The Brown Barrel

February and March, 2003, Manchester, UK
It seems Tom Sudall is haunted by the number three in all his endeavours. He was one third of the odd lo-fi indie rock trio B-Fab Uk and since they became dormant he's been promoting gigs in triads themed as The Brown Barrel. Each trio of gigs is prefaced by a tiny free Smuggler fanzine in which all the performers are interviewed with the same set of questions. The last trio of ragged eclectic artnoise explorations occured at Manchester's coolest haunt of recent times, the smart art gallery bar Tmesis. At the opening blast, headliners Kling Klang rocked up a synthesised krautpunk storm and answered all questions with the word 'Frazz.' Macrocosmica came down from Glasgow to riff heavy and murky, with former Telstar Ponies drummer Brendan O'Hare strapping on six strings that drew sludge. The vocals were quite weak and detracted from their onslaught but otherwise it was a greasy monkey of a gig. They like tickling children, or so they say. Local duo Our Beautiful Ridiculous Plan played sensitive meandering instrumental beauty cards that you couldn't put your arms around. They describe themselves as sounding akin to Bonnie Prince Billie without the vocals, but reminded me more of the post-Rodan Louisville continuum. Their prefered reading is The Squatter's Handbook and Alfredo Bonano's Riot to Insurrection.
Two weeks later an early start for electro-probers Robot Arm meant I missed them, but at the risk of Jon Whitney carrying out his threats to send hordes of rabid Coil fans round to smear my back door in blood and semen, I'm just going to have to compare Ampersound to Wire. There were some programmed rhythms they set off that definitely had an inadvertant likeness to one of the most illuminated bands of the eighties. One of them plays traditional Japanese string instruments which give them a fake devotional feel, but at times the other guy's guitar playing got a bit too noodly and brought me crashing down from the nice streets above. Sat behind a keyboard and drum machine, Illuminati headlined unobtrusively in appearance if not in sound, as high pitches had bartender Debbie clutching her ears in protest! Dave Clarkson confesses to a great love of Throbbing Gristle and treacle sponge, and the former shows in his primitivist hard soundscaping. He surprised everyone by whipping out an axe and adding some low key guitar noise to his petri dish of magnetizing microbial ambience.
The third gig a fortnight later opened with a Zoviet France homage from Russet and Brown who were at their best when they amped up a heavy distorted loop. They say this is like looking at a blank wall through a thousand eyes, but for me it was more a pleasant backdrop for boozey chatter. The Owl Project play laptops in wooden logs putting a treetop twist on the glitch-beat interface. They are trying to mimic the sound of electrical campfire at high magnification and use their stark yet slightly cute beats to try to communicate electronically with roosting owls. What the owls think of this is anyone's guess, but it's possible they took on human form and called themselves Black Curtain. The three black masked beings harrangued an arch psychedelic groove with definite Faust overtones. Maybe they'd work just as well as an instrumental combo, but the vocalist's exuberance couldn't be denied. However like Faust, often the drums carried it. One of them also plays guitar and keyboards for Twisted Nerve's Mum and Dad, but Black Curtain are certainly a stranger progbeast beaming in from the outer part, unleashing fragmented fictions from their soon come third album.
For links on all these bands and news on future Brown Barrel happenings, check out the B-Fab UK site.