Title: De rigor mortis
Author: Steve Sutherland
Zang Tuum Tumb, The Value Of Entertainment package — Ambassador Theatre, London
Ha! Ever been had?
Whether ZTT’s package, with its programme characteristically packed with devious drivel, intended to probe, prove or take the piss out of The Value Of Entertainment, it failed. The thing was a farce from start to… well, almost finish.
Instinct, to spite or in spite of their name, came (on) too early. Two culled from Pigbag — Simon Underwood and James Johnson — with the de rigeur female singer and minimal back-up, I’m unreliably informed they were the dry death rattle of white Brit funk. But, as I say, they appeared too early and I was bathing with a friend at the time. I should have stayed there.
And so to Andrew Poppy, a suitably intense young man with a Ludwig Van haircut and an appropriate way of flopping back and fort in anguish over monotonous keyboard codes that would be hypnotic. Surrounded by serious muso-types — classical students slumming like buskers — Poppy, The Lost Jockey, succeeded solely in suggesting that, live, system stuff sucks. It needed movie stimulus to make this repetition work and, during the mass exodus to the ill-stocked bar, there were mutterings of “Tubular Bells”. Sans melody, I protested. Okay, the voices said, “Ommadawn”.
And so to the glorious moment of truth that revealed the lie, the bit we’d all been waiting for, the cash in or the chicken out, The Art Of Noise. They didn’t appear. Seems they never intended to. Instead, some technician rolled tapes of their beautiful, thunderous nonsense and Paul Morley, a young Ringo Starr in a clownish check suit, paced the boards and admonished us for our expectations.
He told us the story of ZTT, deadpan of course, claimed they made it up as they went along, nurtured more myths and traced the development or disintegration of TAON from a spanner (“infinitely more interesting than Howard Jones”) to a mask to the pressurised physical appearance on “Top Of The Pops” that prompted some hack to claim they looked like The Rah Band. Now Morley, quite rightly, maintained they couldn’t have that so, when the band turned up for rehearsals, Morley claimed, they were shot and it’s now back to faceless noise and up to us to accept or reject it, to decide what happens next.
What did happen next was we got a concert, three weighty dancers in heavy make up lumbering hither and thither like a sideshow from some alternative festival in Bath circa 1972. Why? The whole gist of Morley’s speech had been the preservation of mystery and imagination, of music and purity over wretched marketing routine. He was kidding superbly but his cute McLaren impersonation still echoed with irony in respect of what followed.
Ann Pigalle. How we stifled our laughter I’ll never know. Straight out of a Face fashion spread, hair teasingly matted, eyes dull as a junkie’s, Claire Stansfield’s figure, smart fetish boots, she plucked at an orchid and moved like a marionette.
Unconvincingly wasted and world-worn, she sang in French sometimes but the voice was shot and emotionless, hindered by an accompaniment (Nick Plytas on absurdly flamboyant piano and Kelly on sub-Bowie sax) hackneyed to the point of parody.
There was nothing here to make our own minds up about. The looks beguiled for a while then waned into irritation, the music, alone, as Morley would have it, was murder. Or merde?
And so to our salvation. Propaganda, strangely bereft of Ralf Dorper but enhanced by and arsenal of backing tapes plus ex-Simple Mind Derek Forbes on bass and th exquisite Steve Jansen (ex-Japan) on drums.
What have they got? What haven’t they? Claudia, fun and friendly in white smock and leggings, danced like Boy George, and Suzanne, a vision, an angel, danced like her namesake in the Human League. Oh joy! A pop group! And the other business, the music, the noise: fluid and mechanical with peaks of great beauty and brutality, Michael crashing cymbals over mountainous keyboards.
They played “Duel” and it sounded sweet but a cop out. They played “Sorry For Laughing” and it sounded divine, closer to heaven than we’d been all evening. Disappointed? More dismayed. The corny comedian-cum-linkman told a joke about a carpenter who got to the pearly gates and met this bloke with a beard, halo and holes in his hands who asked him whether he’s had a son. The carpenter answered in the affirmative. “What was he like,” the Messiah enquired? “A strange one.” Quoth the carpenter. “No-one seems to have understood him.”
“Father!” the bearded one cried.
“Pinnochio!” the Carpenter responded.
Somehow that seemed to sum it all up.