Small Is The New Big

John Foxx and Louis Gordon, Pressure point Brighton. July 31st 2006

© birdsong.Tuesday, Aug. 01, 2006 – 08:50:06 pm

I could tell it was going to be a great night in Brighton when the first record played once the doors had opened and the 200 of us had wound our way up the rickety staircase to The Room Upstairs was Soft Cell’s inaugaral classic “The Girl With The Patent Leather Face”. Memories of similar ‘compact’ venues in Oxford pubs (The Weddoes, An Emotional Fish) caming flooding right on it.

Hand written publicity is always a good sign, and tonight was no exception:

“There it is look, right at the bottom. July 31st.”

John Foxx (oh, yeah and that other bloke) on the ‘Absolutely no t-shirts or posters’ tour’… followed by a list of CDs on sale, with several scribblings out through the prices.

This is how I like it, and the DJ set just got better through the half hour until the support band emerged from the crowd onto the stage. Little people. I thought at first that Mark and Vanessa from The Rubicks were real pixies. Great set of tracks from the aptly named ‘In Miniature’ album, clearly enjoying their return to the kingdom of Foxx after two night’s headlining for the first time at a festival in Fairyland. Sorry, Basel.

The Rubicks have presence and talent in abundance.

But there is no bland. How can they possibly succeed?

Actress/Model. Popmobility. How can they NOT?

Though the PA was good (and I suspect better than at those Other Places), it didn’t help get the best from the HeathRobinson effects boxes and drum machines, but the songs are undoubtedly clever, superbly structured and performed with a passion I haven’t seen in a new band for some years.

Vanessa looks amazing – a kind of sixties chic with a fringe longer than her skirt, and a voice that conjures up echoes of early Deborah Harry tinged with some Siouxsie, a hint of Lene Lovich. A dash of Danielle Dax but heaps of individuality, and just exactly the right amount of trash.

Are Rubicks the next Goldfrapp?.

Just as clever but a little more straightforward. Loved it. Screamed for more. Had a chat for an hour afterwards and went away with a signing, a hug, some little bits of paper and a Big Hunch.

But I’m forgetting something.

Like everyone else in the crowd (is 200 a crowd?) I was here for the main event. That bloke out of Ultravox. The last night of the mini tour of the UK’s titchiest venues.

No back projections, no Tiny Colour Movies. A new song to introduce the set, presumably called ‘Sideways’ given that in true Kraftwerk style there’s only one line repeated throughout, and then a radiant beaming Foxx calls “Hello Brighton!!” from behind his Lexicon.

He speaks! Told you it was going to be good.

Just like the very old days. But not Brighton of course. Then it was “L.A.” or “Berlin”. But you get the point.

Straight into a new version of ‘Walk Away’ from The Garden and already I note that I have never (OK, so I’ve only been to six previous gigs) seen John so animated. He leapt around all night, striking the coolest poses. Playing the synth at arms length, flambouyantly striking those crucial notes that we all came to hear, grinning broadly all the time. Dancing.

And dancing more than, at times I thought, a rather tired and bombed out looking Louis Gordon, doing his best to recreate Robin Simon’s guitar breaks or Currie’s violin dervishes. Succeeding mostly too. Well played that man.

“Warm your back on Friendly Fire.”

“Rock and Ro-oll – hey! Rock an roll, rock an roll, rock…”Nearly. ish?

A blistering early Human League song?

The best of the new material by a long way. Except A Million Cars, which is already so much part of the repetoire now that it sounds like an old friend.

The sweetest Thing

The smell of corrosion

Still buying used cars from Ballards.

Plaza, No-one Driving and, at last, after a long, looping, shouting and stomping version of Nightlife to emphasise the pleasure of electricity, the Underpass that all the people-who-have-come-to-see-John-Foxx were waiting for. Good to see it back in the set as ‘UNDERpass’ too. Its been Overpass since 97. Smart move I think, bring back the darkness.

‘Tonight John Foxx will be playing songs from throughout his career from Ultravox to now’.

Someone had tried to peel the bill off the wall. A nice touch of Englishness. Very apt. None of the other bands I’d even heard of.

Thirty years between some of the material but I couldn’t see the join.

Triumphant, we shook the floor with The Man Who Dies Every Day.

No John, You’re The Man. You really are The Man.

He rocked with Louis. In time. Together. Nodding and weaving. Something akin to a sensual celebration of a sound that its creator knows is good. A man re-assembling at the peak of a new kind of form.

‘Just warming up now’ he said later, winking. The twinkle still in his eye. ‘Bloody knackered’ said Louis. ‘Its been great but I’m glad we finished.’

But a live set from Foxx these days isn’t complete without the endless coda that is the magnificent Shifting City. Side by side with the Ultravox standard ‘Slow Motion’, sounding fresh from its recent airing on the BBC. ‘This one’s for ****’ called Louis, over John, as the fragmented intro kicked in. The main man smiled and nodded, leaving his manic partner to take most of the lead vocal.

And it went on. And on.

But its meant to. That’s the point.

In a world of downloads and shuffle selections, there is a place for doing it live. Getting up there and belting it out for the people that travel.

The people that care.

Rubicks, new and original. Tiny. John Foxx – massive.

Back in the old familiar glow again.

Small is the new Big.

Welcome to the retro-future.

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Codex

Ghost_Harmonic_Codex

On this remarkable album, Ghost Harmonic do not so much occupy a space as create one. The multi-dimensional compositions of Codex construct an ecosystem of sound into which the listener steps tentatively, as if walking in through the secret forbidden door of a church or cathedral stumbled upon by chance.

The structure is incomprehensibly, unfathomably vast. We lift and turn our heads, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. The tonality ranges from delicate and distant to sombre and forbidding. The stone walls breathe. Among The Pleasure Of Ruins, Diana Yukawa’s violin assumes an almost vocal form becoming like the indiscernible chant of a ghostly choir. The hiss of Dispersed Memory and the rumbling deep bass make us start, step back. Gasp. A synthesiser crashes in from nowhere, just as a thought would that we would rather not have, as if while waking. Or as we try to organise and archive our thoughts before bed. Gone in an instant, but disturbing and incongruous.
It serves to remind us that this is electronic music, and there are others involved.
“Don’t forget me” fades in static…

When We Came To This Shore is the most dynamic piece, the most challenging and tangible. The violin takes different shapes and moves around in different guises. The listening experience becomes like strolling arm in arm with Her through the quadrangle at an Oxford College. Fragments of music escape from different windows and it is hard to locate precisely which one. Thunderous, onerous. Marvellous. Those dual, mythical notes, like wingbeats. Or breath. Are they notes at all…?

There’s an oppressive quality to the final movement, and as we approach the title track we are struggling for both air and comprehension. So the lightness and colour comes as great relief, and we smile and spin around. At some indiscernible point we must have we stepped outside into a majestic avenue of trees that leads our gaze across a vista of endless, ancient ferns. Codex is enlightening, clean and vibrant.
We no longer feel mystified, threatened, confused or surrounded. There is space, and air.

Inhale deeply the fragrance of audacity, daring and confidence. Walk among the mastery of craftsmanship and creative understanding. Nod gently. Realise, and smile.
This is a living, organic work of expressive art that has taken forty years to imagine.

If you get lost, or nothing makes sense, pause. And return.
Perhaps it’s not so much impenetrable, as inevitable?

Perhaps, like me, you’ve been listening wrong…

You. Again.

You. Again.

He remarked how effective that punctuation was. Drawing the emphasis to each word individually. “You” – personal.
Not just anybody. One, very specific, person.

And encountered not for the first time. Repeatedly. “Again”.
Always, and everywhere.

Always and forever
Each moment with you
Is just like a dream to me
That somehow came true

A song of youth. Heatwave? Yes, that’s the one. He’s young again. Nineteen again.

Nervous, flustered. Walking towards the place where she was first seen in some vague hope that she may still be there. He looked down at his phone. Yes, checked. A confirmed sighting not twenty minutes earlier. He had ‘people’ looking.
All he had to do was find the place, and rely to an extent on the fact that she may just be looking for him. It was a high-risk strategy, he knew that, but everything in the immediate future depended on that chance. He figured that if she perhaps knew he was approaching she may linger. Maybe just. Focus and concentrate on retaining solid form just long enough for him to see she was at least there. And if ‘there’ could be ‘here’, then there was a possibility.
It was no more than that, but… well, just maybe.

He walked in haste, along the road beside the wall that lead him southwards, away from the city. It was here somewhere, he knew that. Memory walked beside him, pulling at his sleeve. Eager and sure.

They have painted the exterior of that house. Didn’t it used to be pink? Maybe yes, but even dark green it has not changed.
The windows are the same. Yes, good.
Which means that not 100 metres opposite there should be…? Yes.

Here.

A change of stone. The composition of the wall is different and belies a gate. A white, freshly painted gate. Left here then surely, down towards the river. It must have been years…?

Pause. Flustered. Sh*t, this IS the place. Centuries ago, it seemed. She rang. He had a trace put on the call and had the location verified. He looked down at his phone. The co-ordinates matched and he stopped, nervous as hell. What if she were still here, waiting. Could that possibly be? He did not recall quite so many layers. The cars, the music, the marquee in the garden. Hundreds of people. Perhaps it was all a mistake? Had he taken a wrong turn somewhere, or could this just be Time, playing games…?

***

Within moments, he was standing at the end of the narrowest lane, looking over a five-bar gate adorned with signs advising ways to go, what to see and how to behave appropriately. Ahead of him, behind the gate was a meadow of wild but unimpressive grass, through which over the years people had worn tracks leading left and right, up and down the river. A fine example of chalk stream habitat, and one of his favourite wandering places. Damselflies, birds and tender eddies.
He stood here for too long, nervous. Uncertain. Yet eager and alive. He’d walked past the point of entry on purpose, noting as he passed the place on the wall where the stone was paler, newer. It was as he remembered, and he turned to prepare himself.

Three steps right, feel. Gently. Trace the stone with your finger. That’s it, focus, believe…

And step through the wall.

“My darling, here you are at last!” she beamed, laughing and clutching him instantly in a fervent embrace of purple, black and Chinese green. “You’re rather late, I was beginning to think you weren’t going to come. Or did you just forget? Are you OK… My goodness.” She said all this and lots of other things at once. No pause, no punctuation. Breathless, excited. Relieved and … other things.
He closed his arms around her until he could feel her heart beating through her jacket, leaning his head onto hers that was pressed into his shoulder. He smelled her hair, and he knew. Moments passed, lengthening. They hardly breathed and neither saw anything around them. The smiles of an elderly couple at a table. The friendly glance of a robed monk passing on a three-wheeled bicycle…

HIs eyes were first to open, and on waking he took her hands and a step backwards. Moving away to see. The necklace, the dress and the bag. There was always A Bag.

“Hello”. A cheeky grin. She blushed.

“I’ve been rather naughty,” she giggled, reaching for The Bag. “I’ve already been into the shop…” A notebook appeared, a battered, torn and utterly gorgeous copy of Gallico’s Snowflake from 1953. Something bigger and heavy, about London. Wrapping paper, birthday cards with woodcut engravings of a dove. Or was it an angel? He tried to see everything all at once, but was smiling too much to take proper notice. He took the London narrative from her and turned a few fusty, yellowing pages.
“This is beautiful.”

“So is The Garden”, she enthused. “Come on, I’ll show you.”

She slipped her arm into his, and they hurried off together down the flagstone cloister and underneath a low archway opposite the courtyard. They chattered now incessantly, like birds, exchanging all manner of ideas, anecdotes and flattering compliments. By the time they entered the walled garden it was as if they had walked together thus for years backwards in time, to a arrive at a place of stillness and wondered. The scene that greeted them was a moment in time, like a painting – so much more than just a physical place.
The garden was contained by a high brick wall lined with fans and esp[aliers supporting all manner of fruit trees. Apples, pears. Plum and cherry. Most of the area was a beautifully manicured lawn, leading to a long pond covered in lilies where a tall fountain shot perfectly straight upwards in the still ness. The right hand border, facing north on the south side was mostly blue and purple, lavender and herbs. They sat here first looking at the pond.

She spoke incessantly, and it was like music to him, layered against the rhythm of the water and cut-up now and then with the melody of a Grey Wagtail that insisted on accompanying them. He listened attentively throughout, enchanted, and spoke in his turn. Like the bird, with her head slightly cocked to one side inquisitively, she listened as he told her of all kinds of everything. Hours passed, and the sun grew hot.

Sensing one another’s relative discomfort as the afternoon began to heat up, they moved to the shade of the splendid plane tree that spread magnificently over the middle of the grass and one third of the pond. The grass was cooler here and she walked barefoot, her footsteps making no impression on the surface as if she were somehow floating a millimetre or two above it. He felt heavy and awkward by comparison, aware that the heat was draining him. It was a relief to lie down in the shade, and he did so on his back, head propped up on the old battered rucksack that served so many purposes. She sat more elegantly of course, legs out in front of her and reclining back onto on her outstretched arms, the cotton material of her dress swishing as she arranged herself. He tried to both look and not look at her limbs. Her hands, her feet. So pale, as if turning already. He felt suddenly and strangely so very old… They sat, without speaking for a while, gazing both at the pond and the situation and long strands of silence connected their eyes like a charge of electricity. Never Moments.

As it began to cool, they relaxed. There was nothing to be done, and it felt they had all the time in the world to do it. As the sun moved across the garden, so they followed it and moved next to the hot border on the south-facing wall. Here were fire lilies, reds orange and yellow. Bees and butterflies. he smiled on seeing the peacock as it fluttered and glided between the blooms and along the wall. Butterflies had it right and were the epitome of so much that he dreamed. Light, beautiful, fragile, elegant and temporary. So much in such a tiny little thing that flew for such a short time in the brightest sun. Sensing him watching it, she took his hand and tightened her fingers around his. So cold. Like the insect, she rested her head on his shuolder. They embraced, and took themselves to another bench in the bright afternoon light.

One or two other people drifted past, and they shared a drink and some of the food each had left in their bag. Sandwiches, a small packet of biscuits. Some dried fruit and half a chocolate bar. It was the perfect space. Enclosed and asfe. A bubble between their worlds, of no particualr time or situation.

As the afternoon sun moved overhead and the Jackdaws went about their business on the chapel tower, the clock above the single bell stopped. Gulls passed overhead on their way to roost, and pigeons moved into the oaks down by the river. Leaves fell, and were patiently gathered into bags by the gardeners. the same men came to give the grass one more cut before the frost came, and workmen attended to the pond, turning off the fountain. they came twice to repair a wooden door int he wall, before giving up with it and putting up a sign instead. Ivy, creepers and bramble grew among the borders as the flowers faded,nd themanicured fruits dropped unattended among the litter in the beds. Deer found their way in through the broken door, and different birds looked for hidden homes among the vegetation.

The Grey Wagtail stayed, and looked for new places to nest and raise his family. He found the perfect spot, nestled in the crook of the arm of a female statue…