Last time out I was talking about Stuart David’s tremendous series of ‘Peacock Johnson’ books and I very much hope you have been tracking those down and enjoying them too. Now I do like the idea of crazy cosmic coincidences, and there have been lots of those cascading into my life just recently, not least of which has been the pleasure of being reacquainted with the terrific records made by David and Wee Karn (not forgetting Ronnie Black and Evil Bob at various points) in their Looper identity. I admit that I had lost track somewhat of what they were up to at around the time of 2002’s ‘The Snare’ and indeed, listening to that set now I’m convinced that even this one passed me by at the time. Particularly since it contains the track ‘Peacock Johnson’, which I’m sure I would have remembered on reading the books. This is how it goes with things though, isn’t it? We drift in and out as we move through life. I have this model of life being a series of ellipses (ahem) looping out from a centre to which we return every so often before flying off on a different tangent. Each loop is different, even if only subtly, in trajectory and length, whilst that centre is something to do with the sense of loss, or absence. A need for replenishment.
Anyway, that’s my cod-philosophical theory, backed up by nothing more than feelings, personal observations and experiences. You might well think it’s all nonsense, and that’s fine. There is perhaps something in the isolationist nature of existence that insists each of us has some theory that explains our existence, at least in part. And that’s mine.
So Looper loop back into my life, and that’s a pleasure for sure. I’ve been very much enjoying the 2015 retrospective collection ‘These Things’ which curates the work of some seventeen years into five discs of instrumentals, spoken word pieces etc. It’s a delicious treasure trove, a musical box of delights that transports us to a universe inhabited by electronic glitches snogging memories of childhood games of Dead Mans’ Fall on the Commando Hill. It takes me back too, to days of falling in love with Stuart David’s wee ‘Ink Polaroids’ for his Treehouse imprint, and my own ‘Belle Lettres’ stories and short pieces penned in that blurt of excitement around the mid 90s I suppose it must have been when we were doing our Living Room club in Exeter and pissing about with record decks, tape machines, slide projectors, TVs and video tapes. And in another of those crazy cosmic coincidences of course our Living Room friends Appliance would end up sharing the same record label as Looper on Mute. Crazy, crazy world.
The first Looper performance was in 1997 at the Glasgow School of Art, perhaps around the same time that a well-oiled Appliance were lubricating our Living Room in Exeter. It’s a nice touch of synchronicity, even if the particular truth exists only in my head*. Regardless, the Art School venue is another of those cosmic coincidences, for that place of wonder and powerful magic(k) continues to drop grenades of connection, memory, nostalgia and possibility into the/my world. How could it be otherwise? Well, just press fast-forward for two years, and a full Looper band played at the first Bowlie festival in April 1999. Now personally I could not make it to that very first Bowlie. I forget the reasons. Perhaps it was tied up with a general aversion to notions of festivals of any kind. Perhaps something else. I was, however, able to attend the pre-Bowlie shindig that Pam Berry and friends put on at the Betsey Trotwood the night before the gang headed down to Camber on a Routemaster, like some Indie Kid ‘Summer Holiday’ extravaganza. Upstairs at the Betsey I performed as The Duke Of Harringay for the first and final time, reading stories over rudimentary electronic collages cobbled together with computers and Pritt Sticks. Nicky Momus was in the audience, no doubt thinking I was a piss-poor attempt at something he did ten years previously. If Stuart David and Wee Karn had been in the audience they’d likely have sued for copyright infringement. Casting back it seems like a peculiar moment in time, a point at which the worlds of work and creativity could exist in parallel. Surreal.
The Looper collected on the ‘These Things’ box set are a bit of a collage burst of surrealism too, with threads of realities being pulled into their alternate universe taking on new and peculiarly delightful form. It’s a fine place to revisit or to visit anew, a richly rewarding trip down memory lane or a drift into avenues that may by turns evoke sensations of deja-vu and/or open up vistas of peculiar pop-art possibility. As one of the cuttings collected in the booklet (alongside excellent sleevenotes from Tim Burgess) suggest: “God bless Stuart and Karn – the Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Camberwick Green.”
All of which brings us up to the present day, and the delightful realisation that, like many artists during the period(s) of pandemic lockdown, Stuart David has continued to record and release a series of glorious golden nugget instrumentals. From a personal perspective (is there any other in the Unpopular universe?) the hazy shuffle beat strum of ‘South Beach Kiosk’ is the hook that draws me in; a literal and metaphorical strut on Troon prom past the war memorial and the bins where once we pasted up posters for The Sea Urchins debut single and flyers for the mythical, washed out Beach Party of nineteeneightywhenever. The cover photo shows a detail of the shuttered kiosk, a far cry from the chaotic abandon of the image that accompanied a Guardian article in summer of 2020 about the surges of (in)humanity to the beaches.
In a similar vein is ‘Heatwave’, with its cover shot of kiddies playing in the sand and its sound of Ben Watt’s ‘North Marine Drive’ dancing close with a drum machine caught in a timeloop of a 1930s dance hall. Short, sweet, and just ever so slightly sinister. Or what about ‘Wandering’, where we take to the dunes and gaze across the Firth at the Heads of Ayr cowering beneath low winter banks of cloud, shivering in our anoraks and daydreaming of car tyres rolling down the ballast bank, caught in interior Beatles movies. And ‘Blurred Stars’, sounding exactly as it ought: Ultramarine meets Felt on the Train Above The City. Or, most delightful of all, the two minutes and forty of the blissful ‘Faraway Near’ accompanied by its cover shot of lengthening shadows on the hill, eyes cast to the horizon and Arran sleeping lazily as the sun slips down and away. Like some kind of contemporary daydream to the ones we frittered away in our childhoods of listening to ‘A Distant Shore’ in the hillside grasses, it will break your heart whilst applying the most perfect balm imaginable.
And so it goes on. The endless ebb and flow of memory seeping, of time slipping and sliding. Future beams back to a past and tumbles forwards to a present. Concorde on circles and bumps. The Waverley on the horizon and a bunch of loopers in the dunes. Pure Magic, by the way.
*Intensive Research (looking at old flyers in boxes) suggests that there is some shade of fact in this truth, with Appliance playing at the Living Room in late March of 1997.