The White Hotel, Salford
I know there’s a fair few Necks fans on here but if you’re not familiar they’re a hugely respected Sydney based experimental Jazz/Avant-rock trio now into their 30th year. Someone once described their oeuvre as ‘Trance Jazz’ which is pretty bang on. With just Drums, Piano and Stand-up Bass at their disposal they create long, extended pieces which tend toward hypnotic repetition – you won’t hear any soloing or noodling. In that sense The Necks are a perfect Jazz band for people like me who are a bit Jazz-sceptic – and if you like Krautrock, electronic/ambient music, Post-Rock and so forth you’ll be pleasantly surprised by The Necks.
Live, they’re not to be missed – don’t worry about the Set List – there isn’t one. The Necks will play two sets of around 40-45 mins each and it’s all improvised. Whatever they play will be unique to this night, never to be heard again. Last time I saw the band it was at Band on the Wall – a very appropriate venue for them with all the home comforts you’d expect for a class act like this, and their audience who are good souls of a wide age range. Tonight they play The White Hotel which is without doubt, in 30 years of gig going the most ridiculous venue I have ever been to.
The White Hotel is white -but it isn’t a Hotel. It’s an anonymous looking industrial unit, located up a quite terrifying side road near Strangeways Prison. I’ve never been in this part of town – most people would have no reason to – but even as a long time resident of Manchester I’m astonished how grim it is. It’s absolutely fucking filthy, trash piled up, broken glass, discarded Sofas and god knows what else. By day it’s a run down industrial area, by night there is evidence to suggest bad things happen. I start to worry about my walk back into town after the gig. The Venue itself makes The Islington Mill (a similar Salford hipster grot spot) look like The O2. Inside, there’s a makeshift bar with some crappy bottled beers in ice buckets and some plastic chairs set out in the main space which has uneven floors, loose wires, bits of random junk everywhere and very little concession to comfort, health or safety. I know this is the whole point – it’s about taking an industrial space and taking you out of your comfort zone and all that. It’s normally used for underground rave events that go on until daylight – and that’s all fine as that’s for young folk – but it all just makes me feel old and square Daddio. There is one toilet cubicle for everyone. That’s just annoying. I’m not in the mood for run-down hipster-orientated grimness. It’s also £3 for a small bottle of warm lager. I actually consider bailing out. I calm down – helped by the soothing support set by two member of Hookworms in their analogue electronics spin-off Xam Duo. This also reveals that the one thing the venue has spent a few quid on is a state of the art Sound System. I wonder how many times it has/will be stolen. I find a good spot to stand, and then the Necks strike up their first set.
Very hard to describe the music but I’ll give it a go! The first piece is more ambient and decorative – with Chris Abrahams playing a fast arpeggio over which Tony Buck mainly plays cymbals and Lloyd Swanton alternates between bowing and plucking a very subtle bass part. This piece is actually quite pastoral and pretty – It gradually builds – never quite settling into a steady beat or groove. The rhythm parts are more like clanking machinery which seems appropriate as we’re on an industrial estate. It reminds me of clacking spinning machines. I soon forget the grotty surroundings and lock into the music – which as ever gradually evolves – and never gets boring and there’s something quite gripping about watching a piece of music evolve in front of you where nobody knows where it’s going to end up.
The second piece is much darker. The piano is right up in the high register, and this time Tony brings out his toys and starts scraping things over the drum skins which make their own strange, musical sounds, this one is all about the percussion with bassist Lloyd doing some great ‘thrumming’. It gradually evolves into something quite noisy and dissonant. I’d have loved them to get into a more conventional groove (which they can do when the mood takes them – try their albums ‘Aquatic’, ‘Sex’ or ‘Chemist’ ) but tonight they felt like creating a perfect soundtrack to the semi-derelict location we’re in – and yet they also lifted me right out of it.
Wide age range and some quite young folk in. Almost everyone keeps respectfully quiet – occasionally I hear someone talking loudly but I think they’re outside!. I wasn’t the only one a bit taken aback by the location. There are some interesting gigs lined up here -so I suspect I’ll be back – but if the point of this place is to host more transgressive, out-of-hours, underground events for thrill-seeking hardcore clubbers away from the City – I’m wondering why they’re stepping into the more regular gig market that appeals to square old gits like me – when there are plenty of perfectly good, independent gig venues with proper facilities in safer parts of the City. Bottom line about this place is I’m a big, tall bastard who is very familiar with the city and I felt unsafe walking up there, and I wonder how a lone woman or younger people or newcomers to the city would feel.
It made me think..
Improvised jazz music is a hard sell, but The Necks are such fantastic musicians you can relax – it’ll be good – and you can let them do their wonderful thing and appreciate the fact that this set is just for you, right now, never to be repeated. That’s quite thrilling isn’t it?