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LIVE REPORT: William Adamson
Andy Thomas , June 11th, 2013 16:33

William Adamson and WG Sebald flow together in a night of words and music, courtesy of our friends at Caught By The River. Photographs thanks to Neil Thomson

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"William Adamson trudges into view, muddied and dishevelled from his journey across the mist-shrouded, waterlogged heath land of Suffolk, bearing verse imagined and forged 'Under An East Coast Moon’."

Michael Garrick tapping into the purity of Edward Powys Mathers' great love poem for his modal jazz epic 'Black Marigolds’; the lyrical beauty of Stan Tracey’s 'Under Milk Wood’ suite; composer Jim Parker rinsing every inch of English eccentricity from Sir John Betjeman for LPs like Late Flowering Love.  British musicians have for a long time sought inspiration from literature. Ancient landscapes and folklore have provided a similar source of ideas; be it Julian Cope’s preoccupations with leylines or the Blake-inspired travels of Cockney mystic Jah Wobble. Like Stepney’s punk visionary, Rob Gallagher is also a wanderer and a free thinker whose love of the written word is equalled by his interest in topography. 

Whether writing songs of resistance to the destruction of 'Twyford Down’ or penning urban odes to the streets of London like 'Roofing Tiles’, as Galliano’s front man Rob Gallagher was always more than a reluctant figurehead for the acid jazz generation.  His work with long time collaborator Dilip 'Demus’ Harris (producer of Young Disciples LP Road To Freedom) as Two Banks of Four drew on the urban mysticism of East London with echoes of the psychogeographic writings of both Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair. 

While recording at Demus’s Suffolk studios the duo continued their topographical studies, researching the history of the Eastern seaboard and gathering tales both ancient and modern: "The slug trails of idea, half-truth and the untold. Catching the light of the full moon, crisscrossing each other on the path. We set about devising a map with places of which we had heard, through some chance visits and low sky directions. A mental map stretched down to Orford in the south, Southwold in the north and inland for twenty miles or so in the county of Suffolk on the east horn of the UK. A man was walking. A dog had been prowling, men readied for an apocalypse. Was the sea telling stories? Old songs and new roads, coughing, standing spitting, while we squinted into one of the hollows of England." 

Their own explorations for their new LP Under An East Coast Moon took on new meaning when they were introduced to the melancholic writings of W. G. Sebald and his book The Rings of Saturn. The German writer, who died in 2001, has also inspired other musicians including James Kirby (The Caretaker) whose latest LP is a soundtrack to Grant Gee's film Patience (After Sebald). The book’s themes struck a chord with Gallagher during his own walks around the region and his studies of the history and folklore of the Eastern edge of England. Tales were gathered from figures he encountered like the retired Sizewell scientist who spent his days on the sands decoding the threatening messages coming from the North Sea. And others from Suffolk’s past like 18th Century horse-thief and gaol-breaker Margaret Catchpole and William Adamson, a 17th-century pastor accused of blasphemy.  As well as Terry Reid and Tom Waits this modern-day folk LP has drawn comparisons with the psychedelic gumbo of Dr. John and you can certainly hear that in the swampy blues of tracks like 'Foggy Due’ and 'Burial Blues’. Perhaps Rob Gallagher is hearing similar ancestral echoes around the creeks of Eastern England that Mac Rebennack heard by the levees of Louisiana. 

Both William Adamson and W. G. Sebald fit nicely with the aesthetic of Caught By The River, who would be presenting one of William Adamson’s rare gigs and an evening dedicated to the late writer. Heading in to The Social from London’s belated summer, the mood is being set by a soundtrack from Andrew Weatherall whose tenure as Artist in Residence at Faber Social is another example of a space where music and literature are meeting. John Betjaman’s 'Licorice Fields Of Pontefract' creates a fitting introduction to two readings from The Rings of Saturn from Gallagher and Charles Rangeley-Wilson. His book Silt Road: The Story of a Lost River pays homage to Sebald in its blend of history and exploration and hearing a passage read slowly by such a great fan gives Sebald’s words even more gravitas:

"From the first smouldering taper to the elegant lanterns whose light reverberated around eighteenth-century courtyards and from the mild radiance of those lanterns to the unearthly glow of the sodium lamps that line the Belgian motorways, it has all been combustion. Combustion is the hidden principle behind every artefact we create. The making of a fish hook, manufacture of a china cup, or production of a television programme, all depend on the same process of combustion. Like our bodies and like our desires, the machines we have devised are possessed of a heart which is slowly reduced to embers."

The languid twang of a small cigar box guitar signals the arrival of the William Adamson four piece. Cross-legged to the right of a seated Rob Gallagher who is creating raw and earthy tones from his rather magical Tin Tone Fascinator, is electronic agitator Hugh Jones. He starts by feeding Gallagher’s voice and guitar into his box of electronic trickery, distorting and looping the sampled sounds. Wielding a homemade electronic concertina that is both rudimentary and futuristic, Jones brings a progressive dimension to the acoustic sound. This is given added weight by the haze of reverb and sound shaping of engineer Demus who is working the controls at the back of the stage. There is something of Terry Callier in the guitar work of Shawn Lee and the sparse haunting bass lines of Huw Bennett, but what we hear tonight is a much more ominous brand of folk-blues. It’s a sound in step with the foreboding words of tracks like 'Creek Men’: "Mud from the creek, dew from the delta, dripped down the carcass as the army approached," Gallagher murmurs as the strings swirl atmospherically. His turn of phrase is equally skillful when reciting the dedication to Rings of Saturn: "There's steel and the straw and the sky has gone hazy, through the smoke and the smell you can see the Dutch navy, the old Earl of Sandwich lies bloated and red, the star of the garter still hung so they said." Swapping guitar for banjo Shawn Lee adds more Mississippi flavour for Gallagher’s tale of the 'Laxfield Blasphemy’, with echoes of the Electronic Research Council’s tribute to the Pendle Witches. "Psychedelic delta blues," a friend whispers approvingly in my ear as the swampy riffs of 'Foggy Dew’ envelop the small basement. Stepping up from his stool for the harmonica driven 'Velvets Eleven’, Gallagher cracks a smile as the crowd responds to this most lyrical and eloquent performance. 

Click here for more of Mr Thomson's photography, and Caught By The River can be found here