Perfect Sound Forever

This Heat and The Camberwell Now:
The Sound of Escaping Night Shifts

By Gary Gomes (June 2002)

There has been a very pronounced tendency to lump experimental musicians of the 1970's and 1980's into a cluster of influences- almost everyone who has explored the progressive music scene in England has certainly noticed the "family trees" that sprouted up to explain the progress of music between 1965 and 1975 in England.

The tree takes roots in Canterbury, evolving as it does from the Wilde Flowers to Caravan and Soft Machine to Brian Eno and leading and interfacing with such well-known and financially successful groups and individuals as Yes, Roxy Music, Genesis, King Crimson and such legendary but commercially challenged groups as Henry Cow, Hatfield and the North, Gong, Faust and the short-lived Quiet Sun. The interaction of these groups is so involved that a complete genealogy may be beyond the range of any one short of the Mormon church, but these groups did eventually split into different directions-the artier direction being taken by Henry Cow and the loosely-affiliated Rock In Opposition camp.

I am not sure how the various individuals involved in This Heat and The Camberwell Now would categorize themselves. They are certainly connected to the Rock in Opposition camp by lineage and direct association. The only continuous member of both groups, drummer Charles Hayward, was at one point or another affiliated with Quiet Sun, Roxy Music (through his association with Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno), and Henry Cow. As a matter of fact, reports from an individual who knows indicated that This Heat, in their early days, used Henry Cow's equipment for rehearsals when Cow was not using it. In addition, Charles Hayward has expressed an open admiration of Faust and they were, in fact, one of the few groups to utilize some of Faust's more unusual innovations- such as having controls that would allow the members of This Heat to alter the sounds of the other members of the group while they were on stage.

This Heat emerged at a very unusual time in the musical landscape. In 1975, Charles Hayward participated in Phil Manzanera's Diamond Head album and Quiet Sun sole album Mainstream. The Quiet Sun LP was extremely impressive- sort of like King Crimson meets Soft Machine with a little taste of Tony Williams' Lifetime and the sonic onslaught of the more experimental (and more interesting) "White Light., White Heat" Velvet Underground. This amalgam of influences produced, to my mind, one of the more perfect progressive LP's ever made, all the more special because most of us around at the time knew that it also signaled the end of an era. This was 1975, shortly before the Punk explosion, much progressive music had degenerated into slick reproducible pieces like Genesis (after Gabriel) and Caravan's Cunning Stunts- fun, but not exactly something that would grab you by the lapels and shake you.

After a short excursion with Geoff Leigh (formerly of Henry Cow) in Radar Favourites, Hayward (drums, keyboards and tapes) formed This Heat with Charles Bullen (guitars and tapes) and the late Gareth Williams (bass, organ and tapes). The group immediately started with a desire to escape the complexities and slickness of most progressive music groups of the time. I even find it a bit odd to speak of them as a progressive group. Their first LP, This Heat was recorded over a period of two years and was essentially an aggressive experimental effort utilizing sound manipulation. The LP opened and closed with a high pitched electronic sound, but the first piece was an aggressive, primal crunch using guitar and organ over static drum patterns. Hayward had indicated that he wanted to capture the joy and energy of his first playing experiences, when he was thirteen. The entire LP was very aggressive and rough-edged- Williams' organ solo very early in the record was a joyous abandonment of conventional playing techniques, sounding quite a bit like Sun Ra's more outrageous organ excursions, but without Ra's musical background and sense of grace. It is a pure, unadulterated kinetic approach to the organ-not dissimilar to Dave Jarrett's organ solo on "Mummy Was An Asteroid, Daddy Was a Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil" on the Quiet Sun LP, but utilizing more smears and more randomness. It has been called, perhaps quite aptly, a "Jackson Pollack" approach to the organ.

Charles Bullen's approach to sound was more from the perspective of a lover of tape manipulation. Although a skilled guitarist (and Hayward was always a virtuosic drummer), This Heat was never about instrumental dexterity. Like Faust (who they resembled more than superficially), This Heat was an amalgam of talents all contributing to the collective ensemble sound. Many of the pieces on the first LP were geared to sonic manipulation, and small snippets of sound. In this way they followed on in the tradition of Hugh Hopper, David Allen, and Faust and anticipated sound experimenters like Aphex and the Chemical Brothers by at least ten years and also set the foundation for a great many of the acid house party systems that developed over the last fifteen years.

The initial LP ended with a track that was to be a lead-in to their next effort, Deceit, issued in 1981. "The Fall of Saigon" had links to certain Velvet Underground tracks and also to Henry Cow's "Nine Funerals of the Citizen King" on Cow's first album. It was a very down piece, however, illustrating the decadence of the situation in Viet Nam (often overlooked in music) and its inevitable resolution in the fall of the city.

Deceit showed a radical departure from the first LP. It contained 8 distinct songs-radically structured, but songs, nonetheless. I can think of nothing that sound quite like this album. Vocal harmonies are employed, but instead of working from the melody up, the harmonies often work from a high note down. They are not morbid, but ironic, and quite serious. Every song is a four - five minute sonic masterpiece and the lyrics are still astonishing, twenty years later. "SPQR" for example, traces the evolution of the desire to control the world to our Roman heritage, "Sleep" and "Shrinkwrap" are telling and accurate assaults on consumer culture, and "A New Kind of Water" manages to be both fearful of and optimistic about the future in the course of a four minute piece, as it discusses both the horror and the promise that technology presents to human beings. Not a love song in the bunch. Many consider this (quite rightly, I think) to be This Heat's finest moment.

After this monumental work was released, the group issued an EP called Health and Efficiency, which encompassed the band's two extreme directions; extroverted layered experimental rock ("Solar") and a trance inducing trip to inner space on the flip side. Side A is the highest energy level that This Heat achieves on record, and Hayward's drumming finally cuts loose- you can hear some of the chops he had been suppressing since his early days in This Heat. The song is a tribute to solar energy as it resolves in a repeating guitar riff, with slowly introduced tape loops (or organ licks-tough to tell which) and the track fades into drum explosions. Side two is, literally, deep space-- the most intense and unforgiving sine wave meditation since La Monte Young's work.

There is one tape available after this period of a live performance in Germany in which certain pieces from all of the above recorded are captured. It is a good, though low fidelity, representation of the band in a live context.

This Heat then dissolved in 1982-1983. Trefor Gewronsky, the bass player in the Camberwell Now, joined the group briefly during their last appearances. Gareth Williams left for India to study Kathakali (a form of traditional Indian theatre and dance) and eventually succumbed to illness in December 2001 (sadly, this was right when I was in the preparation of attempting to write this piece.). Charles Bullen went on to solo work and put together his own studio in the late 1980's; he has recently issued a CD under his own name. Charles Hayward decided to keep up public performances and formed the lovely ensemble The Camberwell Now.

The Camberwell Now was, in contrast to This Heat, a phenomenally virtuosic instrumental ensemble. In particular, Charles Hayward, especially on their first album, may have been the best and most energetic rock drummer performing in the mid-1980's and Trefor Gewronsky's bass playing dexterity placed him head and shoulders above most of his contemporaries. In essence, tone wise he was similar to Percy Jones, but with much more rhythmic push and punch (think Bernard Paganotti with Magma or Lee Jackson with the Nice). Together, the two of them propelled sophisticated tape and keyboard monster chords over accelerated rhythms, accented by Hayward's snarling vocals. This Heat was like a suspended meditation; The Camberwell Now was an express train, delivering sarcastic vocals commenting on Thatcher's Britain.

Ultimately, the group disbanded, after two recorded pieces as Hayward went on to solo work that still capture the essence of his time with the Camberwell Now- he has also taken part in extensive free improvisational settings, has worked on sessions for Heiner Goebbels and Alfred Harth in Germany, toured extensively in Japan, and has recently been a member of Fred Frith's most recent Massacre assemblage. Now in his late 40's, his energy and passion have not abated.

In experimental rock, interestingly enough, many musicians have evolved to the state where, like Hayward, they choose to vary their playing environments and, since the technology is now available, they have the option of developing their ideas individually, as Bullens and Hayward have. Yet, the pioneering nature of their early years remains intact, and they still manage to startle us. Perhaps one of the finest tributes that Charles Hayward has received was when Jean Herve Peron, one of the founder of Faust, said in an Interview on the internet, that he went to an experimental music festival, but found most of the acts boring, but one act intrigued him, because it had blood and sweat and intensity to it- and that was Charles Hayward's solo performance.
 


Also see our Charles Hayward interview


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