For those familiar with the work of Bill Drummond, it will come as little surprise that the pop-provocateur owns a four story, nineteenth-century tower in the centre of Cushendall, a tiny town nestled on the Northern Irish coastline.
Originally built in 1817 to incarcerate riotous locals, the tower was acquired by Drummond in 1999 and has since hosted a series of rolling artist residences. According to Drummond, artists are “expected to produce work that is somehow inspired by their stay in the Tower, the locality, or the people they meet while here. We also expect them to leave something of the work behind – this could be the real physical thing or documentation of the process, depending on what form their work takes.”
In late 2011, Liverpool’s Static Gallery were invited by Bill Drummond to curate The Curfew Tower for 2012. Static decided to alter the convention by incarcerating the previous 13 years’ worth of artworks in the ground-floor prison cell of the tower and to leave each new resident with a four-storey empty tower, a Tascam four-track cassette machine for company and an instruction to make a field recording. The resulting eighty minutes of field recordings were then edited into a forty-minute album by Ade and Hartley from Clinic, Liverpool-based designer Sam Wiehl and Static’s Paul Sullivan, and formed the first release of PRODUCT Records, Liverpool.
On the 7th August 2013, Static carried out a radio broadcast in Cushendall with a two-mile radius, which played the entire unedited eighty minutes of field recordings. Static also carried out a gig at the Curfew Tower garden as part of the Festival of the Glens in order for the people of Cushendall to choose their favourite artwork of the 2012 residency. Rather than being presented with visual artworks, as was the norm for previous years, the public were presented with a shop selling the Curfew Tower albums and a live show featuring Ex-Easter Island Head, Easterjack, Jinx Lennon, Damon Fairclough, Clinic and Tenzing Scott Brown accompanied by Johnny Gauld on bagpipes. Bido Lito! sent Francis Gallagher along to report on proceedings…
Ex-Easter Island Head (Benjamin D. Duvall and Patrick Morrison) open the Curfew Tower garden proceedings with A Curfew Tower for Bill Morrison. Duvall explains, “We worked noon until 2am for five days to create the piece. Bill Morrison [1940-2011], Patrick’s father, was a Northern Irish, Co. Antrim-born playwright most famously known for the works Flying Blind and the trilogy A Love Song for Ulster.” The work created over the residency is a remembrance, tribute to and reflection on Bill’s life, developed to include two guitars played with a variety of extended techniques – from mallet percussion played on the body to ‘Third Bridges’ being inserted under the strings to elicit a ghostly timbre. This is alongside tabletops, dinner bells and other percussive objects found in the tower. The whole of the first half of the piece is underpinned by a percussive loop created by sampling Bill’s Baby Hermes typewriter on which many of his works were written, and brought back to County Antrim in a symbolic homecoming. The piece’s five sections were recorded in almost all of the rooms of the tower, with the natural resonance and echoes of the narrow wooden stairways and stone walls serving to further amplify the yearning cascades of electrified strings.
The haunting primacy of Ex-Easter Island Head is followed by the stinging bass and wallowing timbres of Easterjack, a one-off collaboration by Andy Eastwood (Sex Gods) on guitar and sounds and Dave Jackson (ex. The Room, Benny Profane, Dead Cowboys, Dave Jackson & The Cathedral Mountaineers) providing vocals. A three-track set containing The Wind, Song From A Tower and Elfish Bootstomp comprises a series of droning cathartic reflections on loss and a summer stint spent in the Tower which also doubled as a production trip for the forthcoming feature film Violet City, written by Dave Jackson, directed by John Maxwell and featuring background photography shot in Antrim by Andy Eastwood. Jackson states that the Curfew Tower recordings “were freely adapted from the writings of James Stephens who wrote The Crock of Gold amongst other novels and numerous poems and [who] adapted Traditional Irish Fairy Tales.”
If death, the process of grieving, and remembrance were omnipresent undercurrents in the first two sets, Jinx Lennon’s opening track made for the Curfew Tower album Get the Tension Out is more of a near-death experience. Lennon explains “The song I did was just an excavation beneath my epidermis to where my brain was at in March 2012 when I did the piece. I had had a near-death experience on the main road before I arrived up on Friday to start in the tower to write and record my piece, so I was a bit wired up. I wanted to soak up all the smells sights and sounds filtering through my head while I stayed in the Tower and walked the streets of Cushendall, keeping it a bit slanted and full of anxiety and life-saving humour. I had Dylan Thomas in mind for some reason, though I’m not that familiar with his material. I was imagining if he’d been a Napoleonic-era jail host transported to the spiky-headed marble-eyed joyride era of the modern age of brain-trance Domino’s Pizza Xbox.” Lennon is a preacher performer who takes his audiences on emotional roller-coasters, giving beat orations overlaid by acoustic, electronic synth, samples and effects that can make them break out into sporadic laughter and fall into deep reflective angst in the space of one verse, over and over again during the set.
By this stage, dusk is coming. Enter Damon Fairclough and CLINIC. Fairclough, son of Sheffield and aficionado on all things musical from the Steel City, stands centre stage and recites his spoken-word field recording No Idlers, No Rioters, a take on his sometimes spectral experience at the Curfew Tower. He is flanked either side by Ade Blackburn and Hartley from CLINIC, who sit like Buddhas on the stage, Ade on acoustic guitar and Hartley on percussion performing a hypnotic version of The Curfew Tower in Spring. Blackburn reflects that “It was the first time we’d revisited the tracks, which gave it an energy. Damon Fairclough did his spoken-word piece over our music. It was a different combination than you hear on the record and Damon played a blinder. We were making it up as we went along and the gig was all the better for it.”
As night falls, a table lamp is introduced to the front of the stage as an impromptu lighting effect as Tenzing Scott Brown and Johnny Gauld arrive on stage, shadows being cast on the gable behind, an ephemeral mural of a three-minute cameo of fame. Scott Brown with Jinx Lennon’s acoustic guitar in hand – such is the improvised nature of the event – launches into his theme tune True To The Trail accompanied by Gauld’s bagpipes, filling the night air of Cushendall with distant echoes of the ancient connections between Antrim and the nearby mulls of Scotland. True To The Trail by Bill Drummond was originally recorded and released by Creation Records in 1986 and Tenzing Scott Brown is Bill Drummond’s alter ego.
The gig finishes with Drummond’s end game, and so a project that started in late 2011 as a conversation between Bill Drummond, Paul Sullivan and Craig Pennington comes full circle.
The Curfew Tower album is available through PRODUCT Records Liverpool, featuring: Alan Dunn, Jinx Lennon, Sophie Coyle, Point5 (Thorpe/Woodward), Clinic, Daniel Simpkins/Penny Whitehead, Damon Fairclough, Jeff Young, Paul Simpson, Easterjack, Singersongwriter, Ex-Easter Island Head (Duvall/Morrison), Liam O’Callaghan, Paul Sullivan and Tenzing Scott Brown.