Forgive me Father...
By Mick Middles
FATHER, forgive me. For I have sinned.
"What is it my son?"
I have been listening to prog.
"You've not been to see Van Der Graaf Generator again, have you? I warned you about that, last year. Or Tool?"
NO no, it's not that bad. It's this old band from Rochdale They were called Tractor and John Peel signed them to his label.
"This is not looking good, son. Don't you realise that, contrary to popular opinion, 90 per cent of everything John Peel ever played was completely unlistenable? He even played Tools Young Can Trust, and the only instruments they used were two fire extinguishers and a mallet."
Yes but Tractor were serious musicians. They had no such gimmicks well, apart from the fact that one of them played a guitar made out of a tyre.
"Has anyone heard of them?"
Well, they are Julian Cope's favourite band.
There is no reason why a band called Tractor, one of whom still plays a guitar made out of a tyre, should command the attention at the top of a column which attempts, albeit somewhat obscurely, some kind of contemporary slant. Even people who can remember the mid-70s often can't recall, or choose not to recall, spending time with Tractor albums.
To be absolutely honest, I have absolutely no idea whether or not I actually heard them back then aside from perhaps catching them at the Deeply Vale Festival. Although, as in Barclay James Harvest, they scored considerable success in distant republics and, I don't know, the volcanic islands of Oceania or somewhere. They were one of those acts cruelly wiped by the incoming rush of punk in 1977, which, as was so often the case, was a great shame.
Far from being old hat, Tractor were a ferocious blend of unlikely experimentalism; a weird and misty place, where Can might meet Roy Harper, where Captain Beefheart might link hands with Led Zeppelin, where Radiohead might link with John Coltrane (yes it is that out there'). This heady cocktail has surfaced in a new compilation Tractor, John Peel Bought us Studio Gear and a PA (Ozit Records). Curiously in fact, astonishingly, this music now seems quite impossible to place within the scheme of anything. That fact alone places them near the surface in a world where the contrivance of scenes and sound almost always seems so painfully obvious. This is a misty, heady jumble of swirl and pound, which often dives into unexpected Moroccan rhythm and spiked folksy guitars. It has been filling my living room all week, lifting the atmosphere to a detached, avant-garde level, forcing the neighbours to check out their central heating systems. And yet mention them and mention bands from that era and people still chuckle, rather as the ignorant might chuckle at the notion of Morecambe being a fine town (it is). The truth is track it down and go there, see for yourself. John and Julian may not always have wandered down advisable pathways but, in their love of Tractor, perhaps the unlikeliest band on Earth (one is now a head teacher in Liverpool, the other an artist out of Hebden Bridge), they struck lonely gold.
Imagine, for a moment, that rock'n'roll, in the American sense, never happened; that all modern music filters down, not from Leadbelly, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan, but from Erik Satie, Kraftwerk, Stockhausen and Brian Eno. This is a great place to be. Currently pursuing this linear European development are Infantjoy, a duo featuring ex-Auteur James Bambury and our old friend, Paul Morley. It probably comes as some relief to note that, when not employed as eternal and often bewildering talking head' on BBC 2 culture progs - and writing superlative books - Morley has managed to make the difficult transition from music journalist to music maker despite, that is, not being a musician himself. This doesn't matter. Indeed, it is a bonus.
I would venture to suggest that Morley's intelligent work with Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Art of Noise and, now, Infantjoy are of rather more cultural worth than the dizzying one-upmanship that is all so apparent when he appears on The Late Review.
Morley adds fuel and depth to Banbury's precocious musical meanderings. More than that, and this is the age old Morley trick, he makes it seem strangely important'. Whatever, Infantjoy's new album, With (Servive AV), genuinely appears to be stretching into a wholly individual area. If you can imagine, say, Vienna on a misty morning (or Todmorden at a push), complete with ghost-like tones slightly reminiscent of Kate Bush, and add climactic textures of rising electronic beats IF you can imagine such a thing, then the sound of Infantjoy - alongside Tractor - edges into view.