Improvizone

Temporary resurrection amid Cloudy Peaks

Andrew Booker 2017-04-12 23:52:00

A year ago, at a loss for what to do, having no Sanguine Hum work to look forward to for the foreseeable future, nor expecting Tim Bowness to make a record or play live at all in 2016 (in fact he did both), I started looking for other bands to play for. I had a few simple search criteria.

First, they had to be local. I knew I would be letting myself in for the dreaded weekday evening rehearsal routine. Fine, if that's what they're doing, they need to be round the corner. Birmingham is out. Nay, Bermondsey is out. Bermuda... actually I would consider that.

Second, it needed to be music I could contribute to. By now, I have a reasonable idea of what I'm good at, either what comes naturally or what I'm capable of with practice, and what I cannot be bothered to practise. I can be bothered to practise difficult things that improve my mental agility and ability to execute randomly changing drum rhythms. I can be bothered to practise music that inhabits an interesting, clearly defined and recognisable navigable form. I cannot be bothered to practice repetitive music where it's impossible to remember, nor makes any difference, whether it's eight bars of that and then twenty-four bars of this, or sixteen bars of that and sixteen bars of this, or whether there's a push into this bar but not that bar... or other such tiny undetectable variations on endless copy-and-paste pop. If such details don't matter, if it's all so care-free and obvious that it needs almost no rehearsal, great! If it needs a lot of rehearsal, that should be because it's mind-boggling.

Third, it needs to put me in front of people. I am a maker of music, and part of the enjoyment I get from doing it is the appreciation that can come from sharing it with other people, which in turn means those people need to be aware that I am part of it. If I'm performing on stage, I want to be seen. I want people to detect good drumming and identify it with me. I'm prepared to expend effort in order for that to happen, but I don't really like it when I've driven miles to rehearse someone else's music during my family time, and then have to take leave from living-earning so that I can turn up in the middle of the afternoon in a place where there has long since been nowhere to park, so that I can set up and soundcheck and loiter around and then sit invisibly at the back of the stage for 40 minutes, then take everything down again and drive home sober and finally sit down with some dinner and a glass of wine at 12:50am, and read the one solitary review of the gig a couple of days later, to find that it doesn't mention me, and browse through the photos, from every one of which I am absent.

Sorry, went off on one there. Back to last year. I found two bands, each ticking a subset of the boxes in a rather nice way. The first, in order of gig appearance, was Blue Movies. I loved their panoramic, laid-back rock. I met them for a jam, arranged to gig with them a fortnight later, rehearsed with them once more, and we were onstage at Biddle Bros, a tiny bar in Hackney, which they packed out. I made several mental notes about re-starting Improvizone in such a place. Then a month or so later they packed out the Sebright Arms in Bethnal Green. Last July I spent one day in a studio with them in Hackney (pictured above), and they will shortly have a record out from the spoils. Their music was beautiful, easy to play, and put me in front of people. Ticks.

The second band fell much more into the latter category of mind-bogglingly difficult. Especially fulfilling in this case was that I had helped to make it so. As such, it’s only just emerging, and sadly will do so once, as its co-founding guitarist is heading back to Australia. It's so only-just-emerging that we've only just given it a name. Namely, our names. Piko Cloud Booker.

The style is prog rock, very much in the vein of Frippian cyclical guitar lines in shifting time signatures, with a dose of 70's Tangerine Dream for a little techno-psychedelia. The shifting time signatures, the wacky counterpoints (thanks Andrew) and the occasional tempo change all make this music pretty hard to load. This is one reason we’re only ready to perform it now, a year after we got together as a trio. Next week we will spend two entire days in a rehearsal room, then take to the stage at the cosy Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney. Despite the thorough rehearsedness this gig will require, I mention it here as there is a passing relevance to Improvizone.

There will be two other acts on that night. Matt Baber, keyboard player from Sanguine Hum, will open the gig with his first ever solo piano set. Next it's zany string duo Mein Haus, whom I discovered last year during my hunt for bands looking for drummers. Then it's yours truly with the Cloudy Peaks. And then... and then...! All three acts will gather on the stage for a final 20-minute improvisation! There you have it, the spirit of Improvizone will be exhumed and reconstituted from the full-blooded musings of six warmed-up performers in the upstairs room of a clothes shop opposite Hackney Central station. For twenty minutes. Then dusty the Improvizone ashes will be swept up off the floor and tipped back into the urn, and the lid screwed up tight, ready for a sequel, perhaps some years hence. There's a low-budget gothic horror movie in here somewhere, I know it.

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