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kevin harrison:
reviews and photos
- circa -
1980 - 1981
> rememberance of things past
At Spaceward Studio by John Wankling
Kevin in the garden 1980 by Aidan Every (with Hofner Guitar from '66)
Kevin - live performance - unknown 1982

‘Inscrutably Obvious’


'Inscrutably Obvious'

INSCRUTABLY OBVIOUS or undoubtedly obscure? You pays your money and you takes your choice. But either way you’ll find this an album to keep your brain cells twisting and turning in an effort to stay on its track. From the cover artwork down to the hole in the middle, Kevin has bent over backwards (in true Cherry Red fashion) to ensure that he and his music defy any kind of categorisation or definition.

Nevertheless his influences make themselves very clear. At heart a minimal psychedelicist Harrison’s is the music of the hypnotic state, of dream and trance. It’s core is an obvious affection for the work of men like Terry ‘Rainbow in Curved Air’ Riley, Philip Glass, Kraftwerk and The Normal tempered with an awareness of oriental rhythms and harmonies which give the elemental electronics a warmer, human touch.

With Harrison’s deft handling his squeaks and buzzes, his synthesised loop tables and his drum machines ‘Inscrutably Obvious’ seems like it will prove horribly inaccessible. But once properly investigated it offers a sparklingly seductive selection of tracks wholeheartedly recommended to anybody looking for entertainment from the avant-garde.

CHERRY RED has never found it seIf listed among the ‘hip’ independent labels - from Stiff to Rough Trade, Factory to Postcard. Yet quietly, over the last year they have been putting out some challenging and interesting music to help you come to terms with the eighties.

Not least was the debut album by Eyeless In Gaza, which subsequent playing revealed to be a far stronger album than my original review cautiousIy stated. (Albums, to meet copy deadlines, often have to be reviewed over a short space of time, which can sometimes lead to an under - or over - estimation of their worth.) Other notable releases have included the excellent Thomas Leer’s latest, a four track 12” EP and a similarly sized single album from the oddly named Five Or Six. Most of these artists, and a few more licensed to the label, can be found on their “Perspectives And Distortions” compilation album, reviewed last issue - the album is always challenging and about 50% rewarding.

Two artists featured on the album are Kevin Harrison and A Tent, both of whom now have albums out on the label. ?Empty Places? A Tent’s album, is basically the work of Gavin Povey on keyboards assisted by various guests including Dudu Pukwana on sax, The music is of an ambient nature reminding at times if you can imagine, of a sax player busking in a street with muzak from a restaurant or bar drifting around in the background. It borders on jazz without ever crossing into that or any other specific territory. Played late at night it matched moods and found it’s niche but repeated listens during daylight hours only served to irritate this listener. An album for a specific occasion - for a sample, try the compilation or the first track on side two with it’s muted drums, droning synth and impressive atmospherics.

Where Povey’s work is keyboard-based Harrison’s is guitar orientated. But treated and mutated. Harrison is no ordinary guitar hero: his playing shimmers like light reflected on water. His work is reminiscent of a cross between Eno, Michael Rother and Eric Random (when things hot up). While in the ambient field, it balances a lot more in the direction of contemporary electronics and a heavier sound than A Tent, the result being a more upfront album.

The one standout, because it’s recorded live (at The Nag’s Head) is Horizontal/Diagonal which is both longer and more direct than the rest. One final point , the cover is too wilfully obscure to really attract casual attention.

Cherry Red, as a label, is coming into it’s own. Hopefully they won’t concentrate too much of their energies on instrumental ambient material, but in putting their music on the market they’re fulfiling a fairly. unique and necessary service. Meantime I’m looking forward to new records from Thomas Leer -and the second Eyeless In Gaza album.

Stephen Rapid - Hot Press Vol. 5. No. 20 - Oct. '81

Chas de Whalley - Record Mirror 15 August 1981


General Wolfe Coventry

Three groups billed tonight Only four musicians onstage. Reason? Eyeless and Bron Area are both two-man set-ups Kevin Harrison is the ultimate live performer of future-trend - he doesn’t appear on the stage.

Nuneaton-based Bron Area have some nice ideas (they do exist in electronic music) but were let down by the vocals. Although basically a two-man set-up, they were augmented with saxophone for a few numbers and made (over) use of a drum machine.

Kevin Harrison then (pseudo) played. What happens is that Kevin’s music (his new ‘Inscrutably Obvious’ album) is played on tape and a slide show comprises the entire visual side of the gig. Boring it’s not. This was the first time I’ve ever applauded a tape recorder.

If you have never seen Eyeless in Gaza you are hereby issued with a prescription to remedy your deficiency straight away: For two guys alone they knock out some incredible music. Pete Becker takes care of bass keyboards, snare drum and backing vocals while Martyn Bates does the vocals, guitar, and second keyboards.

They have a policy of constant musical progression and their ‘honest’ electromusic bleeps and hisses like none before. Tonight was a totally new set, but the trace element was constantly present. Even Martyn’s vocals which can occasionally sound strained and weak, came through with force.

Pete Chambers - Brum Beat October 1981

Woodbine Studio '80 by Mark Osborne
'zine stuff:

Pastel fed Oriental water colours brush the hairs of passing butterflies on the brief (eye) opener CANTONESE DETECTIVE AGENCY They enter again later on for a the dripping WOODEN HEART THROB OF PEKING. Now on to a mesmerising interlude, recalling the psyched-out buzz guitars of the Electric Prunes for CHASE THE DRAGON. In-between a wave of synth and mumbling voices you'll get into SOME ASPECT OF MUSIC and also come across a strange tablet called ALL NIGHT LONG that has a kind of transparent rock and roll frame in spirit form with merely voice and percussion instruments at work.They break the skeletal backbone of rock down as we know it and build up something else.The rest of the first side is given over to much cerebral harmony and snatches of voice broadcasts snipped around an ever floating wind of synth vapours. The rather Residents inspired VAPOUR TRAILS is full of treated FX and whispered voices and the side concludes with WATER.

The TRAPEZOIDAL (i.e. quadrilateral) side begins with a synth being tapped with rhythmic percussion followed by strands of melodica and scrambled vocals. This is a totally instrumental side with guitar passages that recall the early brilliance of Rhet Stoller (a 60s pioneer of the one man, one band, multi tracking technique) and also some variable tone passages that use more colour than the rainbow to hang their washing out on.The usage of instrumental variations remains unequalled. I was disappointed only at the point at which the tape stopped. I don't want to go too overboard on this because Kevin will have such a job selecting material for a follow up.All I can really sum-up is by saying is that if there was one tape at the present time in the whole world that I could sit down right now and play repeatedly for ever more it would be this cassette tape.

If you don't send £1.50 to Kevin for this marvel then you just have no idea what you're missing out on. Tape of the year at least I figure. Hear it for yourself.



at the Coventry Climax (3.5mb) this time

Here are some 'bands' attempting to do something interesting, subverting the format. EYELESS IN GAZA are 2 people who play a sort of electronic ‘new musik'. Sometimes they sound a bit like some other people, but never like 'rock 'n roll' band. You can never understand their lyrics, a lot of their music is very pleasant to listen to, how any one could label music like this 'weird' is beyond me. I think it's weird that boring prats can get up on stage, arse around and be treated as heroes. It's difficult to treat a synthesiser like an improved, electronic prick, unlike those prick-head 'guitar heroes'. A lot of people seem to like what they're told to, you don't get large numbers of people at EIG gigs which is a pity cause they're very accessible. In fact the accessibility of their stuff, the fact that some of it seems just nice music is probably my only criticism, it's 1980, the right time for 'nice' music.

No guitar heroes next 'cause it's Kevin Harrison, who is out of Urge, on the same theme - I could listen to his excellent stuff all night but.......... Still if you like good music: what he does is guitar improvisations with the guitar put through lots of reel to reel echo units and other such things. This means he only has to fall over his guitar and it sounds good good good good. The result is similar to Fripp/Eno collaborations with layers of rejected guitar sounds. It sounds much better than I can be bothered to write it, if you're curious go and see him do his act.

Be adventurous!

BRON AREA play more modern music which is not crap, which doesn't patronise, and which isn't a rehash of something from the 60's/70's etc. These are the bands/individuals who provide Coventry it's musical direction, who are doing really good stuff, and who all come from Nuneaton. This is 'punko' achievement, not the turgid Cockney rejects. Get out of your subcultural ghettos - if you must see live music, this lot are it.

marko, alternative sounds 15


The second tape release on Ambivalent Scale (although you wouldn't think so with the number) The cover is a strangely decorated picture of Kevin (part of the soon to be enormous URGE) and is worth the cost of the tape by itself.

Side One - The C.D.A

Side one starts with the side's title track (which stands for The Cantonese Detective Agency), one of several orientally-influenced songs on side one. Using tape loops and Revox, and playing most of the instruments himself, Kevin goes from strength to strength with 'All Night Long', the beautiful 'Nowhere to go', and the energetic 'Chase the Dragon'. His use of cut-up conversation is often hilarious, and is especially effective at the beginning of Cyclotron "Word begets image - - and - - image - - isss - - virus". The song is about some kind of machine which processes all that is fed into it, with obviously bizarre results. It's my favourite track, swooping and swirling around.

Side Two - Trapezoidal

This side includes live work (at the Nag's Head). It goes on a bit, but is interesting for all that. Exactly which category his music falls into is hard to say, because it changes continuously. Sometimes it is formal song ( the URGE song 'Vapour Trails' is included, in a much slowed-down version), and other times it is layers of guitar building up, sustaining and rejecting. It defies categories. I think it works best when some discipline is used, but that is only my interpretation. Yours might be entirely different.

Vive le difference!

MARKS OUT OF TEN: 10 • Phil Clarke, Damn Latin 4

Article by John Balance (1962-2004) about Ambivalent Scale Recordings
Wednesday night, before the Urge play at Guys club, and I'm sitting in a Wimpy bar,well into a quid's worth of thimble sized cups of coffee and on the point of leaving when Kevin turns up, half hour late, and fresh from the sound~check, accompanied by photographer / artist, Mark, and Urge vocalist Lynda. The interview begins........

Does your solo work conflict with your commitment to the Urge at all?

"The answer to that is, no, not at the moment."

Don't you think lt ironic that you've got an LP of solo stuff out without really pushing it whilst the Urge have been trying hard but still haven't?

"I suppose there's a certain amount of irony, but what Urge are pushing for is a deal with a bigger company which will give us more control over promotion. The problem with companies like Cherry Red is that they don't have any push, they haven't got anybody going round the radio getting DJ's to play it. Distribution also comes into it, It's not good when even people in your home town can't get it."

Which do you prefer to do, - or enjoy doing the most, the Urge, or your solo stuff?

"I enjoy them both equally (very diplomatic that) The live band fulfils one part of me, and the solo thing satisfies another (different) part of me."

The gig at the Wolfe was very anti -performance, with you not playing live at all, whereas the Urge is very 'performance', how can you reconcile the two, and why did you use slides?

"Reconcile the two? I don't find that too important, they are two different aspects of what I can do. Being in a band at the same time means I haven't really got enough time to do a complete performance (i.e. as a unit with other people). At the Wolfe I was using the equipment to mix a tape, and also using a casio to add a little keyboards on top. I still think it's a performance even if what you are doing is minimal. The reason I used Mark O's slides was so I had something to look at. People like to look at something whilst they're listening to music. It's like TV, people will hear weird music on TV and not think it odd, maybe even enjoy it, but if it's on a record or radio they'd just curse and turn it off. With Cherry Red it was going to be a video. I'd really like to just do a video & not play live at all, just get the video shown, get it on TV, then people would maybe risk buying the Album."

How do you go about recording so much all by yourself, do you use a lot of guest musicians?

"I don't use a lot of guest musicians. Dave Gedney's on the Album because he just happened to walk in whilst I was doing a track - asked if he could have a go on the bass. It's usually myself overdubbed. It was initially recorded at home on a reel-to-reel tape recorder."

Have you got any plans to take the solo work further e.g. have Cherry Red offered you any more contracts, and do you plan to play outside the area?

"Yes, no, not really. I'm working on a 12-inch single at the moment. The contract with Cherry Red is for 5 albums in 4 years, with options. I'm trying to get a 12 inch EP for Fantaccini Playground ( Kevin, Eyeless in Gaza & Bron Area) together. Yes, I have no plans - I'd like to play anywhere, Mars?"

Is there any substantial difference between the LP and the tape released last year?

"Not a lot , only superficial differences, the urge tracks have been omitted & it's a bit more hi-fi than the tape was.

Do you think people really take notice of experimental music?

"No, Well some people do, but it tends to be a minority audience. When it gets embraced by the masses, people regard it as commercial. After the 'On Earth 2' tape was reviewed in Sounds & NME (i.e. some exposure) I received orders for 'ON EARTH 2' and nice supportive letters from all over Europe & USA"

Have you any immediate plans for the future to do with the solo material, or are you concentrating on the Urge?

"No, I'm trying to do both at the same time. I've got another LP of stuff together already. When you work all the time you build up a backlog of material."

Some of the songs on the LP have an eastern flavour, are you influenced by eastern music?

"Yes, I'm influenced by pretty well everything, all sorts of music. The only sort of music I don't care for is heavy-metal, bland radio 2 stuff, and heavy metal punk."
They then left to play their gig & I wound my weary way home to type this up.

Extracted and annotated from Alan Rider's article in Adventures In Reality

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