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DIFFERENT STROKES
:: Womb :: Gary Fisher ::
17 March 2011 / Gullivers / Manchester
By Cath Aubergine

St Paddy's night and not unexpectedly the area round Piccadilly is overflowing with booze and hats - will Gulliver's be joining in the plastic festivities? Er, nope. Well not upstairs, anyway: this is Gulliver's and they do things differently here. The carpet is sticky, the cola flat and the music... well, anything can happen here. Now home to a vast arrayof independent and interesting live music nights, every second Thursday is Stroke Club, and if you're thinking that sounds more like a social-rehabilitative event for people who have suffered a stroke (my grandad used to go to one) then that's not actually completely wide of the mark.

If you've been to any punk gigs in Manchester ever, you'll know Steve Shy. Stooping, nowadays, and often leaning on a walking stick he looks older than he probably is, even if in his eyes there's still that twinkle of rebellion - but you might not realise you were talking to a living legend of sorts. Steve saw the Sex Pistols at the Free Trade Hall - genuinely, which is why in all the time we've known him we've never heard him brag about it, even mention it as an aside - but discovered this fact from an online interview. Along with the fact that he was briefly in a band with Paul Morley and Kevin Cummins. We did know that he was the man behind Shy Talk Fanzine, one of the northwest's first back in the punk days, which he saw fit to revive a couple of years ago after 32 years on the grounds that his favourite contemporary band - Frazer King, from his Wythenshawe patch - weren't getting as much press as he thought they should, a fact on which we thoroughly agreed with him. We met him through The Sandells, a brilliant local motorik psych-drone band with which he has some involvement, one night when they had a gig hastily rescheduled to a pub not previously known for live music which ended in ourselves, him, the band and assorted members of Frazer King having to sneak out of a side door due to having upset some local heavies with the noise. But that's another story.

His health isn't exactly in the greatest shape after a couple of strokes, but his punk rock sense of humour is. So when he decided to start a new night for up and coming bands he called it Stroke Club. It's free to get in, and DIY to the point of near disorganisation: the first night MM went down to check it out we arrived to find Steve wandering around dishing out sweets from a carrier bag; when we asked him what time the first band was on he said "when they feel like it". We only got to see half a set before realising how stupidly late it was getting. Tonight, at least, the first act's onstage not long after 10.

Mind you, anyone wandering in unawares would be forgiven for thinking "what the fuck?" - there's a bunch of people sitting about on chairs or even (god help them) the carpet while what initially sounds like a rather quiet aeronautical flypast emanates from the speakers. The sound is coming from the fingers, electronic equipment and imagination of Gary Fisher, a locally-based sound and visual artist whose general philosophy is, as he puts it: "objects, images, sound recordings and live performances may be seen as individual pieces in their own right as well as parts of a bigger 'work in progress' that is the process itself". Tonight he is working in a field somewhere near the far boundary of "ambient music" where, what could be heavily processed found sounds or could be waveforms designed from scratch (and how processed does a sound need to be before it is no longer found but manufactured? You don't find yourself in this kind of thought process watching indie bands, do you?) build, overlap, fold back in on themselves. More abrasive and discordant than, say, Machinefabriek but equally entrancing, this is probably as close to a synaesthetic experience as a person with regular senses will get: these sounds definitely have shapes, of sorts. The room's small glitterball spins slowly above, tracing strings of light across the floor and audience, absorbing and hypnotic.

More people are arriving - Stroke Club is already attracting a small clutch of regulars who will wander in later on after whatever else they were doing, but many others are here to experience the third performance by a group whose second was apparently described by Dan Treacy of indie legends TV Personalities as "like seeing the Velvet Underground for the first time" - which is one hell of a thing to have to live up to, really, isn't it?



This is Womb, an all female improvisational collective including members of Blood Moon, Infinite Birth and an early Frazer King line-up, and their set starts in a mesh of criss-crossing percussion: chains, sticks and actual instruments. Keyboards and saxophone find their way into the mix: the sax very much in the free-jazz style, sometimes wild screams from just the mouthpiece, sometimes more tamed sequences. Mantra-like drums are next and the whole thing shifts gradually from sonic collage to a Can-like howling tribal drone. It all seems quite gloriously just on the edge of falling apart. If there is a leader at all, it's Louise Woodcock (conceptual artist and half of Blood Moon) who seems to be conducting or at least channelling the threads from centre stage; for their second track (there are just two, each a good ten to fifteen minutes) she moves to the drums to lead a more conventionally structured piece of bubbling space-music not dissimilar to the motorik psych-outs of GNOD and/or Teeth Of The Sea.

The main thing tonight's performers have in common, though, is that they're both the sort of fascinating, innovative acts you would be hard pushed to sell to the sort of promoter who demands you bring a number of people, or who rates an act based on lowest common denominator popularity potential. Not that either would want anything to do with such things - and frankly nor would MM - but in a week where one of those pay-upfront battle-of-the-bands organisations ridiculously and mistakenly contacted us for support (we dearly wish we could publish the resulting "discussion" - suffice to say we will not be selling our souls any time soon) Stroke Club is a shining example of a night where creativity is all and commerce irrelevant. And it's brilliant. This is the true legacy of the DIY punk spirit, brought to us by someone who has spent over three decades living in it. Go and see for yourself - it won't cost you a penny.


Stroke Club returns on Thursday 31st March. Line-ups are often not finalised until a few days beforehand but we are led to believe this one may feature the return of Stranger Son Of WB, with Frazer King coming up in April sometime.


Resources:
Gary Fisher
Womb

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