Alan Jenkins & The Kettering Vampires – Notes On The Life Cycle Of The Quantum Mouse
New double album recorded by ex-Deep Freeze Mice leader Alan Jenkins with his band The Kettering Vampires. This set includes versions of The Beatles’ Getting Better and Fixing A Hole which were originally recorded for their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, plus plenty of examples of Alan’s unique lyrical perspective. Ian Canty squeaks his way around the block…
The Kettering Vampires are yet another combo in the plethora of outfits that give dependable and nimble instrumental backing to Alan Jenkins’ considerable and unique talents. I reviewed the Nosetown & Ratville album last year (read more about that record here) and now they’re back with a brand new double album.
Psychedelia, art rock, odd noises, avant garde jazz and his own experimental surf music (esm) are just part of the sonic palette that The Kettering Vamps dip into on this LP. They do so in a manner which shapes these seemingly incompatible chunks of sound into something that is extremely accessible. The original trio of Lenny Snake, Minnie Bannister and Neil Ska are joined by Mat Bartram, Lenny Dinn and Petra Jenkins on this record and they are all up to accommodating the sometimes exacting demands of the compositions with aplomb.
For his part, Alan’s one of a kind viewpoint is of course much in evidence on another set of entrancing, magical and sometimes totally bizarre lyrics. Dressed in a sleeve which depicts the eponymous mouse and toting a couple of profoundly weird Beatles cover versions, Notes On The Life Cycle Of The Quantum Mouse offers an aural experience that a listener just can’t get anywhere else.
We get going on Notes On The Life Cycle Of The Quantum Mouse with the short warped soundscape of Subscribe To Octopus News. Then were are straight into the wonderfully titled Margaret Hodge Is Gloating. This is simply a mighty psych pop song with great, cutting lyrics which paints the current state of the UK as vividly as anyone has in the past ten years. This is despite the acid visions of toads on LSD, but the talk of zombie voters who are “prepared to let the crows feast on their eyes” is right on the money.
Somewhere People, about dirty deeds done in Clacton Essex, boasts some fine wah wah guitar and even harmony backing vocals – that’s the thing about Alan’s work, people may think from the outside that it is hard to get into, but that is completely untrue. For the greater part of the time his music is so damn accessible you’ll may well find yourself involuntarily singing the refrain of Dragon’s Tongue In A Clear Vial if you give it half a chance.
Getting Better, the LP’s first Beatles tune, begins with a heavenly choir and guitar rattle. Then a German translation of the song and pretty keyboard glide paints a flowing landscape which then gradually fades away with some sensitive bass playing. It gave me a feeling kind of like being a passenger on a long drive and drifting in and out of a dream. The urgent, garage beat of Barber’s Hovercraft benefits from true percussive energy and slide guitar, with Lovely Little Vampires developing the slide/blues style further, with some squawking sax interjections.
A brief Lets Call It Zinc works as a preamble to an instrumental called The Alphabet Of Crows, which mixes an esm guitar and organ sound with slight touches of flamenco guitar. The President of Ecuador for some reason pops up in The Spectacled Bear, where a r&b brass section made me muse for a moment what the world would be like if Alan had invented Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Then comes Mixing Cucumbers With Fire with some top quality beat pop. A tense Stuffed Giraffe Expression Graph has the vocals doubling up and following close behind a gentle and subtle acoustic sound is masked by the alarming title The Terrible Denouement. Song Z brings the first disc to this set to a climax, an absolute gem of modern psychedelia that ensues with Mr Jenkins making his way over a mountain of broken televisions to come across “scientists try to slam-dance their way across France”.
Sonic Alignment During The Black Credits opens up disc two and clocks in at nearly quarter of an hour. This is a tradition of Alan’s work that reaches back to The Deep Freeze Mice and starts in a tripped out fashion with piano, surges of sound and echoing voice. After a minute the stately pace of a song breaks out, with archaeologists trying to locate a Viking Pizza Hut. Then things are centred on Felixstowe, which is celebrated like New York in the film On The Town – well why not, it’s about bloody time. The song drops away through spacey and slightly unsettling sections, with electronic percussion and clicks playing their part. Ultimately it all comes back to a truly moving effect. No-one else does things quite like this and we can be glad that at least Alan & The Kettering Vampires can.
A breezy guitar instrumental The Tuesday Cat Morning and Ray, The God Of Ears, a spoken word that develops into a raging psych rocker, follow. The second Beatles cover Fixing A Hole, which immediately followed Getting Better on Sgt. Pepper, is rendered how one might suppose The Shadows would do and the musical rush of The Temples Of Fido is simply gorgeous. Nothing Is Curved is another mini-masterstroke, all wrapped up in just over a couple of minutes but perfectly arranged and presented.
A squalling guitar then leads to a child’s voice intoning various information about Frying Pans, which becomes a heavy guitar freak out before the now doubletracked child’s voice comes in again. Everything slips away until we’re just left with an electric eerie sound, which is marvellously done. The slight sinister pop tones of Inside A Fridge and the very odd but stately and dreamy The Moles finish off Notes On The Life Of A Quantum Mouse with the kind of out-there élan few could muster.
Notes On The Life Of A Quantum Mouse is another hugely entertaining and varied entry to the Alan Jenkins canon. We’re lucky to have him – I know we live in a world that is far from fair, but his strange but infectious concoctions would be just the kind of hit singles that would make the often depressing times a bit more bearable. It makes me sad to think he labours away in semi-obscurity whilst many complete non-entities have made very comfortable careers saying and doing absolutely nothing special. But the power is in your hands to decided if you want to live with his constantly intriguing and interesting music or just make to with the run of the mill. The Kettering Vampires always apply to perfect musical backing too. It’s up to you, but I would advise you spend a little of your time listening to this album – it just might change your life for the better and at the very least should improve your day.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here