phil morton: guitar, treatments - phil hargreaves: tenor, soprano saxes, flute
I first met Phil Morton to talk to in the Health Food Shop he ran on Allerton Rd - he spotted the sax on my back and started babbling about how he was writing an opera, and would i be interested in helping w/it. You get a lot of these types in Liverpool, the city is littered with the discarded carcasses of grand ideas, many of them great, that never got made, so i wasn't that surprised. Or, truth to tell, that interested (like i knew anything about opera?), but i agreed to go round to his flat to play, on the grounds that it might turn out to be fun. And no-one else had asked me. So off i went.
And that was the genesis of bonehouse, although we didn't aquire a name for some time after. This was 1992 sometime, and the initial session went so well that we immediately began playing together on a weekly basis, usually in Phil's daughter's bedroom. The following year we did some recording in there, a project which became known as Alice's Room. Not many people have heard that. As well as playing we also began work on the opera, the dead heart (work continues to this day!). The basic idea behind the opera is to examine how language shapes our world as well as describing it, and how 'meaning' is often just a collection of assumptions and historical accidents that may or may not fit the situation in which you are attempting to deploy the word - you'll have to wait for the full thing to see how we cope with that, but rest assured that it will get finished, and you will get the chance to hear it some day.
2nd Feb 1996
We finally decided that we ought to go public, and organised a gig for ourselves at the Egg Cafe, on Newington. The audience was a handful of people we'd invited and a table full of students, who luckily turned out to be German, and thus quite unfazed, even appreciative. I remember it going OK. Phil had trouble w/his amp, and wasn't that happy with it, but it wasn't bad for a first time. The management were quite happy with it as well, but we never did another as they weren't really licensed for it, and they wouldn't let us advertise, which was a shame, as it's a smashing caff (with a nice little gallery attached), and a good little performance space.
26th July 1996
I'd been playing with the HUB ensemble, and one of their side projects was the Liverpool Composers Group, which had its one and only public manifestation in the Bluecoat gardens for a concert of new work. We did a duo improvisation and a piece called 'the cage', which was intended to be part of the opera, although not necessarily in exactly that form. The line up was string quartet, piano and us two, and after some tough rehearsals the performance was a bit troubled by a difficult sound balance on the night, which meant that no-one could really hear the whole thing on stage, which undermined the sense of the piece. However...
By this time Phil's shop had shut, but he still had a wholesaling business for organic veg, which was keeping him on the road for ridiculous hours a week, which meant that we couldn't always do as much as we wanted - we'd organise to meet and then he'd ring up half an hour beforehand to say that he was stranded in a layby outside Hemel Hempstead. And then one morning that Autumn i got a letter to say that the business had ceased trading...
Suddenly Phil had a lot more time to concentrate on music, so we applied for a couple of grants, secure in the knowledge that we would have time to address the work that would entail. We got both of them, a local authority grant to do the CD and a lottery grant for the gigs. on 24th April 97 we did a gig in the HUB cafe. Similar sort of size to the Egg, but we got more of our own crowd in, and the passing trade was English, and thus a lot more hostile. Maybe we won some of them over, i don't know. People in the audience got this consequences-like game together where you got passed a piece of paper and had to add a word, beginning with the last letter of the word already there. As you can see, some of them cheated, but who's counting?
on the edge
YELLOW FEVER IS BETTER
SERIOUSLY A CASE OF THE EMPERORS NEW CLOTHES!
?Porqué¿ Sonic Crimson
Postscript: in march 1998 we enquired about using the Hub caff for a frakture gig, but they wouldn't let us charge, so that wasn't a goer. But they were short of musicians, they said (wonder why, when they seem to have an allergy to paying them?), so we booked ourselves in for another gig. That was a Friday. Over the weekend someone remembered who we were, and on the Monday they rang and cancelled it...
19th November 1997
The first of the Frakture gigs featured Derek Bailey and bonehouse. We'd been working all summer towards this gig, and i don't have particularly detailed memories of it, as i was just too wired to take it in. The important thing was that we got the audience we needed, and they seemed to have a good time. Derek Bailey himself was superb, and we acquitted ourselves alright. Before we went on we met up at the top of the stairs at the Picket for our team talk. "the only thing we can do wrong here is forget to listen." Wise words.
10th December 1997
The second Frakture gig featured Steve Lewis, from Lancaster, doing his Torcher solo set, and also playing w/us, and a guitarist called James Wood (the Musicians de Lune, when they work together), whose ambition was to be the Wham! of improvised music, tho we pointed out that that must make him the Andrew Ridgeley of improv, which didn't sound that covetable to us. Steve's solo set was great, all other combinations went well, me and Steve did a duet with him playing the Picket's stairs - we dragged everyone outside for this, and started at the bottom, as you do. The only drawback was the audience, there only being eight of them. Maybe it was too close to Xmas, maybe Steve not well enough known, maybe, maybe, maybe... the trouble w/organising gigs is you're never sure why you got it wrong. Or even why you got it right.
12th December 1997
Manchester, the Briton's Protection. We becoming a bit expert at playing to small audiences, there being only four here, two of whom are Phil Marks and Mick Beck. Who are playing w/us tonight. But all four of them clap longer than they need to at the end, and we play well again, tho i'm a bit distracted by finding out during the second set that my tenor seems to have taken a knock, and isn't working properly. And i've no idea how it happened. 95 quid's worth in the end, tho i realised just in time that i had insurance.
22nd January 1998
Sheffield for a gig w/the Grew Trio at 'Over the Top', which is in Mick Beck's house, so he has to be there. About 15-20 people turn up in the end, so its like a proper gig for a change. It's a nightmare drive over the pennines, running late and thick fog, so we're a bit wired when we get there. We do one set that never completely catches fire, for some reason, like it's all beginnings. We'll do better, but we could've done a lot worse, so there you go. The fog has lifted on the way home.
4th Feb 1998
Back to Liverpool and the Picket for another Frakture promotion, a return match w/Sheffield - it's Slip & Slant, John Jasnoch, Charlie Collins and Phil Marks, who isn't from Sheffield at all, so i lied. Thirty in the audience (tho slightly padded by some LIPA students on freebies) - are we starting to get something right? Improv gigs traditonally have three in the audience, two of which only speak once an hour as they've got an arts council grant to explore silence as an art form. Tonight we've a group of wrecked students (not the LIPA ones), who are definitely not exploring silence in any form at all, as they talk at the tops of their voices all night, despite the rest of the audience queueing up to ask them politely (and then not so politely) to shut up.
The constant chat definitely puts us off, tho we still turn in a more coherent performance that we usually manage, compared to what we do in private. Slip and Slant seem to cope w/it OK as well, but i still have to break up a fight @ the end. This can't be an improv gig, surely? I can't remember the last time i was in a fight at a gig...
18th March 1998
playing w/the Phil Minton Quartet at the Picket. Finally we're getting the hang of this gigging business - we have a bit of a warm up beforehand, and manage to play something akin to our better kitchen sessions, including fun w/balloons and a quick quote from the Sound of Music, which no-one seems to notice (maybe they were just being polite...).
The Minton Quartet do 'mouthfull of ecstasy' and are quite superb. You shouldda been there. Another fine frakture night.
21st May 1998
The nerve technologies CD launch for click, at the Egg Cafe on Newington. Bit of a mixed night, this. 9 people turn up to mingle w/the students in the Egg, and are rewarded w/our best gig yet. Oddly we don't know when to stop, and play one long number for the first set, and then another long one for the second, concentrating fiercely, loving it. i've never enjoyed playing w/bonehouse so much. until the manager stops us "because he's going to have a revolt from the staff". cheers, pal. we stop, and 'the staff' put on Sade's Diamond Life, the must-have accessory for the fluffy dice set, as if it was wonderful. So that's two places we can't play. This is getting predictable - you'd think we were the sex pistols or something. Still, at least the people who came to see us enjoyed it.
5th June 1998
Supporting Evan Parker and Lawrence Casserley at the Picket. Only 25-30 people here, for some reason. We thought it would do better on a Friday, but there you go. Put off by the electronic element? Other than that, a completely excellent night. The guitar is LOUD, and we're getting into some strange spaces in public performance. This one is scary in it's intensity, extremely physical. I shut my eyes and play for 45 minutes, and am completely knackered at the end of it - we do three pieces this time. Evan and Lawrence are superb, sounding wonderful on the 'second best PA we've ever had'. The best was in Stuttgart, in case you were wondering, but the Picket's engineers score better than theirs, so well done Neil!!
10th July 1998
Playing w/Tony Bevan at the bluecoat arts centre, a Frakture co-promotion. Slated to be an outdoor gig, everybody's been looking at the sky and the weather forecast all day and shaking their heads balefully. By the time we get there the weather is still kind, tho the forecast for the week is of biblical proportions. In the event we do most of the first half in the garden as advertised, us first, followed by a ferocious tenor solo from Tony, finishing with a flourish and "it's raining". We all sprint inside, for a bass solo and duos and trios indoors.
The bluecoat is more of a 'concert hall' type room, so the gig is less frantic than the Picket, and quieter. We all seem to blend together well, in fact i was sitting watching Tony playing with Phil Morton, and thinking that this was as close as i was going to get to watching a bonehouse gig.
17th July 1998
Up to Lancaster - our end of term party. In the event, only one paying customer, but we do our stuff for him, and in time-honoured improv fashion he gets as good a show as if he'd brought a couple of hundred of his mates with him. Phil M has been doing a lot of stuff about acoustic ecology, and it seems like it shows in his playing - there's less and less actual 'guitar' in there, and more textures and loops. Including the unveiling of his new metal fruit bowl, 50p from a jumble sale. Onwards and upwards...
24th Sept 1998
Holidays over and back in the swing for the start of a new Frakture season w/Lol Coxhill and Pat Thomas at the Everyman. PH has a cough that makes him sound like he's trying to lose all his internal organs via his throat and PM has his annual 24th September mystery illness, so we stagger around like the dawn of the dead. Improbably we play pretty damn well, and the gig is a stormer. Lol and Pat are like an odd couple put together for an improbable movie, enormously physically unlike, they bounce gags off of each other all night, which helps to prove that serious music doesn't have to be po-faced. They travel light, these boys, Lol plays his soprano and Pat's gear is largely little walkman-sized boxes (in fact two of them are walkmans. (walkmen? walkpersons?)). We finish the night w/a quartet that is an absolute stormer, and the place is full despite Rupert bloody Murdoch moving the Liverpool/Man U match to clash w/our gig, the slimeball. Mind you, at least one of the audience watched the first half hour and then came out to the gig in disgust, which is a good call on his part, for those of you who remember the result. So thank you Phil Babb and Brad Friedel for having an absolute dog of a game - you may not have gone top, but you played a small part in boosting improv in Liverpool.
14th Oct 1998
Supporting John Butcher at the Picket. Must be a sign of our growing maturity, but this is just a workaday gig. We do some good stuff, just like we used to in the days when we only ever played in PM's kitchen. People enjoy it. Everyone goes home, and nothing earth shaking happens. C'est la vie, i guess - i'd still rather see one of our workaday gigs than any pop band's, cos our line-and-length ball is still unique.
This one sees the unveiling of another of PM's great moments in acoustic archeology. In this case, it's a musical birthday card his brother got for his 21st, and it's never been played till tonight. Everyone's not really sure if they've been privileged or not.
18th Nov 1998
At the Bluecoat for one of the inaugural series of their 'clocking off' gigs. We're playing in the gallery, which is a loud room and then some. Quite a few people there, and we don't know some of them. Not everyone stops for the second set, which is their loss, cos we really take off in the second half. At one point i find myself pacing back and forth over a 50cm patch of floor, with the vague feeling that i might have been doing it for quite a while. Probable the most i've ever forgotten myself on a gig, another indication of how far we've come, and also a tribute to the audience on the night, for participating in the whole adventure. Thanks, if you were one of them...
Fri Jan 15th 1999
Easing into the new year w/a listening room gig. These things are supposed to be low key, but we do 'proper' gigs to smaller audiences. Nothing especially remarkable happens (i'm not feeling 100% well, as it happens), although i remark on a facet of bonehouse that i've noticed before, which is the capacity to play stuff on gigs that doesn't sound like anything we've done before, even after playing together for all this time. Tonight it's a flute/guitar piece that sounds like it's heavily influenced by Webern or one of those guys (i've never knowingly heard a Webern piece, but i imagine it sounds like this. Someone sort of modern classical, anyway). So where did that come from?
Generally supportive comments afterwards: "great value for money" - Isla Cameron. That's what you get for not charging...
Mon Mar 8th 1999
Bonehouse are in Stoke for a proper pub gig (it's downstairs! This isn't like an improv gig at all!) with local lad Mr Thompson's electronica. After a few van problems we pull up with a smoking clutch a bit late and traumatised, but we get a soundcheck together and do a bit of deep breathing. Playing in a downstairs pub venue means that we get a bit of passing trade, and mostly they seem to get into it - we play for about an hour without and noticeable dropping off of numbers. For one reason and another we haven't played together since our last gig in Jan, and the first number is just pure rubbish as we both throw ideas at each other that neither of us much cares for, but after 10 or 15 minutes some sort of order emerges, and by the end we're cooking. JT is in the audience, says he heard a few comments along the lines of 'I never knew music like that existed'. Well you do now...
Wed Mar 17th 1999
Supporting Shock Exchange back in the Pool. Lovely gig. SE are great musically and personally, and we all have a blast, this time we're firing from the off, and a small but perfectly formed audience (mostly regulars) are duly appreciative of all proceedings, including PM's 'Great Moments in Acoustic Archeology #4'. More like this, is the order!
Fri 21st May 1999
Finally get to the Termite Club, tonight held in the Pack Horse - we're playing with the Remote Viewers, who we gigged with the night before as .mdh. The Pack Horse itself is a little shabby, and the audience isn't huge, but we have one good time (well, two sets, so we have two good times). I definitely remember ending up at the back of the room playing soprano while PM played a smoke alarm in a large metal tin, and PM gives a talk about the 70's series Callan, forcing the RV's to play the theme tune off their CD when they hadn't even rehearsed it.
Fri 4th June 1999
At the Bluecoat supporting Eugene Chadbourne. The biggest audience we've played to so far, and we seem to cope OK with the occasion. Nothing especially remarkable happens, we don't drive anyone into the bar, people clap, we do what we do, and we make a decent job of it. Eugene is great, but that's another story...
Sat 19th June 1999
We have a gig at Manchester Jazz Festival (but you're not Jazz!!), starting 1pm at the Green Room on Whitworth St. We're not really expecting anyone to be there, but 50-60 turn up. The Green Room is a little black box studio theatre (160 seats) with nice acoustics, and we get into the whole thing, quiet bits, loud bits, one piece that has a 'proper structure' of a 'theme and variations' nature. We're getting good at this.
Sat 10th July
Down to Cardiff as guests of Kakutopia. If we'd have known this was the last bonehouse gig we might have made more of it. As it is, we play on set in a small studio theatre at Chapter Arts, and two paying customers turn up, tho the other band members swell the total to eight. The room is very bright and reverby, and everything takes on a larger-than-life sound, especially the soprano sax.
Everything finishes at 11, we get back into the car and go home, which is not so trivial from Cardiff, as we don't get back til nearly 4am. And there we leave it...