capri-batterie & Stewart Lee – Bristol Fashion
released January 21, 2018
‘capri-batterie is an Exeter-based experimental artcore trio, specialising in industrial jazz and avant-garde sonorities. Stewart Lee spent an hour in a Bristol studio last October improvising words to their spontaneous sounds. These are the unfiltered results’. Is Avante-Garde Jazz combined with Comedy and Psychogeography the ‘new rock’n’roll’ asks Ged Babey. Don’t be such a tool says his inner monologue… it’s good fun though.
When Stewart Lee keeps mentioning this release in his newspaper columns a lot of people probably assume it was ‘a joke’. He hasn’t really made an avant garde jazz album has he?
Well he has. And it’s great. “This is the worst thing I have ever heard …what a waste of money” the Man in the Street would probably say – but Sid was right about him. It is a difficult but captivating album and pretty-much unique. Improv which is genuinely engaging because it carries all the hallmarks of Lees stand-up and a bunch of his post-punk influences appear momentarily in his vocal gymnastics, inflections and wordplay.
I’m only an occasional delver into the world of experimental, avant-garde jazz so possibly not qualified to review this album from the musical perspective… (That said, I do own the John Zorn ‘Naked City’ album, some Terry Edwards and the Scapegoats and the first James Chance album, loads of PIL, ATV.. so I’m not a total beginner, but) my entry-point is via ‘post-punk’ and as a fan of Stewart Lee and his comedy.
He has Godlike Genuis status in my book. He is one of the three Greatest Living Englishmen -as far as humour and intelligent entertainment is concerned; Charlie Brooker and Will Self complete the trio.(But not this trio!) Lee’s love of the Fall, Nightingales and the like is well documented, and there is a coincidental weirdness about the timing of this albums release with Mark E’s passing.
My friend Bear, long time Fall aficionado, unsentimentally mourned the fact that ‘there will never be a new Fall album to brighten every year from now on’. Well, I hope, that there might be a Capri-Batterie and Stewart Lee album appearing at irregular intervals in the future…. because although completely unlike a Fall album musically – it somehow occupies the same territory – using repetition, absurdity, vicious humour, uncompromising art and anti-commercialism to communicate hard to relate ‘stuff’ mixed up with absolute nonsense.
Bristol Fashion should be the cult album of the year. Discussed in hushed tones and when two or more lovers of the work gather together there will be much quoting of the words…. in the same way that Monty Python and Derek and Clive were in the schoolyards and common rooms of the 1970’s. Only this isn’t just comedy… it’s the weird and wonderful way that the chopped-up and reassembled spoken/sung narratives are framed by the eerie, percussive, honking , rhythmic soundtrack. It is compulsive listening – without the music it would be ‘the rantings of a madman’ but the way it gells is fascinating. Lee’s delivery is central though – but I am intrigued to hear what capri-batterie do without him, or with other collaborators.
Apart from a couple of songs in one of his TV series (who can forget Russell Brands Wedding? ) I don’t think Stewart Lee has ever made a record or been part of a band, as far as I am aware. So this must be a first for him… something to tick off his list of Ten Things You Have To Do Before You Die. (Edit – he did a John Cage performance with Steve Beresford and Tania Chen of Interdeterminacy but its not quite the same as this original work.)
In episode five of the fourth series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle there is a point – during a long piece concerning Rod Liddle and a variety of foodstuffs… that once he gets fifteen minutes in, is really on a roll, after ad-libbing his was out of a smashed glass interruption, using the three R’s the three R’s, he reaches a peak and says as an aside to himself ‘Miles Davis has arrived’ as he relishes the feeling of being as cool as the coolest jazz. (Smug and Unfunny – the Daily Mail)
Stew is Jazz… he’s the master of seemingly improvised, stream of consciousness comedy – so it’s only natural that he does this – works with some great jazz dudes. Pale, malnourished looking ones from the West Country.
How old are you?
I’m 22 mate.
This exchange took place between Stewart Lee and a DJ wearing a crash-helmet, indoors, at 4 in the morning. Lee was wearing a dressing gown, walking boots and no underwear. It became the raw material for Track 1 on this album Six and a half minutes of drum and bass and sax honking, farting and schronking and Lee doing what he does – talking in exaggerated voices, relating the tale in an absurd way. It’s hilarious. It’s fucking mental. The nearest thing I can compare it to by way of music that you, my dear reader punk readers, might know is Fodderstompf from the first PIL album. You can hear it for free, as a taster for the whole album …
I remember reading a review of the first PIL album as a school-kid and the word(s) ‘self-indulgent’ being used to describe it. I thought Fodderstompf was a work of hilarious, genius so took ‘self-indulgent’ to have very positive connotations rather than the intended negativity.
The 27-minute-plus epic which makes up three-fifths of the album is called ‘Telly Savalas Looks at Birmingham’ and is the track which convinced me that this is so much more than a ‘novelty’ or an indulgence. It explores Lee’s personal psychogeography of Birmingham (or so the spirit of Paul Morley tells me…). Although improvised, Lee must’ve had some notes to work from; the script of the short promotional film that the West Midlands Tourist Board commissioned in the late 1970’s – which gives the piece its title. (Stew’s Savalas voice is uncanny by the way – he could be the new Mike Yarwood if he wanted to.) Some quotes from Sir Herbert Manzoni – the civil engineer who changed the landscape of Birmingham. Some info on the Pop Artist Nicholas Munro and some about Little Nanetta Stocker. All this, combined with childhood memories, a variety of voices, repetition and the atmosphere created by the music creates a long, rambling, funny and skilled exploration of the city he grew up in, and escaped. His mixed feelings about the people and the place. Regret, sadness and ripping the piss out of it. There is a lot of absurdism and a cut-up and paste vocal sampling technique he uses, switching from one voice to another, but occasionally his own voice appears, and one which would seem to be a grandparent reciting a section of an old Music hall song ‘Out Went the Gas’ by Harry Champion (Google is a wonderful thing – I just typed in ‘I had a little donkey, I kept it in the yard...’ to discover that.)
Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham is Stewart Lee’s Sister Ray. His masterpiece which future generations will look back on…
I played it to my son who concluded after the first five minutes, ‘It’s OK, I’ll leave it for you and the other four people in the country who bought it to enjoy” as he walked away. He liked the Crash Helmet one though. But then, he is 22 (mate) next year.
It is a bizarre, wonderful, funny and uncompromising work – which won’t reach as wide an audience as it should – and it’s uniqueness is the fact that it’s experimental jazz/noise which you can laugh at -or with, or to… and it will definitely get rid of that unwanted dinner-party guest who won’t leave.
Download the album from Bandcamp
1. Crash Helmet DJ 06:27
2. Weigh In Suite (Part i) 00:44
3. Weigh In Suite (Part ii) 00:58
4. Weigh In Suite (Part iii) 01:08
5. Weigh In Suite (Part iv) 02:00
6. The Last Holiday 05:38
7. Wolverhampton Ghost 01:21
8. Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham 27:45
Stewart Lee : Voice
capri-batterie is the collective name given to:
Kordian Tetkov : Drums
Tim Sayer : Trumpet and Electronics
Matthew Lord : Bass and Saxophone
Stewart Lee Website
All words by Ged Babey