Monday, February 18, 2013

Inspiration In Wood And Wire

Happy belated birthday for yesterday to Fred Frith.

I first came across Fred as a founder member of Henry Cow, long my favourite Marxist prog rock band back in the early 1970s.

I was but a callow youth much impressed with all things Marxist as one is at the that age. OK I guess must be as one was at that age. I don't suppose its a phase so many go through these days. For all that I still love 'em some 40 years on.

Around the same time he released his album Guitar Solos which opened my ears to the wonderful possibilities of improvised music. Now this wasn't my inspiration as it was still clearly the work of a 'guitarist' who had all the licks and knew how to use them and then go beyond.

It wasnt until I heard 'With Friends Like These' the first album he made with Henry Kaiser that I knew I had to to do something a fraction as interesting that. It sounded for much of the time like 2 guys having a lot of fun beating the hell out of guitars with heavy objects and power tools. It was fun! For some very strange reason there isnt a single track from the album on You Tube. Bloody philistines! To this day it remains my favourite improv album of all time. So Fred opened my ears to improvising in general and specifically to playing around myself with those versatile bits of wood and wire that we call guitars. Fred's guitars were often just that, bits of wood and wire, planks,skewers, bits of chain, household and kitchen utensils,tin cans, oh yes and the hacksaws!

I would never have taken up improvising if it hadnt been for Fred and his revelation that this was something that wasn't all dreadfully po-faced and theoretical it was also fun and exciting and done by really relatively normal folks . I stated to hang out at the Termite Club in Leeds, that moveable feast of improvisation that found a home in any Leeds pub where the landlord needed the money and served a good pint of Tetleys. Here I met other reprobates like organisers Alan Wilkinson, Paul Buckton, Paul Hession and  John McMillan. And fellow attendees like Chris Atton and Martin Hackett. We went to listened to improvisers from just down the road (Sheffield) to just about anywhere in the world  you could think of. I was fortunate enough to see Fred there twice and, as  you tend to do when your both trying to get served between sets, exchange a few words. He always seemed like a nice chap but to watch and listen was always a pure joy. I  never have seen an improv guitarist who looked as if he got so much fun out of making this music.

Just watch this and see.

This one uses a conventional guitar to make those oddly sublime sounds.

So the world that heard them can thank/blame Fred Frith for Certain Ants and I'm sure countless others he has inspired over the years. Thank you Fred and a belated Many Happy Returns

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