Conway Hall, London
Megalithomania was a day long festival organised by 3rd Stone Magazine and Strange Attractor, to celebrate standing stones and sacred sites, as expressed through folklore, history, archaeology, art, magic and music.
The organizers had put together an eclectic range of speakers discussing everything from Standing Stones in the movies, the Stonehenge Free festival to parish priests discussing London's stones and Christian megaliths. It was that type of day where tie-dyed travelers, mixed with tweed-clad walkers, university lecturers mingled with pierced and tattooed individuals.
Having some renovation work done in our house meant that I missed most of the day's activities. My first exposure to Megalithomania was Robert Wallis discussing English Heritage and Stonehenge and the need to strike a balance between ritual and archaeology. It was particularly interesting to hear how English Heritage in their arrogance tried to change the date of the solstice festivities.
The hall seemed particularly rammed for Iain Sinclair's talk on his latest book, London Orbital. Sinclair's vibrant piece dissected the "concrete necklace" that surrounds London. From Wren's Temple Bar in Theobalds Grove, North London relocated from Fleet Street to architect Hawksmoor's resting place in Shenley, Sinclair's talk gave a beautiful and poetic overview of his latest book London Orbital where through walking the entire circumference of the M25 Sinclair reveals the secret history of suburban London. His talk was more compact than his performance a fortnight later at the Barbican. Time will tell whether London Orbital will do for suburban psychogeographers what his previous Lights Out For The Territory did for inhabitants of central London seeking strangeness.
It perhaps took him a short while to grasp control of the slide projector but Paul Devereaux's talk about the simulacra of ancient landscapes and ground markings on sacred and magical sites throughout the world was fascinating. Deveraux's an authority on geomancy, numinosity, consciousness and archaelogy and his illustrated talk was illuminating. It marked the end of the afternoon's lectures, and signalled a short break for refreshments before the evening's musical program commenced.
The evening opened with Brian Barritt, who I later discovered was a collaborator with Ash Ra Temple. Brian introduced a short documentary film recording movement of rays of the Equinox sun across the megaliths at Loughcrew in Ireland. It was accompanied by the vibrating tones of a special soundtrack of trance-inducing 111Hz.
The less said about Wigwam the better. Besides after a few songs I sought refuge in the bar. Gorodisch apparently fared better even providing a commendable version of 'Gently Johnny' from the Wicker Man, or so I'm told.
Glasgow's finest sonic explorer, Drew Mulholland aka the Mount Vernon Arts Lab aka Mount Vernon Astral Tempel as they were for the night were the first act to enliven the evening. I've been an avid follower of Drew Mulholland's vintage electronica and sonic wizardy. Over the course of 5 albums they've collaborated with Coil, EAR and Project D.A.R.K and with members of Portishead, and Belle & Sebastian. In fact, a new release is imminent on Coil's Eskaton label - if they can find the tapes!
At their previous UK show late last year in Glasgow, as support to Stereolab, the Mount Vernon Art Lab were a foursome. Tonight Drew Mulholland stood alone, a small nonchalant fellow with a sound contraption that oscillated wildly. He is an archetypal Joe Meek figure procuring sounds from all sorts of electronic gadgetry. In terms of sound this version of Mount Vernon Arts Lab was closer to their One Minutes Blasts Rising To Three and Diminishing release on Ochre (which incidentally was recorded in a decommissioned subterranean nuclear command centre). Their set, lasting exactly 20 minutes 02 seconds, was specifically recorded to commemorate the palendromic year.
Slides of Drew's urban trespass adventures and sites of psychogeographic importance were displayed: abandoned nuclear bunkers, disused military sites. These avant garde concrete structures proved a fitting backdrop to the MVAL's abstract sound constructions. It was more a case of concrete music than musique concrete.
At the end of the set a lucky handful of people managed to get hold of original pieces of the Wicker Man structure - or at least of the wicker stand-in still nestling in a cove in Burrowhead Caravan Park.
Coil are always such an enticing live proposition. Only two weeks earlier they performed a captivating set as support to Sigur Ros at the Royal Festival Hall, London. Augmented by the naked duo of Black Sun Productions they confounded those waiting for Iceland's finest. The fact that tonight's Megalithomania set was specially commissioned only heightened the anticipation.
There was already incence wafting across the stage before the curtains opened. As they were drawn they revealed three members of Coil crouched and almost hidden below their equipment. There outfits were starch white, and their heads closely shaven apart from Thighpaulsandra who was still sporting a Mohawk.
The music positively pulsated and vibrated. The screens displayed and continued to for the entire set huge rippling liquid effects. From the front of the stage floor Balance slowly appeared. Arms outstretched, he rose slowly from his parallel position hidden on the floor. Coil are masters of drama and performance and for something so simple this was so effective. "Everything fornicates all the time" proclaimed a Coil t-shirt on sale on the night.
Balance didn't appear too happy though. He seemed restless and very edgy. Conversely the music continued to pound and throb in a lovely, warm way. Dripping with rugged sensuality.
From somewhere Balance obtained a large cuddly white rabbit that he begun to batter about, swinging it by the ears, eventually thrashing it off the floor, until it burst. The poor bunny now severely flogged and in several pieces was then thrown to the crowd. It was swiftly followed by water which Balance sprayed across the hall. Responding with a nice piece of audience interaction beer was quickly tossed back.
At some point, they could have been there all evening for all I know, two evil-eyed pointy gonk type beings appeared to flank the stage. Having only seen them naked I can only presume that this is what Massimo and Pierce of Black Sun Productions look like when they're fully clothed.
'Why are we here?' he hollered. 'What are you here for?' he screamed at the front rows. One can only wonder what David Tibet seated yards from an irate Balance thought.
Picking up the monitor Balance began shaking it violently. Back and forth it swung. You wondered whether he could actually hold it that long. Back and forth it swung. Would he hurl it into the crowd? He pounced off the stage, towards the seated front rows.
What made Balance's antics all the more bizarre was the apparent oblivious nature of Thighpaulsandra, Sleazy and Simon. As Balance appeared to unravel the other paid studious attention to their musical equipment. Their apparent sense of normality only made the events seem more surreal. This was Coil, or at least Balance, at their most aggressive, their most frustrated.
I must confess that I like most others were captivated, if slightly unsettled, by Balance's behaviour. In hindsight it's apparent that John Balance is experiencing a rough period. Let's hope he can harness that energy into something more positive, something more productive. All too quickly it was over Balance bounded from the stage. Coil's long swirling drone was over.
It is important that people respect these standing stones and sacred sites but, first and foremost, they are to be enjoyed. Congratulations must be given to 3rd Stone and Strange Attractor for organising a great day nicely balanced between lectures and music.
Rumours abound about a Wicker Man musical re-enactment involving Coil and Mount Vernon Arts Lab scheduled for next year, organised by Trunk Records.
Strange Attractor are hoping to issue a CD-R documenting the music on the night. For further details contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Coil - www.thresholdhouse.com
Mount Vernon Arts Lab - mval.topcities.com/
Strange Attractor - www.strangeattractor.co.uk