HITTING THE RIGHT
For two vocalists who collaborate on almost everything – Johnny Dangerously and Guy Garvey still have plenty to disagree about. Not least the issue of Manchester’s ‘acoustic scene’ and whether it actually has one. Ra Page pressed ‘record’ on the tape recorder and I Am Kloot’s bassist Pete Jobson bought the beers.
Johnny Dangerously: For a start, I’ve got a problem with the very phrase ‘acoustic music’, I really don’t fucking understand it. A song is a song. I could play something like I Am Kloot’s ‘Twist’ on the electric fucking glockenspiel if I could play the thing. It wouldn’t make much difference. Music is about notes, not the volume you play them at, or even the instruments you play them on. Acoustic, electric, synthetic – they’re all just versions of the same thing: a song.
Guy Garvey: Sorry, I disagree. What you’re saying may apply to bands like I Am Kloot, but with Elbow’s stuff there’s a distinction. Half of Elbow never play acoustically and don’t even come down to watch the other half play. There are certain songs that we have in our set which were written in a recording environment, and that are production-based tunes. They can’t be done acoustically because there isn’t a song structure to them. What gives the journey to those types of tunes is the production, different instruments coming in and out, and the way it’s all mixed together. It’s also a result of songs being written collectively. Acoustic isn’t just all music ‘stripped down and intimate’.
Johnny: OK, But for those songs
that do have a song structure, acoustic nights like Gecko and Palookaville
are the best places to test them out. The Stone Roses used to road
test every one of their songs acoustically. If it didn’t work with
just Ian Brown and John Squire on an acoustic, it wouldn’t appear on a
Stone Roses album. If it wasn’t happening there, it wasn’t happening.
When you’re playing on your own, the song has a lot more space to fill; it can’t hide behind an amp gain or fellow band members. There’s also a lot of passing trade at nights like Gecko. It’s free for punters so a lot of them aren’t actually there to hear you. Son in both ways it’s a really hard gig. There’s a kind of Frank Sinatra New York, New York thing going on, “if you can”, tush-tush! “make it in there…”
Guy: Again, I don’t agree. When MTV first started the whole unplugged thing, there was this ‘go on, lets see you with your pants off’ type vibe. It was competitive and point scoring. I don’t think Manchester’s acoustic nights are about that so much. They’re just portable gigs for kids who can’t afford a taxi to lug their gear about every night. There’s a guitar waiting at these nights for everyone to share, and it takes 20 second to do a soundcheck.
Johnny: Perhaps the reason I won’t admit there’s an acoustic scene at the moment is because of the labels that immediately get attached to ‘acoustic music’. It sounds worthy; it conjures images of Cat Stevens, Donovan, protest singers, and huge egos. As he acoustic guitar is so easy to play it does attract egos. But we’re trying to get away from that at the nights we run. There’s also a myth that acoustic music is always played meekly, softly in hushed surroundings. Whether playing on an electric or acoustic, I’ve always felt like The Clash were playing in me head. Just because things are quieter doesn’t mean they are any smaller, they’re often bigger.
Guy: I do think these stigmas are
beginning to fall away though. There’s a mainstream appreciation
for acoustic music that hasn’t been there for a long time – people like
Elliot Smith, Ben & Jason, Belle & Sebastian. People are
digging out their Nick Drake albums. It’s some sort of reaction to
the full-on guitar thing that’s been happening for so long. Though
it isn’t a direct response to it or anything.
What’s gone wrong with the music industry in the last few years is that they are trying to apply the ethics that work in any other business to something that changes all the time. They find a formula that works for a band, like Oasis or The Verve, and then try to duplicate the formula in order to calculate their projected figures and they always fall flat on their face. If they don’t take a chance on something and actually have an opinion, if they haven’t got someone with artistic vision in a position where they can get money then it won’t work. In the same way, you can’t get a formula from the Gecko night to apply to other nights. The point is that you’ve just got to be relaxed about it, whether you’re organising it or just coming to listen.
Pete Jobson: In the end, there’s a core group of performers who you’re generally guaranteed to see at these gigs: Brain Glancy, us three, Sleepwalker, Indigo Jones. Maybe that’s where the scene is. It’s hardly a scene, it’s just friendship really: playing in front of friends and strangers who only come down for the £1 bottles of Carling. In that sense, it’s completely organic. That’s maybe why people are calling it a scene because instead of looking for record companies and big breaks, these people are saying bollocks to that, it’s up to companies to find us. It’s this natural longevity that musicians’ careers are built on: people doing their own thing.
I Am Kloot Profile, by Ra Page. City Life Magaizine 3-18th May 2000.
Name: I Am Kloot (after classic 60’s flicks I am Sparticus and Klute).
Personnel :John Harold Arnold Bramwell,
aka Johnny Dangerously (vocals, lead guitar)
Pete Jobson (bass)
Andy Hargreaves (drums)
Choice track: Debut single ‘To You’ released on Ugly Man last November and featured on the coming Wall of Sound compilation We Love You SO Love Us “Because it’s about Ghosts and it sounds like there’s ghosts on it”.
Trivia: Aged 12, Johnny Watched a woman singing with a guitar in a Welsh pub when the ‘I could do that’ thought occurred. He’s been borrowing other people’s guitars ever since, even now with a Wall of Sound record deal still drying on the page, he still doesn’t own one.
Unplugged: Evicted from his band
the Face Brothers at 18, John’s debut solo gig was in front of a packed
London audience. “I ran on” he recalls “tripped on a mic lead, fell
off the edge of the stage, broke my guitar and climbed back on for a standing
ovation without even playing a note. As I limped off, the MC baptised
me ‘there you go! Johnny Dangerously’”. The hazardous one has been
a stalwart of Manchester’s acoustic nights from the New Troubadours performance
night (Follies, Tuesdays) “where Carol Batton was about the sanest one
there”, to Chris Coupe’s Manchester Busker (Green Room).
Johnny toured with Lemn Sissay and Henry Normal as ‘The Last Poets Society’ and presented Granada’s Music show Juice. From ’97 to ’99 he was the promoter for Night & Day’s Acoustic Mancunia night where he met Pete and Andy with whom he formed I Am Kloot last summer. Johnny and Pete now work as A&R men for Guy Lovelady’s Ugly Man Records (rejuvenated for Manchester bands like Elbow, Brian Glancy and Sleepwalker) while Johnny hosts Gecko and Palookaville. I Am Kloot are arguably the sub-luminary triumvirate around which the acoustic scene, if there is one, revolves. “Only there isn’t one” insists Johnny “just a surplus of bands around with real songs”.
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