Live in Beppu

Berlin open air swimming pool related this group came out of the fresh idea of “THE SCHWIMBAD JAZZ POOL” an association that was going to include the 3 of us on this record and our pal Rogier Smal on drums. For one thing or another the day before we were going to make our first record in LEEDS in the summer of 2016 with Keeby at the controls at OUSE STUDIOS it became clear it would be a trio and the SJP idea faded but left still a group of musicians as interested in improvising together as they are in bathing. Also remaining was the nub of an idea from daft conversations with Roro over time that we should both appear nude on our next duo record.

Unaware of how amazing the Japanese ONSEN experience would turn out to be, things got heavy and amazing in Beppu which has over 100 bathhouses using naturally occurring volcanic spring water as the source, coming in at 43 degrees with varying mineral contents depending a little on which one you go to. Staying in an old school house with no bathroom it quickly made sense to go and visit the bathhouse in the morning, which was quickly followed by the realisation that it was possible to go to the onsen 2 or 3 times a day.

To make the photographs happen was really a nice and unusal thing; involving I think some delicate/brave discussion between our friend and colleague Ono (he also acted as the photographer) with an onsenmeister he knew well to allow us in after closing time and with a camera to take the shots.

Listening to trains overhead, my own breathing, fingers on the skin of a drum held and bendable; a talking drum type tensioned thing, children’s games in the passage way outside, paper thin walls, light passing through different opaque materials; granulated, holding really still in hot water, breathing, sniff sulphur, doing calculations on fall height of electrcial apartus and water, walls and doors creak and slide, the outside has come inside and the reverse but you only hear and can’t see because its opaque; only light filters in and sound; private space but completely permeated by sound, shoes off, a miniute rattle or bad connection somewhere in the jack plug of the jazzmaster, still not actually fixed it in fact, downtuned ping and pang, that flavour of stuff we don’t really have at home, clear sake, clean, listening to water bubbling, shaving in a steamy mirror, steam cooking in the mountains, trains overhead.

Plastic Kneecap


So this is an LP made up of the remaining two cuts that were recorded with the quartet made up of myself, Otto Willberg, Colin Webster and Andrew Cheetham in December of 2015 at what was a mega session in 4A Studio, Stockport with Sam Weaver at the helm. The CD that also came out on Raw Tonk Plastic Knuckle also came out these sessions as well as some huge group stuff of Sam’s some duo recordings with Andrew that are also in the archive somewhere.

I’m going to have copies of it with me at gigs in March so:

4th March duo with Nina Whiteman @ Peerhat, Manchester

14th March MCR NYC improv Congress featuring (Kate Armitage: voice/guitar, David Birchall: guitar, Jason Blackkat: bass, Craig Flanagin: guitar, Fredrik Haake: drums, Richard Harrison: drums, Kelly Jayne Jones: flute, Ecka Mordecai: cello, Jer Reid: guitar,
Alexa Kruger: bass clarinet, Normandy Sherwood: vox & electronix & Matt Wand: electronics
Manchester) @ Klondyke Club, Levenshulme, Manchester

17th March w/ Colin Webster @ Bråk, London

29th March w/ Andrew Cheetham & Alan Wilkinson @ Cafe Oto Project, London

You can also get it direct from Colin::

There has been some interest in reviews already which is always really nice. The first from Stewart Smith in his column in The Quietus I want to quote the overall intro at length as I enjoyed it so much!

“The music’s liberatory potential points to a better, more radical Britain, distinct from the rainy fascist hellscape of the Daily Mail and the 1997-forever banality of the centrist dads. From Stormzy’s Brit Awards excoriation of Theresa May to the widespread solidarity shown towards the university pensions strike, there’s a genuine sense that the old order is falling. In culture, grime is leading the charge, but jazz and improv are right in there too, suggesting new ways of engaging with art and life.”


:::and the review itself:::

“Raw Tonk, the label run by London saxophone wrangler Colin Webster, is a key node in the UK-Lowlands underground improv axis. Its latest release – their first on vinyl – documents a December 2015 studio session from Webster and his Manchester comrades David Birchall (guitar), Andrew Cheetham (drums), and Otto Willberg (double bass). As with much of Raw Tonk’s output, there’s a punky energy to Plastic Kneecap, but it’s much too weird and agitated to be a blunt exercise in macho blurt.

There’s plenty of rasp, fidget and clatter, but it’s brought together with a keen sense of form.
Early on, Webster brings the set into focus with sing-song alto phrases in the key of Ornette, encouraging his bandmates to mould their abstract scrabble into some kind of wonky, fragmented groove, as if Prime Time had come up through the post-punk DIY scene. From there, it gradually breaks down into a quieter, more atmospheric section, with tremolo sax tones and growling bass drones slowly surveying a landscape of pattering toms and spiky, creaking guitar. It all builds up to a ragged climax, with Webster’s alto reinforcing this music’s odd relationship with free jazz.

‘Split Halfway’ opens with plenty of squawk and squibble. In contrast to the fuller low-end tones of the previous track, Cheetham goes for higher, less resonant drum timbres, rapping his sticks against the frame and hitting the snare at its tightest spot. Webster comes in with some relatively tuneful alto licks, upping the energy until the group achieve a kinetic intensity that’s almost free jazz, but for Birchall’s glue-huffing biker fuzz riffage. It all breaks down into wonky guitar chimes and buzzing baritone sax, becoming increasingly agitated as they canter towards the finishing line.”

Another review straight outta google translate from the fine people over at Opduvel in The Netherlands

Birchall/Cheetham/Webster/Willberg – Plastic Kneecap

“Plastic Kneecap is the thirty-first edition of the British Raw Tonk label, specialized in free improvisation, free jazz and noise, but it is only the first on vinyl. The previous thirty releases were CDs, CDs and a single cassette. Label boss Colin Webster has chosen for this first album a studio recording of the quartet that consists of David Birchall (guitar), Andrew Cheetham (drums) and Otto Willberg (bass).

At the end of 2016 the CD of Plastic Knuckle was released from the same foursome on the same label and a year earlier a cassette was released from the quartet on Tombed Visions, entitled Night Streets Of Madness. The new album consists of two pieces that were recorded on December 13, 2015 in The Room at the 4A Studio in Stockport in the English county of Greater Manchester.

Anyone familiar with the Raw Tonk label knows that the label stands for raw improvisations. Polishing is not done; it is about the pure reproduction of the moment, of the unadorned version of the music as it sounded on the spot. Of course there is mixed and mastered, but not to smooth things, but to achieve the most honest possible reproduction. The vinyl edition sounds great, almost as if you are in the studio as a listener.

The English foursome does not do the introduction or a careful start. All four musicians apply directly at the start of ‘Plastic Kneecap’. Webster plays alto sax and his tone is light. Birchall is the most crude of the musicians here, not playing clean notes, but playing raw and contrarian. The rhythm section is not a rhythm section in the traditional sense of the word, but consists of two free spirits with a sense of musical color shades. Cheetham is often continually busy with rhythmic and a-rhythmic patterns, loose strokes and exciting work on the cymbals. Willberg shows his skills in a short plucked solo, accompanied by Cheetham. The quartet feels each other perfectly. Robust play is replaced in an instant by more subdued sounds and the players also know when to stop for a moment to give room to one or more other musicians. Webster’s sax and Birchall’s guitar are tuned equally hard, which makes the musicians that sing through each other very well. In any case, it is a quartet that has played through each other to a true art.

Very nice is the part in which Cheetham uses his mallets and puts a clear rhythm. Webster initially plays long notes over that, but gradually becomes more active. Birchall’s game is very experimental and Willberg plays a few ironed notes. The part turns into a subdued piece that sings from (restrained) tension. With vibrating long sounds of the saxophone, a new part is slowly being worked on. Birchall produces high tones and a drone further on. The drummer uses low toms and the bass sings over it. The intensity increases, until suddenly gas is taken back and side A is quietly and briefly sounded.

Willberg opens side B (‘Split Halfway’) with an abrasive bass solo and he is joined by the shivering alto sax of Webster and the Cheetham on small cymbals and snare drums. Birchall plays his inimitable free game and gets plenty of opportunity to display that game because Webster keeps quiet. Style characteristics can not be relinquished on the guitarist, who quickly follows his ideas. Webster chants later with his coarse-grained style, while Willberg plays bass lines. The four musicians find each other again in a wonderfully chaotic part. Because that is where the greatest power of the English lies: the interplay. Every musician seems to be exploring his own possibilities for expression, but in the meantime the gentlemen feel each other perfectly.

A duet by Birchall and Willberg follows, in which the high notes of the bassist parry the transverse guitar playing perfectly. Webster is now switched to baritone sax, with which he brings his typical sputtering notes. Cheetham uses his hi-hat and taps on the edges of drums. Webster’s game remains reasonably constant, but gradually he lets his sax vult more. The other three musicians circle around it with their free play. The volume and the activity of all four musicians increase towards the end of the piece, not because consciously a climax is worked on, but simply because the ensemble determines that the music goes in that direction.

Over Plastic Knuckle wrote Opufvel at the time that the music of Birchall, Cheetham, Webster and Willberg is full of musical inventiveness, intensity and fun. Exactly the same can be said about Plastic Kneecap. The previous paragraphs concern an inadequate description of what the album has to offer, because there is simply too much at the same time to be able to describe it properly. That also means that the music guarantees many spins of listening pleasure. This is a fantastic LP for those who love unpolished free improvisation.”

AND another review this time in Polish via goooogletrans from Andrzej Nowak over at Spontaneous Music Tribune who has become a real supporter and follower of improvised music in the UK as well as in Spain and other parts of the world.

“Birchall! Cheetham! Webster! Willberg! Plastic Kneecap! Young Empire Strikes Again!

If you’ve read a fairly large, long Tonk on Tribune! Mission Possible! with understanding and due diligence, if the saxophonist Colin Webster is already a recognizable musician for you, it is a sign that the following review does not require any introduction.

If during the reading of the text referred to in the first sentence, you’ve come across the Plastic Knuckle album, realized by a quartet of young wolves British improvisation, then you are definitely already at home.

The same session – committed on December 13, 2015, in a place called The Room at 4A Studio, in Stockport – which gave three improvisations included on the above disk, today brings another two, this time provided by Raw Tonk Records in the form of black vinyl, under the twin, but not identical title of Plastic Kneecap.

The payroll is as follows: David Birchall – guitar, Andrew Cheetham – drums, Colin Webster – alto and baritone saxophone, and Otto Willberg – double bass. Two sides of the disc bring us less than 36 minutes of music. We’re looking inside!

Side 1. From the first moment, the narration is sewn with a dense stitch, with dynamic double bass walking, agile percussion, guitar and saxophone flowing in a very free, fast stream. Birchall and his plugged-in chord, which tastes good noise rock, it seems that they make the most of the wind here. Anyway, the whole story is soaked in the old, lover-loving post punk! In the quartet, we note very good communication, because the musicians are perfectly familiar with many improvisations and nothing is a surprise for them in such dramatic circumstances. 5 minutes brings a very jazz exhibition of Willberg, which is supported by Cheetham’s competent drumming. At the same time, the guitar sculpts, while the saxophone is remarkably … silent. The sound of the quartet is dirty, without acoustic fireworks (punk’s not dead!). The musicians play close to each other and rub their elbows against each other. In the 8th minute they give us a bloody, collective escalation. Bravo! Right after it, they are perfectly fast at a slower pace and are stalking autodhorpressive stories. A bit of oneiric guitar chants the meta ballad for bad children. The mantra percussion refers to the narrative path, and the rest of the instruments flows where their imagination will be. In the 13th minute the musicians decided to go down to the level of silence. Kings of slow sonore! The saxophone sends drones, the guitar is a deep ambient, like the fuzzy instrument of Dirk Serries, he also does not avoid flashes. A simply charming improvisation with a hint of remarkable psychedelia, a truly liberated trance!

Side 2. Double bass with a stuck, stuck between the strings, burrows the burrow in the ground. The saxophone snorts, the guitar polishes the strings, the plates resonate from wall to wall. Warm up on high C! Agile interactions – today’s question, today’s answer! Musicians catch a dynamic dribble without unnecessary delay. Maybe only a drummer does it with a slight delay. 5 minutes – Birchalla’s exposure to a rock note, and Webster’s viola, vigorous, with a brilliantly dirty sound, in an explicit commentary. Like a punk narrative, with a synoptic sewn into the spinal cord! Intriguing! The immediately escalated escalation that followed has, in terms of genre, completely eradicated formula. It is dynamic, ragged and indeed noisy. Bravo! The stop, after a short time, is attached to the guitar loop and double bass in the stage of trembling walk. The saxophone comes in as a counterpoint! There must be bread from this flour! As if David and Colin mutated the sound of their instruments at the same time. This story has a few threads, instrumentally smells of noise. A section of a delicate acoustic game. What a fantastic dissonance! The saxophone loop puts a stamp of excellence on this recording! Technical glitter on the final straight is also a guitarist’s part!

Tomorrow the premiere of this CD! We are on time!”



rslecvrThis CD is now available now on the Sound Anatomy label. Core Lightning Ensemble trio of Richard Scott, Philip Marks and myself augmented on several tracks by Sam Andreae with all the detail captured by Sam Weaver up on the 5th floor of Islington Mill, Salford. Really pleased to have the work of this group captured so well in a recording; the combination of modular synths (direct line with room monitor) acoustic guitar (hardly any projection outside a tiny room this was a big room) percussion (potentially massive projection) and saxophone (way directional masive projection) could be a real trial to record and mix well but Sam does a great job here. Intense lift in the mastering stage from Richard Scott in the Sound Anatomy Studio too.

Light Rail Recordings: Manchester//Moscow//Tokyo 2015-2017

Really happy with this work! A composition assembled from bits of recordings of light railways with pickups over a few years and various home and away journeys.

“Double A side lathe cut 7″ of compositions using recordings of public transport systems using pickups and guitars. Recordings made in Manchester Summer 2015 using a single coil taken from an old strat copy Orla gave me in 2001, Moscow August 2016 using twin entwistle humbuckers and Tokyo April 2017 stock pickups on my squier jazzmaster.

Edited and mixed in Stretford, Manchester June 2017.

Limited edition lathe cut 7″ and DL

Vernacular Recordings 005D”

Tell the same story twice

Really happy to finally have some time to get this one up online. Its from a trio sound drawing session with Naomi Kendrick and Dan Bridgwood Hill which was recorded last August by Sam Weaver with Video and Stills by Andrew Brooks. This playing together formed a larger part of an Arts Council England project Naomi was working on which you can read about here. The sound released here is kind of a nice left over, the main outcome was to have quality audio to use in the short film below. Have done many sessions in duo with various guests with Dan over time working in this slowly evolving, post rock drone out sort of manner and its really nice to have one that folks can hear.


Andreae Birchall Willberg business

Lovely bit of video capturing a gig we did at ReNTReC in Beppu on our AIDF supported trip to Japan in April has surfaced here. Really shows some of the mix close detailed listening, movement/actions based things and listening in space that we dug into working with on that trip! If you ever find yourself in Beppu (and I’d totally recommend the seaside vibes combined with incredible 43 degree hot mineral water Onsen baths that are all over the town) do visit ReNTReC, its a great little shop packed full of stuff hidden away down an arcade under railway arches into the town’s station.

Also a thoughtful review of our ‘A Hair in the Chimney’ record featured in this months jazz column in the Quietus ‘Complete Communion’ written by Stewart Smith. Really nice to be featured among such excellent artists!

“Top-notch weirdo jams from the north of England. Featuring Sloth Racket’s Sam Andreae on saxophone, David Birchall on guitar, and Otto Willberg on double bass, Hair In The Chimney brings an underground sensibility to free improvisation, with the musicians using unconventional techniques to defamiliarise their instruments. On ‘Endless Blue Meander’ (nice Eno reference!) Birchall’s guitar is effectively a percussion instrument, as he taps the amplified body with drumsticks, strikes the strings behind the neck, and rubs objects into the pick-ups. Tap, ping, crackle. Andrae emits a few mouthpiece sputters, but much of his playing is textural or percussive, as he taps the bell with a coin, and removes the neck altogether, treating it as a high-end tin whistle. Willberg occasionally frames these abstractions with free jazz bass runs, but he’s by no means the straight man, as his outré vocabulary of snapped strings and growling arco effects attests. ‘Sockets Filled Up With Eyes’ offers Whammy pedal pitch wobbles and all manner of Cage-ian bass preparations, concluding with an insect ballet set to ghostly drones.”

Record is here::


ACDB Before Common era duo

First play the other night for ages in duo with Andrew Cheetham.

You can still, i think get our debut release from 2012 here:

We played alot together round that time so it was good to revisit the duo vibe. Recently we’ve more or less ended up playing together loads but within other groups: ABC Trio with Sam Andreae, in quartet with Otto Willberg and Colin Webster and in Desmadrados Soldados de Ventura. But here’s a slice of duo action”