James Kennedy writes in and about the West Midlands, and incredibly well to boot - he blogs at http://jameskennedycentral.wordpress.com/ and you can find him on Twitter at @jameskcentral.
Along with his Britpop reflections on Blur's Parklife and The Great Escape, he's contributed this alternative look at his musical education in the form of his exposure to the marvelous Gorky's Zygotic Mynci.
It’s fair to say my listening habits were pretty broad by the time I was 16. This also heightened my sense of identity, important for a callow teenager, a mix of hormones and unrequited love.
In my mind, there was a romantic sense of being German. This was due to a dabbling, since my younger days, in the music from that part of the world, such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream albums listened to from my Dad’s record collection. Not to mention a fancying for the school’s German assistant, and also a fascination with the rather intriguing German language channels on cable TV, particularly their late night programming at a weekend.
I’d now got my own vinyl copies of ‘Autobahn’ and ‘Radio-Activity’, and had expanded my mind to Faust’s ‘The Faust Tapes’ and some Amon Duul 2 taped off the radio. In the eternal quest for teenage identity and self-image, I was German.
I hadn’t been aware of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci until I read a review of one of their shows in the NME or Melody Maker. “Gorky’s,” it said “are the Welsh Ween.” Now that’s really all I needed; Ween, with their puerile lyrics and childish abrasive noises will be forever indebted as the band who got me through puberty. They had their own God (Boognish) and seemingly lived off glue and strong weed and alcohol and taped the results.
And Welshness carried for this callow English boy, a sense of freedom, with two fingers to the English way, a world of tradition merged with psychedelic sensibility, hills, valleys and sheep. A mixture of the two in the interestingly named Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci? This I had to investigate.
So off to Tempest I went, and scouted the 7” racks, which, as always, were crammed full of fascinating sleeves in plastic wallets, boasting intriguing names that even Peel would have thought too esoteric. In ‘G’ was the charmingly named “If Fingers Were Xylophones/Moon Beats Yellow” single, with a brilliantly drawn cover showing a monocled yellow moon beating a xylophone made of fingers (of course). I bought it and took it home.
Interesting! Flutes and starry keyboards mixed with stunning horns. A good friend of mine noticed my interest in this band, and said he’d give me his cassette copy of an album of theirs he had. This was ‘Tatay’, which had been released in 1994 on the Ankst label. Again, a superb cover, a psychedelic sun bursting blue and yellow rays over a small piece of land which held a band – in front, an eyeless brown skinned giant stood, facing the distance behind the viewer, the blue and yellow rays where his eyes should be.
This new, potentially mind-bending experience accompanied me not to a dusty cottage with friends armed with handfuls of mushrooms, or an altering experience in woodlands waiting for the LSD to kick in, but to a Walkman whilst in my room on holiday with my mum and dad. I can’t remember where we were – possibly the Lake District. They had gone for a nap and I was in my room, and I thought I’d give the tape a spin.
The first track “Thema O Cartef” sounded like a field recording, recorded directly onto cassette, evoking memories of postcard holiday homes – soft, yellow glows, blossoming trees evoked in the strummed guitars, kid’s keyboards and harmonies. Coughs and chair scraping and shuffles of paper meant that the band sounded as if they were in the same room as the listener, a stylistic device repeated throughout the rest of the album which meant that when the psychedelic rock occurred, brain capsules would be activated for the heart of the sun, to the centre of the Ultraworld.
Indeed, on the following track which would become my favourite track on the album “Beth Sy'n Digwydd I'r Fuwch“, a driving and repetitive acoustic rhythm turns without warning into a full-throttle psychedelic wig-out of a stomper, with, seemingly twenty fingers bashing the keyboards, effects and noise bursting out of the speakers, heroic guitars and ‘hey-hey-heys’.
Next tracks were the title track (with the sounds of an 8-bit driving game in the background) and ‘Y Fford Oren’ (Orange Way – these titles! I thought) carried with them this rinky-dink mind-expansion on their sleeves, making me grin furiously. And of course, everything was sung in Welsh, which made it all seem all the more other-worldly.
A lovely relaxing piece was the fifth track – ‘Gwres Prenhawn’ – stunning, repetive beauty, following by the warping Ansermaedod/Cinema – for me, the turning point of the whole album. ‘Ansermaedod’ in one ear ‘Cinema’ other – the former being a filtered and phased keyboard track with high pitched “doo-doo-doo-doo, AHHHHH” as the chorus, with ‘Cinema’ a simpler, guitar led track, with the distancing effect of being recorded on a really shonky old tape player, the tape seemingly worn out.
Silence follows the track, and what follows sounds like a stoned argument between the band which starts off with laughter and someone saying “Microwave…”, then something falls to the floor and another band member is made out to say “Fuck’s sake. Eighteen year old scrunch up the tea bags” “Shut up John” and so on and so forth. This was marvellous. The audacity of keeping this on the tape.
Next up, a cover of Matching Mole’s ‘O Caroline’ starting off with loud eating noises, a loud knock and a distorted Yahama keyboard beat and refrain, which transforms into strummed folk beauty. After this, the album is a less easy listen (it being a strong first half) but spreads it’s psychedelic wings further, on tributes to Kevin Ayers, free jazz improvisation “When You Hear the Captain Sing” and alternate mixes of earlier tracks - “Tatay (moog mix)” sounds as though it was recorded underwater and O Caroline II, a different song, with an unnerving, paranoid middle section, morphing for no apparent reason into a cover of “We’ll Meet Again”.
The album climaxes, as all great psych-prog-folk albums should do, with a song cycle, the 13 minute “Anna Apera”. Piano-driven folk rock rock morphs into improv-jazz and back again, flutes and railway whistles mimicking snoring and dreams, and each part of the song cycle is narrated by mooing cows and trombones.
As someone on rateyourmusic notes – this is freedom in music.
Whilst always being open to experimentation, this, and The Faust Tapes and my introduction to the band that followed – gave me new and exciting things to puzzle and annoy my friends. Gorky’s played live that year at Birmingham’s Flapper and Firkin (Broadcast supported) – a great, great evening.
And by the end of 1996, I was no longer German. Ladies and gentlemen, I was Welsh.