston, Texas, 1944, founded The Red Crayola with Frederick Bartheleme, 1966, first performing and recording for International Artists during the ‘psychedelic’ boom. Since, the band in one form or another have recorded more than twenty records and toured the USA, Europe and Japan.

He worked with Rough Trade Records in the late 1970s and again in the early 1980s. He produced a number of records with Geoff Travis during the ‘punk’ boom and, later, on his own. A short list: James Ulmer, The Fall, Stiff Little Fingers, The Raincoats, Scritti Politti, Cabaret Voltaire, Kleenex, Primal Scream, The Shop Assistants.

He played guitar in Pere Ubu 1980-1.

Over the years The Red Krayola project has involved many players known in their own right. To name a few: Gina Birch, Lora Logic, Epic Soundtracks, Allen Ravenstine, David Grubbs, John McEntire, Jim O’Rourke, Tom Watson, Sandy Yang, Elisa Randazzo, Albert Oehlen.

He has a long association with visual artists. He worked for Robert Rauschenberg. He collaborates with Art & Language, and has collaborated with Albert Oehlen. In 1994 he became an adjunct faculty member of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. In the late 2000’s he lived in Edinburgh, where his wife, a molecular biologist, had her laboratory.

Mayo Thompson performing at Three Blows (2008)
Mayo Thompson performing at Three Blows (2008)

Sarah Kenchington

Sarah Kenchington makes interactive mechanical music contraptions. Her approach to music is as a sculptor, her instruments are constantly evolving, with the ongoing tinkering and adjustment process spilling over into the performance. She often plays too many, barely controllable, machines at once, creating a complex and dishevelled mix of patterns and sound. It is not so much about the craft of music or instrument making, but a means of gatecrashing the worlds of music and science, in order to obtain a new perspective on human limitations. Sarah Kenchington also performs with experimental folk band The Book of Beasts, with Daniel Padden (Volcano the Bear, The One Ensemble) and Shane Connolly (Tattie Toes).

Daniel Padden and Sarah Kenchington performing at Three Blows (2008)
Daniel Padden and Sarah Kenchington performing at Three Blows (2008)

Tony Swain

Artist and musician Tony Swain was born in Lisburn, Northern Ireland and lives and works in Glasgow. Swain studied at Liverpool Art School and Glasgow School of Art, and in recent years has attracted critical acclaim for his atmospheric paintings, rendered on pages of The Guardian newspaper. The pages of newsprint are painted over with considered delicacy, distorting perspectives and entwining abstract motifs with the landscapes and figures of the original print, creating surreal landscapes or a depiction of an intimate, but unrecognizable object. Swain is one third of the critically acclaimed band, Hassle Hound, who released their second LP on Staubgold Records in 2008. Since 2005, Swain also played in Dreghorn with his former Cylinder collaborator Chris Wallace and Torsten Lauschmann (Slender Whiteman). For Three Blows, Swain performed a set of new acoustic material.

Tony Swain performing at Three Blows (2008)
Tony Swain performing at Three Blows (2008)

Rude Pravo

Experimental Glasgow band Rude Pravo was formed by Stevie Jones and Luke Fowler in 1998. Occasional Rude Pravo collaborators have included the Belgian artist and singer Lucile Desamory and Parsonage creator Janis Murray. Jones is well-known as the bass guitarist of post-rock bands including Maxton Grainger and Peel-favourites El Hombre Trajeado. He is a prolific collaborator, who has played guitar with Jer Reid and Shane Connolly, and also played guitar, piano and double bass with Malcolm Middleton, Sophia, Bill Wells, Norman Blake and Aidan Moffat among others. Luke Fowler is an artist, filmmaker and musician, acclaimed for his experimental documentaries on enigmatic radical figures such as R.D. Laing, Homosexuals frontman Xentos Jones and the English composer Cornelius Cardew. Fowler has also released a number of projects on his SHADAZZ label, including Evil Eye Is Source (2001), a VHS compilation of music videos for local bands made by Glasgow artists. Rude Pravo’s debut release, The Dust is Flying (2004) was released on SHADAZZ, as was Gold (2004), the debut 7” single by Correcto’s Danny Saunders. For Three Blows, Jones and Fowler played an all-new set of acoustic material.

Rude Pravo (Luke Fowler and Stevie Jones) performing at Three Blows (2008)
Rude Pravo (Luke Fowler and Stevie Jones) performing at Three Blows (2008)

Keith Rowe

The English free improvisation guitarist and painter Keith Rowe was a founding member of AMM in the mid-1960s and a founding member of M.I.M.E.O., and is often described as a godfather of electroacoustic improvisation. He began his career playing jazz in the early 1960’s – notably with Mike Westbrook and Lou Gare. He gradually expanded into free jazz and free improvisation, experimenting with methods such as ceasing to tune his guitar. This change in his approach, Rowe recalls, was partly inspired by a painting tutor who told him, ‘Rowe, you cannot paint a Caravaggio. Only Caravaggio can paint Caravaggio.’

Rowe subsequently developed various prepared guitar techniques: placing the guitar flat on a table and manipulating the strings, body and pickups in unorthodox ways. He has been known to employ objects such as a library card, rubber eraser, springs, hand-held electric fans, alligator clips, and common office supplies in playing the guitar. Rowe sometimes incorporates live radio broadcasts into his performances, including shortwave radio and number stations. He has worked with numerous composers and musicians, including Cornelius Cardew, Christian Wolff, Howard Skempton, Jeffrey Morgan, Taku Sugimoto, Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M, Oren Ambarchi, Christian Fennesz, Toshimaru Nakamura and Peter Rehberg. He lives and works in Pays de la Loire, France.

For Three Blows, Keith Rowe traced a line of development of the transient aspects of landscape, from J.M.W. Turner to Agnes Martin, using high pitched sounds, extremely low volume and materials and instruments including hand-held battery operated fans, thick paper and guitar.

Keith Rowe performing at Three Blows (2008)
Keith Rowe performing at Three Blows (2008)

Notes:

Three Blows was funded by the Scottish Arts Council, with support from The University of Edinburgh and The Modern Institute.

All photographs of Three Blows by Martin Clark.

A transcript of a conversation between Sarah Lowndes, Mayo Thompson and Keith Rowe that took place during Three Blows, “There is Only the Room: A Conversation with Mayo Thompson and Keith Rowe” appears in Sarah Lowndes, All Art is Political: Writings on Performative Art (Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2014).  See Stockists page for details.

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