To the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill last night to see The Necks. This antipodean trio have been winning critical plaudits for some years now - I have been meaning to see them for a long time and thanks to the adventurous booking policy at the De La Warr in recent months, I finally got the chance. About 150 people in the audience and the chance to sit very near the front made it an intimate show; as usual at this venue the sound was good - at the sold-out Richard Hawley gig here it was superb. The Necks (terrible name - is it because their necks are always on the line?) are famous for doing two sets of 45 minutes duration, both of which are completely improvised, not in the 'free' jazz style but in a more structured, melodic and purposeful fashion.
They are usually referred to as a 'jazz' band but I think they have more in common with minimalism, 'post-rock', electronica and dance styles such as drum and bass and early rave music. Certainly the line-up is classic traditional jazz trio: piano, double bass and drums, but the sounds they were producing were unlike virtually any other jazz trio I have heard, although I notice that more are going down this path: the Robert Mitchell Trio who I saw in Hastings a few months ago seem to be striving towards certain aspects of this trance-like sound. I liked the way that the piano player Chris Abrahams had his back to the other two so that any non-musical communication about a shift of tempo or similar development would have been very difficult to make. I briefly met the bass player and drummer in the interval, but he wasn't around; the way he plays must require immense concentration and discipline - Keith Jarrett is an obvious influence.
The first piece was more atmospheric with some interesting percussion from drummer Tony Buck seemingly kicking a collection of sleigh bells on the floor while metronimically tapping cymbals and rubbing another cymbal around a snare drum. After the interval the second piece was more hardcore with some very fast repetitive arpeggios and hammered notes on the piano backed up with a great riff on the amplified double bass and some inventive drumming that, combined during one elongated section, about half an hour in, reminded me of Mogwai when they really get going. There must have been various treatments being applied to the sound at the mixing desk (I couldn't see any effects pedals or other equipment on stage), because this was a lot heavier than the usual sound from a jazz trio and was certainly the highlight for me - it was at this point that the couple in front of me left. There is definitely a strong element of Philip Glass and especially Steve Reich in much of what they do; I was surprised that there was nobody there that I recognised from the Hastings Jazz Club which reinforces my belief that many jazz fans are just as conservative as rock fans.
Another impressive band with some similarities are The Bays (they claim to never rehearse, each gig is improvised and they don't release records, brilliant drummer) whom I saw with Herbie Hancock at a bizarre Barbican gig a few years back. I remembered that the first rock gig I ever went to was Tangerine Dream at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon (October 1975?) which was also apparently an improvised show; things are coming full circle.
Author of Subterranean City, Beneath the Streets of London, London's Coffee Houses, Decadent London, The Folklore of London, Subterranean City (Revised and Expanded Edition), Netherwood, Last Resort of Aleister Crowley, Lord of Strange Deaths, the Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer; Secret Tunnels in England, Folklore and Fact