smattering of applause. An encouraging whistle (that’s me).
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
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 AND THE WORKS bring you.....‘SHOVE IT!’ ”
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
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.
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.
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 ”.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
“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!”
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
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.
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.
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!
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.