Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby

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The London Experimental Ensemble and Iain Sinclair

I returned to Lambeth’s I’Klectik venue last night, rapidly becoming my favourite live music space (despite the terrible name, which I’m always either  mis-spelling or getting wrong), to see the London Experimental Ensemble (LEE), rapidly becoming one of my favourite improv groups, who were playing with Iain Sinclair, long established as one of my favourite non-fiction writers (I’m less keen on his fiction, unfortunately). So, all in all, a very promising evening seemed to be in store! 

All for a tenner, as well - some friends of ours had forked out £150 to see Fleetwood Mac at Wembley a few days ago, so I’m always humbled by what a great evening free improvisation usually provides, and for next to nothing. The Mac, minus Lindsay Buckingham, were so-so, apparently, and Wembley is a terrible place to hear (and to barely see) live music.

The gig certainly matched my expectations. I have praised the LEE in other blogs, and will merely reiterate my recommendation now - it was nice to see Eddie Prevost in the audience, as AMM form the most obvious reference point for the sound of this improvising group, who, despite their name, mostly seem to hail from Nashville, Tennessee, not a town that I generally associate with the avant garde. Their ‘leader’, although I’m sure he won’t like the word, Ed Patterson, was his usual genial self, and was most chuffed that the band has been offered a deal with Gearbox Records, whose equally genial owner, Justin James, I was introduced to, and who I hope will give the ensemble the publicity and promotion that it so fully deserves.

As for Sinclair, who cheerfully signed my much-thumbed copy of ‘London Orbital’: he was equal to the task of ‘merging’ with the LEE (rather than being ‘submerged’ by it, which was always a possibility). I’ve seen him on, I think, four occasions now, with musical backdrops, and this one was by far the most successful, imho. Somehow he managed to negotiate the ‘waves’ of the LEE, to produce a semi-coherent narrative withing the spumes and crests of the band’s immersive drone. All of the band’s members were in full effect, a genuine group effort to back this most individual of writers. As to the content of Sinclair’s verses? 

Well - I pass.

He seemed to be describing a journey, with Andrew Kotting and Anonymous Bosch (regular characters appearing in his prose), to find a burial place for ‘Dilworth’s Box’, whatever that might be, which eventually is situated on the Scottish island of Taransay. The theme seemed to be of a Pandora-nature, i.e. “don’t open the box”, “the determination of its owners that it should only be opened once” and “the sound of the world tearing itself apart”, which gives an idea of the general thrust. It might sound rather pompous, but it worked, mainly because of the generous group setting within which he read out his verse, 

Sinclair himself even seemed to be enjoying himself, which is notable, given that he has previously described free improvisation as a thing “about which I have no specialist knowledge, and for which I have no innate sympathy”. It’s hard to think of a group of such a size (fourteen, I think?) that has the ‘innate empathy’ to make a success of such an arcane venture.

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