There are a few fans on the blog. This is from the Australian
The Necks: more surprises in store after 30 years and Vertigo
THE AUSTRALIAN FEBRUARY 15, 2016 12:00AM
From left, Chris Abrahams, Lloyd Swanton and Tony Buck in Sydney last week. Picture: Hollie Adams
To forge a career lasting 30 years is a great achievement for any band, but to do so by never playing the same show twice makes the Necks a rarity in Australian music.
The improvisational trio, which has just embarked on its 30th anniversary tour, has carved an international reputation over the past three decades by letting the mood, the music and the empathy between them dictate how their live performances transpire. When they walk on stage, it’s anybody’s guess what’s going to happen.
“It’s an unspoken rule,” says drummer and percussionist Tony Buck. “If somebody walked on stage and mentioned a direction they wanted to take the music in, it wouldn’t feel right. Part of the fun of it is starting to play without talking about it.”
Buck, bassist Lloyd Swanton and keyboards player Chris Abrahams, all of whom have music careers outside of the band, have released 18 albums, instrumental explorations of sound and texture that defy categorisation. Their most recent offering, last year’s Vertigo, earned critical acclaim here and overseas and has led to a heavy touring schedule over the next few months. After their Australian tour, which began last week, the Necks are off to the US and Europe.
Last week the three musicians were in Sydney completing a series of 20-minute compositions that will surface as a double album, possibly later this year. As Buck points out, there are two versions of the Necks: the live outfit, where spontaneity is the key, and the recording band, where a little more thought is given to the construction of the work.
“There are big differences in the way we go about making music,” he says. “In the live setting we never talk about it.”
As part of this Australian jaunt, which continues in Sandgate, Queensland, next weekend, the Necks will take another step into the unknown by performing with an orchestra for the first time. The show on March 4, part of the Adelaide Festival, will feature the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under renowned Israeli conductor Ilan Volkov. The conductor, who has worked with orchestras all over the world and also has his own improvisational combo, asked the Necks to collaborate with him on the project, part of the Tectonics program he has directed at international festivals in recent years.
“He has done this a lot with improvisers and often uses orchestral musicians,” says Buck. “It’s very exciting.”
On paper it also looks like a precarious concept, since orchestras rarely subscribe to the notion of making things up as they go along, as the Necks tend to do, but the band is excited at the prospect.
“There are mechanisms to conduct an orchestra in an improvisational manner, conduction as it is sometimes called,” says Buck. “There are devices he will have under his belt to respond to what we are doing. It will be based on how the music unfolds. Although this is a weird collaboration for us, we won’t be changing our way of working. We won’t be doing anything we haven’t done before.”
The Necks began in 1986 out of a friendship the musicians had established long before. All three have known each other since they were teenagers, developing their skills as jazz musicians in Sydney. Abrahams and Swanton were part of the jazz combo the Benders in the early 1980s, while Abrahams was also in the successful indie rock band the Sparklers with singer Melanie Oxley in the late 80s. Since then he has forged a successful solo career alongside the Necks, releasing seven albums, with an eighth on the way. Swanton’s band the catholics has also released eight albums, while Buck, who has been based in Berlin for the past 17 years, has toured and recorded with a wide variety of international acts.
When the Necks began, there was no set agenda, Abrahams says, but the idea was to form a band in the traditional sense, rather than an improvisational unit.
“We had all reached a certain level of proficiency on our instruments by then,” he says. When the Necks’ music came along, it coagulated into something firm. Even though we had learned how to play our instruments, we had learned to play differently. We set out to form a band as opposed to just three musicians getting together. We wanted to make a group sound that didn’t rely on solos. The way we’ve gone about it is very much like a band in the sense that there is no real leader, or taking solos.”
Abrahams also believes that the era in which they developed facilitated their evolution. “I think there have been changes in the music industry that allowed the Necks to happen,” he says. “The number of different eras we’ve been able to straddle is extraordinary. We’re lucky that we formed in the pre-internet era, when people were still buying records, and we were able to build a following that way.”
Through all of that individual growth the Necks has been the project the three musicians always return to. It hasn’t been the most lucrative or demanding pursuit, since the Necks’ touring commitments are sporadic, but as a unit, musically and otherwise, it is one they are reluctant to let go. It’s still evolving, 30 years after it began.
“It has evolved pretty slowly,” says Abrahams. “We’ve just added things to it as we’ve gone on. I must stress it hasn’t been a hardship. We still really enjoy doing it and we always have.
“We’ve kept things to a manageable level. None of us has kept our eggs in one basket. The Necks has been something that is very important, but it is just one component of what we do.”
The Necks’ Australian tour continues at Sandgate, Queensland, next Saturday and ends at Golden Plains, Victoria, on March 13.