womb at st margart's whalley range review

I started my review of Womb at St Margaret's Church in Whalley Range before I'd heard anything much about the civil disobedience in London and long before anything happened in Manchester.

Today I used part of that review - the sentence 'things have been pretty hallucinatory and hyperreal lately' in my review of Womb's street jam and Daniel Johnston's opening and performance. I'm not going to claim it was prescient though - it's just how I felt.

Lately things have been weird and disorienting. I genuinely feel like my personality which has been changing a little over the last 18 months or more is suddenly shifting into the new shape and shedding the last of what I was. My emotions have been all over the place as you might expect.

And everyone seems a little off-kilter - perhaps because the unexpected but truly welcome and deserved success of Womb so far. The air feels electric, time seems to stretch and contract at will, and it seems like all the rules I felt around me have fallen away - even the subtle constraints I placed on myself across the years.

Although it could easily be frightening I find it an exciting and positive thing*.

That turmoil, confusion, fear and ecstasy is the perfect introduction to Womb's gig.

It started with percussion. Quietly sparsely and slowly at first. Gathering momentum and volume. Instruments and voices came in. The tempo and volume rose.

A man walked up the carpet down the aisle and stood in front of the band. He pulled down his trousers and pants and bent over showing his arse to the audience. He slapped his cheeks a couple of times then sat down on one of the benches with his pants still down. Then he was led out of the church.

The band carried on.

The acoustics of the church were phenomenal. The sound rising and spreading - coming back at you from unexpected angles. The small sounds sometimes buried but sometimes surprisingly audible.

The atmosphere was positive and again made me happy. The music itself suited the church. I've seen the band describe it as doomy. I'm not quite sure that's accurate except as a shorthand. It was more rolling dancing percussive and bassy - but with a whole lot of other textures and tones coming through.

Once again Womb are not a band who should ever play first. They can still impress even audiences who don't know them but it's not when they should play. They should come on later when people are warmed up and willing to dance. They should have the time they want and need.

In those circumstances the music and atmosphere which already connect to people become much more enveloping. The band the music and the audience meet in a communal experience. It's to do with overcoming people's barriers and reserve.

I was dancing after a fashion so far as it was possible from my seat. The music really does get inside you and pulse its way back out. A benign parasite maybe. You drag it in through your skin, it grabs a hold of your negative thoughts, your tensions and fear, and sweats them back out. The best kind of detox.

And after filling your ears and circulating in your blood - driving your pulse - the band slowed and quietened dropping to a throb. Then a rush of silence just before the applause.

It took a while for me to get into Human Combustion Engine. As I've noted before some music and sound art is just a little too abstract and cerebral for me these days. But eventually the way their sound bounced around the church in unexpected ways made me pay a little more attention.

It's still not music I'd choose to dance or fuck to but it played interestingly and absorbingly nonetheless. Like Womb emotional and atmospheric without ever being explicit. It pulled you in and trusted you to respond.

Richard Scott's Lightning Ensemble were much easier to get enthusiastic about. There was less of the heady abandon of Womb but in its place some intoxicating runs of sound and breathtaking performances.

Especially impressive for me was Phil Marks on the drums. And I mean on - all over the drums - with all manner of items to strike them. But what seems sloppy and out of control, what looks wild and uncoordinated, what might easily be mistaken as something easy to do in fact is fantastically skilled and complex.

But the whole band made unexpected sounds - sawing and chopping away from each other then snapping back together. At times you genuinely couldn't tell what sounds came fom where. An incredible performance.

Then everyone left the church - Womb briefly waylaid by an unexpected radio interview - before the night got really messy...

*A big part of the exciting and positive changes I've experienced has been Womb, my friends in the band and my friends outside the band. At the risk of being shot down as a sentimental hippy I'd really like to express my thanks in particular to Lou, Jen, Helen, Gary, Neil, Jon, and recently Genette - but also the rest of Womb - for being such beautiful inspirational people. You've brought so much to my life - I just hope I can give something back.


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