[Jandek] Northern Ireland July

Gavin at Arkhonia gavin at arkhonia.co.uk
Sat Aug 1 11:21:30 PDT 2009

Thanks to Paul Condon for his posting, I've been struggling to find the time and
the words to do likewise all week - made a bunch of scrawled and drunken notes
(alcohol was a big feature of the whole tour) for 3 of the 5 performances, and
took some rubbish snaps of venues etc., but I came away from the tour with more
impressions than observations - hopefully the pics will be more useful at
grounding the entire tour in a reality that got kind of blurry as the days went


Larne *was* an odd starting point, its only real feature being the ferry port -
when we were asking for directions to the venue we were told to look for 'a
big bar', but the Olderfleet was only big by Larne standards. Were it not for
the myriad of Jandek posters (see crappy pics) we would have had doubts we were 
  in the right place at all.

As there was no stage as such, there was also no 'entrance', with the musicians
sitting around near the bar upstairs before setting up and playing, so there
seemed much less of a separation between the band and the audience; I felt like
we all were involved somehow. I guessed that the guy next to me was Ross Morris
from this list and chatted briefly (although I was pretty drunk by this point,
so hope I didn't make an oaf of myself), but he had to leave to catch his ferry
back to Glasgow before the end. He looked thrilled right up the moment he had to
go, and it *was* thrilling, and bizarre. And tense: the promoters had been
warned about the volume beforehand, and there seemed to be a risk that there
would be local complaints, but also curiosity, as Ian Gray had gotten a bunch of
items into local press (will scan and post some of them) - having no idea what a
small town in N Ireland's response to Jandek would be, this tension informed my
perceptions of the performance. The 'whiskey in the jar' drunk eventually drove
away a member of Therapy? in attendance, and visitors from downstairs came up
occasionally, hung around and then left again, and it ended 20 minutes later
than planned, with the sole barman upstairs putting the lights up to drive us
all out. We drank outside afterwards, and there was a group of very drunk locals
doing fantastic singalong versions of Johnny Cash and Abba songs, with a
genuinely *musical* sensibility at work here that was utterly absent in the
Jandek performance.

To me David Keenan's drumming was closer to the untutored bashing of the
albums than any other live Jandek I've seen or heard so far - he attacked his
kit like a man on a mission to discover what drums were for, but was limited by
his apparent lack of technique, which, combined with Heather Leigh's echoed
bass playing, made for a very non-rhythmic rhythm section. Keenan broke a stick
and continued with jazz brushes (to no obvious change in either sound or style)
before reverting back to sticks, and his spasmodic bursts of arhythmic and angry
drum assault meant that the whole piece kind of loped in and out of time.

The Corwood Rep's guitar was very loose, possibly (as with the Cafe OTO show
last year) because it was unfettered by having to carry a lyric; the occasional
'get in the photo', sometimes stated, sometimes howled, and then finally just
persuasive and insistent, just punctuated the playing, as did the harmonica
breaks. There were occasions when all the players seemed to be listening to each
other, and then others where they all seemed oblivious to what the other was
doing, in a similar way to The Electric End, and parts of these shows seemed
like an extrapolation of the loose pointlessness of that track, and every time
the lyric reappeared it seemed to mean something different, while still being


The Bangor show had a different kind of feel, but only by degrees. After trying
to locate some sort of imagined meaning to 'get in the photo', I was utterly
confounded by 'I love shoes more than men', the latter sounding like something
overheard and just quoted, rather than any kind of expression of anything.
Essentially meaningless. Which gave me a different kind of perspective on all
the shows that followed: as someone at least familiar with every Jandek release,
and having seen 5 of the UK shows before this, it felt to me that this was a
very liberated series of performances, and, without the constraints of lyrics,
'concept' or technique, *anything* that happened would have been acceptable.
Keenan battered the kit like a man angry with his instrument, destroying the
hi-hat and then placing one cymbal on his snare and bashing that; the bass drum
kept trying to escape from him, but this all seemed like it was what was meant
to happen, that anything in the room *was* Jandek, that, if the ceiling had
collapsed or the stage were invaded by outraged locals, this would still be part
of the performance. The alcohol consumption may have coloured my judgement
though...I made notes, but my drunken scrawl is mainly illegible a week or so

The guitar and bass combined at various points to create weird drones and
pulses, and Keenan's drums punctuated these pulses, often breaking the rhythm
rather than complementing it; there were the same occasional harmonica breaks,
but there was no obvious structure at all, to any of these performances, but it
also didn't feel like the kinds of improvisation I'd seen before with drummers
like Chris Corsano and Alex Neilson - Keenan's playing felt almost
anti-'improv', just an a angry 'fuck it' bashing of a drumkit. I watched the
Tribal Aether Glasgow Sunday 2005 DVD last night, and was struck with how much
more innately rhythmic the Corwood Rep's own drumming was in comparison to Keenan.

Much heavy drinking followed in the bar below. Everything was becoming hazy, the
fact that we were in an essentially foreign country (Pete and Jamie were from
London, I had come from Yorkshire) just enhanced the unreality of Jandek, on
tour, in Northern Ireland, with a handful of dedicated people in tow.

Back to Belfast next day.


It pissed down with rain all day in Belfast, so the HMV show probably had a few
people in there just to shelter. My phone pics went up on the Arthur blog, but I
think they didn't capture both the incongruity *and* the familiarity of a Jandek
show in the middle of the day, in a popular city-centre shop - as Paul said, you
started to spot familiar faces, and people who had been at the two previous
shows acknowledged each other even if they had not spoken (or had, but were too
drunk to remember), and so the sight of the Corwood Rep with David and Heather
huddled into the corner of the store that looked out onto a sheltered shopping
mall didn't feel as fucking strange to me as it should have done. The weird was
becoming normal and normality seemed ever stranger, so a 25 minute psychedelic
drift odyssey with 'all I want is everything' as the sole lyric wasn't as odd to
me as watching anorak-hooded shoppers pressing their faces to the window behind
Jandek to see what on earth was happening...people hung around and chatted with
the band afterwards (some post-gig chat was filmed for a possible college film
project), and the informality, our hangovers, travelling, sleep in unfamiliar
beds, and a need to find a particular Belfast pub all became vague and slightly
confused as we wandered back out into the city centre downpour. I remember
talking to people before and after the HMV instore, and I remember feeling both
tense and comfortable, chatting with relative strangers. The Jandek performances
did not feel separate from the place or the time or my own feelings, it was all
somehow part of the same thing.


Food. Beer. More Beer. Then on from the John Hewitt to the Black Box, which is a
great venue, black walls with a stage (hence the name) with tables and chairs
set up, and due to the number of familiar faces from Larne and Bangor, there was
a sense to me of some kind of shared collective perception, although I had not
really been sober for 3 days, so I'm sure the Belfast reviewer had a much
greater sense of objectivity than I did.

I was really looking forward to the Belfast gig, although I was not sure why -
possibly because it was the highest profile show, and the only one in an
established gig venue with a presumably curious regular clientele. Heather was
sitting down here, as she was at HMV, possibly due to food poisoning after
Bangor, and her playing may also have been affected by her physical state,
as she just hit single notes, and Keenan locked into a similarly repetitive
anti-groove, while the Corwood Rep's guitar, sounding not unlike 'something
resembling a dentist’s drill turned on inside a wind tunnel' screeched and
scratched and squalled. To quote:

 > To Jandek's side a female bassist begins playing one note at semi-regular
 > intervals. This note bears no relation to what Jandek is playing, nor will it
 > at any point through the remainder of the performance. Eventually one of the
 > strings on the bass breaks, but it's not the hindrance one might expect, as by
 > this point the bass player has started using a guitar slide to produce
 > tuneless noise.
 > All the while the drummer, puffing his cheeks out and staring madly with wild
 > eyes, pounds the drum kit seemingly at random. He occasionally returns to a
 > repetitive, almost military refrain, but largely stays away from any kind of
 > time signature. Occasionally Jandek moves to the microphone and says, 'Last
 > exit to Belfast' before turning his back on the audience and continuing to
 > randomly move his fingers across the fretboard of his guitar to produce more
 > atonal noise.
 > This goes on for well over an hour.

This describes what I heard better than I can. While this was again different
only by degrees from Larne, Bangor and HMV, David Keenan's playing had reached
its peak of irritation for me. And the protracted ending, where the whole thing
seemed like it was going to finish and then didn't, for about 20 minutes, just
made me tense, nervous and annoyed. Maybe it was the semi-altered state I was
slipping into, maybe it was worry about the next day (2 hours from Belfast to
Derry, and the then 2 hours back for an early ferry, and a risk of no
accomodation in Derry due to Daniel O'Donnell fans having the entire town's B&Bs
locked down), the alcohol, the tiredness...but I just felt irked by the entire
Belfast performance, and increasingly so as it dragged ever onwards into an
endless end, as the Corwood Rep exclaimed 'last exit - to Belfast!', for no
discernible reason.

We went back to the John Hewitt for more beer after the show, and, soundtracked
by a rather tourist-oriented Irish folk trio, I have vague recollections of
drunken ranting, about how much I didn't enjoy the show, about everything that
was wrong with it, and, in then slowly realising, in retrospect, how Jandekian
it actually was. Jandek can be annoying, and maybe sometimes is *supposed* to
annoy. I remember, on first hearing some of the earlier Jandek records, how
irritating they could be: Irwin Chusid wrote that 'his music is dark and gloomy,
but it won't make you sad - it will make you tense and uncomfortable', and
that's a feeling that I think I've lost through sheer familiarity. And so, at
least to me, my own irritation with the Belfast performance, like that of the
contentious and affronted reviewer, was a genuine, and almost visceral response:
Jandek might be a sense of meaningless unreason, but rather than attempting to 
be 'confrontational', it just *is*. It's not to like or dislike. Take it or 
leave it, Jandek doesn't care. To quote an earlier poster,

 > I'm wondering when Jandek claimed to be art....or anything else.

I was too pissed. No more beer. Sleep.


The Derry Daniel O'Donnell accomodation problem was exacerbated by a football
match the same night, and we were told rather directly in one pub/B&B that we
were 'in the wrong town at the wrong time' (which would have made a good Jandek
lyric), but we eventually found what may have been the last room available in
Derry in the Bogside (much to the concern of a few people from Bangor we spoke
to), and we had to resort to a Weatherspoons pub as the only obvious source of
vegetarian food in the city, so Sandino's was a very welcoming place to be - the
downstairs bar was heaving inside and out in the evening, although very few
people were there for the gig. We were asked 'who is this Jan Dek?' by a barman,
and obviously it's a struggle to paraphrase what and why, especially as we
seemed caught up in the blurry momentum of the tour...good Erdlinger bottled
lagers there, and the upstairs room was very comfortable, leaning back on a
chaise longue with beers spread out in front of us. Despite my reservations
about Belfast, I had reconciled my annoyance with an acceptance of being annoyed
- I did feel that I could not do another day of this though, that I might slip
out of normal reality completely if I didn't get home soon.

Keenan's drumming had been reduced almost exclusively to snare and bass drum,
both sticks hitting the snare in unison, 1-2-3-4, a similarly-military feel to
Belfast, but somehow less intrusive; Heather's bass got some kind of skewed
slowmotion riff going, and they all seemed to be playing at odds with each
other, but where Belfast was insistent and monotonous, this sent me off into
another familiar state, that of blank semi-consciousness. The seat we had was so
comfortable, I was so tired, and about 30 minutes in I knew I was drifting off
into a familiar timeless spaceless place: all I knew was that Jandek was there,
and the line 'I'm afraid I don't know - I'm useless' had a kind of amused
resignation to it, complementing an abandonment of any kind of sense or meaning.
I fell asleep for at least a few minutes while the sound of Jandek was my only
connection with the conscious world. And I missed the altercation with the
heckler completely because of this.

This felt like the best of all the gigs so far for me, both musically and
psychologically, and seemed to tap into the atmosphere of the earliest band
records without ever referencing those recordings stylistically; David, Heather
and The Rep played their instruments as if they had never seen them before, and
the guitarist's slide playing was almost playful, like 'what would happen if I
did this?', music with all technique temporarily forgotten, and finally fizzling
out to Keenan's solitary tapping on his snare. Fucking amazing.

More drinking outside, the bar still busy at 2 in the morning, people saying
goodbyes to each other in the company of Derry regulars who only had a nominal
curiosity about what had happened upstairs, while they enjoyed the great ska and
Northern Soul jukebox downstairs; Pete answered one guy's curiosity saying 'you
missed the most interesting thing to happen to Derry in the past 10 years' only
to be corrected: '*Erdlinger* is the most interesting thing to happen to Derry
in the past 10 years'. Despite Jandek having toured N Ireland, the performances
seemed to be isolated little pockets of unreason in an otherwise oblivious
country - but my impressions of Jandek are utterly bound up with my impressions
of N Ireland, people and place, beer and food, the friendliness of everybody
despite NI's forbidding reputation to the English, and the understated passion
of people, not least James, James and Ian for their resolve in making all of
this happen, and making it seem so easy and so natural. These people give a
shit, you could see that from the Agitated Radio Pilot performance: it mattered.
This was no half-assed series of noise gigs in shitty pubs (I've seen many in
Manchester), this all felt like something very special.


Ok, I don't know how useful this will be to anyone - I intended to keep some
sense of objectivity just to be able to offer an account for list readers, but
that got lost after Bangor. All of the gigs were recorded for release, and there
was rough video footage of the entire Larne and HMV shows which may or may not
be used, as well as youtube clips of Larne (as posted previously, very rough
sound - one consistent thing throughout was the excellent PA), and about 30
minutes of Derry here, appropriately titled 'Jandek opening up a pathway to
another world':


There is a blog account of Bangor here:


and flickr pics from the author (I think) here:


and hopefully, in maybe 3 years' time or so, there will be a Jandek NI boxed set.

And, after hoping to meet Ross and Paul Condon, I only realised who 'Paul' was
*after* we left Sandino's...maybe next time.


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