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Blurt - Puppeteers of the World Unite


When Ted Milton was invited to play Optimo, Glasgow's uber-hip Sunday 
night left-field club night, with his band, Blurt, he didn't know what 
to expect.

We'd done the sound-check,” says Milton in his south London home, “and 
we walked out of the pub, and there was this long long queue outside, 
and I thought, we're going to die a death. This is a club night, and 
we're really going to bomb.”

As it turned out, Milton's manic bark and relentless saxophone honking  
powered by his trio's angular guitar and drums had many of Optimo's 
cool people wigging out on the Sub Club's packed dancefloor.

It was great,” cackles Milton, “even though we could only do thirty 
minutes with no encore, and even though it was a very dangerous place 
to play. There was a piece of metal holding the amps up on one side of 
the stage. It reminded me of the time we played the Mudd Club in New 
York. The same sort of thing happened. We went off and the crowd were 
all cheering, then this huge metal door came down so we couldn't go 
back on. They really knew how to do it there.”

Whether Milton, guitarist Steve Eagles and drummer Dave Aylward get a 
similar reception when they play the Voodoo Rooms as part of Edinburgh 
Jazz Festival this weekend remains to be seen. Whatever happens, 
Blurt's uncharacteristically high-profile appearance is a rare 
opportunity to witness Milton's  unique talent at full throttle. For a 
poet turned puppeteer turned post-punk provocateur who didn't pick up a 
saxophone until he was in his late thirties, this special Puppeteers of 
the World Unite show is also a chance to check out a back catalogue 
that goes back more than three decades.

I'm musically illiterate,” says Milton. “I can't play Mary Had a 
Little Lamb or anything like that, but there are definitely aspects of 
my performance and the band that are a bit jazzy, and I spent a large 
amount of time in my youth listening to Ornette Coleman, so it helps.”

In truth, Blurt's full-on sonic assault can be said to have pre-dated 
the sorts of punk-jazz power trios favoured by the likes of 
Scandinavian saxophone player Mats Gustafson. Having grown up listening 
to Coleman, and with the recently deceased Lol Coxhill providing live 
accompaniment for his puppet show, it's clear where Milton's own 
playing style comes from. He took a while to get there, however, from 
his teenage forays into the 1960s poetry scene, which would see his 
work appear in journals such as the Paris Review and New Departures, as 
well as the Michael Horovitz compiled Children of Albion collection.

I guess I could've been called a beatnik, really,” Milton reflects, 
bumping into Gregory Corso and all these people at parties in north 
London, and doing readings with the New Departures crowd, Roger McGough 
and Brian Patten. I'd always had this sense of recalcitrance. I'd been 
to school and was so bored with everything, then I said to my father 
that I wanted to go to this jazz festival. Once I got there I woke up 
in a field, and there were these people nearby who were cooking 
sausages who invited me over. That turned out to be [poet and Cream 
lyricist] Pete Brown. I came back to London and wore dark glasses a 
lot, which was totally unremarkable, because everyone was wearing them.”

Milton “bumped into Christopher Logue,” who sent off his poems to the 
Paris Review, and for a few years was part of a scene recalled by Eric 
Clapton in his auto-biography. Clapton remembered Milton as 'the first 
person I ever saw physically interpreting music...to enact it with his 
entire being, dancing and employing facial expressions to interpret 
what he was hearing. Watching him, I understood for the first time how 
you could really live music, how you could listen to it and completely 
make it come alive, so that it was part of your life.'

Milton, however, was moving in other directions.

I was just hanging about in my dark glasses and very long hair, saying 
man quite a lot. People were getting bored with me sponging drinks off 
them, and I saw this ad for a job in a puppet theatre in Wolverhampton. 
I don't know why, but I applied, and ended up working with three-foot 
marionettes for a couple of years.”

After this, Milton founded his own set-up. Mr Pugh's Velvet Glove Show, 
and, for the grown-ups, Mr Pugh's Blue Show.

I got good write-ups, and got invited to schools,” says Milton, “then 
got kicked out of various educational establishments, because the show 
was becoming more provocative.”

Milton and Mr Pugh toured Europe's underground arts labs, and ended up 
touring a punky circuit as support to Ian Dury. These shows, Milton 
remembers, were “psychologically scorching, spiritually impaling 
experiences, being in a room with several thousand people, all shouting 
for you to fuck off. But then, you'd play Ireland, and people would be 
attentive and applaud. That part of the world was culturally more 
sophisticated.”

By the time Milton appeared on the late Tony Wilson's ahead of its time 
late-night show, So it Goes in 1978, the same year he provided a 
puppetry routine for Terry Gilliam's film, Jabberwocky, Mr Pugh had 
become “a nasty piece of work designed to empty theatres.”

  Having become “besotted” with a friend's saxophone, Blurt's first 
release was a single, with the magnificently titled My Mother was A 
Friend of an Enemy of the People on one side, and Get, about Pete 
Brown's model aeroplane collection, on the other. Through Wilson, Blurt 
filled one side of a four-act compilation put out by Wilson's Factory 
Records, and shared live bills with Joy Division.

It was a very aggressive act,” Milton recalls of Blurt's early days. 
I see clips from that time, and am stunned by how aggressive it was.”

When asked what drove such anger-fuelled provocations, both musically 
and with Mr Pugh, “You'd have to see some of the polaroids of the 
barbed wire on my potty,” is all Milton will say.

Over the last thirty years, Blurt have dipped in and out of view, 
ploughing Milton's wilfully individual furrow on umpteen below-radar 
releases. These have included two Best of Blurt compilations, while the 
Factory-centric LTM label repackaged the band's contributions to 
Wilson's label in 2008. There have been collaborations with laptop 
artist Sam Britton, an album of new Blurt material, Cut It, in 2010, 
and forthcoming work with with Wire bass player Graham Lewis, who 
Milton met on the set of So It Goes. There have also been a series of 
limited edition books, hand-made by Milton to showcase lyrics, poems 
and rare recordings.

That's made me so much money I can hardly come to Britain in case the 
algae grows over my pool in Barbados,” he jokes.

As well as the Edinburgh Jazz Festival show, Milton and his cohorts 
will also be making an appearance at the Stirlingshire-based Doune the 
Rabbit Hole festival. This will be in the guise of Blurrt, a two r'd 
collaboration  with Glasgow-based tropical pop combo, Fur Hood. Also on 
the bill will be one half of Optimo team, JD Twitch, which, in terms of 
Caledonian connections, brings Milton full circle.

I'm always looking for new territories, “ he says, “rather like a 
junkie looks for a new vein. But this one sounds nice. There'll be hot 
and cold dancing girls in every corner, I hope.”

Blurt play the Voodoo Rooms as part of Edinburgh Jazz Festival, July 
29th. Blurrt play Doune the Rabbit Hole, August 25th.
www.edinburghjazzfestival.com

The Herald, July 25th

ends

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