Marz Imprint > Musical History > This Heat - Melody Maker, 1979
MELODY MAKER, February 10, 1979 - page 25
CH: And their intent, and all the rest of it. If you offer them either a too specific form of context which tells them how to listen, or an intent which is not really what you're about, then you're misleading them about the music, and so many people take it as style. They want to identify with the band Then they adopt this stance which is what they understand the band to be. That's where the whole point of everything gets lost...... COMPLETELY.

L: So how does one attempt to avoid the situation arising?

CB: The Residents have got away from that by what they've done. But that's not an avenue we could follow.

CH: They have to live with something, even then. They can step out of their uniforms. That's the advantage. But once on stage, they're trapped. On a purely personal level it makes relationships very difficult ....

CB: Because a Resident couldn't admit he was a Resident to anybody.

CH. It's a very intelligent step in its own way.

CB: In relationship to the music biz as well. But they've kept themselves out of it which we couldn't do.

L: But could one exploit the fact that this, is going to happen, turn the situation on itself?

CH: Well the person that springs to mind is Bowie. And the gig I saw last July was just obscene. There was an audience full of 12 different characters, or whatever he's been through And Bowie was loving them for it.

L: Would you say your music is about intensities? I don't know how fitting that is.

GW: It's not about intensities, it incorporates intensities.

L: And the effect on the audience, would that be intense as well?

DC: I think I would hope so. I think also the opposite effect. Cage says something about the relationship between music and the visual arts. He says that in the paintings, of the time of his writing, you could go to any point in the painting. It was the narrative structure in the painting. It's unlike Renaissance painting where you stare with the people looking up at the hills, and then follow their gaze up to God or whatever. Unlike that, you could start anywhere in the painting, and roam around it, and find things in it. This Heat offer the same thing: you can start in the middle. That's always been a view taken. A lot of pieces aren't really straightforward — in a narrative way.

CH: There's also another thing, which is about the music-making process. If I play drums and someone else plays guitar — there's a whole series of colours, and different things you could do with those different instruments. But because you're playing drums it's physically impossible to play a guitar at the same time. So you have to depend on the other person. If you're painting, and you put a red down, then you can put a blue down, if you want that. But if you're playing in real time, and you're building the equivalent of a blue, someone else may say that a red will sound good against that. That's the beauty of it, the surprise the having to come to terms with the differences of other people's opinions. Then on tape you can evaluate it afterwards, to see how it works.

GW: But this makes it sound like a complex thing, much more cloudy than need be when in fact it's not at all. It's just playing, and reacting.

CB: At the same time a lot of it comes back to mind games, because there's a lot of goading. We do let our being pissed off with each other come out (in the playing). Which sometimes makes for a nasty afternoon of belligerence.

L: A lot of people would accuse you of being "arty" What does the word "art" mean to you? You seem far more interested in "information" than "art".

CB: Well "art" is a really dangerous word, Art is giving a high-church quality to some information, and not to others. There's a lot of culture to some information, and not to others. There's a lot of cultures which don't have a word for art. The actual roots of art have more to do with "kraft"-work, The classical, western idea of art is very far removed from that.

GW: It's the whole area of putting a frame round things. You have all these rigid systems of performance. We've found it very difficult to break down. The systems which we're hamstrung on aren't art systems, they're rock 'n' roll systems. They're both as bad as each other. The thing we're fighting is the rock 'n' roll gig syndrome. But we're not fighting it with art, We're against both.

L: You seem very interested in using instruments in different ways to the "normal" processes

CH: We're interested in using our instruments fully, using that applied to some functional| purpose.

L: Some sort of functional purpose?

CH: We don't just use technique for technique's sake, but where it's applicable.

CB: That makes it sound like we think of something and then do it. Whereas things just happen, Accidents . . .

CH: There's the opposite side of the coin to "Oh, accidents can be marvellous things", (a reference to another interview) That's the way they can be god awful things.

GW: One relevant thing would be simplicity, I suppose. One aspect of our instrumental technique, or something has come from playing simplistically

L. Was that the reason for including Gareth, as he'd only played for two weeks when he joined?

CB: That wasn't really the thing there. Though we wanted him to join because of what he did Since he's joined I've found myself questioning all sorts of things I'd taken for granted. My guitar technique was probably 'better' three years ago than it is now. I used to think the way to go was better," That's the way I thought my direction was. It's the thing of "progressing".

GW: But I don't know if you have changed? I think some sort of change has happened to you but . .

CB It is! It is! I used to want to have more technical facility, and to do with the exclusion of . . It's partly because I was working without a tape recorder. It began to get very redundant.

CH: There's some sort of ethic that we've got to abide by, "We are free improvisationists . . . We are a rock group". . . It's not like that at all. It's just three people.

CB: Within our limitations.

THIS HEAT: left to right, CHARLES BULLEN, GARETH WILLIAMS, CHARLES HAYWARD. Photos by Lesley Evans pic #2.This 3.jpg
That This Heat are amongst the most exciting musical entities existing today, and existing, too, outside but concurrent with "normal" rock 'n' roll systems, is only as accurate as understatement allows for accuracy.

That, by their very existence, they are justification enough for a judicious reinterpretation of the nature of such 'rock 'n' roll systems' in these under-heavy-manners post-punk days, only reinforces any argument about their relevance.

That they might well be construed as the manifest missing link between King Crimson and the Sex Pistols, between Balinese dance bands and Ghengis Khan, or, even, between living anarchy and responsibility, is as true as you want or need it to be . . .

And that the music produced is so riveting, is working harshly within the 'rock context', only continues to show up the widely-held myth that rock music is evolving, is 'new' music, is ever on the borders of 'progress'.

That lastly, you don't write this off as the easy, lush hyperbole that it is, is finally down to you, the reader, the point of consumption.

To date there has been little enough information in the music press on This Heat. What has been written has concentrated on the "uneasiest of uneasy listening" that some would— perhaps justifiably angle at this band. They are nothing if not intense. Either that, or it has aimed at the difficulties of carrying out interviews with them.

"Three unbearable prima donnas," murmured Sounds in a recent top ten of "completely different bands" (sic) bands

Perverse to the last, the aforementioned quote turned up on their next press release after the article, below a photo of the group. A conclusion understandable from the most superficial of gleanings — but, given any lengthier meeting one realises that only the first of those words is accurate. There is, indeed, three of them.

The nature of their music is an attempt to transcend rather than fuse, the commonplace definitions and rigidity of styles and contexts. So they draw from every source possible, from everything they come across, or, more likely, comes across them: various Third World musics, non-musicianship, electronics, free music, punk, etc.

If, though, what they are is what they utilise. Then they are electronic. For they utilise the tape recorder, and its attendant technology almost ceaselessly. Taping in 'real time' most everything they come across in their rehearsal room/studio, Cold Storage (a disused meat freezer). Sometimes things work immediately; sometimes they take longer. Sometimes - often - things are rubbish and get scrapped - for, yes, they do differentiate between 'noise' and 'music'.

The three individuals are Charles Bullen (guitars, clarinet, vocals) who, having hitched down from Liverpool to London, got deeply into free music, and then hitched up with Charles Hayward (drums, vocals, electric piano and keyboards) to form what loosely could be called a front-room duo until Gareth Williams (organ, vocals and bass) arrived. His attitudes were anarchic enough to upset various of the former two's preconceptions. And so, three years ago come February, there was This Heat.

Three years have passed and This Heat's name remains only on the boundaries of interest. Few have heard Of them. Even fewer have actually heard them.

Perhaps this is because of the irregularity of their gigs — they could count them on their fingers. Perhaps it is due to the absence of recorded output. The only possible material people could have heard are the two Peel sessions — outstanding, incidentally — though this is about to be righted. An album and single will be released in a matter of . . . weeks?

Their stance, depending on your point of view, varies between churlish dogma and impressive idealism. It is probably both. Certainly, though fully aware that the potential consequences include ostracism, the control they demand (be it soundcheck or stage space) makes the mystique of 'no compromise' attributed to many of their 'punk' contemporaries meek by comparison. Similarly the self governing and democratic way the work is, in it's anti-hierarchical nature, an explicit confrontation with the machinations of the industry.

The interview is met with an awareness that they are committing themselves and their music to something beyond their control. A 'music' paper is a 'music' paper . . . is an extraordinary filtered image of, in this case, the centre of three individuals' lives.

They go to pained lengths to prevent This Heat from being obscured by personality. This is acknowledgement that, for them, image implies definition, and definition limits their motto of 'all possible processes'.

Image is their amber light and they are as imageless (though hardly in the Eagles/Dire Straits "dahling, they're soo mahvellously imageless" tradition) as a pool of colours, a 'space' of contexts.

Once this falters then This Heat falter, burn out, fall redundant, The only

This Heat could be the missing link between King Crimson and the Sex Pistols or Balinese dance bands and Ghengis Khan. Either way, they're in control. Words: OLIVER LOWENSTEIN
constant here's change; unrest is . . . progress.

MOSTLY, if hardly surprisingly, such reasons for why and how they work as they do fall on deaf ears. The mainstream rock biz, where the be-all and end-all of the politics of playing in a group lies in White Riots and Zip City Rockers, reacts with a spectrum of responses running from bewilderment through "ah, this is what they meant by weird . . ." to complete alienation and fear. To a lesser extent, audience reaction is similar.

What is it that causes such disarray of reactions when the two parties — audience and heat clash? The intensity, pure and simple? Or the dimensions of that intensity?

For "style" in rock 'n' roll read "familiarity" Be it Bob Seger or Siouxsie, each has adopted easily recognisable stylisations of sound and vision which eventually becomes those bands.

For "style" in This Heat, read "contrast". Each piece contrasts totally with the last, placing a demand on a 'usual' audience to lay aside its 'usual ways' of listening.

Visually, they reinforce this. Often no lights. No leading figures, and no 'false' communication. No "We love you, buy us."

Live, This Heat commence with the vaguely Crimsonesque forward thrust of "Horizontal Hold", constructed around some amazing cyclical drumming, Bullen's itchy stilted guitar, and the floods of sound emitted from Williams' organ.

Juxtaposed against that is the quietly insistent grief of "Not Waving, But Drowning" (nothing to do with Stevie Smith) wherein Bullen's dull, chanting clarinet and Hayward's voice capture perfectly the passive celebration of futility, the abstention from purpose conveyed —

"H2O will freeze you to the marrow -Learn to love the water - It will love you - like there is no tomorrow"

"Makeshift Swahili" and "Romp" are probably the most straightforward pieces of the set. The former is a huge, oppressive sound, coiled around one of Bullen's most aggressive riffs, and will be their single. The latter is just that, a spiralling freeform romp, with Bullen at his most frenetic. Had Phil Manzanera been more an experimental musician than a rock musician, this is the stuff he would have been aiming at on his solo album.

In complete Contrast, again, "Diet Of Worms" and 'Escaping Gas" are full of textures - sinewy, watery and improvisational and "Rainforest" is an onomatopoeic tap-dance. There is finally the best: "Fall Of Saigon." Built from a hypnotic, rhythmic backing tape which sounds like an amalgamation of a series of tape loops: various woodblocks. bricks and other improvised apparatus — Hayward (sic) sketches a surreal vignette, of how the American ambassador's wife survived the plight of starvation during her last hours in Vietnam.

As the last line fades. Bullen pulls out the most anarchic guitar solo imaginable. Drawn and mournful, plunging and rising, only two others would achieve what he does here: Fred Frith or Robert Fripp.

IT'S the kind of music that transcends the usual boundaries of 'pop' critical appraisal. If they ever limited themselves to one particular style, then yes, it would be more immediately identifiable. But if that happened they wouldn't be This Heat.

And sure, to these ears, they do make mistakes. Some of the improvisational 'free music' they insert into their sets doesn't work. . Sometimes, Iike the music hall, "Rough With The Smooth" is just maudlin and queasy. Hayward defends its humour, 'because it almost pinpoints a mood, but misses it completely." Which is just the kind of annoying (self-conscious?) humour so beloved by so much of the avant-garde.

Sure, too, one could pin down various influences, including the latter-day King Crimson particularly bits of 'Larks Tongue In Aspic'. Robert Wyatt is an admitted hero, probably from the first Soft Machine album right through to the last solo work. Syd Barrett is another to name but two. There are other discernible influences — Henry Cow, Magma, early Can, as well as a lot of ethnic music. They've played with a Ghanian percussionist, Mario Boyer, who they say has had a lot of direct influence on them.

One could even bring in the argument that they're the last remnants of the 'Canterbury scene' that first spawned the Soft Machine, and went on to influence, indirectly, much of the affairs and ideas of the early Seventies, Roxy/801/Eno school.

Or one could see them as the start of something comparable, rather than a final destination. Or just as part of a particular chain of events.

IN 1979 they exist much as they have for the last couple of years. Still playing in Cold Storage. just off Brixton High Street. Still taping everything, much the same

process as Can used.

Playing occasionallyat alternative venues: ICA, Air Gallery. And now, soon, releasing that album.

Maybe '79 will share' some interest in them. They do want to be popular on their terms. As Dave Cunningham, their manager (and Flying Lizard's) says, they could be as huge as Crimson, or equally they might well remain relentlessly obscure. Certainly it won't be for lack of exposure, this time. Come April, they will have shared a co-headlining tour with those other mavericks, The Pop Group.

Bullen, tall and lean, talks with nervous fluster and involvement. On the other hand Charles Hayward is especially articulate, talking with brevity, and a turn of phrase that makes one sometimes wonder if, for him, this isn't the third rerun of the same debate. Gareth Williams would be equally articulate, were it not for his lapses into abstracted thought . Occasionally aloof, he's usually the first to instigate their internal quick fire wit.

The humour doesn't come through in the interviews, there's no need for them to become the new XTC.

CH: Charles Hayward
CB: Charles Bullen
GW: Gareth Williams
DC: Dave Cunningham
L: Lowenstein

L: Are you now feeling you're ready to move into what might loosely be called the spectrum?

CH: We feel we're ready to play in front of more people, and in situations where we haven't got so much control, where we really have to fight for our control.

GW: It's a pity those events are so badly organised, and groups go home who've been treated like dirt . - and been messed around so they can't do what they want to do.

L: But you do want to be popular?

GW: Very interested in our music becoming popular. If we weren't, we might as well stay here.

L: In the last year, have you learnt a lot about the music biz?

CB. I've learnt a lot about the music biz, and I really don't like what I have learnt . .

GW: How we trust other People.

CH: You don't have to sign a contract with somebody when you give them the keys to your fiat. It's a different sort of trust. You do have to sign a contract with someone when you sign yourselves away for three years. It's levels of trust, and what sort of trust it is. One's a very specific sort of trust, every word is accounted for and its limits understood. With it you've got no one to blame but yourself — because it's all written down. You can't let the normal day-to-day levels of trust apply, because if you do then someone else will choose not to let them apply.

L: Why do you think this is?

CB: Because . . . there are a lot of people in it for the money and not the music.

GW: It's just whether our needs can be accommodated— we'll have to see ....

L: Is this why you're called 'unbearable prima donnas'?

GW: Because we stamp our little feet too much

CH: Because we insist on making sure things are right.

L. Do you feel a certain empathy, notwithstanding, with various aspects of the scene - that there is a new underground . . .?

GW: I'd love to be excited by it, but

CH: In so far as there are different individuals who are trying not to fall into some kind of stylistic seam, because of their way of doing things, then I respect them.

CB: This thing about movements is very dangerous, We've been very isolationist, really. Like the first year, we did three gigs.

GW: But you're presupposing that there's a certain movement, while we're denying it. The only way we could answer that would be to point out specific people we know.

CH: I really do see this "we're real human beings, and we live like this" — and its repercussions on people — as being the trap for so many really interesting bands to fall into. And for us to do it as well, when we know it exists would be suicidal.

L: Is that why you could be called 'serious' in an interview?

CH: You've got access to a machine like newsprint - and to waste it by just not using it exactly and intelligently is, to me, really criminal. If that's being serious, then I suppose we're serious.

L: And also because you understand the influence of mass media. And the repercussions involved . . .

Recovered from Melody Maker by Kevin Harrison. December 2004
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