The Belbury Circle – Outward Journeys

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Ghostbox (label). The misrepresented musical history of a parallel world, via public information films, vintage synthesisers and esoteric sonic references.

Outward Journeys (album) Contemporary nostalgia. Collaboration between Jim Jupp (Belbury Poly; arrangements, notation, invitations and vision) and Jon Brooks (The Advisory Circle; analogue sequenced bass, public information bites) with a guest appearance by John Foxx (polymath. Metamatic; vocal and synthesizers).
Idiosyncratic characteristics. Attractive and interesting.

All contributing artists share a re-imagining of the city proposed by psychogeography – the way different places make us think and feel, an aesthetic with its roots in the Dada and Surrealist art movements which explored ways of unleashing the subconscious imagination. The Ghostbox ‘Musique Concrète’ fusion of soundtracks, instrumentation, design and theory combined with sonic and cultural references led the late Mark Fisher to describe them as pioneering “hauntologsts” – re-designers of a retro-future that looks like the past. Or is that the other way round?
Either way, they inhabit a world of ghosts and memories variously abandoned, forgotten or erased by history

John Foxx is one of the ghosts here. Both present and not present throughout the album. His vocal appears unexpectedly first on the aptly titled Forgotten Town, an urban landscape he has walked himself for forty years, mining the streets and the scenes acted out on them. He drifts in spectrally, weaving his own evocative synthlines into Jupp’s rhythms and melodies, so cleverly that You Would Not Know He Was There.
The vocals are perfectly pitched and masterfully woven into the fabric of what is otherwise an album of instrumental soundtracks. Imagined television scores reminiscent of those evolving during the Ghostbox founders’ youth. Among these, John Foxx theme to LWT’s 1980 youth magazine programme 20th Century Box, his own contribution to an evolving genre.

Cloudburst Five invokes Dankworth’s iconic score for Tomorrow’s World. 1981. Michael Rodd and Judith Hann. Raymond Lefevre’s As You Please theme to Pebble Mill At One (no commercial symbols here!)
Transports is one of the album’s standout tracks, and links cleverly into the alternative sounds emerging from the music industry during the same period. Echoes of Depeche Mode and OMD are loudest here. Then Light industry takes Belbury Circle into archive territory similar to that currently occupied by Public Service Broadcasting.
End of Side One.

The ambient recordings that set the scene for Café Kaput tick all these radiophonic boxes, and it is after this melodic, loopy dream sequence that John Foxx times his second appearance. It’s easy to overlook Trees. Many of the city’s busiest streets are populated by trees. Parks are the lungs of the urban environment. Trees see a lot of things during their lifetime, often surviving gentrification more that any other elements. They archive stories. They are living ghosts.
On Departures Int, Brooks and Jupp introduce a guitar, typical of their collaborative aesthetic. It’s just another instrument after all. Like style… Which gives this piece the feeling of both a Holiday programme theme tune and a magazine you might pick up from the lounge in Schipol or Tegel.

And just as every time we meet there’s a leaving, so every outward journey preludes a return. Heading Home is a joyous homage to all involved and all that has gone before, the essential conclusion. The rhythm of a train runs through ithe track, simulating the Trans Europe Express rushing across Magnetic Fields on its way back to Berlin airport. Closing the album like this reflects new thinking and illustrates the construct that the future is perhaps closer now than it has ever been. Popular notions and cultural trends are returning to How We Used To Do Things. In context, the re-birth of vinyl is an obvious example, and that Outward Journeys is also released in cassette format is modestly visionary. Film is cool again. Foxx is a sculptor now, working with his hands and has declared no further use for a Smartphone.

The post-digital future is close at hand. The route is marked on a folded map in that dusty drawer. Discoloured paper. Vaguely damp smell. Scrolling TV screens, slightly out of focus. Cardboard. Low definition. Mirror, signal, manoeuvre.

Ask your dad.

8 out of 10.

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Marc And the Mambas : Thursday, 9th August 2012

The Untouchable One
Torment And Toreros : Royal Festival Hall
On each of the last three occasions I have seen Marc Almond live, I have come away feeling that not only was his performance better than ever, and that I have just experienced the’best gig’ I’ve ever been to, but also further convinced that his music is an intrinsic part of my DNA. Almond’s songs reside in the farthest reaches of my life and experience, every time I look in the mirror or talk to particular people. There is a song in his repetoire somewhere that is connected to everything I am.
And it has also been apparent that many of these are present on the Torment And Toreros album, though I confess to finding that very difficult to admit, to accept and respond to. These are bitter songs, emotionally overwraught, yet defiant and challenging – albeit shambolic and not perhaps fully realised.
Until tonight.The album is a torrent of anger and vitriol, tears and heartache. Torment, if you will. Feelings I recognise well and swam amongst as friends when this was first released in 1983. On first listen, this masterwork instantly struck a chord with me as something very special, really deep and personal – a connection was made with a performer who has gone on to soundtrack my life. And thirty years later, I still feel these things. I still connect and It Still Matters.So as the moment for Marc to arrive on the stage at Royal Festival Hall got closer, I was sorting out feelings of love and excitement with trepidation and anxiety. How would I react? Would it be as ‘good’ as I hoped? Would Marc be able to ‘do it well’ knowing that he too has matured and ‘moved on’ ?Introducing the evening’s performance, Meltdown host Antony Hegarty. Nervous, shy, touching and visibly moved by the sense of anticipation, importance and ‘artistic sacrifice’. He read well, hitting more or less all the notes I would have written, and then shuffled off quickly to his seat – in front of me! Antony is Not a Small Person. Either artistically or physically,

but’s its quite something to watch half the show through his hair…!

Almond strode on to rapturous applause immediately the Venomettes (including Anne Stephenson, Gini Ball and Martin McGarrick) had assembled and just moments after the drums began to pound the rhythmic introducton to Mamba – one of the ‘associated tracks’ I was certainly not expecting to hear tonight.

But if you are going to wallow, wallow deep…

No-one commands a stage like Marc Almond in top form. Prowling, cruising, weaving. Utterly at home and in control. Conducting his band, and crashing cymbals – we are immediately transfixed. Miaow – oh Wow!!
The Bulls is presented in white light, back lit with hi-impact images of toreadors, Spanish dancers and gruesome bullfights, Almond is playing the matador now, teasing and enticing Martin Watkins on piano, posturing and living the drama, parading around the stage in a bulls head as if in some kind of satanic ritual.
One of my personal stand-outs is the next track Catch A Fallen Star which I have seen him perform before, but never with quite so much flambouyant and poisoned flouncing and posing. Neal Whitmore‘ s guitar too is ever present. Threatening, venomous and penetrating.

Official Picture Gallery at marcalmond.co.ukAlmond is a master of stage craft, and he brings everything inwards and downwards in the blink of an eye and a flick of the hand for the second movement. Tears start to run rings around my heart and the memories flood on in. Remember way back when you were so young and naive…?
It’s in his ballads and torch songs that Almond is at his critically most accomplished. And wherein I am at my most vulnerable. If there was to be any catharcism this evening, this is where I began to feel it. He looks so small too, with his back to the audience facing the string section and moving across to the choir. A cabaret clown.
And I’m so wrecked that my eyes bleed.

Part two (Side Three) opens with a crazed Anne Stephenson dancing with a tambourine, whirling dervishly in front of Neal and co-Mamba Lee Jenkinson having a wonderful guitar face-off during Blood Wedding, building everything up to the boil for the album’s best known signature track, the Mamba’s single Black Heart.


It’s fascinating to experience this new fashion for ‘whole album’ shows, to which Marc Almond has hitherto not succumbed. I’ve been to three or four now, and its definitely enhanced by knowing what is to come next. Even when you don’t want to hear it. Holding the mirror up to My Former Self in readiness, I just closed my eyes and let Narcissus / Gloomy Sunday and Vision do their worst, rising to my feet as the wonderful solo sax pierced my soul at the end. All over the Hall people were standing in isolation, weeping, waving and generally overcome.

And of course we all knew where this torment was going. Up, out and over the top! Enter Jim (Foetus) Thirlwell, and cue the stampede into the aisles and down to the front. A Mega Multi Million Mania Mix segues into the self-indulgent flesh volcano of sordidness that is Slut!
I can’t write any more notes – everything is going so, so well and ‘stuff’ is pouring out of me and off the stage. All around are beaming, wide-eyed faces, transfixed and enraptured, sharing their own moments of exorcism. And sharing the joy of Antony on stage, mild and humble, doing his very best to feel worthy of his place in the Little Book of Sorrows.

Exhausted and beaming, Almond picks up the cymbals again and closes the show that no-one wanted to end. He speaks for the First Time, having wisely chosen earlier not to interrupt the flow of the album. Thanking everyone involved, he himself is overcome with the emotion of the evening and his gratitude and genuine love for host Antony is honestly touching.
After some persuasion (in what seemed to be a genuine surprise) Hegarty is invited to join Marc on stage again for Caroline Says – the Lou Reed classic at which their relationship began. By his own admission he ‘warbles something (beautiful) in the background’, and shuffles away into the crying light.

In advance of the show, Almond expressed concern on his websites about the complexity of these songs, the arrangements, the history – and remembering the words. He does struggle with the lyrics to familiar songs since his accident, so that part in particular must have been Of Some Concern. I noticed only one slip, and that’s live and forgiveable.
Recalling that accident now, it’s little short of miraculous what Marc Almond has achieved in the past eight years. A fitting tribute to Antony, without whom perhaps this evening’s show may have indeed never have happened.

With that thought at the front of my mind, I cheer and wave and weep and clap and take my exhausted heart back to Waterloo. Uplifted, re-invented and having come to terms with the things
I Have Lived.

Life is affirmed, and I was there.

So the seasons roll on
And my love stays strong…

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