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Merrell Fankhauser And The Exiles, The Velvetones, and Fapardokly - The Lost Desert Tapes (2014) review
Merrell Fankhauser And The Exiles, The Velvetones, and Fapardokly "The Lost Desert Tapes" (Ocean Records, 2014)
From the very start of their album you can hear loud growling voice screaming: "Destroy the Nations. England is dead! Destroy America. Sheuggghhhh on Canada!". You can only imagine how the recent LP owner felt when hearing this.
In the following interview we will go through their musical journey. They are still active after so many years. The beginning can be attributed to Greg Curnoe (1936-1992) (among other factors), who was a film director and wanted to do a soundtrack for his upcoming 16 mm film.
Curnoe decided to do something unconventional and bought a lot of kazoos and gathered some friends to perform free-improvisations using aforementioned instruments. They realized they are enjoying improvisational performance and after soundtrack was made, they built larger kazoos and added one-string acoustic bass and also an unusual drum set. They made another step and plugged everything into electricity. Soon they added electric guitars, electric violin, theremin and everything that they felt it was cool. Even building weird instrument like 'noisemaker' and stuff like that didn't stop them. They went further, recorded and toured in places like Paris and London, but most of the time they were really an obscure collective of friends, playing whatever they liked and that is the main reason why I find them as one of the most interesting groups.
I have always been a lover of improvisational music. I think a lot of people have whole different perception when it comes to improvised or experimental music. Technical ability is highly regarded among most of the regular listeners, but for me that is not important aspect of music; meaning that I truly believe music is an extension of individual performer who is translating the language of his soul or emotion into the language of music and when everything is made without any restriction or intention, catharsis is possible. To understand music you don't need any education, because music is the language we all can understand. We will always cope with obstacle of moral nature, which individual listener is experiencing while listening to music and his perception of understanding.
Photo: Don Vincent
Photo: Don Vincent
John Boyle: It was released and later the soundtrack was lost without a trace.
Art Pratten: Greg and I grew up in the same neighborhood, went to a couple of the same schools and took newspaper from the same depot.
John Boyle: We were all independently friends with Greg or with one or another of his friends, some from early childhood. We met in his loft studio in downtown London. I was introduced to Greg by my friend Bob McKenzie in 1960. Greg took an interest in me because I had decided to become and artist.
Curnoe was also a member of London Regionalism. Can you tell us what was that about?
Did any of you have any musical knowledge?
John Boyle: In spite of what some of us may claim, the answer is NO!
Art Pratten: I think the building of the instrument was the catalyst for the band. We could have gone on listening to music, arguing about music and kazooing forever but when we started modifying kazoos and building new instrument we really started to compete making a noise and this created a "Noise Band".
John Boyle: We each individually had our own tastes, interests, influences and inspirations, not necessarily shared by any of the others. We each brought ours to the group. All of us were necessarily influenced by the others’ influences whether we liked them or not, simply because we were forced to deal with them in our group improvisations until we found something we were more or less happy with. For example, a few of us were aware of New Wave free jazz like Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler or Cecil Taylor, while others liked Mediaeval Troubadour music or English madrigals, or the Rolling Stones. We learned to throw our licks at each other and bounce them back and forth. If you hated some things you tried to drown them out with your sound, and thus we became noisier and noisier.
John Boyle: I just try to listen carefully to the many improvisers we meet at festivals and performances and learn from them when there is something that might benefit or change my playing. I like much of what I hear , but have not yet heard anything that would radically change what we do.
From left, Hugh McIntyre (bass), Art Pratten (Pratt-A-Various), Archie Leitch (slide clarinet), Murray Favro (guitar and drums), John Clement (guitar), Bill Exley (vocals and theremin), John Boyle (kazoo), Greg Curnoe (kazoo and drums).
Photo: Ian MacEachern
Art Pratten: Greg's studio was the real centre. It was open and admission was a passion for something...anything... art, literature, theater, movies, car racing, boxing, girls, beer and parties. Not necessarily in that order.
Art Pratten: Not that I know of. A guy showed up on a Monday night and asked if we were interested in making a record and we said "what will it cost us?" he said "nothing" we said "sure why not".
John Boyle: He knew some other artists who were recording with Allied, and probably that is how Allied heard about the NSB. Allied was looking for new experimental bands and individuals to record. I think they thought they would discover people who might become big in the unpredictable psychedelic music world of the 60’s. They asked us to record.
Art Pratten: The recording session is very much a blur for me except for Archie who was hyper and shouted out some lyrics of his own. That is where "Dog Face Man" comes from.
Murray Favro:Your question about a bigger record label is perhaps a different Allied than the one Boswell was head of. (www.discogs.com/artist/519321-Jack-Boswell) confusing it was Allied. My impression was that they spread the albums thinly around the world to see what might happen somewhere. It was on it’s own in record stores where they did sell what they made then Allied sat back to see what might happen. Something did but it was a spread out audience and what eventually happened ten years later was someone offered to make a new album and the same has happened other times through the years and by now we have made a lot of albums, perhaps because of that first one with Allied.
Art Pratten: The problem is that although we listened to various groups we can only do what we do make a noise on whatever we have at hand in response to whatever noise the others are making.
Art Pratten: At 10 cents a glass beer was and still is the drug of choice.
Murray Favro:The only person to quit the band was Archie Leach and he did it around late 1969 so he actually was only in the band for about 5 years. He was about to turn 30 or had already. Archie had told us many times he had a goal to be a millionaire by the time he was 30 and we were had not helped with this ambition of his so he wanted his fair share of any money we had put into buying amps. Hugh and I had the task of solving this by not stopping him from quitting the band or making us sell the amps to give him his fair share. A few beers and patience listening he wanted cash not any band equipment and he settled for a share of the equipment when the band breaks up and sells it. Hugh wrote out an agreement for us to sign on a cigarette carton. I’m not sure how legal it all was or if Hugh made two copies. Anyway Archie seems to be OK with the fact we still have not broken up the band.
Art Pratten: Archie Leitch left of his own accord, Greg was killed, we picked up Aya Ohnishi in Japan and then Hugh died. I can not imagine adding anyone else. We will probably continue playing til a few more die and the others are not let out.
Art Pratten: Be bold' there will always be people who will be surprised and amused that you have the audacity to put something out there but if you believe in what you are doing they will come to either appreciate what you are doing or at least respect you for doing it. But remember... this is for you, your vision comes first.
© Laura Exley