Petomane: Poor Homme

Petomane, Poor Homme
CD, 2015


1960s beat group The Beatles recorded a song called “This Boy”. If I remember right, it was the b-side to one of their early 45s, “I’d Like to Shake Your Hand” – a brittle response to East-West tensions in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Anyway, at one point during “This Boy”, one of the singing Beatles cries a keening refrain, his voice filled with the charged adolescent emotion that drives almost all love songs in pop music. His voice rises to a desperate pitch, but the song demands that the tone is instantly brought back to the close harmony of the final verse. On the recording there is an audible cut at this point – not a sound, but the absence of sound: a tell-tale splice in the control room. The singer could not unleash the emotion, and then directly switch to the precise harmony of the verse. Is it a flaw? Of course not, but it lays the process bare. On Petomane’s Poor Homme, the recording process is similarly audible – nakedly revealing the limitations of the equipment.

Poor Homme’s title is recuperated (unknowingly?) from a 1990s advert for legendary wife-beater’s tipple, Stella Artois. As Interbrew’s (as was) most polarising drink, their adverts have ever-tried hopelessly to salvage the perception of the lager. Petomane, as ever, are drawn to such misdirection. This is the first album since the full integration of ancillary member M. K. Smith on guitar and backing vocals, and this augmentation introduced a new collaborative writing process. The resultant stylistic cohesion and rockist moments on the album were initially confounding, but the logic of the piece fell into place during the long coda of the opening song, “Big Guns”. The song galumphs like Dusty Springfield reinterpreted by Barry Adamson, circa 1995. Here the group links concerns old and new: quipping Aux armes et cætera, which harks back to perennial reference point Serge Gainsbourg, and combining it with the tooled-up, working-out of the lamentable man evoked by the album title. All this is done with their customary swell of musical and vocal tenderness. The political resonance is implicit throughout, but the timeless core of songwriting erupts as wildly as a sheela na gig in a council meeting. They have not lost the conceptual purity of a synth duo: they are augmented, the scope broadened – the spirit of Wendy Carlos Alomar.

The listener is confronted with a great profusion of fat arses and colourful jokes in the most compassionate songs. The puns are delivered entirely straight: jokes are not clumsily dropped in or played up, but are an integral part of the black humour used to discover our bearings in life’s profane comedy. The coexistence of comedy and tragedy is clearest in “Never Enough”, where we hear of the various metaphorical deaths of a comedian. “Live Long and Proper” is the most successful adoption of the rock form: Smith’s electric guitar strides in like The Clash in 1978 given slick FM Radio production, over a wistful tale of lost lust. As usual, Chris Kasch’s production favours a lot of space in the arrangements, and here the overdriven guitars provide a powerful counterpoint to the spare piano, synth, and drums of the verses. The words, written and sung by John P. Higgins, are not afraid of spirituality, divinity and archetypes. “The Savage Gob” ponders the sanctity of silence and the solemnity of flagstone. The final song, “Eskimo Nelson”, concludes with a beautiful evocation, rich in potent imagery, of the mysteries of inspiration. Poor Homme is a fascinating postcard from people out of place and out of time, made possible as the stars align, letting a little light down Petomane’s dilating passageway into this world of dim, austere foreclosure of passion and imagination.

Baldr’s dead

Frames from ‘Get My Own Groceries’ by John Bagnall, in Off The Road (Vesuvius Records, 1996)

The Attic tragedian Euripides died in 406 BC, and soon after, at the Theatre of Dionysus, Sophocles entered the theatre with his chorus, all dressed as mourners. At the sight of this, the audience spontaneously burst into tears. Public, communal expressions of emotion in the aftermath of the death of a culture hero are nothing new.

The Beale, live in 2007

The Beale – Live at Guided Missile Club, Buffalo Bar, 10 February 2007. Full set.


Beaut 34, The Stone, Seeds, Young Stuart, The Double Carpet, The Chinese Pilot, The Top Ten, Constantinople

This was uploaded, to my great delight, around the time of my birthday (a coincidence), by Paul of Guided Missile Records, the Guided Missile Club, The Beale, and latterly the TV-theme re-enactors Dream Themes. If you’re pressed for time, skip to The Double Carpet at 11’40”.

Petomane: The Rock Machine Turns You On

Petomane: The Rock Machine Turns You On
CD, 2014

“The Rock Machine Turns You On” – Ah! Wonderful. I tore off the Seranwrap and ran to my tourne-disque. It’s been years since I last heard Moby Grape – I couldn’t wait to hear those chiming guitar lines again.

But no, this is a different “The Rock Machine Turns You On”: it merely shares a name with the late-sixties CBS Records compilation. And it won’t play on your tourne-disque either. So what century is this?

This is the new album by Petomane. Thank Christ. No, thank Chris. Thank John too. And Martin: he played guitar. The title is a red herring, but also a double-bluff. There’s nothing like Moby Grape on here – Petomane seldom rocks out – and it’s no more machine-tooled than most music of our age. But the irony really grips the nuts of the second half of the title. It is confusing: is Petomane trying to turn me on? You recall the origin of the group’s name, from Le Pétomane, the fin-de-siècle French “fartiste”. Does he raise a laugh as a prelude to passion? In the same way, the group Petomane also frequently wrong-foots the listener. “You’re too young to understand that reference”, sings the voice of “If I Could Take a Moment”, but this voice of experience is never world-weary, whether coming on or dropping out; you’ll find us dancing around the chaise longue to the brittle breakbeat of “The Sadness of Sex”.

When does a kiss become a bite? Petomane’s second album skitters around this nebulous poser with ten songs of heavy emotional ache. The group’s first album, Top Trumps, established the confusion of time lines that suffuses their sound, and they continue to exploit the nostalgic power of a synth wash. This is landscape scouted out by Boards of Canada: the evocation of a non-specific time of youth, of endless possibilities. In Petomane’s hands this becomes a deep topography in music: the group maps this territory, but always with the suspicion that the singer might be reading the map upside down, and soon enough it becomes clear that we are navigating Belfast with the street plan of Basingstoke.

The album opens with “Turn On Genius” which is mixed as if to replicate the sound of the disco on the Poseidon Adventure: the dancefloor is on the ceiling, underwater, and just as you think that your dance partner will show you a Lionel Ritchie-style good time, he pirouettes and you realise that it’s actually Gene Hackman dressed as a pissed-off priest. Petomane’s sly moves are executed with confidence: “Soledad Miranda” finds the vocal mirrored by a taut guitar line, both in the upper register. This is no high-wire act but a group in full flight, the tone is relaxed, assured, and compassionate.

The album’s climax is sustained over two songs: “Photocopy Rockin’” and “Gainsbarre”. If the first of these doesn’t rock out, it still fucks shit up, with Higgins singing like Bela Lugosi’s Dad. The erotic francophilia of the final song is surely the apotheosis of the Petomane sound, where the three-way preoccupations of books, sex, and drink meet – wine-stained with foxy light-foxing.

Devotees of their work will be thrilled to find that Petomane can produce music that matches the highpoints of their previous two releases. (These highpoints are, in my opinion, “The Dark Night of David Soul” from first album, Top Trumps, which I’ve written about previously, and “The Scrivener”, from stop-gap compilation Recycling Proficiency. The latter song combines Herman Melville and Joy Division to give a heady surge to polite refusal.) Such pinnacles are matched on the present album without any sense of artistic stagnation. With repeated listening, the irony of the title crumbles in places to reveal complex substrata, and Petomane’s The Rock Machine Turns You On turns out to be music of sufficient emotional force to accelerate coastal erosion.

Red Atlas: Everything is Permitted…

Red Atlas: Everything is Permitted — but you need a permit
11 track CDR LP, 41 minutes, 2012.

[Edit: 2015]

Red Atlas was the last group I played in. We had a fun (if pretty trad) sound going on: a nice combination of slack fuzz and country guitars, dog-race drums, and my architectural bass (not my word). But what really made it was John Higgins’s voice and words. He wrote literate and funny pieces which matched the music perfectly. I preserved my idea of our album on this CD. John supplied the title and some witty, self-aware sleevenotes.

The song embedded with this post is from a compilation made available on later in 2012. Regarding this compilation, I should point out that I disagree violently with the choice of mixes, the sequencing of the songs, the sepia imagery, the album title, and the group biography. Considering this, it’s amazing that we didn’t split up as a result of an overblown argument about trivial musical differences.

The Home Secretary: EP on

The Home Secretary: The White Hour | Soft Gamma Repeater | The Heliopause | The Maunder Minimum

EP, 2008, streamed at

The Home Secretary in Séance at Perforated Concrete Disc
Still from the film The Home Secretary in Séance at Perforated Concrete Disc

This is the third set of The Home Secretary’s tunes to come my way. In 2006, he announced his presence online with a selection culled from his first two CDs. Although these early tracks have since been deleted from his website, it is worth presenting a brief reminder of the disorientating sound-world they introduced.

Synth arc-lights induced the fear of patrolling private security firms in the abattoir ghost-drone of ‘Lyman Ultra’. He produced the trompe l’oreille of some very sharp ensemble playing in ‘The Meridian’ and conjured a still and lovely pastoral interlude in ‘The Conduction Band’. In ‘The F Region’, he combined the Natural Elements, using drumnbass hi-hat and malfunctioning toy car rhythm, hymning a mer-ghost and a Megacity rooftop garden. Elsewhere, ‘Spoliation, Part One’ was a track of purgatory jazz seemingly compiled from field recordings of a mutant band incorporating electric bean bag percussion, a choir of broken-mouthed IBM machines, a mutilated, out-of-work marching band with robot strings assembled tentatively around a poisoned well in Foreign Keyboard City, processed like turkey slices pressed into the shape of a bear.

In this delirium-state we come to The Home Secretary’s most recent music. The restlessness of ‘The White Hour’ characterises the EP: harmonising trumpet and clarinet sounds alternate with a walking bass which eventually takes over, and will not stop walking. The struggle in ‘The White Hour’ symbolises the vacillation across the disc between the fuck-you yacht-jazz of ‘The Maunder Minimum’ and the subterranean apocalypse-nostalgia of the two central tracks. Closing the EP, ‘The Maunder Minimum’ presents the engine room: the below stairs look at the carnage described by the centrepieces. It deploys that typical Home Secretary topos, the becalming interlude, to evoke devastating ruin. Here the interlude conjures an ominous engine hum with the Sirens practising their guitar on a distant island; this cuts in and out amid some crackling interference, their tantalising transmission lost as the track fades. We sail on, not even tied to our mast.

This follows ‘The Heliopause’ and its brutal call-and-response: a processed guitar call, and heavy banging nautical spirits thumping their response through The Fog. The resounding guitar line heralds your doom. In the interlude of this piece, the ship appears to be talking: here is the indifferent captain, calmly offering us the overview, read from the Iranian twitterfeed on his iPad, but we can still hear the chaos and carnage in the distance. Any maritime theme to the EP is surely unintentional. The highlight is ‘Soft Gamma Repeater’, which cracks open the mind of the CCTV. 1960s North East meets 1980s North West seen through a filter of corrupted MPEGs. Audibly, the camera drops through the earth: concrete and gravel cascade through a post-apocalyptic space-dub version the tune’s opening section. ‘A piano plays in an empty room’, someone once sang under one-colour-tinted record sleeves. But this time the piano is played by Delia Derbyshire, magnetic tape trapped under the felted hammers. And here is The Home Secretary, with his supernatural disregard for private moments, recording this spectral melody – no notes redacted – for your ears and mine to share.

Announcement – New CD by The Tenant

The Tenant: Sixty Miles Bad Faith
11 track CDR LP, 30 minutes, 2010.

60 miles a60 Miles Bad Faith reverse cover

1. The Bloch
2. The Genocist
3. Surfer’s Deception
4. Tape Machine Death pt 88
5. Your Foaming Curse
6. Bruges Cleft
7. Voice of the Wivenhoe Pylon
8. The Last Extra Mature Cheddar Before Christmas
9. By a Crow in Shacklewell
10. Song for Tarmac
11. Theme for The Tenant

Sleeve notes:

All songs written and recorded by The Tenant between July 1997 and February 2010, with these guests:—

S.J.B. composed and played rhythm guitar thirteen years ago on the basic track for ‘Surfer’s Deception’.
A.J.P. composed and played acoustic guitar on Christmas Day 2002 for ‘Song for Tarmac’.
Ismene Plankton is the voice of ‘Your Foaming Curse’.

All contributions released without permission.
‘Theme for The Tenant’ is an interpretation of Philippe Sarde’s score.

The songs:

The story of ‘The Bloch’ is a cautionary tale. It partially concerns the time capsule we buried at school after watching Blue Peter: our neatest handwriting, our most colourful drawings, and three years later they built an outhouse over the spot where we buried it. Twenty years on from that, what endures? Well we all worry about this, what could be more dull? A lucky escape for you then, when we missed each other by mere seconds on the corner of Gray’s Inn Road and Elm Street: I was going to tell you all about it.

‘The Genocist’s mangled title is not half as mangled as the animals that were harmed in the making of it. The audible tape wobble is their souls trying to get out. ‘Surfer’s Deception’ was written in 1997; the original words were exposed as the biggest lie of adolescence and had to be drowned. ‘Your Foaming Curse’ wrote itself: the synthesizer was left to make its own noise, this dictated the guitar part and allowed Ismene Plankton to breeze in and improvise a vocal. The failed 80s teen road movie of ‘Bruges Cleft’ is designed to immerse you completely in the snakebite of Camden via Bruges circa your teens. Part 88 of the ongoing ‘Tape Machine Death’ series, ‘Voice of the Wivenhoe Pylon’, and ‘The Last Extra Mature Cheddar Before Christmas’ are old found sounds representing early skirmishes in the war between Man and Machine. Who won? Why, you did, listener!

‘By a Crow in Shacklewell’ is the poignant story of 6 years’ tenancy near this small parish. An overdose of Alice’s medication results in a disturbing loss of scale and perspective: my most terrifying nightmare. An attempt to walk it off only summons disgruntled ghosts, crying incessantly about their lot. It’s a tired cliché that the principal advantage cassette recording has over digital is precisely its restriction: serendipitous decisions are forced by deteriorating tape and limited tracks. But at its worst, the ultimatums delivered by the cassette can induce crippling, decade-long indecision when so little is at stake. This song and ‘The Bloch’ are the thematic links to the album’s title.

‘Song for Tarmac’ straddles the Lea Valley like the pylons on the marshes.

‘Theme for The Tenant’ did some serious time on myspace back in 2006/7. Poor thing. It remains my favourite song by The Tenant. And doesn’t that party sound like a blast?

Where the first Tenant CD, Sick Cure for Bomber’s Scapegoat, was a political record disguised as low-fi arty narcissism, Sixty Miles Bad Faith is unapologetically introspective; indeed it is low-fi arty narcissism disguised as mid-fi arty narcissism.