Barry Adamson – Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 9 February 2012 (Clash concert review)

To support the release of I Will Set You Free, Barry Adamson played a show at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on 9 February 2012. Adamson and his band – Ian Ross on drums, Nick Plytas on keys, Bobby Williams on guitar and Maxwell Sterling on bass, with the Trinity Strings and Steve Hamilton’s horn quartet – tore through tracks mostly taken from I Will Set You Free and its predecessor, Back To The Cat. Support came from The Gilded Palace Of Sin and comedian Simon Day reading poems as Geoffrey Allerton.

I reviewed the concert for Clash‘s website with photos by Andy Sturmey. The full review can be reached by clicking here.

Barry Adamson live at Queen Elizabeth Hall, 9 February 2012 - my ticket

Thanks to Stuart Kirkham for confirmation of the setlist.

setlist:
1. Destination
2. I Will Set You Free
3. Whispering Streets
4. You Sold Your Dreams
5. If You Love Her
6. Turn Around
7. Black Holes In My Brain
8. Looking To Love Somebody
9. The Power Of Suggestion
10. Psycho_Sexual
11. Civilization
12. Straight ‘Til Sunrise
13. Stand In

14. Jazz Devil

(c) 2012 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash // photo (c) 2012 Andy Sturmey for Clash

Note: this was my first piece written for Clash. Up to that point, everything I had ever written had been for Documentary Evidence or its predecessor blogs.

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Barry Adamson – Brighton Rockers (Central Control International single, 2012)

central control | postcard-flexi/dl no cat ref | 03/09/2012


Barry Adamson released ‘Brighton Rockers’ on his own Central Control label in September 2012. Released as a single track download and also as a limited-edition flexi-postcard record, all profits and additional donations are donated to the charity CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, which seeks to reduce the suicide rate of men. More information on CALM, its aims and its plans to deal with the biggest killer of men under the age of thirty-five can be found at their website.

The ‘sleeve’ shows an idyllic Brighton blue sky and a pedestrian taking a break on one of the benches dotted along the promenade. The music is a nice heavy slice of solid dub reggae, all thunderous bass, staccato piano and reverb-heavy rhythms and interludes, with some authentic horns and organ lines washing into the mix at times. The inclusion of some soulful, meditative sax and tinkly jazz organ stops this from becoming too dub-derivative, creating a typically noirish Adamson take on the genre, and a hitherto under-explored area of Adamson’s musical interest. The result is something that sounds like an authentic, well-researched take on the dub template, whilst retaining an identifiable distinctly Adamson groove (and, in the title, his trademark wry sense of humour) at the same time.

The summer may sadly be all but over, but this track is just about the best soundtrack I can think of for kicking back and relaxing on Brighton’s pebble beach in the sunshine.

Originally posted 2012.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Barry Adamson – I Will Set You Free (Central Control International album, 2012)


album // I Will Set You Free
central control international | lp+cd/cd/dl cci019 | 30/01/2012

Barry Adamson released the confidently-titled I Will Set You Free, his ninth solo album, on his own Central Control International label at the tail end of January 2012. The release followed an intense three years of shifting directions for Adamson, including writing his first piece of fiction (Maida Hell, included in the London Noir collection, for which he won the Best Short Story prize at Italy’s Piemonte Noir festival), releasing the highly lauded Back To The Cat album, returning to the stage with his first band, Howard Devoto‘s Magazine and releasing his first short film, the disturbing Therapist. During the interview accompanying Therapist, Adamson described feeling like he was treading water in the studio ahead of shifting his attention to the film project, creating music that was more or less Barry Adamson-by-numbers, inadvertently leading to a sense of nervousness about his latest album.

While it would actually be quite nice to hear a cinematic Adamson on record again, it’s evident from I Will Set You Free that recreating the dark mood of his earlier solo self is just not where his head is right now. The album only contains one piece that remotely evokes that forgotten vibe in the clever sound design of ‘The Trigger City Blues’, which includes sampled rainfall and gunshots interspersed with electronic pulses and squirming synth tones. Those poignant, dark alley whispered vocals of yesteryear Adamson usher in bluesy guitar riffs and opening-credit-sequence industrial hip hop beats. ‘The Trigger City Blues’ makes you think of the music to the scene in a heist movie where the bad guys and getting prepped for the big bank job, donning masks and sticking the guns in the unmarked van.

I Will Set You Free was crafted by Adamson (bass, vocals, programming) with Ian Ross (drums), long-standing collaborator Nick Plytas (organ) and Bobby Williams (guitar). Horns come from Sid George (trumpet), Steve Hamilton (tenor sax) and Harry Brown (trombone), a trio capable of turning out pretty much any jazz mood required by their band leader. In the main, I Will Set You Free continues the mood of albums such as Stranger On The Sofa, where Adamson as a front man and vocalist really came to fruition, here striking a balance between the outright acid rock of tracks like ‘Destination’ (released ahead of the album as a free download) with more emotionally sentimental pieces like ‘If You Love Her’. The contrast between the stately croon of the latter with the motorik-meets-white-hot punk of ‘Destination’ provides a neat overview of an album that finds Adamson operating at both extremes, between the loverman and the serpentine voodoo priest perched atop the dangerous, nihilistic bloodymindedness that characterises ‘Destination’.

Further explorations into dark rock come with the opener, ‘Get Your Mind Right’, which finds Adamson pitching in with a vocal somewhere between David Bowie’s archness and the stream-of-consciousness lurching of Shaun Ryder, augmented by typically frazzled organ from Plytas and glam drumming from Ross. In a nice stylistic shift, ‘Stand In’ is a wide-eyed Eighties-referencing towering pop track, replete with a nice elongated synth section that feels like Yazoo covering Kraftwerk; okay, so it feels nearly twenty years too late for a John Hughes movie, but it has a big sound and a catchy chorus that will stick in your head long after the track has finished its emotional motions.

Of the ballads, ‘Turnaround’ is probably the highlight, being an ephemeral, lysergic ballad shimmering with emotional outpourings. Adamson as a crooner is one of the most surprisingly confident aspects to his still comparatively recent development as a singer, finding his honey vocal enveloped with serene acoustic guitar and washes of dreamy synth strings.

Some of I Will Set You Free‘s best moments come in the form of two downright fonky tracks, ‘Black Holes In My Brain’ and ‘The Power Of Suggestion’. The former is delivered in a relaxed, jazzy vibe that for some reason reminds me of George Michael (don’t ask why, but for once it’s not a bad association) and a stretched-out bassline which could have been lifted wholesale from Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner-City Blues’. ‘Black Holes In My Brain’ feels like a more organic Soul II Soul or another of those eclectic soul-jazz-hip-hop collectives from around the same time, all lumpy beats and soulful breeziness. ‘The Power Of Suggestion’, meanwhile, is sexy and upbeat, imbued with a summery warmth and sublime jazz piano lines. The track shuffles out over thick, chunky beats and and contains a theatrical swing that feels like it would suit a remake of Bugsy Malone.

I Will Set You Free has an embedded self-assuredness that suggests Adamson can turn out a leftfield rock album pretty much in his sleep these days. Whilst irritating reviewers like this one may well pine for those noir days of cinematic classics like Moss Side Story, there’s no denying that the path that Barry Adamson is singularly marking out for himself right now will continue to be littered with obfuscations, contradictions and further questing within his future projects, whatever they may prove to be. The press release talks of Adamson being released from shackles, and that is exactly how this album sounds; free, effortless and typically idiosyncratic.

First published 2012; edited 2016

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Barry Adamson – Dreams Of A Life (Central Control International album, 2012)

  
central control international | dl unknown cat ref | 10/12/2012

Perhaps it was intentional that Barry Adamson‘s music for Carol Morley’s film Dreams Of A Life went relatively unnoticed. After all, Morley’s film is a drama-documentary about Joyce Carol Vincent, a beautiful woman with a successful career in finance and early aspirations toward a pop career; someone who was well networked with lots of friends and a surprising number of interactions with celebrities like Ben E. King, Stevie Wonder and Gil Scott-Heron, even shaking hands with Nelson Mandela backstage at his tribute concert at Wembley in 1990.

The tragic conclusion to Vincent’s life is, sadly, what she will be remembered for – found in 2006 not just dead, but decomposed, on a sofa in her bedsit in Wood Green, TV still playing BBC1 and rotten food in the fridge dating her death back to 2003. Unpaid utility bills were stacked behind her door; neighbours complained about a smell, but attributed it to the bins from the shops below. That someone could have slipped completely off radar and totally out of the system – effectively disappearing – in today’s hyper-networked times seems all the more shocking, the sense that someone with a wide circle of friends like Vincent could vanish without trace improbable somehow. The cause of Vincent’s death was never ascertained; never a huge drinker and not known to take drugs, the only link to any form of foul play was that she had stayed in a women’s refuge for domestic violence in Haringay in 2001, something that friends suggested was possible given how intense some of her City boyfriends could be.

Adamson’s soundtrack appeared on iTunes in December 2012 but I only found out about it in February when I received an email from Adamson’s mailing list advising that the film would be shown on TV that evening, with a separate link to his soundtrack. Those familiar with Adamson’s work will find few surprises here. There’s the usual rich gumbo of funky basslines, glitches, dub, ice-cold electronica, gospel outpourings (‘Tell Me’), jazzy riffing (‘Profile Of Martin’), organ grooves and noir themes that sound like something from a Seventies blaxploitation flick. Opener ‘The Investigation’ has all the grim urgency of a police drama while simultaneously evoking the mournful, pained observations of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner-City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)’ from What’s Going On; that track’s main motifs crop up elsewhere on the soundtrack in various different arrangements, giving the whole album a strong sense of coherence, the guitar plucking in particular giving things a folksy, introverted quality. The grandiose ‘Mystery’, complete with ghostly tones and ominous strings, perfectly matches its title’s promise, even if the counterpart ‘Mystery Atmos’ – with far-off rhythms and atmospheric textures – has the greater air of mystique, despite only dealing in semi-audible subtleties.

‘Noir (ish)’, with a chunky, phasing beat, melancholy synths and dirty funk guitars, is the closest Adamson has probably ever got to the sound of early Portishead, a band who claimed to be influenced heavily by the noirmeister, even though there was very little similarity between his music and theirs aside from a whiff of sullen mystery; ‘Noir (ish)’ squares that circle in many ways, and is one of Adamson’s most quietly assured works to date. The moving ‘Joyce Alone’, composed for piano, has a stirring poignancy, the absence of any other accompaniment other than the instrument’s natural reverb prompting you to reflect on Vincent’s three year wait to be discovered; it’s a beautiful, but deeply saddening piece. In contrast, ‘Electro Dreams’ manages to sound like a perfect distillation of Kraftwerk’s every move, albeit covered in a murky sheen of darkness, its inclusion having an urgent car-chase quality which doesn’t necessary fit with the other pieces here, even if it does highlight Adamson’s alarming musical dexterity.

While there are some really excellent pieces of soundtrack composition here, part of me thinks that it occasionally lacks a sense of seriousness and sympathy toward the subject matter. I admit freely that this might be because I’m looking at this solely as a musical response to what I’ve read of Vincent’s life; I haven’t seen the film and so it is often hard to imagine some of these pieces in context, but they just feel a little too playful at times; Adamson has a very prominent sense of humour and I sort of hoped that the challenging subject matter of the film might have curtailed that, but it’s still there, albeit in a relatively muted fashion. There’s also something about some of the pieces here, a dry quality perhaps, that reminds me of a low-budget TV movie.

A detailed piece written by Carol Morley for The Observer on her quest to find out more about Joyce Carol Vincent’s life and death can be found here. A video trailer for Morley’s movie can be found below; Part 10 of Morley’s video diary about the film, an interview with Adamson, can be seen below that.

First published 2013; re-posted 2016

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Barry Adamson – Know Where To Run (Central Control album, 2016)

  
I reviewed former Mute stalwart and current Bad Seed Barry Adamson‘s new album Know Where To Run for Clash. My review can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

12 Rounds – Jitter Juice (Polydor album, 1996)


 
12 Rounds were a mid-Nineties group consisting of future Trent Reznor accomplice Atticus Ross, his brother Leopold, Kirk Hellie and vocalist / front woman Claudia Sarne. Their debut album, 1996’s Jitter Juice was an intense, noisy affair, in thrall to the heavier end of grunge but also tipping its hat toward the pop crossover of Garbage and the lumpen end of the trip-hop oeuvre. In Sarne, the group had a singer capable of singing in a earthy, almost cabaret fashion while also veering into a vampiric, Lydia Lunch howl when required.Jitter Juice saw the band collaborate with a bunch of musicians – Billy McGee (who has worked with Coil, Simon Fisher Turner, Marc Almond, Test Dept., Nick Cave and countless others), Ian Mussington from Soul Asylum, cellist Stanley Adler and Mute stalwart Barry Adamson, who’d also worked with McGee on The Negro Inside Me.

Adamson laid down a chugging bassline for the track ‘Pleasant Smell’, which Polydor released as a single from the album. He also played shimmering, ghostly vibes on the melancholy blues of ‘Strange Daze’. Neither contribution rises above the rest of the arrangement with any particular prominence, suggesting Adamson was comfortable here just being part of the band.

Atticus Ross had already worked with Adamson on his Soul Murder album in 1992 and would go on to collaborate with him many more times over the years, while Sarne appeared on Adamson’s ‘Can’t Get Loose’ from As Above So Below. Other players on Jitter Juice like drummer Andy Crisp were also in Adamson’s orbit. Ross and Adamson would work together on the soundtrack for David Lynch’s The Lost Highway, by which time 12 Rounds were already being feted by Trent Reznor’s Nothing imprint after the Nine Inch Nails man overheard Ross’s group working in the studio. In Ross, Reznor found a producer and writing partner that has seen them become David Fincher’s go-to soundtrack composers.

Jitter Juice might be something of an overlooked footnote in the confused musical landscape of the Nineties, but as an exercise in eclecticism and collaboration, it remains intriguing to this day. It feels like a producer’s album, like Atticus Ross showing off his credentials as a sculptor of sound, working through various styles as an advert for what he was capable of. At the other extreme, the lurid green jewel case this was delivered in was just pure gimmickry.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Barry Adamson – Brighton Rockers (Central Control single, 2012)

  

single // Brighton Rockers

central control | postcard-flexi/dl no cat ref | 03/09/2012

Barry Adamson released ‘Brighton Rockers’ on his own Central Control label in September 2012. Released as a single track download and also as a limited-edition flexi-postcard record, all profits and additional donations are donated to the charity CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, which seeks to reduce the suicide rate of men. More information on CALM, its aims and its plans to deal with the biggest killer of men under the age of thirty-five can be found at their website.

The ‘sleeve’ shows an idyllic Brighton blue sky and a pedestrian taking a break on one of the benches dotted along the promenade. The music is a nice heavy slice of solid dub reggae, all thunderous bass, staccato piano and reverb-heavy rhythms and interludes, with some authentic horns and organ lines washing into the mix at times. The inclusion of some soulful, meditative sax and tinkly jazz organ stops this from becoming too dub-derivative, creating a typically noirish Adamson take on the genre, and a hitherto under-explored area of Adamson’s musical interest. The result is something that sounds like an authentic, well-researched take on the dub template, whilst retaining an identifiable distinctly Adamson groove (and, in the title, his trademark wry sense of humour) at the same time.

The summer may sadly be all but over, but this track is just about the best soundtrack I can think of for kicking back and relaxing on Brighton’s pebble beach in the sunshine.

postcard-flexi/dl:
1. Brighton Rockers

First posted 2012; re-edited 2015

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence