Perfect Sound Forever


Photo by Yoko Hayashi

Kitchen droning with the U.K.'s finest
by Tony Rettman
(September 2001)

In these days and times of music (for lack of a better word) the word 'drone' can bring up some bad connotations. Thoughts of twenty somethings hunched on a stagefloor flood the mind and make you long for a baseball bat so's you can 'inspire' them to do something else other that their cold brand of hiss (Preferably scream for their lives) Fortunately, this is not the case with the Leeds-based Vibracathedral Orchestra. 'Our music isn't cerebral' states VCO 'mainman' Neil Campbell 'It's stupid'.On the other hand though, Neil doesn't find the 'D' word a dirty one. 'I don't get irritated when someone calls us drone music, but there's more to it than that. It's not just a bunch of people sitting there going 'vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv.' There's loads of things happening, there's percussion, and spikiness and so forth'. It's the percussion/spikiness/so forth that draws me to The VCO like a moth to an old coat. While the strings saw/soar into oblivion, there's always some Amon Duul bongo fury to get wrapped up in, acoustic guitars to trance out to, and the classic sounds of toy pianos and sleigh bells that sound like change rattling in the pockets of the gods. The whole thing is something to behold and the fact it comes from a bunch of guys and gals who'd rather be sitting around the jukebox singing along to Tami Terrell than discussing the tunings of folk guitarists makes it all that more appealing.

The core of The VCO's history lies in when Neil Campbell and Julian Bradley started to record together. Both these names might sound familiar to those keeping score of the U.K.'s scene of underground sound makers. Neil got his 'start' taking off his clothes and hitting pieces of metal (his words, not mine) in the legendary A-Band of the early 90's. Since then he's collaborated with some of the best and brightest in the world of subversive sound making including Prick Decay, Richard Youngs, Simon Wickham Smith, Smell and Quim, The Universal Indians and well... Julian Bradley. Julian was in the short lived though much loved Birmingham based duo The Negative Kite as well as self releasing cassettes of his own solo scorch. While these two were making beautiful music together they decided to start jamming with Headless Piss member Michael Flower. While Michael was playing with Julian and Neil he was also performing in a trio with Bridget Hayden and Adam Davenport, who regularly performed as a duo for cello and flute. At Neil's suggestion, all five met and performed at an open air festival at the local park, and with that, The VCO were born.

Things started to gel when the five of them started to hole up in Michael's kitchen and record their multi-minded sounds direct to two track cassette. Neil found the sessions 'much warmer and looser' than previous musical endeavors. The loss of self consciousness that manifests itself while listening to The VCO's music apparently finds it's way into the making of the music as well. 'Sometimes it feels like we're playing the same piece for two months. It might change or add something to itself, but we always come back to it, and that's precisly becasue we're not saying 'let's Do This' or 'Let's Do That''. I suppose you can say that's where and when The VCO found the pathway to true freedom that makes them what they are today.

As the freedom flowed, the VCO started self releasing their own music in 1999. Their first three releases strangely document the two trios that exsisted simultaneously with Flowers as their axis prior to all five VCO's meeting. Eventually gigging found its way into the picture, and although what The VCO do isn't the most accessible thang in the world, they have found warm receptions from the British public. 'People are surprisingly tolerant of us, but I think that's because when we play, we let off quite a nice feeling. It's not like a bunch of noise people playing this aggressive sound.' Nice feel pending, a friend of Bridget's once told her a VCO live gig made her brain shake. That's quite an achievement in my book.

While self releasing more CDR's and working on soundtrack music for NYC film maker Julian Adams, their sounds started to leak over the waters, peaking the interests of bold American labels VHF and Giardia, both of whom have championed the outsider sounds of the U.K. for quite awhile. VHF has released albums by the fore mentioned Richard Youngs and Simon Wickham Smith as well as Skullflower and Sunroof! two combos led by VCO buddy and sometimes collaborator Matthew Bower. Giardia head honcho Patrick Marley has been known to dry many a pen over the U.K. undergorund sound scene in his sadly defunct fanzine Muckraker, plus he has released a solo lp by Neil. The CD's Lino Hi (Giardia) and Versatile Arab Chord Chart (VHF) were unleashed on the non-insider public in the Spring/Summer of 2000 and the dense swell of sounds made a generation of dope smoking ceiling worshippers sit up, brush the Cheetos crumbs off their chests, and take notice.

In recent months, there's been a flood of VCO releases. Minnesota based labels like Freedom From and Roaratorio have put out some limited vinyl only releases. The VCO still throw out the odd cassette or CDR to show how they are progressing. VHF just put a limited CDR entitled Hot Booty! that is a homage to Neil's (and alotta other Englishmen too apparently) new heart throb, Missy 'Misdemeanor' Elliott. To all this love for Missy, I say 'SORRY LIME-OS'. She might have Timbaland in her production corner, but her rhymes are still weak as hell and her re-working of eighties electro-funk is tepid at best. Ahem...

Anyways, a recent gig opening up for free jazzbos Arthur Doyle and Sonny Murray in Newcastle was 'a joy' according to Neil and there was also The VCO's three day tour with infamous U.S quiet rockers Low. The three gigs in London, Sheffield and Manchester were attended by many a sensitive lad and lass and some of the reviews posted on the net of the VCO performances are gut busting to say the least. My favorite quote is 'I can appreciate droney music, but this was just drone. The most boring band I've ever seen and I've seen The Ocean Color Scene!' I have to admit I don't quite understand this statement, but it makes me chuckle something good. None the less, The VCO and Low got along well and a split seven inch between the two should be expected in the near future.

By then end of the year, expect another CD on VHF and a seven inch on the Tonschact label. In the not so distant future, expect a double lp on Freedom From and a split twelve inch forty five with Portland, Oregon's Jackie-O Motherfucker recorded in an actual studio! Woah! For now, The VCO continue to tangle themselves in sound in Michael's kitchen without a worry as to where they might end up. I think this quote from Bridget says it better than any of this crap I've scribbled down in this article (man, wudda waste, I could of just thrown this quote up and been done with it).

Anyways... 'I think we've all found something from being a part of this band which was probably there already in the first place. It would be nice if there were more people feeling freer to express this primitive creativity instead of being bound and whipped by the two choices that seem to exist at the moment of 'high culture' or commercialism. There is no chord formation that can be planned which creates elation or sadness, or any art which is profound enough to change anything fundamental about a person. There is just a resonance around us which musicians/artists are using or not using.' Thankfully and obviously, the VCO are using theirs and we are all better for it. Amen


THE A BAND Artex/A lot LP (Siltbreeze)
This early '90's freak ensemble boasted such luminaries in their ranks as Neil Campbell, Richard Youngs, Stewart Walden, and the fire breathing Sticky Foster. This LP sounds like if Sun Ra and Nick Turner from Hawkwind bred and created a race of mutant children. This should really get the full re-issue treatment one day, but I feel that a teeny tiny CD just wouldn't do justice to the homemade loveliness of these original covers- especially the one I own that has 'BUSH HATES FAGS' scrawled on top of it. Funny how history repeats itself...

THE NEGATIVE KITE "Hey Little Know" 7" (Freek)
Julian Bradley's pre-VCO and Bradley/Campbell duo work with The Negative Kite has such a subtle roar to it, I'd recommend fixing any leaky faucets or shooting any noisy neighborhood dogs prior to attempting to listen to it. Coming from the less-is-less-is-more school of thought, this single is an even mix of minimal, exsquisite duo electric guitar plucking and theraputic amp fuzz. It makes the perfect soundtrack for a three a.m. weeping session. Not that I would know anything about that...

Neil Campbell and Julian Bradley recorded five cassettes and one LP of their sounds and I have enough time on my hands (please shoot me) to tell you this one is the best out of the lot. While the cassettes that proceeded this are chuck fulla dense, though cleansing amp/guitar noise/feedback, this one finds the duo settling into the tranquil and trademark drones and electronic whooping that would become a constant presence on future VCO recordings. How these two could make it sound like the spaceship to the omniverse is hovering outside your window with just mere guitars, pedals, casios, etc. still astonishes me. Yes, I do have too much time on my hands.

THE VIBRACATHEDRAL ORCHESTRA "Falling Free You and Me"/"Filling Sacks With Coloured Scraps" 10" (self released)
Both sides of this long gone 10" document the two trios that were existing around one another with Michael Flowers as it's centerpiece before all five met and became the VCO. "Falling Free You and Me" has a great "Waiting For My Man" quality to it in that it constantly threatens to 'take off,' but eventually decides to get caught up in the beauty of it's own cello/percussion/electronic monotony and lull itself to a slighty roaring finale. "Filling Sacks With Coloured Scraps" is sheer cosmic delight with twinkling/tingling bells, numbed out acoustic guitar, and constantly swirling casio drones. A stone-cold shame this is no longer available, but maybe you and your pals can all chip in a few bucks and press up two hundred more. You'll make tons of friends. Trust me.

Possibly the perfect CD for anyone who wished the intro to "Venus in Furs" could last a lifetime. The opening cut "Can I Put My Thumb In Your Pudding Please?" sounds like the AEC warming up for a bike race, but after that... wow! You're thrown into a world where John Cale, Angus Maclise, pre-dipshit Sonic Boom, Elanora Romana, Terry Riley, The Seventh Sons, etc. all meet and climb a beanpole to the stars. Some nights when I listen to this, I can't heLP but think the VCO might be today's torch bearers for the UK stumble psychsters of the '60's/'70's like Hapsash and The Colured Coat or Magic Muscle, but that's just some nights...

VIBRACATHEDRAL ORCHESTRA Their Spines Crumble For A Hug cassette (self released)
Two long ass jams from the winter of 2000. The A side catches The VCO in puuuurrrrrfect hippy psych drone mode with acoustic guitars, hand percussion, bells, gongs, etc. Makes me think they were formed thirty years too late. They woulda been perfect opening up for Quintessence! Side B is the perfect come down to the nose bleeding euphoric heights on the A side. Casio keys are duct taped down and strings hold down the steady drone and every once in awhile Neil shakes his car keys. How precious!

VIBRACATHEDRAL ORCHESTRA Long Live The Weeds CDR (self released)
A CDR of various live excerpts recorded via Walkman while the VCO saw away accompanied by various guest members. The sound of glasses clinking and dumbos conversing over the sounds give this an intimacy only found on The Velvets' Live at Max's Kansas City or various Redd Foxx LP's recorded for Laff records. There is no laughing though on the second track on here, which is possibly my favorite VCO thing committed to tape. While The VCO get caught up in a primitive hand drum groove that would have you drop kicking all your high priced 'commune psych' LP's out your window, Sunroof!'s Matthew Bower whines, bellows and yelps like the Malcolm Mooney he wishes he was. You gotta get this one.

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