As the year swings inexorably to its close and I contemplate wrapping up my 50/50 project it is inevitably a time for reflection. Many will be writing and publishing reviews of the(ir) year and inevitably one suspects these reviews will be less than cheerful. These reviews will wonder if ever there was a year more filled with loss and desperation, and so devoid of light and hope. Me? I think perhaps, perhaps not.
What has struck me most as I have plumbed the/my past 50 years of song and arts however is that it has left me feeling oddly incomplete and frustrated. The very process of producing this series has illuminated the fact that it’s not really very much at all, is it? Fifty years and what is to show for it? Stood beside the bodies of work I have attempted to illuminate it all pales to insignificance, doesn’t it? Perhaps this sounds self-pitying as only the middle classes can sound. Perhaps not.
As I fumble around then for an artwork to slip into 2016’s slot I cannot help but come close to home. To Dawlish Warren and to an ongoing project whose evidence of existence is intentionally low key. Timid, even. It exists, for the moment, in a tiny window ‘gallery’ at the Exeter Phoenix and comprises a few collected artefacts. ‘Throw Only To Alert Catcher’ is a transient work, an ephemeral work. It is an ambivalent presentation of art that is ridiculously self-indulgent, whose connection to ‘the real world’ is tenuous at best. And yet this is exactly why I like it so much. This is not work that is artfully constructed in a studio, meticulously catalogued and perfectly presented. It is art that is raw; art that is unsure of itself; art that dares to whisper; art that doesn’t care what you think of it; art that cares passionately about what you think of it. It is a work that is collaborative and communal; art that both celebrates the individuality of place and the paradox between the uniqueness and universality of experience. It’s not everything but it is close to nothing and that is important. The value of making art that is as close to nothing as is possible, perhaps. The conflict between our urge as humans to leave a mark and an educated desire as environmentally aware individuals to leave no mark at all. This or that. This and that. Either or neither.
In ‘Throw Only To Alert Catcher’ we see a woman mimic a seal, shuffling across the sands. We watch hands wrap rocks and trace the tracks of the sea’s motions as a lark sings somewhere out of reach. We admire lines of whipped cream that mark the march of the waves which lick their lips, gently acknowledging the barriers with kisses before sweeping all before them. We listen to a detached voice as it describes stones within a circle; an act that addresses our need to connect to the natural world we gaze at yet simultaneoulsy acknowledges that the language we might have at our command to do so is essentially ineffectual.
‘Throw Only To Alert Catcher’ suggests that here is art that exists uncomfortably within its own skin. ‘Throw Only To Alert Catcher’ is art for whom that very discomfort is perhaps its most important quality. For whilst this is a work that explores relationships between the human and the non-human, its ultimate message is perhaps that any attempt to define such a relationship is doomed to at best discomfort and at worst abject (but glorious) failure. If this sounds bleak and dispiriting then perhaps such a reading of the work has been infected by the spirit of the year. Perhaps too though it clings to the notion that even within the atmosphere of loss and desperation we might make attempts at light and hope. Times are tough but we can still picnic, right? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Those who know will know the reference in my last paragraph to Postcard records and will have smiled no doubt. Nods and winks. Secret handshakes.
Such people will see the connections on to The Goon Sax too, whose sound is suffused by the Sound of Young Scotland perhaps, and certainly by the sounds of ‘I Need Two Heads’, and yes, yes I am disappointed with myself that I felt the need to make such clumsy and obvious statements of connection. But if it is certainly unfair to talk about The Goon Sax as being the group in which Robert Forster’s son plays it is also, for those of a certain age and persuasion, inevitable. So perhaps it is best that it has been got out of the way first. Perhaps it is for the best that we start by stating the obvious; the obvious being that even if the sound of The Goon Sax’s debut record is unquestionably infected by the spirits of ‘Send Me A Lullaby’ we would doubtless make those observations regardless of genealogy. The comparisons would be meant in the same complimentary way as we might have said ‘Send Me A Lullaby’ was tender and awkward and infected by the spirits of The Seeds and Dylan, the Monkees and Beefheart, Archie comics and surfing magazines. All of which applies to The Goon Sax, but with the addition no doubt of many more contemporary reference points that I shall leave the Younger Generations to identify and shine spotlights on, mostly because in my doting age I frankly have no concept of what those reference points might be. Except that what I will say is that The Goon Sax are held close to my heart alongside other Antipodean delights of recent years such as Males, Trick Mammoth and Astro Children. Frankly it sometimes surprises me that The Goon Sax are not from New Zealand.
So certainly The Goon Sax are tender and awkward. Certainly The Goon Sax are Pop that has been taken apart and put back together with intentional disregard for expectations. Or, rather, it has been put back together entirely in line with the expectations of those who like their Pop brittle, twisted, bleakly hilarious. The Goon Sax are sharp and sexy, clumsy and coy. All at once. As if there were any other way.
‘Up To Anything’ then is the sound of excellent haircuts and studied stances. It is the sound of struggles against nature, the sound of 'Against Nature’ even, perhaps. Geometric, angular and amusingly angst-ridden, ‘Up To Anything’ is the sound of teenagers growing up and inwards, simultaneously celebrating and knowingly mocking the very essence of What It All Means. Which means that ‘Up To Anything’ is Richard Hell and Lester Bangs arguing against each other around the same core of being the awkward outsider. No-one wins. We are all losers.
Except: ‘Up To Anything’ is also the sound of little lisps and lips lifting on lips; is the touch of finger tips and profiles traced in soft sand. ‘Up To Anything’ is the sound of tender, hesitant footsteps on the stairs; is the flick of eyelashes on nape of neck and the glimpse of pale pink morning through the softness of night. ‘Up To Anything’ is hope amongst desperation, indeed is desperation as a positive force. Ultimately, should we wish for anything more? Perhaps, perhaps not.