12.17.11 - 10:02pm
Bless my favourite Shirt for writing nice things about the new record and the general daft gesamtkunstwerk.
8< 8< 8< 8<
PETE UM: "CAN'T GET STARTED"
Can't get started.
Where to start?
Don't get me started.
Magic; let's talk about magic. Pete Um as magician; a Pocket Gin-and-tonic Conjurer. A man for all seasons, a mobile intelligent one-man unit. A bag of ice in his pocket, his heart on his sleeve. A good magician never reveals the secrets that sit beneath their tricks; but the best magicians reveal theirs as part of the trick - they pretend to show you the hidden infrastructural underpinnings - and still make you gasp. And so it is that UM presents us with a series of seemingly normal objects - items for us to examine - does this thing with his imaginary songwriter's hand - a gesture that's the musician's equivalent of the white-gloved observe! - the preamble, the pre-reveal, the precursor to behold!, the bit where they invite an audience-member up on stage to acknowledge there is nothing odd or different or out-of-the-ordinary about this hat / pair of handcuffs / length of rope - how could their be?- "look how normal it seems" (Now, nod and agree. Thank you.) - and Pete, when he prepares to sing (or when one of his tracks sits there patiently on a platter of vinyl, a layer of ferrous tape, a reflective surface, waiting to be played; about to be played), kinda does the same: he seems to shrug, hestitate, luxuriate in his own seeming insouciance and say "look at how short, how superficially simple these things - these songs - appear to be. How ordinary, how normal - are we not all agreed then that there is nothing special about them? Nothing supernatural?"
But then he starts - the song starts - and the magic floods out. A minute-and-a-bit later, it finishes and we realise we've been tricked. Hoodwinked. "But that's..."
Next time, we swear, we won't be fooled. We'll watch more carefully. This is easy; I've got it now; just pay attention and we'll spot how he did it. No probs. You won't get us this time.
Ah...damn. He did it again.
"My shelving collapses from records I chase."
In the same way that a stage-magician pulls you in - makes you look where he wants you to look - we're wrong-footed, we don't get what we expected. He pretends to apologise, to stumble, be unsure - he's like bloody Tommy Cooper or something - but that's just stage-craft, see? That's magic - Ooops! What's this? - an ironing-board, pulled out of a hat, a ping-pong-ball pops out from a nostril. Oh! It's...it's a play on words, a sour observation, a moment I can never have back. You think he can't possibly surprise you any more - you think you've got his measure now, but - behold! - ah, no...that's, uh...
Each song is a world in miniature, a slice of his life (and yours), a mood, a series of micro-observations, little letters hand-written in biro on a letter from the heart. The voice, the words, the delivery...they draw you in, like the magician's white-gloved hand: the voice, close-mic'd / densely compressed / often multi-tracked - the listener is in the singer's throat now - inhabiting the song / the moment / the feeling - and it's like living inside a cavern, the uvula like some monstrous stalactite, a sculpture - and we are drawn do-o-o-own into each tiny sound-world, gasping when we emerge, breathless, on the other side. We blink in the sunlight, sit and exhale on the little bit of vinyl that sits, unscored, between tracks. "Huh? What..what just happened then?" But while we're in there, while we're in the midst of things - while we're being hypnotised - we grin, gurn and cringe with pleasure and not-quite-pleasure with each, uh...at the recognition of emotional states we can't quite put a name to - that maybe we don't want to - we laugh at our own recognition of the ordinary, at how it's been refurnished and sold back to us - we shudder at his bravery, at his nerve, his openness, his willingness to entertain at his own expense. We applaud ourselves for listening. It's like...being dragged through a word-hedge backwards, then forwards, then back again, each time a different view, different sensations, different soft and scratchy bits...at the end of it all, our skin itches, our faces are flushed, we laugh with exhilaration. And relief.
How did he do that?
Ten inches. An auto-compiled Greatest Hits, kind of. It's a long story, one partially related in typical Um round-the-houses fashion.
"My fatal flaw."
Sounds...tumble out, sometimes in a superfically haphazzard (is that one 'z' or two?) way, but just as our brains have caught the flow - figured it out (a process that takes approximately 1.19 minutes) - the song has ended, leaving us with the afterglow of recognition - of having figured out the puzzle just as the next one begins. And I think Pete knows this too on some preternatural level and maybe this explains his preferred song-length, except for when he does something different.
Queasy, sea-sick existential shanties, sax-blart, ring-tone Casio pings for punctuation, lurching comic-macabre waltzes, a quiet, 'broody' sense of unease, random animal noises, Brechtian interior Nano-Soap-Opera set to groovebox beats and blarps, shuffling vintage drum-machine puhh-chuuft...puh-chffft...lurching Residential riddims, pre-sets reset to a default of Wrong, the one-minute masterpieces of Commercial Album stripped of their shrill hysterical pseudo-Fudd-isms and extended outwards by 25%, 'Anglised' and made new and whole, the vocals replaced by That Voice - that densely dry / wry / I wanna-cry mock-Hancockian world-view, sometimes plaintive, sometimes aggreived, sometimes resigned, sometimes stoned - That Voice which sometimes seems to come from so far Within, yet is equally capable of splaying outwards, of multiplying itself, folding and twisting and warbling its way through modulators and envelopes, helium-chirruping and down-pitching an escape-route out into some impossible, barely imagined Outside: a world - worlds - without end. A shed, a box-room, a lean-to, a spare-room, a bed-sit concertinas ow-ow-ow-ow-outwards, xeroxes itself, becomes crazed permutations and false copies of itself, becomes different, special...
The ordinary is transformed into something...else. The ordinary becomes tender. It's exposed - left hung out to dry - revealed in the cold light of day as...something else.
"It's all Grist," he'd say and pull a daft face.
Which is his way of saying, "Give me something - anything - a hankerchief, a ring, a notepad, a bag of ice, some gin - yes, you, sir! - empty out your pockets...give me anything you like, anything you fancy - the first thing you find - and I'll turn it into something...amazing. Something that'll surprise you. I'll turn it into a song."
"Give me a piece of your heart and I'll give you a piece of mine."
So, it wasn't just because I was performing with Ergo Phizmiz that I packed my Fez for Bridport lol.