TTW#91 – Biting Tongues – Still On Hawaiian Time
Illustration: “Monstergod” – Alma McMillan
“Library Theatre, Manchester 16.6.1983”
A1: Still On Hawaiian Time
A2: Feverhouse (Part II)
A3: Iyahboune End
A4: Dr Restore He Sight (Partially)
A5: When It Breaks On You (Part I)
A6: Lock Up State
A7: When It Breaks On You (Part II)
A8: Dragman II
A9: Dirt For 485
A10: Iyahboune (Front)
A11: First Use All The G’s
A12: Everywhere But Here
In performance – Colin Seddon: bass guitar, drums, percussion. Eddie Sherwood: drums. Ken Hollings: voice, clarinet, percussion, tapes. Graham Massey: guitar, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, drums, Astroban, iguarglaphon, voice, percussion. Howard Walmsley: tenor and soprano sax, glockenspiel, percussion, voice. Barry Seddon: pick-axe handle on “Dirt For 485”.
“Riverside Studios, London 5.6.1982”
B1: The Toucanostra
B2: The Dragman
B4: Big Timing
B5: Live It
B6: 45 47a
B7: Evening State/Lock Up State
B8: Dr Restore He Sight
B9: Aair Care
In performance – Colin Seddon: bass guitar. Eddie Sherwood: drums. Ken Hollings: vocals, Hohner Pianet, percussion. Graham Massey: guitar, clarinet, reed cornet, trumpet, iguarglaphon, Morello loop, diary, percussion. Howard Walmsley: tenor sax, voice, percussion, Hohner Pianet.
Biting Tongues were formed in 1978 to improvise a soundtrack to the screening of a 16mm experimental film of the same name at Tony Wilson’s original Factory Club in Manchester. A core membership was soon established that was to last until 1984: Howard Walmsley (sax) Ken Hollings (texts), Eddie Sherwood (drums,) Colin Seddon (bass) and Graham Massey (guitar and noise). Their performances, an unpredictable “post-punk avant-funk” mix of spoken word, percussion, random tapes, films and freeform soloing, were mostly confined at this time to clubs in Manchester and London. The release of their first three albums “Don’t Heal”, “Live It” and “Libreville” between 1981 and 1983 widened their audience, and Biting Tongues found themselves performing more and more in theatres, arts venues and galleries.
“Still On Hawaiian Time” captures two Biting Tongues performances from this later period. The Library Theatre in the centre of Manchester was a large seated venue with an even larger stage, meaning that the group members could spread out more and incorporate additional percussion, tapes and electronic devices. It also shows Biting Tongues cutting up and rearranging themes from different recordings, allowing for the free play of existing material – the performance also anticipates their work on “Feverhouse”: their full-length experimental feature film released in 1984 by Factory Records’ video offshoot IKON, together with a soundtrack album as FAC 105.
“Feverhouse” had its first London screening at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith as part of Factory’s residency there in the summer of 1984. Biting Tongues had played the same venue three years previously at a time when they were beginning to expand and broaden their sound. The improved facilities available in a theatre venue, including greater space, better acoustics and more time for a sound check, meant that Biting Tongues could concentrate on the performance, producing some of their most aggressive and demanding work.
During the early 1980s Biting Tongues excelled as a live band, always seeking to challenge both themselves and their audiences. These two recordings are fascinating documents that convey some of the immediacy and commitment of their performances – something that can still be felt in these old tapes some thirty years after they were first recorded.
The Wire (UK):
Biting Tongues are too often reduced to a footnote in the Manchester pop narrative. If they are mentioned at all – and they rarely are, beyond being the group who morphed into 808 State at the end of the 1980s – it’s as one of many post-punk outfits who leavened their experimental tendencies with dance rhythms. Indeed, funk was a resource mined with great success – artistically at least – by the likes of 23 Skidoo, The Pop Group and A Certain Ratio, but Biting Tongues’ innovations arguably outstripped their better known musical peers. After the demise of 808 State, by some distance the least interesting music of his career, multi-instrumentalist Graham Massey went on to demonstrate the vast scope of his musical vision, his work imbued with the spirit of adventure that harks back to the first – and best – incarnation of the group he formed with saxophonist Howard Walmsley in 1979.
The warts ’n’ all live recordings of two 1982 shows that comprise this cassette release catch them at their most feral and uncompromising. The Manchester Library Theatre show is a draining but brilliant cut-up suite of signature pieces like “First Use All The G’s” in an unbroken 45 minute stretch of brutal rhythm, ferociously focussed sax and smears of diseased guitar. Vocalist Ken Hollings, later to make his mark as a writer and Wire contributor, finds multiple ways to set the rhythms of his narratives – which marry the fever-dream vividness of WS Burroughs and Joseph Conrad with the dry poise of Raymond Chandler – against the writhing chaos-funk conjured by drummer Eddie Sherwood and Colin Seddon, whose bass is not so much slapped as beaten to a bloody pulp.
The London Riverside show is marginally more conventional, allowing a few pauses for breath, but the intensity is still there. The ten minute final track, “Aair Care” crescendos towards a crushing denouement of looped noise and exhausted babbling from Hollings, whose performance makes your fear for his wellbeing even after 34 years. At the close of a show dispatched as fearlessly as this, the smattering of noted applause from the disengaged punters just makes you want to cry. Barring the odd reunion show, there’s nothing here now but the recordings. [Keith Moliné]