The Machine Beautiful

It’s a grim rainy Saturday. There’s not much you can do with a day like this. Fortunately the events of Friday evening have left me in credit and so I’m sat in Quad with a coffee this afternoon recalling last nights entertainment, impervious to the days depressive qualities.There’s so much to say about last nights epic CogMachine charity event at Derby’s Bar 1 that I’m loath to attempt a comprehensive review as I will fail to do everyone justice or adequately describe all of the performances. Instead here’s a brief selective interpretation of the light and sound that made it as far as my noggin.

A quick disclaimer – my photos are mostly crap because the low sunlight at the start of the gig ruined the light balance on-stage, while later on the consistent low light resulted in high noise levels in the pictures. I may also have confused the chronology of events. And the facts. So as long as you aren’t too bothered about words or pictures this blog’s for you. Don’t act surprised – you must have read my stuff before…

The early birds to Bar 1’s rather unique covered outdoor performance area were privileged to see The Three Tenors kick off proceedings with some atypical pop material. There is a level of suspicion about the true identity of this super yet somehow normal trio. Crucially it’s a sign that I need to drink a lot more beer for this evening to start making any sense.

The Super Normals?
The Super Normals?

Next on – Neon Sky for their first performance as a 5-piece since recruiting a new drummer and bassist. They sound as if they have been playing as a unit for years and they deliver some fine songs new and old worthy of a headline billing before too long. I have special admiration for Kev on bass who wears a truly massive iron cog around his neck for the entire set without missing a note but is presumably feeling a tad stiff today.

Neon Sky
Neon Sky

The place is starting to fill up and newcomers are being gently persuaded to buy tickets for the Raffle Of Shame by the resplendently attired Ms Mischief. A myriad of embarrassing object de tat mostly donated by people on condition of anonymity obscures a trestle table – imagine a jumble sale in Room 101 and you are in the ballpark. People crowd around to pick out the items they most covet in the event of their number being called in the draw later on. There are also some extra-terrestrial looking cakes for sale.

Sweet temptations

I’m in and out of the bar area chatting, restocking my pint glass with Buddy (named after Bar 1’s infamous resident pooch) but manage to catch most of the evenings recitals from the spoken word line-up. There’s an intimate recital from talented local writer Aimee Wilkinson that captures you in the moment, a fun and punchy poem about men from charismatic Mo Pickering and then professional storyteller Simon Heywood grasped the audience in his hand with a tall tale from Ireland.

Somehow I have managed to miss the evenings top billed wordsmith Mark Gwynne-Jones. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Was I chatting too long at the bar?

The words have met with a full stop for the evening and musicians return to the stage. Oh dear – I’m really not giving the acts the attention they deserve but I can tell you that Richard (Biff) Birkin did some very chilled things with a guitar hooked up to a some electronic gubbins via foot pedals while “woodland folk musicians” The Face That Boils Itself delivered a set that matched their nomenclature defying name in it’s avoidance of any usefully recognised genre. I think I need to hear them again – especially if they bring along the much talked about wood saw to accompany the double bass. Do they do woodwork on stage? How does this work exactly?

The evening is nothing if not eclectic in terms of the spectrum of performances, but there’s a rich seam of artistic talent that shines through from first to last. I’m in fear of reaching a point in the evening when what I’m seeing and hearing starts to make sense, because then I’m in real trouble.

It’s not all mayhem or madcap – there is some welcome sanity in the form of enormously talented singer songwriter Jo Lewis. I’m captivated. Like all the best musicians she does the simple things so well. There’s an album in the pipeline and if it captures the essence of tonight’s performance it can only be a success.

Jo Lewis
Jo Lewis

The Super Normals are reprised for a few home grown comedy numbers that go down well with the increasingly populous audience. There’s an assault on Paul McCartney that is pure Half Man Half Biscuit and a rumbustious Cockney square-up. As my partner in grime tonight @Walkerama observes it’s crying out to be an Edinburgh Fringe act. I don’t know though, they just need a little more confidence on stage…

And now – the much awaited Raffle Of Shame. I can’t under-state how much effort and love a number of people have poured into organising this event but even so I hope nobody would begrudge me for singling out Ms Mischief who has worked tirelessly for five months to bring everything together so successfully. The Raffle Of Shame is a case in point. In fact it is the point really since this will bring in the majority of funds collected tonight for MacMillan Cancer Relief.

There is a flurry of number calling, people scrum around the table to get first grabs on the many precious things. Some lucky punter walks away with part of a costume worn by The Fonz when he did panto a while back.

It’s mixed news for Neon Sky. Guitarist Matt is (a little too) overjoyed to claim a Billy Ocean single (when the going gets tough) on vinyl. He is undeterred by the fact he doesn’t own a turntable. Before anybody asks, the B-Side has an instrumental version of the A-Side. This sort of ephemera is sadly lost on the post-vinyl generation. Meanwhile vocalist Jo misses out on the Spirograph she had repeatedly begged for during their earlier set. Them’s the rules missy – tis but a game of chance.

It’s my turn to visit the tresle table. There’s only one choice. The fools before me missed it but I know it’s there. One strives for literary fulfillment. In England the tourists flock to “Shakespeares County” and I can only presume the borderline to California is way-marked with “Pammy’s State” signs.

Almost everyone has a novel in them...
Almost everyone has a novel in them…

It’s a novel by Pamela Anderson. Keep reading the previous sentence – it won’t make any more sense. Of course, when I say “Pamela Anderson” I mean her ghost-writer, presumable so-titled because something terrible happened to him and his soul is now forever trapped in between this writing assignment and the next.

An example of the attention to detail that has gone into the event: Each raffle item is accompanied by a brilliant Certificate Of Provenance that documents the physical dimensions of shame (241 x 160 x 30mm) the Gauge of Shame (15 out of 10) and a description (“A novel, no Really a novel by Pamela Anderson”). Not only has this documentation been painstakingly crafted by Ms Mischief but it has then been personally verified by independent arbitrator Aimee Wilkinson.

Provenance of shameAs it happens I have a pocket full of raffle tickets and few more of my numbers get drawn but why would I return to the table? It can’t get any better after all.

The evening is about to reach its climax. Thomas Truax has been part of the crowd so far this evening. Heaven only knows what he has thought of some of the sights & sounds so far although in truth any man that makes his own band members out of bike wheels and TV-aerials probably isn’t going to be phased by anything. I did have a brief chat to him earlier and he said he was enjoying the evening. He also said he recognised me from my Sidewalk Café blog (I promoted tonights gig in a former Truax venue in Manhattan a couple of weeks back) and he was tactful enough not to ask why I did it. Or maybe it all seemed reasonable. Who knows…

The stage is set and Thomas opens with one of his classic tracks “Prove it to my daughter” courtesy of his Hornicator.

The Hornicator
The Hornicator

It’s clear that some people in the audience know what to expect and are loving it while others are just trying to take it all in.

Party PeopleOther home made instruments featuring tonight include the Cadillac Beatspinner, Scary Aerial, the BackBeater and the Stringaling.

Cadillac BeatspinnerI’m not even going to try and describe these other than to say he manages to coax viable music out of them. Sometimes it’s funny (eg: Inside The Internet, Why Dogs Howl) other times it’s soulful (I put a spell on you). He is a performer in the truest sense and thinks nothing of running through the crowd with his guitar unplugged to perform Full Moon Over Wowtown. Once you are over the sensory overload you realise his act is not just steampunk gimmickry but he writes and performs exquisitely.

Thomas playing - a guitar?!He must be on stage for a good hour and he winds up with a great new-ish track Bee Hive Heart which takes surreal to a whole new level.

Thomas Truax - he does things differentlyOnce again it’s genius and the appreciative crowd applaud accordingly. Afterwards he is generous with his time chatting to anybody who wants to talk. In a final act of selflessness he contributes the profits from his album sales tonight to the charity pot – this from a headline act that has performed for free on the night.

Some time later as he heads out the door there is a general consensus that he needs to be rebooked as a matter of urgency. People will gladly pay to see him and it would be great to have him back.

The evening isn’t quite over for me. I’m introduced to the still remorseful previous owner of Pammy’s novel. Such is its shamefulness that she feels it necessary to explain herself. She didn’t buy the book – it was given to her. Now she has passed it on and naturally she doesn’t want anybody to know about her sordid secret. I open the cover and sure enough there are scribblings inside to prove it was indeed an uninvited gift. Don’t worry – your secret is safe with me Alessandra.

One final twist awaits me as I head towards the exit at 2am. A gentleman by the bar is wearing with some pride a badge he acquired in the raffle.

Tims shameful contributionIt’s one I contributed and I explain that I picked it up two weeks ago from a flea-market in Hells Kitchen, New York. You see, my conscience really is clear because I bought it intentionally for the raffle. Oh dear – it seems now I’m also trying to justify my actions. Time for a swift exit.