It was almost a test – could we do it – could we actually pull off this ludicrous blend of satire, poetry, punk rock and post-industrial psychedelia?Adam Stone
Belper is not the first place that you would necessarily think of when trying to achieve this. In fact there’s a fair chance that that you may not even know where Belper is. For a long time it was a station on the train line between Sheffield and Derby that I never once stopped at, despite going through it several hundred times.
That all changed in September 2016 when I was lucky enough to witness the first, and spontaneous, collaboration between Adam Stone and the Dead Sea Apes (‘2039’), at the sadly now defunct Kunst Cafe in the town. This collaboration led to Adam appearing on a couple of tracks on the Apes’ Sixth Side of the Pentagon album, and then a full-blown collaborative release in the shape of Warheads… and it is tracks from these albums that formed the set of this gig. To date the only full set that Stone and the band have played together.
I was once again very fortunate to be there, I think the capacity for this small venue was around 50… but why Belper? According to Stone:
The venue was an old Salvation Army building (now a cafe) and seemed just right. It sits at the top of the old Market Place and looks out over the rolling hills of the Derwent Valley. I grew up in Belper and only finally left when I went to university (in nearby Stoke-on-Trent) when I was 22 years old. Although I live only an hour away I do miss the old place. This gig was a way of paying respect to a special town that had seen me drunk and drugged many times, that had provided beautiful woods for me to play in as a young lad and given me a crazy ‘progressive’ state school for me to piss about in as a teenager. I still love Belper. It’s awash with old hippies, punks and artists, but also lots of old-fashioned and very parochial locals too. An amusing social mix. I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for this old North Midlands mill town.
Like the ‘2039’ performance this gig somehow collected up the dark paranoia of the past and projected in both into the present, and towards a dystopian future. The mix of Stone’s Jello Biafra-esque vocals, the Dead Sea Apes tight and dark music, and the projection of the 1980s BBC documentary ‘Threads’… set in Sheffield during and after a nuclear strike, and banned by the UK Government at the time because of it’s graphic reality; resulted in a memorable and unique set that will certainly live long in my memory.
I asked Stone why ‘Threads’ this was used:
Threads’ obviously fits in very well with ‘Retreat To Your Bunker’, as well as the special spoken piece I wrote just for the gig – ‘Public Service Announcement’. ‘Threads’ was very much part of 80s Cold War culture in Britain, and I only properly saw the whole film via YouTube just a few years ago. As a young teenager I missed it when it was on the telly. I think I was relieved too. I felt reasonably anxious about the possibility of nuclear destruction (not that I was alone in my fears) in the eighties, and ‘Threads’ represented the culmination of the mounting dread of millions of sensitive and intelligent souls who could see only a titanic mushroom cloud on the horizon.
Seeing ‘Threads’ again, especially with this soundtrack, really brought up a mixture of things for me. First was that I initially saw it while in hospital, late one night in a ward where only I was still awake… it was an eerie watch, one that didn’t require much of a leap for me to imagine being in the aftermath of such an attack being bedridden and on traction at the time. Second was that I now live in Sheffield where the film was set, and so seeing familiar places in such a scenario provided an additional layer of meaning for me.
But, as I said this is not the only aspect of this performance… this was not just a look back as some dark futurology, but also a look into the future, as Stone states:
I see ‘Threads’ as part of the whole panoply of dark nostalgia. This is very much an approach covered in detailed fashion by the ‘I see ‘Threads’ as part of the whole panoply of dark nostalgia. This is very much an approach covered in detailed fashion by the ‘I see ‘Threads’ as part of the whole panoply of dark nostalgia. This is very much an approach covered in detailed fashion by the ‘Scarred For Life‘ book – the grim and queasy style of British television and film culture that characterised the seventies and eighties. However, I am not entirely cured of my pessimism (realism?). There is the impact of climate change to consider. And nuclear bombs still exist. Conflict between certain nation states for resources and territory looks like an inevitable feature of human existence. Therefore, this type of nostalgia isn’t just some vacuous exercise in retro hipster sensibility. It’s a desire to push away the glossy corporate bullshit of the 21st century in order to re-connect with gritty social reality.
This, then was not any run of the mill gig, and at the time certainly felt different and special. The mixture of the band, the backdrop and the audience created an atmosphere that made this particular sort of performance possible. The question I would like to pose though, is whether my memory and the actuality are one in the same.
Listening back again now, more than six months later I am reminded of Stone’s aggressive performance… and hearing back from him about it now I can more understand why that was… playing a gig in his home town and drawing on his experiences of growing up in that town. It is certainly the case that this could in many ways be classed as a punk gig; not only because of the style of music, but the attitude on display.
This was the punk of Rotton (PiL rather an Pistols) and Biafra… passionate and political, yet with a sly humour… the onomatopoeic musical situationism of such as Joy Division, all put through the prism of a lo fi recording that reflects and enhances my memory of the experiences
This was a underground gig in an old Sally Army Hall, and that is what it sounds like… no studio overdubs… just the raw performance, and all the better for it. There will never be one like it so this 150 pressing will be an opportunity for those outside of that gig to get some idea of what really went on there… and I’m very happy to Premiere two tracks from it here.
This is also the first release on the Cardinal Fuzz ‘sister’ label ‘Perfect Prescriptions’ which is intended to be a limited run imprint for live recordings of some of the Cardinal’s favourite bands. This one is also being sold to fund the Dead Sea Apes’s trip to Canada for the Ottawa Psych Fest later in the year.
But to go back to Stones initial quote of whether they could “actually pull off this ludicrous blend of satire, poetry, punk rock and post-industrial psychedelia”?
Do you know I rather think they did. This was a performance with energy and power… an audio visual experience which was thought provoking, entertaining and in a weird way comforting… comforting because the space, however dystopian in outlook, was at least looking out from a viewpoint that I recognised… and as we head towards 2039 this sense of community, at least, is a small mercy.
‘Live in Belper’ is available to pre-order now from Perfect Prescriptions on the Cardinal Fuzz website.
Special thanks go to Johnny Thomson who put on both Belper gigs, and to Dave Cambridge at Cardinal Fuzz/ Perfect Prescriptions for committing both to vinyl.
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