Chapter 2



A smattering of applause. An encouraging whistle (that’s me).

The busy, bouncing bass-line and sizzling hi-hat get things happening.

The thud of the kick-drum and the smack of the snare provide additional propulsion.

Over this flatted fifth up-tempo be-bop intro comes the guttural Yorkshire declamatory drawl:

“Thank you.........and now, in a major new onslaught on the CONSERVATIVE Party of Great Britain, and ALL OTHER Governments, XERO


Slingsby's alto saxophone rips into the rhythms, worrying the drums and accoustic bass like a murderous dog. Xero, Louis and Gene are instantly aligned - three moving pistons of a majestically smooth engine. They know this tune only too well. Inside out, you might say, right through to the ironic rendition of a few bars of The Death March at the end.

This is the first unforgettable tune on that first vinyl recording: The Works' very first High Fidelity, Long Playing record. And like so many of their tunes it has a way of burrowing, bug-like right through your ear and on into your brain - a particularly virulent form of musical encephalitis.

We are in the cramped Cafe Click in deserted downtown Essen. If I was to tell them what they remind me of they would think me totally insane, so I keep to myself the observation that they resemble three Tibetan Monks making a sand mandala. I’ve seen these monks create a complex mandala from grains of coloured sand, only to sweep it up and throw it in the nearest river.

And while these three musicians are hardly leading an abstemious monkish lifestyle, their creation is an aural equivalent: It is performed; It is recorded and listened to, maybe even appreciated; and then it is cast aside, a black plastic frisbee, a vinyl ashtray. As those self-same Monks might say: “It is always going to be the finger pointing at the moon. It can never be the moon itself ”.

How the moon is shining tonight! A sixty something drunk in a light grey suit staggers about in the foreground, right under Xero, Louis and Gene's noses. He's calling out
“VANZIN! VANZIN!” and is obviously having a ball. He has just called in for a quick beer on his way home and here he is, faced with this wild contemporary happening at his normally sedate working man’s bar. Back in 1938, our man Fritz ("Frankie" to his mates) had been punched and kicked and spat upon by the Hitler Youth, simply for being a Swing Kid. He is now laughing in the faces of the fascists all over again as he luxuriates in the heat emanating from these three unusual young musicians. "Das ist so HOT!" he calls out before collapsing in the corner of the bar.


Hip music industry invitees stand around in snappily dressed huddles, trying to chat, flirt and be cool. In these surroundings they are like so many fish out of water: Underneath their confident, poised exteriors they are all flapping around and gasping, suffocated by the proletarian air of the place. They would never normally be seen dead in a town like this, never mind a bar like this. A scan around the bar reveals a few finely etched faces of locals, discreetly fascinated by these three English musicians. Everyone is taken aback at the ferocity of Xero’s intro and the subsequent roller coaster of sound, nervously smiling, not quite sure what to expect.

Then come the tom toms in the middle of Shove It - straight from the post-war forties, complete with mental images of uniformed men and women throwing each other around with gay abandon, glad and relieved to be alive. A single cognisant smile snakes its way around the audience. And then the surging, soaring saxophone lines kick in and take the lead again, phrases where Xero seems to turn in on himself and tie his throat and lungs in knots. Another serpentine smirk slithers around the Cafe Click, hanging around right through to the end of the night.

At the end of this first number the atmosphere is already becoming intimate. The crowd is genuinely, warmly appreciative and listening now to the priceless recording of that night, the collective pleasant surprise in the room is tangible. The bemused regulars line the bar, resolving now to hang around for another few drinks, to see what all the fuss is about. Their café has had a make over and the walls are now bedecked with art nouveau posters and mirrors. Wires and electronic gadgets are scattered all over the stage. It looks like a film set. All of the ingredients are in place for an intriguing evening.



It’s not Free Jazz. Any idea of improvisation has been left behind at the last gig in Amsterdam. What ends up on the 8-track analogue tape machine is a breathtaking sequence of classic Xero Slingsby three and four minute tunes - the bare bones of their normal set. They are the skeletons around which they've been working for ages now and which they can now play standing on their heads, literally. They've been fine-tuned and honed to perfection. The fury with which they deliver such numbers as “Up Down”, “Hurricane Damage in Leeds”, “King Kong” and “Pixieland (where all the dead jazz people go)” is truly awe-inspiring. The slower, more sumptuous tunes such as “Revenge of the Kerbstones”, “Three Men in a Tub” and “Tom Waits For No Man” are played with equal panache.

The Works have never sounded more in tune with one another, to the extent that it seems the three of them might spontaneously combust.  They have done a few warm-up gigs on their way to Germany. One was in Ghent, in the Flemish part of Belgium, at their hallowed venue - the Cafe Damberd.  Another three were in Amsterdam. For several months I have been hitching around northern Europe, playing their demo tapes and showing their photos to agents and record companies. They have consistently raised eyebrows - especially over here on the continent. The tapes are invariably listened to here “on the mainland” with a much more open attitude than in England. European promoters and audiences are infinitely more appreciative of the wilder, freer end of the musical spectrum than are their English counterparts.


Some of these contacts are now beginning to bear fruit. A string of gigs is already booked for the autumn. Even back at home in England, after years of hard graft, The Works are starting to attract something approaching the attention and respect that they deserve. What’s more, they are starting to be paid more than just beer money to play - a major breakthrough, given the tight-wad nature of most British landlords and promoters.

Heinz Schnaffel,

My old friend in Koln, Heinz Schnaffel, has a recording studio, much of which he has installed in the stairs to the cellar beside the makeshift stage. He and his partner Suzi are trying to get a fledgling label and booking agency off the ground. For The Works, it’s an exciting development to be thinking about releasing albums and organising bona fide tours. For my German friends, it is as if all of their Weihnachtens have come at once. This wild and wonderful group from the North of England is manna from heaven - You just never know, they could even prove to be The Next Big Thing.

The exquisitely angular Suzi Kawumna is the one who has put the Buzz around the local music industry.
“Everyone's here!” she says with the proudest of grins. We each have a large celebratory schnapps in our hands. We clink our glasses together and say "Prost!" before downing them in one.
“Radio, TV, magazine and newspaper journalists, photographers, a man with a Wideo recorder, A&R people from the big record companies. I think I've done vell, don't you Syd?”
“I do, Suzi. I think you've done wery vell!”

Suzi Kawumna

I am totally intoxicated - by the schnapps, by her, by Heinz, by the music, and by the endless possibilities. This is a dream come true, the recording of an album, all of these people crammed into this tiny made-over cafe, late at night, so many of them that there's barely enough room for the musicians to squeeze in and ply their trade.



But squeezing in and plying their trade is what these three do best. They are craftsmen. Every number put down on tape tonight will later emerge as a cut and polished precious gem. The set steam rolls on with “Orangu Tango” (with Slingsby's simian saxophone capturing the Sumatran ape so exquisitely), “Unicycling”, “Dearly Beloved”: All of the tunes are delivered with a vengeance that I find almost scary. It's pure voodoo, and powerful voodoo at that. My own personal favourite is the “Mauve Mercedes With The Padlock On The Boot”- as voluptuous as the leather upholstery of the vehicle in question.

“Out of the In Door” ( dedicated to shoplifters everywhere, to uncomprehending German stares ) is always fairly frenetic but tonight its climactic ending sums up everything about the three of them. They get their collective breath back, have a drink and a wipe down with a sweaty towel, and prepare to launch into "Out of the Wok and Into the Aga". I look across at Heinz, expecting to see him all smiles and raised thumbs. Instead he is a picture of panic, frantically unwinding and rewinding spools of inch wide tape. I couldn't believe it - their best rendition ever of one of their most rabble rousing numbers and the bloody tape has run out just as the tune reaches its climax. That certain Je Ne Sais Quoi simply refusing to be captured for posterity.



het Damberd




jules deelder

Five nights ago at the Cafe Damberd, they shared a bill with the somewhat deranged Dutch performance poet, Jules Deelder. He was loud, full of phlegm and equally popular with the knowledgeable and appreciative Damberd crowd. Someone gave Slingsby a brown paper bag of whizz and over the last four days and nights it has disappeared up their noses. All three of them have become somewhat other-worldly to say the least. The Night of The Living Dead has got nothing on these guys. Do Not Try This At Home!

They are now so paranoid and hyperactive, especially when we walk down the street and they find themselves on the receiving end of such disapproving stares. So many of the older German people are wont to dish out death stares to anyone who dares to look even a little different. So these three aliens are having to get used to being STARED at Big Time. They’ve had so little sleep for so many days now that they are in danger of becoming seriously unhinged. When Heinz gives them the OK to start, and the Wideo guy starts to film, and the vall of faces stares back at them expectantly - the three of them slip into auto-pilot. The aural eruption that takes place results in the snappiest of sets. The three of them have played all of these tunes together just so flipping often, and it shows.

Truth be told, they already have more than enough tunes to fill several vinyl LP's. At the end of the second set at the Cafe Click, the crescendo to “Eric’s Window” echoes away into the night and the audience screams and whistles and hollers for more. As The Works do their rehearsed disappearing act during their perennial encore “The End”, the full moon bathes Essen in a mercurial light. We’ve all been poor and struggling for long enough. We’re hoping for success, but none of us are prepared for the future that fate will dish up. In that moment at the Cafe Click we are akin to the citizens of Pompeii immediately after the eruption of Vesuvius but just before the red hot stones and lava descend upon them.

From his seat in the corner Fritz stirs just long enough to clap loudly and call out "VANZIN!" one last time before passing out completely.


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