Friday, October 19, 2018

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Current 93 + Nurse With Wound: Live Review

Christopher Owens indulges his passion for music in London.



Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 13/10/18

London can be an unforgiving city for the dilettante.

It's sheer size, vast underground network and highly volatile population makes it a place where research is needed beforehand. Where to fly into. What bus/tube to get. Where to turn.

After an uneventful flight, I arrived at my hotel, which is located in the Kings Cross area of North London, smack bang in the middle of the affluent Islington and the dilapidated, but vibrant Camden Town. I always stay in this area for a few reasons: Kings Cross underground is one of the most well connected stations in the city, the hotels are cheap and, as most of the gigs I go to in London take place in North London, it's easy to get to.

Kings Cross in 2018 is a very different proposition to the area in 1987, when a fire  killed thirty one people. Back then, it was a run down area associated with junkies, alcoholics and prostitutes (no surprise that the 1986 film Mona Lisa is set in the area) that was only tolerated thanks to the station. However, with the introduction of the Eurostar to Paris at nearby St. Pancreas International, the area was cleaned up and gentrified.

Still, like most areas of London, you can find sinister elements if you look hard enough. As I pass through the side streets to the hotel, I think of how NF skinheads (including one prominent Belfast skinhead who joined the openly racist Skrewdriver) walked through these same streets. Indeed, this area was a battleground for the fledging Combat 18 and anti fascist activists in the early 90's, while twenty four hour raves took place across from the station at Bagley's warehouse.

Oh, and the Pogues originated from Kings Cross as well.

Thanks to a straightforward tube journey, I arrived at the venue around 5pm to find a few people in the queue (some of whom I recognised from past industrial/'alternative' gigs in London). Due to my restricted height (5ft 6), it's a necessity for me to get to the barrier facing the stage, otherwise my view is severely compromised (the stage in tonight's venue is considerably lower than expected).

Coming onstage to four tables covered with pedals, instruments, effects boards, laptops and tons of cables, Nurse With Wound proceed to deliver a set of ever changing moods, ranging from drone, dark ambient, upbeat techno right through to thrashing abyss. 

Nurse With Wound
Sets like this can be hit and miss for a variety of reasons (sound issues, segments dragged out longer than needed, a lack of focus) but this one hits all the right spots. The slow, dark segments are genuinely atmospheric and unsettling, the poppier (by NWW standards) section gets the head nodding due to the 4/4 beat and immediate melody lines, and the abrasive moments feel like being sucked into the seventh circle of hell.

The visuals are typical of NWW main-man Steve Stapleton: bizarre, abstract, iconoclastic and (dare I say it) dada. As they slowly metamorphosize from one into the other, combined with the ever changing flow of the music, they induce a kind of psychedelic, trippy feel.

They set the bar extremely high. Could Current 93 top it?

Nurse With Wound

The answer to that is yes, and then some.

Although, sonically speaking, a completely different entity (C93 have been described as psychedelic, apocalyptic neofolk), David Tibet has collaborated many a time with Stapleton both live and on record. So it's nice to finally get a chance to see the two groups share a stage.

Running through their new album ('The Light Is Leaving Us All') in it's entirety, it's evident that Tibet has assembled a crack band of musicians who can translate his musical whims, while Tibet remains an engaging performer with his utterly unique voice (a kind of tenor melodic speaking one) and low key, but commanding presence.

Musically, the new album continues in a similar vein to the last few, emphasising the pastoral folk influences while the lyrics tale tales and paint pictures of dread and unease amongst the setting. The music may be pretty, laid back, nostalgic or noisy, but there is always something stirring beneath the veneer, sitting well with the lyrics from Tibet who, with his interest in Christianity, Crowley, Noddy and Vajrayana enough to drive Jordan Peterson mad, remains a fascinating lyricist and story teller.

Encoring with five songs (including a magnificently subtle performance of 'Sleep Has His House' and a cover of 'Hushabye Mountain') takes the gig into new heights of emotion altogether. The tension and drama evident in 'Then Kill Caesar' plays out well live, while 'Sleep Has His House' saw Tibet sing directly, at times, to the audience without a mic. The sing-along was a poignant reminder of how art can connect with people.

Simply put, Current 93 shows conjure up the type of magick and mystical power that few can hope to reach.




➽ Christopher Owens reviews for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212

7 comments :

PJ MN said...

Kings Cross is very much the star of the 1955 Ealing comedy ‘The Lady Killers‘, one of the best British films ever made. The skinhead association came because in the 80s there was a hotel in Argyle Sq with fascist links where the late Ian Stuart Donaldson of Skrewdriver lived for a time. There was also a pub near the station where fascist skins would gather on a Sunday in 86/87 and shout abuse and at gay patrons of the two nearest gay pubs till the local residents decided they had enough of the skins and the night ended. It is now a gay bar. The prostitution which thrived in the area was the degradation the comes with selling sex to feed a drug habit. Most large train stations in London seem to have prostitution around them even now, it probably goes back a long time. At one time it was the easiest place in London to score heroin, the reason Mark E Smith of The Fall moved there allegedly. PIL filmed the video for ‘Rise‘ in Kings Cross in 1986.

Christopher Owens said...

The Pet Shop Boys also immortalised the place in their song 'Kings Cross', where it serves as a critique of Thatcherism and a kind of hope (as most trains from the North of England ended their journeys in Kings Cross, so this is where most escaping their homes would have landed in London).

The Scala Cinema was another lifeline for many, as they would regularly show John Waters movies alongside Kenneth Anger and other classics/new releases. There's a coffee table book out compiling all the programmes from their history.

PJ MN said...

Hello Christopher

I used to go to all nighters in The Scala in the 80s. There was usually an alt 80s music club in the foyer and a mix of people who would avoid each other in the outside world which made for an odd compelling atmosphere. Euston is another station near Kings Cross where people like myself arrived into London to start a new life in the 80s and before that as teenager to just to experience the thrill of being where the greatest music was. The Smiths refer to arriving in Euston in their song ‘London’. There is a bookshop in Kings Cross - Housmans - which was (and still is) great for ‘alternative’ books, mags, pamphlets, talks (and even indie records in the 80s). In March 1984 I was the sole customer in there one afternoon when 3 skins came in shouting. I thought they were going to trash the place but settled for shouting abuse.

PS. The Shep Bush Empire was where the ‘Wogan’ show was filmed back in the 80s and live shows for the Old Grey Whistle Test in the 70s. I saw my worst Killing Joke show there in 95 and one of the best I ever went to as well - Johnny Cash in 94.

Christopher Owens said...

PJ MN,

Funnily enough, Mark Kermode says the same thing about the Scala clientele! You don't really get that nowadays, as everything is sold to us via online advertising and the plethora of lifestyle websites plugging even the most obscure film. Back then, you really had to research this stuff and scan Time Out for any possible sign of an Alejandro Jodorowsky double bill.

Cheers for the heads up about Housmans. I haven't come across it, so I must make a point of visiting it next time I'm over. Skinheads smashing up such places seemed to be a common event in that period (C18 also attacked Freedom Press and The Morning Star newspaper a few times). It's no wonder a section of the gay community adopted the skinhead look, and the laughs they must have had when Nicky Crane outed himself.

PaulJPMN said...

Thing is I wasn‘t really going for the films, more the all night club in the foyer. Nicky Crane was at the gay all nighters there and it was just accepted because life outside did not apply inside. That was many years before he outed himself. I met him through his skinhead ‘girlfriend’ who lived in the same hostel as me in Bayswater in 1988. She was a ‘sex worker’ who got into Blood and Honour and had been a hard core anarchist. I sometimes took calls for her from her clients, they were very upper crust Englishmen cos she did ‘humiliation’ as part of her service! Meeting Nicky Crane for me was how I would imagine meeting Ronnie Kray might have been - an intimidating unhinged presence. I knew his boyfriend vaguely as well at the same time. Everyone on the alt gay scene that centered around a Kings Cross pub called The Bell knew who Crane‘s boyfriend was and he was just accepted on that scene even though most people were very left wing there. I wouldn’t be particularly sympathetic to Morning Star but Freedom Press was a very friendly welcoming bookshop back in the day and sadly got the worst of any of the Combat 18 attacks.

Christopher Owens said...

"She...got into Blood and Honour and had been a hard core anarchist."

Classic example of the horse shoe theory right there!

I can't help but think that Crane dismissing his past was a way for him to integrate himself into the gay community. I'm sure that he knew if Ian Stuart Donaldson and co had found out about his sexuality while still involved with the BM/NF, he'd have been a dead man. By aligning himself with the gay community, he would be guaranteed safety and hiding places from his old colleagues by simply telling people he "regretted his past." And I've read that he didn't have to atone for his past as much as you'd think. It may even have given him a sort of cultural capital amongst racists in the gay scene (still an issue apparently) and added authenticity for those with a skinhead fetish.

PJ MN said...

I don't think her political views were too deeply held, she was young and angry and flitting between youth cults (punk to skin) looking for belonging, something easy to do in England in the 80s where culture rather than politics was what people were really playing about with and still are. Yes, Crane didn‘t ‘come out’ till he had Aids and was looking to integrate himself into the gay community to avail of the health services provided specifically for gay men with Aids, heath services which he received.