The Strange Intimacies of Charles Hayward and his Companions in Light

in Art/Latest/Music/Spotlight

Composer, musician and avant-artist improviser Charles Hayward is an English drummer and was a founding member of the experimental rock groups This Heat and . He spoke to The Sunday Tribune about his new album, (begin anywhere) on God Unknown Records.

TST: For this record you’ve been working different video artists you admire for each track. Would you tell me something about who you’ve been working with and why you like their work?

CH: The first 3 videos are by John Smith, Mark Titchner and Fae Harmer.
I’ve known John since 1976, a little after This Heat formed, when I went to see an evening of his films at the London Film Co-op. His work has excited and inspired and engaged me from that evening, just love the world he’s built up, using humour, documentary, tight formalism but DIY, punk in the deep sense of the word. He made a film for The Camera, The Actor, it’s just a slow pan around a working projector but it feels so intense to me, like a lifetime reflected in a work tool, I completely identify with it and the first couple of times watching it I just burst into tears. When This Is Not This Heat played at the Barbican we showed John’s film The Black Tower, we used to show his films a lot at our gigs, Girl Chewing Gum is my personal favourite but they’re all really astounding.

I met visual artist Mark Titchner when he invited me as part of the Collision festival at the South Bank in 2016, although I already knew his work and was intrigued by how it hovered between public space, the advertising hoarding, and contemporary visual practice. Anyway, Mark and I spent a lot of time talking about ideas around the position of the narrative voice in making stuff, he vibed a lot on the Camberwell Now album The Ghost Trade and we set that against stuff like L.S Lowry and played with those ideas, like public service announcements, whether the voice in Ghost Trade was actually on public transport alongside the people it was singing about or was it removed in some cultural hyperspace. Also Mark picked up on how the Generation Game conveyor belt sequence was such a central lyrical image for that album. His video is for the song Safe As Houses which is reworking of Sitcom off of Ghost Trade and reflects that conveyor belt idea.

I asked Fae Harmer to make something for Unknown Unknowns, which is that Donald Rumsfeld soundbite set to music. I’ve know Fae and Nathan for 5 or 6 years and we seem to get on just great, their project Harmergeddon is both insane and high level, quality stuff, totally unique. There’s a strong crossover between sound and vision in their work and I just love that interplay. Nathan mastered Begin Anywhere in an arcane, sleight of hand style, totally invisible magic, just does the thing without drawing attention, so Fae knew the album since a year or more. When we talked she said that at first she mistook the lyrics for something by R.D.Laing, which opened up possibilities. The quote has always made total sense to me, like everybody knew that already, there’s a William Blake thing that says pretty much the same thing and Neil deGrasse Tyson has elegantly explained the same balance between knowing and not knowing, which for me is like the keystone to everything. So Fae came up with something much more like neuron activity or a petri dish and that ambiguity works so good.

All 3 of them open up the song rather than close it down and that was what I wanted, like a cubist sense of the song.

Other films are in process; IMPATV from Islington Mill are finishing their film for Out Of It, they make great live videos, work alongside sound artists, have a very wide remit that means they can duck and dive around genres and scenes and attitudes. They’ve made something with a dancer, Shelley Owens, so I’m really looking forward to seeing that. Every film so far has dealt with the project using wildly different approaches and that’s what I wanted, all these songs with a tight sound world, voice and piano basically, and then partnered with whole other visual worlds.
There’s a couple of others in the pipeline but they’re not finished yet and I was planning to make a couple but I’ve been so busy that might just not happen.

TST: What music videos do you like that you’ve done before, or any pieces by anyone else that you’d recommend are worth viewing.

CH: I haven’t really done any sort of video projects before, at least not in this way and to this extent. most music videos don’t work for me, mostly I watch live performances online.

I like this John Cage film that he matched against one of his late orchestral pieces, only discovered this in the past couple of weeks and am totally intrigued by his late number pieces

and I like the way this Hot Chip steps outside of itself, it reminds me of the video for the Bowie song the Stars Are Out Tonight.
Mostly videos are a strange territory for me, I really don’t like how so many seem to fix the song down instead of opening it up, so when I feel like that about something I often try and defy my ideas and push things in a direction I don’t control for a bit and then regain my grip on the steering wheel.

TST: There’s a lot of piano in this album (obviously). It springs off the percussive drama of the piano. Do you have a particular emotional relationship with the piano. Was it a childhood instrument for you. For me it feels very much like an intimate parlour record? Would you say that’s true? As a kid who was brought up playing music on the piano myself I feel there’s something of my own interior world brought out here.

CH: That pretty much sums up the situation, I’ve been playing the piano since childhood, at times just using it as a tool for writing and then moving to other instruments, occasionally using it in recording, love the way the sound wraps itself around you when playing, like a sonic bath. And the parlour thing; when I was describing the vibe to producer and engineer Frank Byng we talked about a room that floated in a larger space, like a room within a recording, some sort of hypothetical space that was both living room and yet set inside the technology that recorded it. and also the piano with just voice also has a strange intimacy, not the same as an acoustic guitar, not set in a bedroom but in a communal space. One of my favourite performances of these songs was at Supernormal, in the wood panel drawing room in Brazier’s House, like the reveal scene in an Agatha Christie story.

TST: The melancholy personal life in the city is the dominant theme for me in this record. It reminds me a bit of Jacques Higelin. Any thoughts on anything in this sentence?

CH: I was going to ask who is Jacques Higelin but then I googled him. For me it’s more like Lowry or Sergio Leone or James Ensor .

TST: Ah – I used to listen to some special piano pieces he released that made a big impact on me. I’m not sure they’re online. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the videos and want to say a special congratulations to Fae Harmer whose choreographed organic-light video drew me in. Thanks Charles. You don’t need my good luck, the album comes at us charged with compelling intimacy like a powerful novel.