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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Review: Clock DVA - Thirst (Released 1981 on Fetish)

First put online on the Head Heritage website in 2005

Adi Newton - Voice, Clarinet, Tapes
Charlie Collins - Saxophones, Flute
Stephen "Judd" Turner - Bass Guitar
Paul Widger - Guitar
Roger Quail - Drums, Percussion

Produced by Ken Thomas and Adi Newton
Recorded at Jacobs Studio, Surrey 1980
Engineered by Ken Thomas

In 1976, Sex Pistols and The Clash played at the notorious Black Swan venue in Sheffield.
The resulting performances went down a storm with the more clued up and adventurous audience members and it somehow lit the blue-touch paper and confirmed for them, that they were not alone in their boredom and were more than ready to put their own ideas into a more positive action.
Legend has it, that the members of Cabaret Voltaire were engaged in a playful spitting competition with the Pistols during the event.

The Cabs certainly knew a thing or two about audience confrontation from their own experiences locally- circa 1975, which, as it transpired, were far from playful and even further from 'rock music' than this new breed wanted to stray... for the moment at least.
Like many cities in the UK in the following six months of being exposed to the London groups, Sheffield exploded into an underground hive of fanzine editors, groups, club promotors and fans alike.
But there was something different about Sheffield.
People seemed a bit more switched on to using their own ideas 'in relation' to what was happening, rather than just running along with a small variation on a general idea.

At the start of 1977, Adi Newton was running the fanzine- 'Gunrubber' with fellow enthusiast Paul Bower.
Newton was also involved with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig-Marsh in various groups and projects, one being The Future, which Newton eventually left as he wanted to follow a more esoteric path.
Marsh and Ware from this point on, is of course another story.

Newton then teamed up with fellow explorer, the late Stephen "Judd" Turner and they decided to name their ventures in sound, Clock DVA.
The 'Clock' part would be a surrealist reference to the likes of the
melting Dali clocks and 'DVA' was taken from the Burgess novel 'A Clockwork Orange' and is the russian word meaning 'two' (although I think everyone found it easier to say the letters individually).
They brought in Dave Hammond (guitar, devices) and Simon Kemp (synthesizer, electronics) and in 1978/9 they produced a series of five private tapes of their various experiments which contained tracks with titles like- 'Coil', 'Through Latex Mirrors' and 'Synchromesh'.
In 1980, Kemp left and local Saxophone genius Charlie Collins was brought into the fray, as well as Roger Quail on Drums, they were now ready to move forward.

Through the groups alliance with Cabaret Voltaire, they presented their first 'proper' recording- "White Souls In Blacks Suits"- which was issued as a cassette release on Throbbing Gristle's Industrial Records (at TG's invitation).
This was a recording taken from hours of improvisations which was later edited and mixed at Cabaret Voltaire's Western Works studio and features some tape collage work from Chris Watson, whilst Kirk and Mallinder engineered and co-produced the whole affair with the group.
They (or someone close) also coined their own tongue-in-cheek genre-'Nothern Industrial Soul'.
Dave Hammond leaves and Paul Widger comes in on Guitar.
The 'post-punk' boom was well under way and word spread like wildfire in the right circles and it wasn't long before Clock DVA released their first slice of vinyl via Fetish Records- 'Thirst'.

The album cover greets you with a fantastic illustration which depicts a kind of dark sepia-tinged satanic baby (like a minimal interpretation of one of H.R.Giger's infant beasts), this artwork was done by one of the great sleeve illustators of the time, Neville Brody.
This back cover of this great album sleeve was topped with some inspired and cut-up text from Genesis P-Orridge which served as the sleevenotes, also creating increased excitement and expectation before even listening to the recording.

This starts with the breathing, echoed flashes of saxophone, clarinet and minimal tape interjections and it's this opening experimental section which suits the title so well, a great and mysterious mood is set before the Banshees like drumming comes in and shows the way.
Adi Newton's vocals are very strange. They always remind me (on this album anyway) of a kind of less-hoarse Beefheart and offset with Paul Widger's guitar playing, makes the overall sound become like a dark-Magic Band.
Dark Mirror Men maybe??
Newton's cry of- "Try!....Try!...." - is a great culmination of this fine opener.

Very upbeat and less dark with sprightly soprano sax and marvellous guitar thrashings together with Newton's neurotic visions of the city:

"Uptown apocalypse...concrete and shouts all around.......well is this where it happens...1000 bodies cramped into a tight space....
Line up the guns....."

"White Cell"-

"Active, then immobility I am myself against their laws of morality
Inturned, I turn towards the eastern block, create a new mental space
......carve out an area which is undefined...."

A sense of claustrobobia with a bubbling bassline and insistent scratching guitar and honking reeds as Newton is resigned to his condition.
As I've said, this is dark but not depressive.
Some of the journalists at the time, were all too ready to paint the sound as 'sheffield-bleak-grey', but if you stick with it, this album has a hidden charm, especially as you delve into Newton's great lyrics while your mind swims with the group sound.

"Piano Pain"
A faint tinkling tape of a piano is interrupted with a leaden stomp of the rhythm section and some of Collins' most manic sax playing, such a joy to hear up against Newton's nightmare observations...

"Underneath all this a voice describes how life is leaving him
Haunted by blue visions, distorted glass fragments....
Speak to him, females torture his hours, with words of indoctrination"

"Blue Tone"- starts with a low shimmer of tapes/electronics which leak in and out of the track.
Newtons voice is one of those that you either take to.... or don't!
If you do however, it seems to have a great sounding board in the music.
Apart from the various effects on the sax, there isn't much treatment on the other instruments throughout the album, which may account for the overall strangeness, it really does seem live and direct.
When you think that Newton was no stranger to experimentation and that he had been immersed in electronic and tape works for the previous few years, you can see he was trying a different approach here with standard sounds and just the minimal use of tapes, but all set against the inspired words and topped off with Collins' experience in free-form circles to paint a very different picture to what others were doing in his hometown.

"North Loop"- is a slower paced with crystal-echoed guitars and Newton going for reverbed declarations of the songs title and a nagging tale of inner frustration-

"To and fro here we go.......taped a voice, measured its tonal depth
played it back again....North Loop!...start again....North Loop!....
....start again...then all these would be funksters (pop up)...start again"

"4 Hours"-
This was released as a single and climbed the indie charts of the music weeklies.
It's a great song and even went so far as to be deemed an underground hit!
The rhythm comes in all boisterous and (yet again) Collins has just such a great sax sound, he's a really underrated player indeed.
It's in tune but out of tune at the same time and is set just at the right volume in the mix- so as not to derail everything else whilst Newton delivers some of his finest words-

"This mid-morning awakening...this bleak whiteness, nothingness...
the eye that stares through your mirror, a suction entanglement
On stained sheets, figures with no regrets, their doubts caste a shadow here....the time drifts...the time swells...the skies melt....."

"...this could be New York, this could be London, I don't care anymore
I'm wearing this suit, a black suit, I'm wearing this time, A black tie
I'm carrying this case, a black case, I walk down the street...
the people are staring, the taxi cab is slower....
A piano falls from above............ it smashes in front of me!...."

If Clock DVA were remembered for anything back then, it was for this fine piece of paranoid pop.

Beginning with a long, fuzzed-out note and then a slight punch of a delayed guitar chord, the drums creep in aided by the bass and here the voice is measured and slow with the odd tape insertions adding to the excitable unease, the reed sound now flitting like a moth around the flickering sodium lamps on the street corner.

"Impressions Of African Winter"
A repetative high two-note bass and slow spiralling flute lay out the scene with further odd imagery-

"Flesh tanned and red dust skies, a landscape which divides enclosed
...heat of the moment ivory and black velvet fall...I kissed her lips"

The track has a great build up with some fine guitar sounds, but fades out all too quickly....

Newton and Turner disbanded the line-up, only to reform with a set of different players.
After the tragic death of Judd Turner, Newton carried on to make a string of interesting releases rangeing from the sound being enhanced by brass instrumentation and later setting up the Anti Group Communications Project and carved out a cult following across the globe with the emphasis on a more electronic sound.
Check out the "Buried Dreams" album, a totally different kettle of fish to the early work here, but shows how Newton was striving forward on different ideas and projects.
Collins, Quail and Widger went on to produce some interesting releases going under the moniker of The Box.
In more recent years, Collins has become well respected in the Improv scene and has made some great contributions via his playing, composing and production skills, most notably around Martin Archer's Discus label.
As for the early Clock DVA legacy, "Thirst" and "White Souls In Black Suits" are REALLY crying out for the remastered/repackaged makeover, not to mention the 'private tapes' from 1978/9 being collected and packaged into something that would be an essential document of some of the front runners in Sheffield's underground music scene of the late seventies.
I'm suprised that no label re-released "Thirst" before the year 2000 (the Italian label Contempo released it on CD in 1992 which soon dissappeared)

Let's hope someone will do it before 2010!

Written by Tim Jones march 2005

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