This Is Not This Heat – Barbican Centre, London, March 4th 2017
At some point in the last twelve months, we all woke up. And it’s not to a mellow summer morning, a day to idle about and consume and forget, even for a while. You blink and you have to get up and out, because the world is there and very, very real and demands your attention. There is danger, bigger than you, and everything you care about and need, everything that has an impact on your life, could change, could be gone tomorrow. Today.
Those of us who grew up in the early Eighties remember that feeling. All the glitter had worn off by the end of the previous decade, leaving decay that soon felt normal and inevitable, and under it all the knowledge (not a theory, knowledge) that it could, would, end in a moment: imagining mushroom clouds out the classroom window, the municipal fallout shelter. Then the wall falls, and everything’s going to be okay, sort of, and before you know it Britpop and the Second Summer of Love ™ and you try to explain what it was like, 1978… 1980, that darkness in the background. Mutually Assured Destruction? Naah. Fake history.
Some things don’t change. Responding to tension, future-fear, anxiety, means either blocking out the world or becoming deeply sensitive to it. This Heat began their response in the late 70’s, rehearsing hours and hours of unfettered, utterly dedicated, absolutely truthful exploring of sound and music, refined and finally released into the world in 1979.
The usual attempts at describing their work does them no justice, as many bands sound like them, have been influenced by them, but none of them are actually This Heat. Saying that they influenced Industrial and post-punk, that there’s a Krautrock influence in there and the spaciousness of bleak London dub, might be fairly accurate, but it also might make you think you’re know what you’re going to get. What is so completely unexpected (certainly to myself, who managed to avoid knowingly hearing their work for four decades) is the way these sounds have been elevated to breathless tension and release, to bafflingly powerful gut-wrenching waves of emotion.
This Heat were a three-piece, disbanding many years ago, leaving behind a mere two albums, an EP and a collection of John Peel sessions. This Is Not This Heat is the incarnation playing tonight, a post-punk chamber rock orchestra of fifteen, and that makes sense. This is carefully, passionately constructed music, built from those years of playing and listening and selecting, and as composed and complex as an orchestral work. It’s this precision engineering that makes the original recordings so powerful, so beyond everything else they get compared to.
The two remaining original members, Charles Hayward and Charles Bullen, have gathered a cabal of musicians that span generations of the band’s influence – familiar faces following similar (sometimes lonely) paths of sonic exploration. It’s a kind of underground alumni who understand instantly what’s wanted of them, a magician’s convention, a once-in-a-millennium conjunction. Contemporaries like Chris Cutler on percussion (Henry Cow) and renowned double bassist John Edwards, Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth contributing guitar, Alex Ward (Dead Days Beyond Help and a myriad bands) and James Sedwards (Nought, Guapo) and Merlin Nova representing the most recent adherents to the craft.
A riveting, mesmerising start – Horizontal Hold, from the first album, all those broken false starts and stops in mass unison, at least twelve performers onstage, everything present and perfect from Hayward’s driving, obsessive hi-hat, a manic, scribbling solo from Ward, something monstrous going on in the bass and under all that drone, a work of art in itself. Just when you get used to how good this is – Charles Hayward’s voice is the next revelation, achingly human and better live than the original recording of Twilight Furniture.
Oh look, as several have said already, tonight isn’t nostalgia, tonight is right here right now, this is the time for these songs, for this band, and this tonight is utterly brilliant. If you weren’t there then it is almost cruel to tell you about what you missed. This was special and little bits of YouTube footage aren’t going to explain the magic in the air, the beauty of the arrangements, the choral delight brought to old songs that Charles Hayward described as old friends waiting for him to find them again. The extra voices, the added layers building beautifully on the originals, the almost triumphant feeling to those dark edges. Surely This Heat on a giant stage in a classical concert hall shouldn’t work? It works brilliantly, it coms together perfectly, this is just so right in every kind of way, the pin-point chemistry, ther accurate renditions, the magic in air, the reverence, the power, the delight radiating from the three female vocalists who just can’t holdback. The silent bits, the bits that breathe, the stark stage light. Hopeful, a positive anthemic fight back, apocalyptic hope, it feels emotional in here, strong… The idea of catching the freeform thing in a net and nailing it, then refining it and now building on that refined precise thing they created back there, catching that tension and the sense of soemthing about to happen, the idea that whatever might be going on in this rather dark world, soemthing canbe done about it, that it might nor be too late This Heat are feeling very hopeful tonight, united, uplifting, big in every way, emotionally so… Something rather spacial happened in London tonight, it wasn’t nostalgia, it wasn’t an old band coming together for one more go in front of an aging audience, these songs and these sounds are for right here right now, This Heat feel like a band who’s time is here, at times tonight this was truely magical. (MO / SW)
Performers: Charles Hayward, Charles Bullen, Alexis Taylor, Chris Cutler, Jenny Moore, John Edwards, Daniel O’Sullivan, James Sedwards, Frank Byng, Alex Ward, Thurston Moore, Luisa Gerstein, Laura Groves, Merlin Nova
This Is Not This Heat was devised by Charles Bullen and Charles Hayward with Luis Carvajal. Produced by the Barbican Centre and I-D.A Projects with No-Nation and brought to you by Care in The Community Records