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WATCH/INTERVIEW: Blurt
Robert Barry , April 8th, 2015 13:17

As Blurt share the video for 'Giant Lizards On High' below, Robert Barry speaks to leading man Ted Milton about instant composition, the band's current sound and more

It's somehow appropriate that on the day I meet Ted Milton, screaming dada poet and whisky-sodden sax man to south London’s perennial post-punk pogo-jazzists Blurt, the red-top tabloids are going spare about some purported “Murder at Crufts”. Dogs, if not actual bloody murder, feature heavily in the video for Blurt’s latest, ‘Giant Lizards on High’. It is, Milton admits, a “curiously incongruous” clip. The song itself makes scant reference to canines but is rather, a “swipe at religion and delusional systems” – subject matter which its author seems “never to run out of bile” for. “I could get me a fatwa if I strike lucky,” he croaks acidly, a wry smirk playing upon his lips.

A former puppeteer whose band got signed to Factory Records after Tony Wilson invited him to perform with his marionettes on Granada TV’s So It Goes, Ted Milton has been ploughing his own singular sonic furrow for some three-and-a-half decades now. With a sound somewhere between Captain Beefheart and Pere Ubu, John Zorn and James Chance and the Contortions, Blurt remain almost heroically unclassifiable. Milton recalls one descriptor, “psycho-funk-afro-punk-fake-nowave-pogo-jazz…” reeling off the hyphenates like the litany of some peculiar faith before erupting sardonically, “Oh yeah! Book ’em!” I have to admit I don’t recall that particular section divider at my local HMV.

“We seem to fall,” he tells me, “more between stalls than ever before. Too strict tempo to appeal to the improv crowd; too improv to appeal to the popular music people. If you can’t name it,” he muses ruefully, “you can’t sell it…”

We’re sitting, sipping tea, in a greasy spoon in East London. As Blurt prepare to head out on the road again, Milton is telling me about one of their more memorable past shows, in Seattle, many years ago. “The stage was built on beer crates with a carpet on top of it and it was all a bit wobbly. I felt insecure but after a few swigs on the whisky, my courage returned. I energetically stepped forward, threw a saxophonist shape, and my foot went straight down between where there should have been a beer crate. Arse over tit, saxophone up, and very soon we were driving back up the coast to Vancouver – we’d only been on stage for about five minutes – with a busted horn and nearly-broken leg.”

The forthcoming tour sees them return to France, a country Milton calls “our strongest territory at the moment” because, he laughs, “I’m so pretentious and so are they.” But before that they’ll be playing a warm-up gig at London’s very own Fiddler’s Elbow, in Kentish Town, on April 21. The shows are in support of the aforementioned new single, ‘Giant Lizards on High’, recorded last year at Moriaki Skyway studios by Tim Garratt. The single’s two tracks, along with its forthcoming follow-up, ‘I Wan See Ella’, see the group experimenting with new methods of instant composition.

“Nobody has made any preparation for the pieces to be played, other than that I would have the text” Milton tells me, “and there would be no talk at all about what to do. Straight out. Boom. There.” Even the lyrics, Milton says, “might get chopped up a little bit in the performance” such that, sometimes, listening back, the lyricist himself, “can’t work out certain words and sentences. I think, what the fuck was that? What’s being said here?” The results are as exhilarating as anything they have ever done.

It was, Milton thinks, the studio wot done it. He first found himself at Moriaki Skyway being interviewed for the East London Film Festival and immediately experienced a shiver of what he calls “nostalgie de la boue” (nostalgia, that is, for the mud). “It reminded me very much of the first studio we ever recorded in – which always seemed to me to be the best recording we ever made. So we went back in there. It’s about the size of a broom cupboard. My boot is in the kick drum and the monitor for the vocals is in arms reach. It’s that close. I could punch the guitar player if the mood takes me.”

In recent years, Milton has been keeping busy with a whole plethora of side projects, from cineconcert with Aleksandr Medvekin’s Soviet masterpiece, Happiness, to a new album collaborating with Wire’s Graham Lewis. Milton is most excited, however, about his forthcoming book, which will be a collection of his poems. Jordan Copeland, who made the video for ‘Giant Lizards on High’, is helping him put together a Kickstarter – or ‘Jerkstarter’ as Milton insists on referring to it – to raise funds for publication.

For a previous book of poems, some years ago, Milton created a special “gerbilized edition” by feeding pages, one by one, to his pet rodents. For the new collection, one of the planned rewards for fundraisers will be a “shredded edition”. Milton explains: “So the whole book has been taken and shredded and put into a transparent box. Very limited edition. I think that’s gonna cost a lot of money.”

In the meantime, it’s back on the road with Blurt, wilder and more astringent than ever. When I ask Milton how he thinks the band as they sound now compare to former times, he replies: “Before I think it was more melodic. And simpler. Now, I think it’s more intense, and harsher. One or two tracks we've done recently, I can't believe how much is going on. There’s nothing relaxed about it whatsoever. Once upon a time I used to be able to play more melodic saxophone when I needed to, but now I seem to be incapable of it. I can play a lot more notes and I’ve got a bigger command over the instrument in terms of being able to make a big honk and then a whisper after it. But I’ve lost the melodic side of things.”

You’ve moved towards the extremes, I suggest.

“I have, yeah,” he muses.

That’s a good thing, I insist.

“I don’t know whether it’s good for business.”

Blurt play The Fiddler's Elbow in Kentish Town with Graham Dunning & Colin Webster on April 21

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