FOUR hundred and forty-seven days. Yep, I counted; or rather some natty piece of online calculator software did. Fessin’ up: maths was never my strong point. Anyhow, that long since my last gig; 447 days. Maybe the longest time in my adult life.
Yes, I recall the last time in great detail; do you? We trawled a few totally randomly picked pubs, delighting in that atmosphere that only comes from expectancy and the chit-chatter and bustle of a random crowd of people all beginning a boozy evening before whichever main event: more pubs, dinner, a gig. It was, of course, a gig for us, and we headed over, starting to pick out the people who were heading the same way and obviously with the same purpose. That little pleasure of starting to find like minds, bent on the same purpose.
Oh yes, who: it was A Winged Victory for the Sullen at Bristol’s Trinity Centre, a converted church a little north of the main pulse of town in St Jude’s; it was excellent, meditative, busy, I didn’t get any good photos and I spent the later part of a blissful gig pretty much in repose in the little side alley where the merch table was, as Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie’s warming drone enveloped and lulled me.
I mean, to quote Kim Deal at the beginning of “I’m Amazed”, there were rumours … some weird thing in China, really bad flu. Then Italy. Horrifying pictures from Lombardy A&E, at one remove. Over there. It was over there, wasn’t it? It couldn’t happen here. It couldn’t. Less wilful ignorance and more … cognitive dissonance; who’s lived through a plague, a pandemic? Easy to believe the reassurance.
And then suddenly it was here, and looking back over my prospective gig list for March 2020, there’s a whole alternative future that didn’t happen. Half Man Half Biscuit, Bristol again, or the sublime Patrick Watson in London; Jon Hopkins in Bath; BMX Bandits at the 100 Club. Four hundred and forty seven days.
It happened. Let’s not dwell, this isn’t, maybe, the place. We’re not out of the woods yet, and hopefully this isn’t a false dawn, but there’s light out there. And so to Squid, recent album chart-toppers, following in the footsteps of Mogwai in seizing the centre ground for the leftfield. Bravo, Squid, who decided to take to the socially-distanced road and ply their new album, Bright Green Field, across the land.
And props to them, and the newest venue on Falmouth scene, The Cornish Bank, whose opening night it was – latest in a grand line of venues in the twin towns of Falmouth and Penryn, following Miss Peapods, Beerwolf, the short-lived Mono; Victor Drago’s. And a fine little venue it is, lofty, corner-staged; oil projections playing out in patterns. Even sells vinyl. The problem of the bar is solved by texting your order with your chair number. Pretty neat.
Normality then! Live music, and normality. Almost. Blobby digital squares are scanned, confirmed; seats are arranged in pairs with about 60 in attendance. Now, when will you see Squid play to such a small number again? I just about squeezed in to the Big Top at End of the Road 2019 to catch them, and that was strickly one in, one out, mid-afternoon. They and fellow Speedy Wunderground alumni Black Country, New Road were the hottest bands of the fest. (And no, I didn’t get in to see them, even at two times of asking).
They arrive, they arrange. Squid, that is. None of us, band nor audience, quite know how to react. We’re dreaming, right? Arranged at his drums in a Sunn O))) Delight tee, Ollie comments: “It’s so weird to see so many people,” and we can all agree with that. And then they let us in gently with a gradually expanding, warped and atmospheric intro, getting those chops and muscles flexing, brass and synths and crisp, slow rhythms.
And there’s a lot of new stuff getting road-tested tonight, among that number new track, “Fugue”, sprawlingly Moogy, even acid in places; pulsing, polyrhythmic, exploring all kinds of alleys and complexities. It gives way to the splashing joy of “Paddling”, guitars scratching tentatively, humming into being on synth burble, that big, big, declaimed hook – “Don’t push me in” – ringing out. Hell, we’ve arrived. It’s glorious, and as people huddled out in the fag zone said afterwards, it was almost too much to remain seated, legs jiggling hard. It’s a proper banger.
Ollie really does anchor the Squid thang in so many ways; his drumming is precise, crisp, unassailably catchy and primal, all the while the man himself staring out into another world with his bright blue eyes, sweat-sheened, loose-limbed, he really has presence and has something of the young Michael Yorke, circa Logan’s Run, about him. In short: that star quality. “That’s the most exercise I’ve had in a year and a half,” he quips as the song concludes giddily.
Other classics from the Squid canon are aired: “Documentary Filmmaker”, intricate, wandering, sounding like it might peter out until Ollie, standing up and transfixing, lets that line go, ripping out: “Cos it was warm in the summer, it was warm in the summer!”, Laurie Nankivell’s brass singing out a rebirth of cool. “2010” is Bend Sinister itchy, atmospheric, hazy, jazzily no-wave, erupting in gnarl and skronk and the catharsis you need; and “G.S.K.” grandstanding, blurrily cinematic.
There’s also a whole clutch of new material, which Ollie reveals is partly the purpose of the Fieldworks tour; numbered among those songs are “Undergrowth”, “Development”, “Chlorine”, the acronymical “FOTSB”; and I’m pleased to report that works in progress they may be, in states that may differ from what is finally committed to tape; but they’re restlessly inventive, deeply krautrocky, pursuing all kinds of variants of tempo, synth, brass, and heavy on the woodblocks and the like – recalling much-missed Mancunian fellow travellers DUDS; and which see Laurie Nankivell and Anton Pearson oftentime hunched in nuance over the same synth.
A really decently replete set fires to a conclusion in the angular groove of “Pamphlets”, smouldering slowly through Ollie’s emphatic, barenaked vocal delivery, the more placid middle drift, and on into the kind of palpitating conclusion you need a great gig to have. And this is a great gig. They’re gone, but they proper gave it some for us this first evening.
You want me to score this gig? No chance. Outside the definable scales of experience; it was the first one … since, you know? And being in the far-flung South Western peninsula and those first, tentative re-engagements with one of the truly great things in life – live music, the chemistry between creatives and people in the crackle and communing of the moment – for it to be the country’s number one album artist and not some pick-up bar-room blues wannabees – that’s a little miracle in itself.
Aside from which, Squid are an absolutely excellent live band: weird, metronomic, completely themselves and fanning out in so many different and intriguing directions now. Props to them for bringing us back to life; props to an excellent new venue, too. Props to all the acts gradually easing back in, clocking up the service station miles, these next few weeks.
The music’s back, ladies and gentlemen; the music’s back.
Squid’s Bright Green Field is out now digitally, on CD, cassette and 2xLP on Warp and may be ordered direct from the label, or get y’self down to your local neighbourhood record emporium.