Graham Reid | | 2 min read
He was there before punk, was briefly on Flying Nun then embarked on a career of music (with the Builders/Bilders etc), writing (prose, poetry, journals), theatrical presentations and much more.
In the Eighties he flirted with the charts when he released The Alligator Song (commonly known as Do the Alligator) but in typically heretical style where the guitar solo should have been there was vocal babble. It was great and subversive.
In fact, subversion of genres and expectation has long been a hallmark of his quite extraordinary body of work these past forty-plus years, and right at the start he made clear that the idea driving the text would determine the music and genre, whether it be pop, rock, cabaret, opera, spoken word, jazz or theatre.
And so to the Ferocious trio which has Direen on speak-sing/spoken word and various organs with experimental composer Johannes Contag (here on drums, formerly of Cloudboy, The Golden Awesome etc) and guitarist Mark Williams.
While you might search for a lyrical thread which binds these diverse works together, the idea of memory, memento mori and collective history explored does appear in a few places in pieces which range from the slow and light-footed opener In the Blue Rain to fast'n'furious, declamatory Nick Cave-like delivery over staccatoo and explosive guitars on Mason (which alarmingly follows that more intimate opener).
Chichicho is a bruising, open letter to Christchurch (“fingers in the mayoralty, ministers acting like royalty”) delivered as a minimalist pop-rock, there are clever multi-tracked vocal parts creating their own internal dialogue and echo on the haunting You Hear which might have come from one of the Giorno Systems' spoken word/poetry collections from the Seventies.
There is also veiled menace here (the stalking pace of the disconcerting Perfect Tone) and the beautiful Extraordinary Day is book-ended with a reading from a 13thcentury manuscript Stryf of the Body and the Gost which addresses mortality. Direen's words however open metaphorically and edge towards to same idea. A sort of reference to the notion that “even in the midst of life there is death”, and its inverse of course.
If Lou Reed's Perfect Day was a reflection largely free of guile, Extraordinary Day is an exploration of the depth behind the ordinary. It is outstanding.
Throughout Contag and Williams provide the pinpoint perfect accompaniments: that funeral drum beat behind Extraordinary Day, the brittle guitar stabs or sandblasts on the white-knuckle Handful of Bones.
It isn't an easy album – it's a weak comparison, but imagine going from Cohen to Cave to Cooper Clarke with barely a pause between – but it counts among one of Bill Direen's finest albums . . . and while this might be a one-off, let us hope not.
There is excellent work here.