Take Five: Sad Man


Sad Man is the alias of Bournville-based Andrew Spackman. The last few years have seen Spackman deliver an incredibly prolific series of electronic albums that straddle the gulf between odd rhythmic gestures and jazz, the result being a suggestion that those two worlds aren’t necessarily so dissimilar or incompatible as they might first appear.

His latest album, The King Of Beasts, is due to be released on February 10 2020, and finds Spackman proffering a highly accessible, many-layered journey through the musical themes that have coloured his recent output, while placing a greater emphasis on traditional jazz reference points.

Further. spoke to Spackman about his formative musical influences, in the process no doubt distracting him from his work on what is probably another Sad Man album expected to land later this year. “It’s definitely not an exercise in being, or looking, cool!” he warns.

Geoff Love & His Orchestra – Big Western Movie Themes

My parents didn’t seem to have any particular interest in music. They were teenagers before the teenage revolution really got going, and so they still had quite an old-fashioned view of entertainment. My mum, however, was a big fan of musicals and westerns, and we had an old 1960s Radiogram that sat in the living room. It didn’t seem to get used much, but I was particularly fond of how you could stack the 7-inch records in such a way that once one finished the next would drop down on top of the previous record. That probably horrifies the purist vinyl collectors out there.

My parent owned a few records. Mostly they were compilation albums of movie music from the Music For Pleasure series on EMI. I particularly remember listening to this record, Big Western Movie Themes by Geoff Love & His Orchestra. Although the orchestration was probably very heavy-handed, it suited the bombastic scale of these western themes. When I listened I could see the barren landscapes of Spaghetti Westerns, the beating heat of rocky canyons, and sound of cowboy boots on the front step of the O.K. Corral. Beguiling stuff.

Mike Oldfield – Incantations

Up until the age of nine I shared a bedroom with my brother. He was much older than me and his taste in music would today be described as ‘Yacht Rock’, which is now rather cool, but back then, it was not. His stereo played host to a blur of Billy Joel, Christopher Cross, and Hall & Oates. In amongst this smothering smooth-fest sat a collection of Mike Oldfield albums: Incantations, Platinum, QE2

Even at the age of nine I preferred instrumental music. I liked listening and trying to understand how all the instruments wove together. Also, the idea that Mike Oldfield played all these instruments too fascinated me. I remembered watching him on Blue Peter and he had this extraordinary technique when playing the guitar and very long fingernails. The track that I particularly liked was the live version of a track called ‘Punkadiddle’, which has the most amazing guitar solo on it. I later learned that Mike Oldfield got that sound by playing his guitar through the tape heads of an old tape recorder to give that fantastic fuzz / distortion sound with seemingly endless sustain.

Incantations features the vocals of Maddy Prior on ‘Part 2 – Song of Hiawatha’ and strings arranged by David Bedford. Like many of his albums, it is a cocktail of styles and instrumentation, with no fixed genre reference point. I’m not sure if it completely lasts the rest of time, but putting it context, he pretty much did everything before any one else had even got out of bed.

The Albion Band – Lark Rise To Candleford

When I was about 15 years old my school staged the National Theatre’s adaption of Lark Rise To Candleford. The play featured music by the Albion Band, made up of Fairport Convention’s Ashley Hutchings, Shirley Collins, Martin Carthy and others. I had a very minor role in it, but it brought me into contact with folk rock music, played on this occasion by an excellent line up of local musicians. A few years later I went on the play for several folk rock bands too.

My love of folk music has continued, despite it seeming incongruous with my electronic music output as Sad Man. I love The Unthanks, This Is The Kit, Kate Rusby and Lau.

The The – Soul Mining

My first introduction to The The came when I was 19 and I had just bought a Triumph Spitfire. It was a beautiful green colour, and despite the constant smell of petrol, the ill-fitting doors and the extortionate insurance cost, I loved that car. It also had a very nice Pioneer stereo with speakers fitted into the doors, which, when you were in the driving seat, weren’t far off ear height.

I would often drive around the country roads with the top down late at night, to and from a pub where I worked in the evenings. On the stereo was The The. First was the Infected album (my first introduction to Neneh Cherry) but then later I discovered Soul Mining with its use of the Roland TR 606, pounding drums and chanting by Zeke Manyika. I think The The are the only band that I’ve ever had a fan thing for. I saw them play at the Albert Hall with Jonny Marr on Guitar. They were perfection.

David Toop – Ocean Of Sound Volume 3 – Booming On Pluto: Electro For Droids

When I moved to Bristol in 1997 my musical tastes had already travelled through rock music, folk rock, progressive rock, shoegaze, funk rock, grunge and indie music. Apart from the odd album from The Art of Noise, Tangerine Dream and some others, very little of what I listened to was electronic.

The Gloucester Road in Bristol had several second-hand record shops, and when I moved there and started making experimental and electronic music I also started buying CDs and records and expanding my repertoire: records by Scanner, Black Dog, Jack Dangers, anything on Warp records, Mu-Ziq , DJ Shadow, Jimi Tenor, Black Dog, Red Snapper, Labradford, Plaid…

I bought Booming On Pluto from the bargain bucket and loved its electro sound. Afrika Bambaataa, To Rococo Rot and A Guy Called Gerald all feature on this album and it’s a real classic. I guess once I’d heard this, the future of music for me was no longer guitars and distortion pedals, although I’m still very partial to a good distortion pedal (ProCo Rat, ZVE Fuzz Factory, Fuzz Face).

The King Of Beasts by Sad Man is released on February 10 2020.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

David Toop / Jan Hendrickse / CUEE – Boundaries

Japanese composer and future Fluxus acolyte Mieko (Chieko) Shiomi was the founder of Group Ongaku, a spirited collection of likeminded experimental artists that she brought together in 1960 specifically to explore improvisation. After completing her studies in Tokyo, Shiomi returned to her native Okayama and began solo performances by the likes of John Cage, who Group Ongaku had previously invited to Japan to perform.

Cage’s influence is evident in Shiomi’s series of action poems penned in 1963 and 1964, wherein musical notation was entirely eliminated in place of specific, but necessarily vague, performance instructions. In the case of Boundary Music (1963), the instruction to the performer is “Make your sound faintest possible to a boundary condition whether the sound is given birth to as a sound or not. At the performance, instruments, human bodies, electronic apparatuses and all the other things may be used.

A new LP from the multi.modal imprint finds seasoned improvisers David Toop and Jan Hendrickse separately tackling Shiomi’s piece. In Toop’s case, his version is anything but quiet, but as he himself has pointed out, to assume that Boundary Music is about silence is entirely incorrect. Taking Shiomi’s instruction that any sound source may be utilised, his version employs field recordings of what are possibly prayer calls, inchoate percussion, electronic pulses, whistles, squeaks and a foundation sound in the form a high-pitched sound that runs with prominence through the entire piece. The result is a series of restlessly evocative events alternating between density and levity.

Hendrickse’s interpretation is much quieter, but not a bit less intense. In his hands, Boundary Music is offered as a series of low-level rumbles, thuds, scrapes and fuzzy tones that each lurk in the background until suddenly being thrust forward. For Hendrickse , the piece becomes fraught with unresolved tension, having all the notional silence of an empty space with all the atmospheric drama of a horror soundtrack, particularly when an ominously distorted drone emerges and rapidly cuts away again into squelchy, alien sounds.

Side two of the LP is given over to a performance by London’s City University Experimental Ensemble (CUEE) recorded at the IKLECTIK venue. Here, the 25-piece big-band improvising orchestra perform two works by saxophonist Cath Roberts (Off-World and March Of The Egos). Their placement alongside Shiomi’s Boundary Music almost acts as a form of confrontation, given how these pieces wilfully avoid faintness: clangorous synth splinters collide with plucked sounds, clusters of overlapping piano parts and expressive saxophone parts. This ensemble works best when they dive headlong into the maximalist sounds you would expect from this many musicians, with the thrilling denouement of Off-World taking the form of a vibrant, colourful, euphorically noisy collision between noir jazz and electronics.

March Of The Egos, meanwhile, is a discordant, joyously sprawling piece wherein each instrument and player seems to be vying for airtime. The initial winners are a 1920s ragtime trumpet solo and a sustained synth tone that seems to cut across (and through) just about everyone else until the horn section and wandering piano join forces with the drums for a massed, and ultimately successful, assault on the electronics.

Boundaries by David Toop, Jan Hendrickse and CUEE is out now on multi.modal. See Mieko Shiomi’s instructions for Boundary Music at the MoMA website.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.