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Iain Sinclair's London Orbital
Barbican, London

It was always going to be difficult transferring Iain Sinclair's travels around London's M25 motorway but with the help of friends such as J.G. Ballard, the former members of the KLF, post-punk legends Wire it should have been something special perhaps comparable to Psychic TV's multimedia nights in the early eighties that successfully combined writing, films and music. Iain Sinclair's London Orbital was to be a "parallelist performance in three lane theatre". This wasn't Sinclair's first brush with the music industry. At the end of the last century he appeared with Labradford on the roof of the Royal Festival Hall, culminating with a reading from Downriver released on Paul Smith's (no, not that one) King Mob label, with musical accompaniment from Wire's Bruce Gilbert.

Iain Sinclair, is erudite, poetic and an entertaining figure. His roots may be in beat literature but his books such as Lights Out For The Territory have been a lightning rod for a new generation of psychogeographers - if we're still permitted to use that word.

Over the course of 3 years Iain Sinclair traversed the entire circumference of London's "concrete necklace". In London Orbital Iain Sinclair discovers an area less fashionable than the streets and rivers of inner London: the previously uncharted stretch of urban settlement outside London bounded by the great circle of the M25.

Three large screen displayed visions of the M25: of rain soaked windscreens. Of miles of grass verges and interchangeable road signs. Of wasted hours stuck in traffic jams. Of thousands of vehicles caught in the infinite cycle of the M25.

At selected points throughout the evening Iain Sinclair would present readings from London Orbital. His walk pulls together the various map reference points to reveal a hidden reading of London's perimeter. It's a secret history bringing together the Kray Twins and Essex gangsters, propheteers like J.G. Ballard to profiteers like Jeffrey Archer, Victorian asylums to secluded housing estates, the final resting place of occult architects to modern day shopping malls.

Bill Drummond races onto the stage brandishing a huge canvas bearing the words: Gimpo. Dressed in combats and with his lilting Scottish burr he motormouthed his way through Gimpo's Vernal Equinox escapades. Every year from a starting point of South Mimms Service Station Gimpo, the former Zodiac Mindwarp and KLF tour driver, follows the M25 to… transcendence. For 24 hours he's a transcendental white van man circumnavigating the M25. It's a brief appearance for the infamous money burner and former Brit award winner now more likely to be found at art events and author events.

The legendary Ken Campbell follows with a hilarious tale on how ventriliquism predates humanity. The maverick actor, director and writer illustrates this through a ridiculous ferret story with a surreal twist. He's eccentric but thoroughly entertaining and his piece - which I'm convinced had nothing to do with motorways or even London - was far too short. I'm sorely disappointed that I failed to pick up a copy of his King Mob CD when I spotted it cheap in a London record store.

Bill Griffith's recites a short poem and performs two pieces by Bartok. The grand piano fails to fill the huge auditorium but it's another diversion from the main show. Kevin Jackson accompanied Iain Sinclair on sections of his walk. His talk berates the portrayal of himself in Sinclair's latest volume as an ill-prepared walker lugging a book-filled backpack with inappropriate footwear. Well versed, and spoken he revealed himself to be as he appeared an educated lecturer or as he is, in fact, a journalist for UK broadsheets, The Independent.

A drumkit sat at the corner of the stage all night far behind a table with four seatings. Those, like myself, expecting the kit to belong to Wire were completely wide of the mark. Tonight Wire were laptop boys with processed vocals. Their equipment was strewn over the table. Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert appeared at ease with the contemporary digital equipment. Robert Grey looked almost redundant, while Colin Newman added some extra vocalisations to their mad electronic score that for some reason reminded me of a digitised 'Dot-Dash'. It was a great performance showcasing another side to the angular veteran outfit.

In the biggest letdown of the evening J.G. Ballard had to cancel due to illness. Ballard rarely leaves his beloved home in Shepperton, and it's inherent urban weirdness, on the outskirts of London. According to the organisers, Ballard had never visited the vast concrete structure of the Barbican before. His scheduled interview with Chris Petit was replaced by Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit performing Ballard's 'What I Believe' from the seminal RE/Search volume. (RE/Search #8/9: J.G. Ballard) "The future is boring" they would claim echoing Ballard's prophecy to the editors V. Vale and A. Juno over 20 years ago.

Scanner opened the second part of the evening with techno rhythms and electronic textures. The beats and cellular phone calls sounded like a contemporary Throbbing Gristle but what was the connection to the M25? People use phones while driving? Scanner's driven on it? The poet Aaron Williamson who performed a ludicrous mercurial chair-wheel piece followed him. Silence was replaced by guffaws, before a collective embarrassed silence descended. Even Iain Sinclair seemed bemused, as the act overran.

Bill Drummond's former KLF partner Jimmy Cauty presented his new musical vehicle. Kitted out like motorway maintenance men Cauty's visceral rock throbbed and pounded. Using roadside lights as strobes, and ear splittin' volume via Marshall amps their almost primal rock beats felt good amidst tonight's computerised sounds. A rock hymn to the M25 - comparable perhaps to the KLF's infamous performance with Extreme Noise Terror at the Brit awards. Cauty's always had an interest in sonic weaponry and tonight's performance created much confusion amongst the more mature audience members. Iain Sinclair's talk of Purfleet and its abbey and its role within Bram Stoker's Dracula segued particularly well into Brian Catling's performance piece. With a voice straight out of a Hammer Horror movie Brian Catling whipped out his heart and entrails from deep inside his tuxedo before consuming with much relish, and more blood and gore than a B-Movie.

In less than 2 hours we're at the end of our journey. Iain Sinclair leaves the stage for the final time, and all we are left with is the electronic buzz from Bruce Gilbert's soundtrack as it reverberates around the auditorium. Above the triptych of screens continue to show the infinite cycle of the M25, as we, the audience, make away across central London back to our homes in suburban London.

Key Resources:
London Orbital by Iain Sinclair is published by Granta
Wire -
RE/Search Publications -