Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Symbols of identity

Along the information superhighway we trundle. Today I have some favicons for you. Favicons are the little icons you see at the top of your web program, in the tab next to the title. Here's our new www.keshco.co.uk favicon:

On the old version of the Kesh site, it was this:

Which do you prefer? Is it wrong to focus on the trolley symbol; will it further confuse music seekers? Would you like to design us an alternative one for Sunday best? (We'll pay in muesli.) Or, would you like us to design one for you? Yes, your site can have one too, perhaps created at www.favicon.cc.

The new Bleak House site - www.bleakhouse.eu - has a favicon, too:

What are your favourite favicons? To me they bring back the fun of the Shoot-Em-Up Construction Kit (where the resulting game was pretty fixed and samey, but the great excitement came in the sprite design), or before that the Character Generator program on Horizons, the ZX Spectrum introductory cassette. Small is beautiful, working within restriction to create an impression of something with the minimum of signifiers.

Talking of small, beautiful things creating an impression of something, let's take a radical left turn, with a guest poet. Old Keshcologist Andrew Walton from Clydebank has two neat collections of poetry: Little Red Poetry and, most recently, Little Green Poetry. He recorded an episode of Poetry Hallway for our uStream channel in Autumn 2013. Here is one of his current political verses, which I like a lot.

Little Scotland

The Celtic knot, a twin S.
Adorned Ravenscraig’s gate.
Long empty, the husk. Silent, brooding,
Still casts a shadow.

Where there was industry,
Let us bring job seekers’ allowance.
Where there was militancy,
Let us bring sad resignation.

Steel-town of rusted girders,
Work transplanted wholesale.
Puerile promise of prosperity,

Like the last dregs
In a once-proud steel can,
Our other national drink
Now lies crumpled

Beside  a torn up
Slip. A frustrated bet
On a winded nag which failed to
Deliver. A ballot

Thrown on the ground
To the skirl of pipes.
A cross beside “YES”,
A faded pencil saltire.

A broken outpost, aside from the battle
Where Sheridan tours,
Denounces the rule of capital
In stentorian tones.

Words echo around halls from
Alloa to Inverness.
They cannot carry
To far-off Northamptonshire.

Notes: Tens of thousands of workers from Scotland came to Corby, Northamptonshire in the 1930s and 1960s, on the promise of jobs in the steel industry. Thatcher destroyed much of the manufacturing industry in Britain, and British Steel was privatised – the jobs have long-gone. The town recently had a mock-referendum on Scottish Independence during the town’s Highland Gathering. Unlike the Yes campaign in Scotland, which is gathering momentum, the town voted No. Might this reflect a general mood of bitterness, anger and resignation to fate?

Friday, August 29, 2014

State of the art in 2014

Thanks for coming by! Our next releases are two cassettes - yes, audio cassettes - for Cassette Store Day, which is taking place on September 27 in the UK, US and several other nations. These releases are 100 copies of "Music From The Middle Room", under our other moniker of Bleak House...

Bleak House - Music From The Middle Room cassette

...and 25 copies of "Freaks At A Wake", backed with its squalling tumbling Monotron remix on the reverse.

These will be available from your cassette retailer of choice (including Burger Records in the USA, Pebble Records in England and VOD Music in Wales) from September 27th, and if we have any left we'll sell them too, on our wildly successful Bandcamp page, afterwards.

There's a lot of interesting-looking material coming out for this event, doubtless a few releases from hipsters, but much of it from obscure home-recording types who need all the support they can get. Of course, you may find you now need something to play all these new cassettes on, like I did recently when my trusty Sony HCD-RXD5 finally became unresponsive on both tape decks, after 14 years of service. Ruddy electronics - for years, the CD play button has triggered the FM radio. Or perhaps the belt's simultaneously gone on both sides. It was originally bought, along with a MiniDisc recorder, as part of an earlier attempt to upgrade my audio facilities and get some relatively clean recording/copying equipment (compared to cheap-bottom Alba stereos and the Spinney Tronic).

Now then, dear Kesh-chum. We relish the freedom of working outside label/management structures, allowing us to follow whatever whims we like and put the results out directly to you, dear reader. However, we don't make money from it. Now, one of our most-visited net presences is at the Free Music Archive, where we have a page...

Keshco at the Free Music Archive

From there you can see that our recent EPs have been downloaded many thousands of times - Accountants By Day alone is now over 100,000 downloads. It's great that so many people have shared in our music, which is shared under Creative Commons licensing.

On the top right hand corner of the page at the FMA, there's a box with a dollar ($) symbol, saying "Tip The Artist". We're still looking for ways of making this free music idea work financially, and micropayments seem a good way to go. You can click on the tip box (here's our FMA link again), and then via Paypal, donate anything you wish, as little as $0.01 if you feel like it, towards our past and future music-making. Yes, $0.01. That's not an insulting amount and you shouldn't be deterred - it's a valued micropayment. If we get enough little tips, we can put the money towards something useful, like monitor speakers or better mics, or just towards the rent. It also gives us that warm, fuzzy feeling that people appreciate what we've put out.

Imagine if footballers made their cash in micropayments.

Of our other net presences, Reverbnation recently bit the dust. Poor Reverbnation. It was a pointless exercise really. All those tools to gather listener data and nobody listening. Like having a flashy shopfront in a no-go area of town. You could reach the top 10 for your area just by a couple of people clicking onto the page.

All the best now x

PS: If you, like us, are skint, you may appreciate the wise words of Alvin Hall, in Your Money or Your Life: A Practical Guide to Getting - and Staying - on Top of Your Finances which has been recently updated (Amazon UK affiliate link - oh go on, every little helps).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Now that's what I call some physical copies

So, with the supply chain now functioning and everything under control, please consider getting a copy of our Nowkesh CDs from our Bandcamp page. (Or you can still download the whole thing for free.) Here's the track listing again:

Track name and original artiste
1 You Can't Hurry Love Phil Collins   
2 Is There Something I Should Know Duran Duran   
3 Red Red Wine UB40   
4 Only For Love Limahl   
5 Temptation Heaven 17   
6 Give It Up KC And The Sunshine Band   
7 Double Dutch Malcolm McLaren   
8 Total Eclipse Of The Heart Bonnie Tyler   
9 Karma Chameleon Culture Club   
10 The Safety Dance Men Without Hats   
11 Too Shy Kajagoogoo   
12 Moonlight Shadow Mike Oldfield   
13 Down Under Men At Work   
14 (Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew  Rock Steady Crew  
15 Baby Jane Rod Stewart  
16 Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home) Paul Young   
17 Candy Girl New Edition  
18 Big Apple Kajagoogoo   
19 Let's Stay Together Tina Turner   
20 (Keep Feeling) Fascination The Human League  
21 New Song Howard Jones 
22 Please Don't Make Me Cry UB40   
23 Tonight, I Celebrate My Love Peabo Bryson & Roberta Flack   
24 They Don't Know Tracey Ullman   
25 Kissing With Confidence Will Powers  
26 That's All Genesis   
27 The Love Cats The Cure  
28 Waterfront Simple Minds   
29 The Sun And The Rain Madness   
30 Victims Culture Club

...and here's what the whole thing looks like:

Or, you may prefer the 1983 version (ours is a snip in comparison!)

George Weah's cousin

Our World of Football 14 EP (a free download on Bandcamp, though you can donate some pennies if you like) features a track about that great 90s footballer, Ali Dia. Here is the entry from Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics that informed the lyrics (it's full of inaccuracies, but we get the gist from it - I would advise reading the Wiki and other pages, like this on The Football Supernova, for context):

Dia, Ali (1968- ), footballer and impostor. Dia was an enthusiastic, but unskilful, part-time footballer whom Barry Jackson, the manager of Blyth Spartan - a club in the lower leagues - was happy to release after a few games. Some months later Jackson was surprised to see Dia playing in a Premiership game televised on Match of the Day. Ali Dia's moment of glory came after Graeme Souness, the manager of Southampton Football Club, apparently received a telephone call from George Weah, the Liberian international and former Footballer of the Year. Souness would be well advised, said Weah, to take a look at Dia, whom he described as a Senegalese international of outstanding talent, now living in England. The phone call was followed by one apparently from the French international, David Ginola, who seconded this advice. Weah and Ginola were not people to disregard, so Souness engaged Dia without a trial and played him against Manchester United. He missed an open goal and was otherwise careful not to get too involved, so Souness substituted him after 20 minutes. At the end of the season Souness let him go. Dia then joined Gravesend, another club in the lower leagues, turning out twice in the reserves before being released again. It was then discovered that he was a mature student taking a course in business studies at Newcastle University, but he continued to deny that he had impersonated Weah and Ginola on the telephone to Graeme Souness.
  'At least he played in the Premiership,' said his former manager at Blyth Spartan, 'which is more than I ever did.'

Monday, July 28, 2014

Freaks At A Wake: liner notes

In 2012/13, Keshco released a soundtrack EP entitled "Freaks At A Wake". Twice. Why?

Let's duck back a couple of years, because that's where the trail starts. In September 2010, we still had a Farfisa organ upstairs. This was before an ill-advised attempt to correct its one-tone dip, which resulted in the thing going pop (instead of producing pop), and being dismantled. But all that is for another painful release. "Freaks At A Wake" is the only complete Keshco piece to feature the thing. It's an improvised 26-minute piece which started with Robert behind both organ and another keyboard, and me balancing a guillotine on a snare drum, with a toy steering wheel and Dynamike at close quarters. The various sections overflow with hummable chordal melodies mainly thanks to Robert's neat fingerwork. The thing then sat on my multitracker for over a year, before the augmenting began - Robert's full drum kit for energetic fills and general beefing-up; Luke adding more layers of keys, flute and some fizzy-crackly lapsteel; and finally my careful doubling up of the various melody lines on acoustic guitar. That part took an awful lot of rewinding and cueing up.

A few sections on Freaks are almost pop (yes, in the chart sense), and indeed the middle section, "Tyre Dirt", has been singled out for video treatment. Really though, we'd like to film the whole thing, and we have an idea but not the time. So it'll have to wait. One film-maker, Dania Hany, has used the opening section for an inventive little piece: https://vimeo.com/91093694

Some of our sonic experiments are beyond the tastes of most mortals. That's understandable. We thought we'd test you by releasing one. Bob bought a Korg Monotron (fabulous little piece of kit) and discovered how much fun could be had routing a song into the Monotron via the microphone connection, and mixing the results through the little keyboard. Freaks seemed the perfect vehicle for a long-form exploration of this. The results are very crunchy, with a lot of harsh blips and squeaks, and most defiantly not easy listening. That said, if you stop listening after the first three minutes, you are most definitely a puny specimen and would never cope with something by, say, Signorina Alos (one of our new label-mates). Sit through the whole of Freaks and earn your stripes before moving onto harder fare.

Download and consume both of the Freaks, here:

A limited release of both versions on tape (UK £5) for Cassette Store Day 2014 is forthcoming.

Or, you may prefer some other Freaks (of the 1932 variety, and yes that is an affiliate link, meaning you can help us earn money by visiting Amazon via it - could this be our tip to the top at last?).

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Never mind the width, feel the quality

Here's a choice tune from our double CD, "Now That's What I Call Keshco", hopeful of proving that Side 4 is as interesting as Side 1, and that you should forget the originals when listening to our re-imaginings:

It's available for download with no minimum price - yes, you can grab the whole thirty tracks for free if you want, as an album or individually, and maybe that's the best way to listen, shuffling away on your iPod or performing ringtone duties on your mobile. Who knows - one of the songs might have some personal resonance and you may wish to share with friends via email or whatever social hell site you use.

However, the limited two CD set features quite a bit of artwork, and you get smouldering shots such as this:

Ladies, grab one now!


The original Now 1 is available from Amazon UK, naturally, and is far less economical.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Keshco's Now is out Now

Our 30-track tribute to the original 1983 compilation is available here: http://keshco.bandcamp.com/

As usual, please treat track 30 as importantly as track 1; some of the songs you're not originally familiar with may be the more interesting ones to click on; it's not all comedy songs; it's not all synthesized; it's not all folk; listening to the start of a song does not necessarily indicate how it ends; if you like any of it at all please comment, share and give us the faith to do more silly time-consuming projects like this.

Open your ears and your heart, and enjoy the free sound of Keshco, otherwise known as Bleak House, whose future regenerations may be many - but we promise we'll never become anything you'd hear on Radio 1.

Our previous releases have attempted (mostly failed) to bring together listeners of netlabels such as WM Recordings (Netherlands), 23 Seconds (Sweden), Silent Flow (Moldova), 4-4-2 Music (Australia), A.M.P-Recs (Mexico) and Pan y Rosas (United States). There's a lot of interesting sounds out there.

Anyway, now you've read about our version, why not check out the original? It's here on Amazon UK for 100% more money than ours.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Now That's What I Call Imminent

Our new album, and new website, are imminent. Firstly, here is a preview track from our 30-track tribute to the original Now That's What I Call Music album (released in this month thirty years ago):

"That's All" turns up midway through Side Four, which is on Disc Two.

Here are a couple of drawings courtesy of Robert. See if you can work out which tracks they relate to:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Here are some things to watch and listen

Hello there,

On 19th October 2013 we returned to London's Resonance FM, making our third appearance on the Hello Goodbye Show hosted by Dexter Bentley. Our previous shows were in February 2008 and December 2010. Andy had the norovirus thanks to his workplace, but Bob and Luke steered him onto the Tube and the performance was able to proceed. Richard and co made us feel very welcome. You can now see the video footage of that performance, here:


Marvel at how Bob gets sounds from an even tinier kit, Luke turns his slide into a chaos of tweeting birds during Wafternoon, and at the live mixing during Top Deck.

A few weeks earlier, on 22nd September, we'd performed in a Sunday afternoon slot at London's Hidden River Festival, inside an empty dark big top (though it was being pumped around to the roughly 500 people on site). You can watch/hear that too:


Meanwhile, our uStream channel Beware! Vision is getting into gear, and on Sunday 20th October we broadcast a poetry show featuring Socialist humorous wordsmith Andrew Walton, whose entertaining and strident blog is here. You can watch the show on catch-up:

A separate YouTube episode will follow, with several different poems as well as interview footage from the Bloomsbury Festival launch of In Protest: 150 Poems For Human Rights, to which Andrew contributed a poem.

The next live Keshco event is on the weekend of Saturday 23rd November, celebrating 19 years of Keshco, 30 years of Now That's What I Call Music, and 50 years of Dr Who!

Monday, September 09, 2013

Johnny Cocktail: Obscured By Masks production notes

On 20th October 2011, beat combo Keshco unveiled an hour-long psychedelic comedy film starring Robert Follen as unorthodox lifestyle guru/private investigator Johnny Cocktail. This particular project had a long and tortuous journey before making it onto YouTube; indeed, that it even appeared at all is testament to a certain kind of unhealthy obsession that should be a lesson to any would-be film-makers out there. So, Johnny made it past the masks, but how did he get so obscured?

If you've read the previous blog, you'll remember that we intended an entire series called "Johnny's Quest For The Truth", starting with Johnny recovering from an off-screen breakdown and finding his way again through exploration of art, food, religion, nature etc. As part of the first episode, Johnny was to have a pill-induced seizure, and whilst unconscious to have a brief dream sequence, before waking up fresh out of hospital. This little sequence turned out to be the most enjoyable section to film, and we rapidly went way beyond any notion of fitting the sequence into 90 seconds. Characters, visual metaphors, dialogue... we kept filming more and more for the dream, whilst the series around it ground to a halt. Eventually there was an awful lot of random dream footage. Faced with this confusing about-turn, we got stuck for direction and put the project to bed for a while.

In mid-2008, I took another look at all the dream footage and edited it down into about 45 minutes, 45 rather unsatisfying minutes as there was virtually no understandable plot progression save a couple of scripted scenes. Now we had a better digicam at our disposal, we could add new footage and push up the overall quality. This would be a nice quick process, just to get it out there.

By 2010... well, we'd got a little further, picking up the threads every 3 months or so. Every new scripted scene and silly moment helped the overall flow, with my repeated passes through the video editor aiming to keep the overall run time under 1 hour; and an actual plot developed, involving a race of clones from another dimension, and the idea of Johnny's essence being harvested to provide fresh creative impetus for a war fleet - they were scanning the galactic frequencies when they came upon transmissions of Johnny's old programmes, and took his false-advertising statements of world-saving heroism seriously.

From here, all the new footage was planned and scripted first, leading to that familiar Keshco phenomenon of chance elements weaved together through the thinnest of references, to give a false impression of coherence. It's not a script you'd sit down and write from beginning to end, that's for sure; but our overall aim was for something peculiar and daft, not watertight. Some scenes are almost definitely in the real world, some scenes are almost definitely in a dream world, and the narrative/pictorial logic works both ways at different times.

It's quite sad looking at the YouTube stats which show a massive viewer drop-off midway through part two, just after the baddie has outlined the full horror of his nefarious plan to Johnny. It suggests that the viewers so far were predominantly wrapped up in concerns of plot. The fools, they've got it completely the wrong way round! The result is that most people haven't seen the best effects sequences of the film (and a couple of the best jokes) which are in the last 10 minutes.

Yes, the video effects. Moving from the glitchy VideoStudio 10 to the barely-less-glitchy VideoStudio X2, I faced a tedious amount of lost saves (the program crashing on preview, or usually on exit) and broken effect chains. Overlays would be programmed, then lost and angrily reprogrammed. VideoStudio has many restrictions as a creative tool, though this forced me to find workarounds that were often well worth the effort. The FX-heavy nature of much of this project made real-time previews impossible. I'd have to render sections, make notes on the wildly off-target effects, then take best guesses before rendering again.

We must ponder Robert's sterling character work in all this. In another world Robert would have been the next Kenny Everett, and indeed JC is menaced by a film producer in one section who acts just like one of Kenny's creations. This was only one of many, many characters you meet in the whole film who are brought to life courtesy of Robert's mastery of costume, make-up, prosthetics and accent.

The rest of us filled in where we could, with Luke contributing some clients and Caroline taking the important role of Johnny's long-suffering PA.

Ultimately, it was a valuable learning experience, and has taught me a lot about editing and timekeeping, but it's still searching for its appreciative open-minded audience. I suspect those who enjoyed "Lint" by Steve Aylett may be receptive.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Never trust a Tory


Reclines the porcine
Post dine, necks fine wine
His stocks dropped but no loss
He watched, flogged then tax dodged
There's cash in the chaos
Plump pensions and pay-offs

Mysteron beams on the desperate doleys
Big Brother bullies, battering bullshit
Government hotwire for benefit fraud
The irony so deep, you want us to applaud?
The swagger so blatant, hidden in plain sight
They float legislation to wither the first time
Knowing the endless flow will obscure
Give it a year then float it once more
Wait til they're fighting to stop something else
Cos they can't plug a system with this many holes
- are we all in this together?

Never trust a Tory. Never trust a Tory. Never trust a Tory. Never trust a Tory.

From the Keshco EP "Bees" released in April 2012.

A couple of people have asked why I don't write more political lyrics nowadays. Well I still do, but it doesn't seem like people are listening. Or if they are, we're preaching to the converted. Anyway, I thought I'd stick this up to remind - well myself, as much as others - of our leftist foundation.

Meanwhile, here's an article I was just reading:

And here's a political blog from old Keshcologist Drew Walton:

Meanwhile, you can check out (and, if desired, buy) the latest Keshco EP, "The Blood, The Horror", which is mainly about atmosphere, character and comic chills, from our Bandcamp page: http://keshco.bandcamp.com

"Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Support your struggling artists

We enjoy the freedom of working outside label/management structures, allowing us to follow whatever whims we like and put the results out directly to you, dear reader. However, we don't make money from it. Now, one of our most-visited net presences is at the Free Music Archive, where we have a page...

Keshco at the Free Music Archive

From there you can see that our recent EPs have been downloaded many thousands of times - Accountants By Day alone is approaching 45,000 downloads. It's great that so many people have shared in our music, which is shared under Creative Commons licensing.

On the top right hand corner of the page at the FMA, there's a box with a dollar ($) symbol, saying "Tip The Artist". We're looking for ways of making this free music idea work financially, and micropayments seem a good way to go. You can click on the tip box, and then via Paypal, donate anything you wish, as little as $0.01 if you feel like it, towards our past and future music-making. If we get enough little tips, we can put the money towards something useful, like monitor speakers or better mics, or just towards the rent. It also gives us that warm, fuzzy feeling that people appreciate what we've put out.

Have you heard of any alternative money-making schemes for musicians or other creatives?

All the best now x

PS: If you, like us, are skint, you may appreciate the wise words of Alvin Hall, in Your Money or Your Life: A Practical Guide to Getting - and Staying - on Top of Your Finances (Amazon UK affiliate link - oh go on, every little helps)

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Johnny Cocktail: A History

In recent weeks you may have been following the blog progress of Robert Follen as he produces models for an upcoming sport-themed episode of Johnny Cocktail. Who is this Johnny, I hear you ask, and what can he teach us? Let's have a look at his cases thus far...

The character of JC first popped up in July 2004, during a band get-together one weekend in south-east London. A trip to the supermarket was called for; I had a new digicam (the so-light-it-almost-floats Mustek DV4000) and we had the faintly-amusing idea of filming our trip. It could be a sketch about a trolley dash, as if it was one of those stupid lifestyle advice shows. What do you need for a stupid lifestyle advice show? A gurning host! By the time we exited the bus on Lewisham High Street, bits of Johnny's character were coming together. He was an East End wide-boy, with brainpower and chutzpah somewhere between Del Boy and Alan Sugar, always on the lookout for a bargain, and whose clients would be utterly clueless in order to make him look good. He evidently had a bruised heart, the sight of a packet of sanitary pads bringing on a burst of manly tears. I remember Robert suggesting Cocktail as a suitably ludicrous surname. We made a little postscript to the episode, with Johnny answering a viewer's query about how he spends his nights (answer: he dresses very oddly). A nice jokey way to spend a Friday night.

A few weeks later we went to the independent music Truck Festival in Oxfordshire (this is when it was about a quarter of the current price), and after sundown on the Saturday evening Johnny came to life again, presenting his guide to festivals that seemed to concentrate on discussions of sugar intake, whether sitting down aided musical appreciation, and how to put traffic cones down the right way. All very fun to record, and as the weeks went by, more and more ideas for the Cocktail character came out. It seemed Johnny had legs, as well as a gutter mouth. Ideas for a whole series followed, eventually settling on "Johnny's Quest For The Truth", an intended six-part serial starting with Johnny recovering from an off-screen breakdown and finding his way again through exploration of art, food, religion, nature etc. We filmed lots of sections for each part in a semi-improv style, the series taking shape through occasional brainstorming of plot beats or scraps of dialogue, but collectively we had so little regular contact in this period that the series, despite much goodwill, neither died outright, nor made it up to the top of the already vast projects list.

For instance, around Halloween 2004 a five-day get-together was used to film sections for at least three episodes, none of which had proper scripts (we were just relying on remembering any good ideas, and working up any dialogue on the spot). On the Saturday we filmed Johnny visiting the Museum of Childhood, cooing over Action Men; on the Sunday he was in the City of London talking about architecture and then running around SoHo in a karate outfit; on the Monday he went on a head-clearing walk along the Regent's Canal and did an improbable stunt for a diet episode; and on the Tuesday there was more karate suit action around the Barbican and Liverpool Street station.

The series was to start with Johnny returning home, necking several handfuls of the pills he was addicted to, then dropping to the floor convulsing. We would cut away to an ambulance, and then return to Johnny waking up several days later, fresh out of hospital. At some point it was decided he should have a dream sequence whilst unconscious. This was to prove a fateful decision. In late 2005 we started getting scraps of footage for this dream sequence, only meant to be maybe 90 seconds long... and the ideas just kept coming. Characters, visual metaphors, dialogue... we kept filming more and more for the dream, whilst the series around it ground to a halt. Eventually there was an awful lot of random dream footage. Clearly it wouldn't fit into 90 seconds any longer. The dream went dormant, and you'll have to follow a forthcoming blog entry to read what happened next.

The major dilemma in arranging an episode of JC is that his characterisation pulls in two directions at once: he's given to long moments of reflection, relatively dramatic territory; but this is contrasted with a fair amount of slapstick and quite dumb humour. In trying to make both approaches sit together in each episode, particularly when added to the scripted/improv dilemma, we probably leave everyone unsatisfied, but we still hope to nail the perfect episode of Cocktail one day. The first proper evidence of Johnny's reflective side is in the only finished episode from the Quest series, which is mainly JC chatting to camera about his failures with women.

It was in the unused Quest footage that we found the germ of what became our "fake guru" episode. This is a prime example of my stitching unwieldy elements together with an after-the-fact script and a few additional scenes. "The Race For Enlightenment" used some bits we'd filmed with Robert in a child's karate suit, plus a chance encounter with a real-life karate star, and welded them in with a narrative alluding to a certain infamous celebrity crackpot "church" that maintains bizarre traction even in this day and age. Johnny was investigating a murky organisation, ZenZen UK (U.K.), peddlers of self-help schemes that involved financial donations, diet restrictions and endless running around. The guru behind this scheme, an ex-pulp author, was responsible for a glut of telephone directory-sized course books available at extortionate prices. We enjoyed the ideas behind this episode, and would happily go back for a big-budget remake if the funds ever become available.

Most of the other episodes are single-location improv affairs just to keep up the output. Johnny's Art Contest Results speaks for itself, and as for Johnny's Guide To Sex Pt 1... well it got suppressed for a reason.

Anyway, a question to finish on: where would you keen film-watchers recommend for posting Johnny Cocktail clips? YouTube isn't generating many (or in some cases, any) hits. Specifically we're looking for people who might warm to the lo-fi, pixelated, compressed audio and picture.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Johnny's Advert

I thought you might like to see the script for the advert hawking Johnny Cocktail's services which appears at the start of "Obscured By Masks", the advert that gets him into so much trouble. This differs slightly from the recorded version, which you can see on YouTube here or buy it on DVD.

This section of script is pretty much written by me, though of course when filming it with Robert we tweaked bits together. Anyway, here we go...


We are watching an old Anglia TV break bumper ident (or ITV Night-time). Video-effect crackle. Then cut to:

Cheapo graphics out of the centre of the screen:


Now a succession of shadowy shots:

  • Chink of light from door into a dark room.
  • Hands juggling money badly.
  • Cup of tea smashes on floor.
  • Mascara teardrops down a cheek.

Door opens from lightened hall into darkened room where person is on their knees crying. Person looks round in hope.

GRUFF COCKNEY V/O: [over these] Are you weak? Are you feeble? Are you at the end of your tether?

Cut to XCU of JC's gruff cockney mouth.

JC: Well listen up!!

XCU - JC beats his fist down on the table he's sat behind. A tumbler wobbles.

JC: Cos there's millions of others... [uses hands to get out of chair, cut to side view as he rises – now we see him properly]

JC: ...in the same position.

Close-up of his stern face, still in side-on.

JC: Now are you gonna sit there... [turns to the front again, cut to front view]

JC: Or are you gonna do something about it? [Number appears on screen, JC points to it] Make the call.

Keep the phone number up as scene changes – background music swells (Terrahawks-style synthesized heroic theme) – now a montage of JC at work:

  • In library taking down book on Man Skills
  • Cracking a Sudoku with pencil, ruler and calculator
  • Peering down a microscope
  • Writing a computer program
  • Outward bound with map and rucksack (in urban park)
  • Performing a simple sleight-of-hand magic trick – piff paff poof!
  • Taking flowers to an old lady who gives him the wink
  • Brandishing a pistol Professionals-style
  • Soloing on a guitar
  • Changing a lightbulb

JC V/O: [Over all these] I've been helping people in a professional capacity for upwards of thirty years. From the poorest in the land, to old members of Saxon. From the stockroom to the shagroom. From John O'Groats to John O'End, and beyond. I'm getting everywhere. You spacemen can watch out an' all! I'm always on hand, not just for birds, but little old ladies too. Even helped me mum out the day I was born...

Close-up of paper bag – JC's fist comes through it towards camera. We see his mouth behind.

JC: Punched me way out didn't I!

A toy helicopter shoots across the sky.

A painted JC figure skydives towards the camera...

...real JC lands on the ground with a roll.

JC V/O: [Over all these] Sign up before March 30th and get this free fact pack...

GRAPHIC: “FREE FACT PACK if you sign up before March 30th”
CAPTION BOTTOM RIGHT (very surreptitiously): “Only available in R.O.I.”

Stylised gunshots down the screen superimposed with each item.

V/O: ...with a guru lollipop, Johnny's threadworm leaflet, and this... limited edition print.

JC is running manfully past the camera, the screen is seared outward with a ring of fire and we now see the printed monstrosity full screen.

V/O: How futuristic is that?! It doesn't even have a face on it!!

Cut back to JC, leaning against his desk. Meaningful guitar music. Phone number up again in corner.

JC: Make the call, my friend. I stay up half the night so you don't have to.

JC picks up his empty glass of scotch and holds it near his mouth for some seconds while the advert fails to end.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Colony collapse disorder

Bees front cover
Suck, baby, suck!
The latest release by Keshco is a three-track EP entitled "Bees". It's available through Australian netlabel 4-4-2 Music (at this link); alternatively you can buy a physical copy direct from us, or in a couple of record shops.

So, for the second year running, we've put together a release for Record Store Day (Saturday 21 April), which this year was followed on the Sunday by the 42nd anniversary of Earth Day. A double header of good causes. But how did these three songs come about?

A couple of years ago, erstwhile Queen drummer Roger Taylor released a single, "The Unblinking Eye (Everything Is Broken)". It's a lengthy broadside at many ills of the modern world, and Roger was quoted as saying he wanted people to take the track as a starting point for their own protest lyrics. With that in mind, his B-side was an instrumental mix of the same track.

Now, our Robert being an incorrigible Queen addict (and, at one point, the youngest member of their Fan Club!), he got hold of the single, and we decided to take Roger up on his challenge. I went away to write some new lyrics...

...and months passed. One story that had got me fired up was of the mysterious fall in bee populations across the globe, with in many cases entire colonies vanishing from their hives overnight. It's been baffling an increasingly concerned scientific community, with the suspects including intense agricultural practices, where monoculture and chemicals have deliberately removed the usual wildlife from around crops, meaning there's no natural pollination so they have to truck bees in to do the job. Schedules mean they're often driven back and forth across the country (or shipped overseas) with barely time to rest. As these fields are monocultures, there's not the varied diet that you'd expect in nature; so the bees are overworked, uprooted, have poor nutrition, and are thus increasingly falling prey to parasites like the varroa mite. On top of this it's suspected that pesticides may be damaging their navigation systems.

These protest lyrics take a while though. It's very hard not to just sound pompous. Anyway, in February we checked online. It still appeared as if nobody else had done a cover. Hmm. I sat down again to write.

In the end, we started the backing track (at Robert's in Streatham) before finishing the lyric. With Mr Taylor's instrumental in tracks 1-2 of our 8-track, we started overdubbing, feeling for our own style to emerge. Down went rhythm guitars, drums, keyboards, a guide vocal. Due to time constraints, the drums were Robert's first take - boom! Now we had the pulse, we were able to take out the original recording.

So, I had a couple of goes at finishing this lyric. It lacked a certain something, a chance element. Hmm... then in through the door walked Mark E Smith of The Fall. "Hi-uh!" said Mark. "What the hell are you making-uh? I'll sing all over that-uh." So he did! Verse three was ready. What next? An article in the New Internationalist had a lengthy quote from John Muir, 19th century naturalist, about his experiences walking through California in the days before it got spoilt. That sounded pretty evocative, and seemed to fit with the song's bridge, a detour from the home key...

Taking the 8-track to Oxford, I caught up with Luke and we overdubbed extra guitars, then a sweet flute duet. His girlfriend Melanie was coaxed into laying down some skronky saxophone, a bit at a time; then we got a touch of lapsteel for added buzzy swarminess and a late countermelody. If you notice any extra odd noises, they're probably down to our audio editor, which aptly enough is called Jeskola's Buzz.

I hope the song is taken in the spirit it's intended. It's not ironic, there's a genuine problem in our food chain, and it's a slight relief to see how the plight of the bee is now being highlighted, e.g. by Friends of the Earth with their current Bee Cause campaign. Why not plant a few bee-friendly wildflowers in your garden or window box?

Bees back cover
Swarm, baby, swarm!
Of course, whilst we had a main song in mind, we also needed some companion pieces, and first to mind was a psychedelic piece, "Porcine", named after a quote from a near-apopleptic David Starkey. It was just a bare instrumental, tremolo guitar and rumbly drums, for months until we pulled it out again one teatime and attempted to add overdubs. The original wasn't quite in (ahem) fixed time, but for the usual Keshco reasons we ploughed on anyway and I think the lurching effect suits the piece. The lyrics came out overnight before and after sleep, the first verse calm whilst pondering the rich trader, the Teflon man; the second hurried whilst pondering those trying hard to scrape a living under the Government's hypocritical evil eye.

Robert's using one of his stripped-down live kits here; Arbiter Flats snare, pound shop tom, two cymbals screwed onto the same arm, and various percussive bits. There's a metal block (from Wickes?) which has a particularly sweet sound when struck right. Into the mix we throw a couple of Dynamikes, feeding back like crazy, and a clarinet from my girlfriend Caroline, stuck through a ton of reverb and distortion. The whole track has an anti-climactic air, from the way the first languid verse instead of building, falls into the hurried spoken second verse, then into abstract instrumental; also the way the last chord of the pattern, Bb, never feels quite right coming back to the first chord, C#m; and also the way the final verse never quite makes it up to the rock-out that seems necessitated, instead sinking to a series of staccato sighs.

The last track is "Worm Cafe", all a chattering, clanging mass of sound, assembled by Robert using the freeware audio editor Goldwave. Are we in the middle of a bustling North African market square? Are the massive reverse-echo piano clangs passing traffic? See if you can count all the various instruments. I particularly like the drums flipping into 7/8 time every two or three measures. Well worth two and a half minutes of your time.

I'd like to thank the Brain Art Foundation (Moira, Matthew, Jasmin and Barbara) for helping the back cover collage along (more of that in the video); and Robert for his fluorescent front cover.

So, there we are. Keshco's latest release, offered with love. Here's that all-important link again: Bees.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Futile Peace Offering: An Article

She's got the whole world in her hands.
22nd December 2011 brought the release of Keshco's third EP for those beautiful people at the Swedish netlabel 23 Seconds. "Futile Peace Offering" is a collection of eight new tunes, with a couple of toe-tappers and a couple of spine-tinglers amongst the ranks. So, how did it come about? Beware! sent a reporter to find out...

FERTILITY IN PIECES by Adrienne Darvell

"The key word for 2011 is 'backlog'", asserts Andy Brain, Keshco's longtime singer-songwriter-producer, currently sat cross-legged on his carpet packing away his Christmas decorations. "We've always had more projects than we knew what to do with, so this year we deliberately prepped up the Middle Room CD [for side-project Bleak House] and finished up the Johnny Cocktail movie, before turning back to music in time for another Christmas release."

Ah, the Christmas release, now a firmly established part of Keshco's year. This time, we have a cover image of a cupcake being offered to the camera. Stuck into its psychedelic icing (or is it an Earth-like map?) are six plastic figures of world leaders, factory-white, still attached to their moulding bar as if representing a family tree, or perhaps hanging from gallows. The EP is cheerily entitled "Futile Peace Offering". Is the title significant? "Ho yes. But the thing that's missing, which was part of the original plan, was a song about the United Nations. Very prog stylings, with overlapping vocal lines and extended twiddly bits! I don't know when that will surface now, as it was about eight minutes long and this seemed the best place for it."

Nevertheless, listening to the EP now, the title seems to hold water, with a succession of meditations on impermanence, disharmony and frustration; even the ostensibly jaunty opener, "Top Deck", is shot through with misanthropy - its narrator desires an empty upper deck on the bus to be away from people and home, and entertains the prospect of disembarking at a random point (implicitly, to start again somewhere else), then is lulled into a dreamworld by the stroboscopic effects of "sunlight split through trees and railings", before the trip is eventually spoilt by his personal stereo breaking down, cueing a 2-minute outro of increasing intensity. The drums are quite wild on this one, aren't they? "Not half!" Andy drops some baubles into a box and starts disassembling a Nativity.

Keshco have always had a nice line in lovesongs, despite protestations that "it's not really what we do, is it?". Case in point: track 2, "Technicolor Universe", though you can detect a subtext. The singer, Robert in ardent mode, maintains a calm front against exterior storms - "work can go to the wall" as long as his beloved is there through the night - but the effect is not altogether reassuring, despite some desperately pretty chimes and synth lines. The track is a plea, delivered without surety; it's not made explicit whether the lady will stay, and the track ends suspended mid-break without resolution.

Andy has made Beware! a chai which is still too hot to drink, and there's nothing to dunk. In its place, he suggests a bowl of cereal. On the EP, it's back to work, of a sort - self-promotion, which every aspiring artiste will be only too familiar with, but Keshco have particular reservations. "Shelved" is a cut of lo-fi synthpop with the backing and vocals originally recorded by Luke on 4-track, "then copied to our super-dooper 8-track, then into Buzz for the full Depeche treatment". The accompanying electronic squeals hark back to Keshco of old, with the hiss and scuffs part of the overall aesthetic. The arduous nature of the task is emphasized by the metronomic beat and suppressed-anger vocals. Two minutes in, our focus shifts to what appears to be field recordings of a singer promoting his wares in some trendy music shop. He's turned down: "Ahh - we don't take CD-Rs." "No no, it's a CD, in a case. More ooh than ahh." But of course, it's Robert and Andy in character. "That is actually pretty accurate, for London anyway."

Beware! starts to wonder if the title has further resonances. Has all been well in the camp this year? "Well, we all get frustrated - either because we get out-of-practice and then it takes some time to hit the spot, or we get particularly bored by the promo side of things, as you've heard! - or when we've done gigs cos it always goes balls-up somehow."

Hmm. Andy, you've not done synthpop for a while, is this track a first step back to the genre? The ginger boffin grimaces. "Well... we've always tried to mix folk and electronic elements, it just seemed to make sense for 'Shelved'. I think we will be trying some pure electronic things in future EPs, ask me again next year!"

Next up, an acoustic ditty with a touch of Suzanne Vega about it ("Really?" Andy replies, as if it's only just occurred to him), "Architecture Weekly" casts an acerbic eye around the London that two of the band still call home. "Old Street was the specific influence, though the lyric built up over various bus journeys. You know - at any given point, half the city seems to be in flux, and Transport for London has this booklet explaining how they are overhauling every Tube line - the timeline extends until about 2030. At which point they'll start over again". Here, the band's by-now-signature reverb is used with a chaotic lapsteel to recreate the screeching and banging that is part of the modern skyline. The track ends with a nod to the renewed interest in anti-capitalist protest, exhorting all to "reclaim the city" - "Hey kids, drink up we're leaving, to replant the garden, dig a fishpond as well".

What's the other sane response to all this concrete? Well we all want to get away. "Departure Lounge" is one of the most library music-styled pieces we've seen from Keshco, which runs a fine line between parody and Pages From Ceefax. Tidal waves of cymbals against a pair of slipsliding lead guitars, called to a halt by the airport chimes of the boarding call. A jetliner screams across the stereo. A massively upbeat jam kicks in, all wicky-wicky percussion and insane twanging, the perfect music for dancing ninnies.

It's straight back down to earth, as metallic distorted Casiotone percussion heralds "Long Road To Castle Acre", a post-break-up lament backed by transistor organ and restrained tremolo guitar and bass. "That one had a... nutty genesis. Robert sang the original lead vocal with the beats and organ, then played that mixdown in Goldwave through the air and recorded a mono track of live drums over the top. We then worked from that mono track when adding the other instruments. It adds a kind of telephone quality to his voice."

Perhaps the most noticeable addition to the sonic palette this time is the lapsteel ("we're still honeymooning with it", Andy grins); and indeed track 7, "Like Home", is a complete band of the things, seemingly put through a long wave radio. Snatches of other tracks jostle with the meanderings of the pure electronic tone of the airwaves, before taking over the following minute completely.

The EP's last track, "Wiped", is pretty sombre. "It's specifically a tribute to Broadcast singer Trish Keenan, who died in January 2011. We had some contact years ago, and I'd always hoped our paths would cross again, so took it pretty badly. At the time, I was reading a book about the attempts to recover lost episodes of [British sci-fi serial] Doctor Who, and some of the increasingly convoluted concepts seemed to fit." The track has more than a whiff of Americana, with that lapsteel again taking on melodic duties. "We kept that one pretty simple, as the lapsteel and reverb seemed to do all the work by themselves. You've also got the reference to hauntology, which is the style they were exploring a couple of years back."

The stereo has fallen silent. So, what comes next, Andy? His eyes briefly light up. "Well, we have this 26 minute track... and another Cocktail, and another Bleak House, and a cassette, a horror EP, and a bonsai EP..." With that, Beware! downs its chai and takes its leave.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Well it's here right under your nose and you just can't see it, can you?

Gah. Keshco have had an account on Twitter for some time now, and as we're generally not keen on social media or spamming people, we've kept our pronouncements brief and related to things we do, either musical or visual. That said, it seems the majority of visitors follow us on a whim. In-between our tweets, we might gain two or three followers, usually with names and timelines that suggest all they do is watch/dissect Dr Who or play games on old computers. All well and fine, we like Dr Who and retro gaming as much as the next fruit salad, and both are sometimes relevant to us and our work. But then, when our next tweet goes up about Keshco or JC or whatever, those newbies unfollow us within hours. Imagine the shock of the unfollower: "No, it's too much! There was a sentence on my timeline that doesn't fit my narrow range of interests, even though some of their previous less-than-monthly tweets did. They mentioned the 48k once. Were they lying? Why don't they mention the 48k in every tweet?".

The really sad thing is, those retro gamer/Dr Who fans are actually missing out on a band that has sci-fi/computing woven into its very fabric. We've released at least three Who-related songs and used 80s memories and Speccy sounds all over the place! Just because every tweet doesn't directly reference Peter Davison's celery or the downsides of PEEKing and POKEing versus BBC Basic...

The daftest was when our tweets about the latest Johnny Cocktail film (which you still haven't watched on YouTube, or bought the DVD - shame!) briefly brought new followers who just blindly follow everything drink-mixing-related. Most peculiar.

At the moment, our follower list is a hardcore of netlabel watchers, people into free culture, and a few of our real life friends. It's fine to be into wanting everything free, as long as you say thanks, or give us some food or blankets in return.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Earlobe Holistics liner notes

E.H. artwork by Gareth Monger, 2000
Let's go back to the millennium. What were Keshco up to? Minidiscs at the ready, for the story behind Earlobe Holistics...

For the previous four years, the early Keshco demos had been on copied cassettes, through standard home stereo units. Anything that needed extra parts had to be played back through the air. After a while, we got two tape-to-tape systems with the ability to overdub through a mic socket whilst copying, though our mics were uniformly pound-shop crap so the results weren't too good. These cassettes mostly went back and forth within the band, or occasionally to some unlucky girl. In mid-1998, we decided to record a "trying-our-hardest" three-track demo to send to record companies, though it was mostly family members who were subjected to it.

University called. In spring 1999, I splashed out on a Fostex multitracker. The X-77 had four tracks, six inputs, a neat rotary pitch control, and I loved it to bits. This wasn't to say we instantly started recording band masterpieces. I was in Leicester; Robert and Gareth were still in the Fens and soon to head off to Ipswich and Blackpool respectively. When we did meet up, we were more likely to use a dictaphone to get our tunes down (or really, more likely just to sit down and watch Stella Street).

It was around this time that I heard a single by European art-rock duo Schulte/Eriksson. "For The Sake Of Clarity" (YouTube link) was delightful, confusing, polyrhythmic and playful. Eagerly I sent off for their homemade album. Its copy-of-copy, looping fragments made perfect sense to my ears, just as I was acquiring a taste for the Fall through their album "Cerebral Caustic" - not generally regarded as a classic, but the textures were so dense, scuffed, crushed - perfect cassette music.

We'd been going through a poor time of it as a band. Barely rehearsing, nowhere near the sounds we wanted, anything with more than four chords too complex to learn, I got pretty down about the prospects for my new songs. Suddenly here was an answer. We wouldn't learn the carefully written songs, we'd just make stuff up as we went along! Sweet relief! I'd enjoyed making cut-ups on cassettes for years, and so maybe we could do something larger with the technique.

Months passed. At the start of 2000, I splashed out again and spent £200 on a then quite impressive Sony MiniDisc recorder. Now, songs could be added, chopped into bits and redistributed within the running order. Perfect.

What eventually emerged on Earlobe Holistics was an odd mixture, and went through a few edits before its final form. It opens with a typically daft cut-up taken from the 1998 demo, and the attendant first track, "Livsey Street", a rather Madness/Morrissey-aping Britpop vignette recorded initially on Robert's Goodmans Boogie Box, with him on various percussion and me on the vocals, guitars and keys. The final vocal overdub was achieved on one of those big portable radio/cassette systems with the L/R stereo microphones, by playing the fourth-generation backing track through the air towards the right side with me singing and guitaring into the left side. It's amazing there's any top end left.

We then hear the first evidence of the Fostex 4-track - "On Our Big Travel" which is a whimsical solo affair recorded in Leicester. Following this is a dictaphone chant improvised by me, Robert and Gareth, "Photograph"; and another solo recording, "Airport 1981" which is tuneful enough but highly indebted to Stereolab. We tried rehearsing it as a 4-piece band when we were preparing for stardom the following summer, but couldn't quite get it to swing.

"Videoesque" was an early spoken-word piece about decay looked at through the ephemeral medium of a video collection - my teenage videos regularly feature programmes on the verge of disintegration, what with being recorded through a dodgy Fen aerial, through a dirty video head, onto a 4-hour cassette recording at half-speed to cram even more material on board. Ludicrous signal to noise ratios. Bad enough recording from Anglia, but what if I wanted a programme from Central...? It's backed by a drum loop of Robert from 1995, on the school snare drum. Heehee!

"Ding Dong Dang" is a jingle made from guitar harmonics. Someone stick it on an ident. Then there's "Drowning In Melodrama", which was written in Spring 1998 as a deliberately easy track - six verses following the same chord pattern. The lyric's nothing to fax home about, but does namecheck "Screw The Roses, Send Me The Thorns" which should be in every sensible bedside cabinet. Some interest has been added later with a few judicious overdubs, courtesy of shareware program Multiquence, including some backwards school noises. Double heehee!

We're still approaching the halfway point here, so I'll stick to the interesting bits. "Angry" was recorded on a visit to Ipswich (me with guitar, Robert drumming on his desk) and has resurfaced a few times (even recently with Luke). It's somewhere between Portishead and a resigned Elvis Costello. "F/S Double" is a guitar in odd tuning, something like C-F-Bb-G-A-D.

(The original) Side Two features an experiment called "What Would You" where Robert and I were trying to keep shifting rhythms against each other, and he was using his voice like a sampling keyboard - "what would you, what would you do if I, wha- what wou- what would you do" (etc). The piece I'm most fond of, though, was one of many three-man improvised instrumentals that we did in 1995/6 during our lunchtimes. We would usually grab as many keyboards as we could find leads for, and set them up in a practice room with my trusty Spinney Tronic tape recorder laid in the middle. "Earlobe Enhancement" is a seven-minute slab of Casiotone prog that is about the closest we got to Boards Of Canada territory, four years before I knew they existed. It features a sterling contribution from our old co-founder, bass player and single-finger-chord picker, Aeldun, including his unexpected (to him) solo in the middle. Robert and I do very characteristic keyboard noodling, and the whole thing's been augmented with some careful overdubs through Multiquence.

The whole thing ends with an avalanche of cut-ups and finally a squealing solo from Robert on broken ukelele with a crappy mic stuck inside the sound hole. Yes, you should hear "Jazzy Bob's Lead Noodling Hour".

So, what happened to Earlobe Holistics? Well, nothing. It came with us to Glastonbury in 2000, where copies were handed to new-folkies It's Jo & Danny, and to a security guy "to give to Jools Holland". We'd hoped to track down John Peel, but alas no. Upon joining mp3.com that summer, I got on with assembling what would become the mainly solo The Seeds Of Wom, whilst we briefly tried our hand at being a four-piece band again. These days, E.H. is available on CD, and still stands as the only way to hear what Keshco sounded like in the late 1990s.