Marz Imprint > Musical History > This Heat - NME, 1978
NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
July 29th 1978
CAN'T STAND

THIS HEAT?

Hard luck. They can't stand being interviewed either, but we forced them into it, so you're just going to have to read it, aren't you?
pic by Jill Furmanovsky
VAGUE UNDERCURRENTS tell me that This Heat are poised on the edge of some form of popularity. During the two years that they've been together, their infrequent live appearances have been coupled with several radio sessions and a limited amount of interest from the press. This has constituted a very gradual exposure to an ever-growing audience, but at the same time has brought them at least to within spitting distance of the jaws of a 'publicity machine' which all too often in past has been guilty of the total emasculation of its victims, to the point where a band can be criticised simply for not living up to the music papers exaggerated claims on their behalf.

Possessed as they are by a higher than usual quotient of 'press paranoia', This Heat are at the same time aware of their need, both as artists and business men to descend from the Olympian heights of 'unassailable artistic integrity' to offer some kind of explanation of their work (and I won't deny a small degree of resentment on my part that their reticence, though in many ways understandable, makes my job that much harder).

If This Heat are, on occasions,'hard to listen to', then the prospect of piecing together a punchy thousand word synopsis of their music, aims and attitudes is daunting to say the least.

They are Charles Hayward (drums, vocals),
Gareth Williams (bass, organ, vocals) and
Charles Bullen (guitar, clarinet, viola, effects and vocals).

Their seeming reluctance to function in conventional channels prompted me, when we met recently, to suggest that they weren't doing themselves any favours. But what I cited as 'caginess', they merely described as "self preservation"

"Yes, Exactly! We want to be able to function, to get our music across, not someone else's idea of it or what someone thinks will sell."

Yet despite a total lack of respect on their part for the "business mentality", they still envisage themselves working within the confines of "a forward-looking record company" (they are at present recording an album and a single with no outlet) as opposed to the more pedestrian avenues of independently released vinyl. They suggest that any dilution of their material by the company concerned would prove as fruitless from a commercial standpoint as it would from a musical one.

This Heat claim, in fact, that they're not trying to be esoteric — it's just unfortunate that appearing at such 'culture palaces' as the ICA has landed them with an intellectual, elitist air which is totally misleading. As Gareth Williams points out: "I don't really like the idea of playing 'snotty', 'posh' places, because I don't think our music is 'snotty' or 'posh'."

In Williams view you don't have to be some kind of intellectual heavyweight either to make or listen to music that is experimental in its approach. On the contrary, This Heat arrive at their unique sound by a process of tape, improvisation and selection...

"A lot of the 'ideas', as you call them, are things that just happen and then you go back over them and try to analyse what happened and maybe make it work again.

"It's just the thing of us making sounds into space and then listening to each other, and our option is to select and edit, saying what does and doesn't work."

And how do they define something 'working'?

"Mainly intuitively. Our things are structured on what sounds right and what sounds wrong. A sound suggests an idea, which gets formulated more. Since the process by which sounds are made is largely intuitive, our reaction to them is based on that."

Would they describe themselves as playing 'free music'?

"Well, 'free music' is a term that I've used about us in the past, but I couldn't defend it on any semantic level: it's a term that the European avant garde have been using for some time now to just describe pure improvisation. Rather it's a kind of 'shorthand' within the group,

specific or non-specific, to denote different levels of planning — whether we're doing something that's been pre-planned or whether we're doing something where we've no idea of what each other's up to . . ."

So it would be wrong to assume that they offer no more than pure, unstructured improvisation. Although, as they say, their ideas arise out of improvisation.

This Heat's music definitely operates within some kind of structure, which is often dictated by their use on stage of pre-recorded tapes. They veer from the harsh and rigid in a song like "Makeshift Swahili", to the amorphous and sinister unpredictability of a number like "Diet Of Worms".

This Heat's own descriptions of their music are as apt as they are open-ended, and though doubtless less colourful than an indulgent barrage of descriptive prose from my quarter, are less likely to burden the prospective audience member with unnecessary preconceptions. Tell the readers what your music is like, lads...

"Fast, slow, loud, quiet, high, low, embarrassing, exciting, rough, smooth, muscular, weedy, interesting, boring, difficult, easy, yes, no . . ." and the list goes on.

There's one word out of that list, however, that I'd single out as not applying to this band's music, and that word is boring. Certainly their intention isn't to make people fall asleep. For the most part, they are riveting by virtue of their sheer intensity — a quality which they manage to achieve without resorting to the excessive volume levels of their punk contemporaries.

The fact that This Heat are frequently quite disturbing to listen to, both musically and lyrically, might perhaps be attributed to their 'experimental' approach, though when pressed further on the subject, Charles Bullen was heard to mumble something about "the intensity of daily life" — after which he became loath to pursue the issue any further. So I'll resist the urge to paint too black a picture of their music with any anguished sermons on contemporary angst, or the industrial wasteland. In fact, some numbers, like "Aerial Photography", are calm and relaxed, whilst "Rough With The Smooth" (referred to by Gareth as a "weedy and embarrassing Country & Western tune") comes across almost as funny when the group leave their instruments and mime to a tape of themselves.

All of which makes for a set full of contrasts and contradictions, with no one particular musical focus.

A passage of nightmarish intensity may dissolve into a watery instrumental with Charles Bullen superimposing haunting clarinet over tapes of bird noises . . .

Occasionally these polarities may be combined, the harsh with the delicate, the ungainly with the exquisite. At no time do they allow the listener to settle down — a characteristic which possibly demands a less passive audience mentality than the benign foot-tapping and polite, self-congratulatory applause at the ICA.

Which brings me back to the problems of suitable venues. Though they admit to being selective when it comes to gigs, This Heat's choice of venues in the past has been forced on them mainly by economic necessity and the inability of existing places to accommodate the band's large amount of equipment and the stringent requirements of their intricate sound balance.

In fact, the band almost requires as much of a reappraisal of entrepreneurial values, as listening to them demands a change in musical ones.

This Heat's refusal to play along with 'the business', while making life more difficult for all who deal with
them — journalists, promoter and listener alike — at least has the virtue of integrity, and beneath it lies an extraordinary commitment to their music which must in the long run pay dividends.

No, This Heat don't do themselves any favours.

STEVE WALSH

Recovered from NME by Kevin Harrison. September 2006
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