Sunday, May 29, 2011

BLURT MEANS BLURT - Blurt, The Fox and Firkin, SE13 28.05.11

It's Saturday night and the nipper is off on her very first sleep-over, thus gifting my lovely and long-suffering wife and myself our first free night together for damn near eight years. What to do with this golden, as rare as your proverbial hen's teeth, well nigh priceless opportunity? Blurt are playing the Fox and Firkin in Lewisham, my manor ... one of my favourite ever bands, a pub, a mere five minutes walk ... I'm tickled pink. We're in South East London and the weekend starts here.

Arriving (unfashionably) early we are treated to a soundcheck - a fascinating glimpse into the nuts and bolts of how the Blurt entity is assembled. Ted Milton has a commanding presence even in such informal circumstances, instructing the engineer ... dry on the more aggressive numbers, a little dub echo would be welcome on the dancier ones. My wife reckons she gets a Milton smile while I get a double-take. Whatever can she mean?

Ted Milton, long-serving lieutenant Steve Eagles on guitar and Dave Aylward on drums - a very tight and disciplined unit. Plenty of space, very inventive. Once the gig starts they are straight into business -well-drilled, this band. Angular noise, lop-sided tunes, rock-hard clattering beats.

Songs from the new(ish) album Cut It! (go and buy a copy now, a fine album) such as the title track, 'The Bells' and 'Pure Scenario' stack up nicely against Blurt classics such as 'Enemy Ears' and 'Amour De Ma Vie' (the latter a particular favourite of mine ... I always detect an Afrobeat influence there .... but then again that's the way I am) and the mighty 'The Fish Needs A Bike', a song as loved by my nipper as myself. A quick, guitar-free run through 'Kenny Rogers' Greatest Hit' while Mr Eagles changes a string (truncated by Milton just as Eagles is ready to come in on the beat - got to keep them on their toes), too. "Were you just about to start playing guitar?" asks Milton.

Now, I take Milton seriously as a sax-player ... melodic invention and rhythmic nous, energy and attitude; your jazz purist may turn up his nose and Milton himself may be diffident about his abilities but I love his stuff. Didn't Don Cherry once express his admiration? That's good enough for me. Too much melody gives you a sugar rush - far too sweet at the time and very soon leaves you feeling nauseous - Milton's sax gives you melody in shards, along with enough dissonance, enough noise, to spice things up. Too much technique becomes sterile, wit and attitude will always trump empty virtuosity, and Milton's playing is very witty indeed. In fact, his technique, at close quarters, is all his own and when he gets down to blowing with no hands it's enough to give some jazz snobs palpitations. Which is a good thing.

And what goes for Milton goes for Blurt as a whole (as above, so below, very Hermetic) -tunes, driving rhythms, noise - no indulgence, no flab. It's just what you want.

Hats off, too, for Steve Eagles - a man for whom the word 'laconic' might well have been invented. His guitar work is consistently inventive, challenging and propulsive. Minimal effects but a wealth of tones and textures .... and Dave Aylward really hits those drums. It's perfect for the Blurt sound.
Mr Milton's stage presence, too, is inimicable - theatrical, dangerous, slyly funny, a hint of menace; and one of the great lyricists - you can quote Milton lines all day long and there aren't many you can say that of. He's as close to Max Wall or Charlie Chaplin as he is to your average pop singer; little dance moves, grimaces ... a one off -I've never seen Blurt give a mediocre performance and tonight was no exception. Expressionistic and romantic, and off on a frolic of their own. We'll not see their like again.