Caught by the River

Word Wall 2

Joe Devlin | 4th April 2020

Joe Devlin lends his ears to a new 12″ collaboration from Austin Collings, By The Sea and Elena Poulou, aka BOMB SNIFFING DOGS

“When I’m dead and gone / my vibrations will live on / in vibes on vinyl through the years / people will dance to my waves.” —Mark E Smith – ‘Psykick Dancehall’

I have known Austin Collings for a number of years. He once lived on the doorstep of the park where I used to take my son. He would saunter through on Sundays, often sporting the morning after look, always stopping to demonstrate his footballing prowess – some of the best played under the influence. 

I remember meeting him for the first time in a subterranean drinking hole. It struck me almost instantaneously that I had met a distinct character, one who definitely, and defiantly, stood out from the crowd. 

Collings is, among other things, a writer, a voracious reader, an individual who swims against the tide, an autodidact. He recommended I contact this site with my writing aeons ago, for which I am genuinely grateful. 

Over the years we have drunk together in local hostelries, exchanging books, films, and ideas along the way. Nowadays he is involved with the White Hotel, a place very much in keeping with the radical history of Manchester and Salford, resisting the corporate creep that is currently suffocating much of the cultural landscape, where he has collaborated on the release ‘Word Wall 2 / The One Show’, a “debut gob of existential inquiry”, with Liam Power & Elena Poulou. 

Under the name ‘Bomb Sniffing Dogs’, the trio recorded the tracks remotely using WeTransfer – “But we transfer and we transform”, Collings laying down his narration at the White Hotel’s studio space, sending it on to Poulou and Power, who, in turn, arranged the music. Collings compares the line-up to the Champions League, with representatives residing in Manchester, Liverpool, and Berlin; he is not shy about throwing out bold statements.

They performed WW2 live at the White Hotel in November 2019. I attended the event, and it worked. A twisted Northern noir aesthetic, with a small cast of fedora-wearing, long-coated men milling about in the audience, appearing intermittently through the dry ice, bringing to mind Aernout Mik and ‘Hell is a City’. A performance both visually and sonically captivating, the backdrop comprising projected images taken from the enclosed booklet that accompanies the vinyl. More on them later.

Acting as a commemoration or a “revenge against death”, two thirds of the group having lost people very important to them the previous year, the A(CE) side is a fifteen minute co-narrated piece, backed by a mesmeric soundtrack, journeying through, and mediating upon, remembrance and loss. “We may not get over it, but we will get through it.” It is an associative dérive around the edgelands of memory and place, invoking powers of precognition, synonymous with certain members of the line-up – “Like a penalty shoot-out in an empty stadium”. Presageful indeed, having been written months prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). There is also punning; I called Austin King of the Puns when we met up to discuss the record. He was quick to point out that Joyce embraced such wordplay.

I recall an individual who resided on the Southside of the city commenting, upon his first visit to the North of Manchester, that it seemed to be made up “of endless graffitied red brick walls.” The location of the White Hotel does fall into this description, sitting within spitting distance of HM Prison Manchester, AKA Strangeways, hidden away in an industrial estate . This landscape infects the record.

Collings compares the B(EAST) side – ‘The One Show’ – to ‘Revolution 9’ via the Commodore 64, whilst driving through the moors looking for a petrol station. He suggests it be seen as a podcast, or an “oddcast”, consisting of interviews with witnesses to the moorland fires from the previous summer “when the North awoke in flames”; an account relating to the Yorkshire Ripper by Paul Blake; glossolalia; a kid singing Springsteen.  A fragmented document drawing influence from Gordon Burn’s Born Yesterday.

“Tragic humour is the birthright of the North. Any great Northern art will partake of this insidious and volcanic chaos” noted Wyndham Lewis, in his manifesto.

The visuals add further layers to the rich narrative. They are reminiscent of the woodblock style of surrealist American cartoonist Charles Burns, referencing myth, Steve Ditko, and the Twilight zone, evoking Diana and Actaeon, and alluding to the Byron poem ‘She Walks in Beauty.’  

“I knew from the outset that I wanted an image of a woman on the cover, simply because she is the real star of the text and the main impetus of the project. Although she does have a voice within the script, the text is mostly masculine; it was essential to me that the woman took the centre stage in the cover art. The images convey a darkly nocturnal, powerful feminine energy” states the artist.

Someone who drives over to visit me on a regular basis says that every time they approach Junction 17, the random shuffle always throws up a Fall track, vibrations living on. In this record memory is locked into the grooves. “Those who are gone now keep wandering through our words. Memory is a form of resurrection. Their imagination flew, torching the dark.” In the top right-hand corner of the white slipcase is a black sticker, and the text on it asserts that this is “the best debut since the Stone Roses”, bringing the mythic theme up to date and back home; shifting from Ovid to Manchester and Salford. 

This beautifully produced, collaborative object, housed in a spotgloss-printed jacket with printed inners, and including white vinyl, apocalyptical Top Trump postcard photo prints and a 20-page pamphlet, is available in a limited edition of 300 on The White Hotel label. Buy WW2 / (TWH001) here.