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Douglas MacIntyre – Things Are Tough, We Can Still Picnic - The Creeping Bent Organisation at 25

When Douglas MacIntyre was playing in Article 58, he took inspiration from the words of his record company boss, Allan Campbell. MacIntyre’s Lanarkshire-sired band had named themselves with ambitiously contrary chutzpah after the Soviet classification for counter-revolutionary ‘enemies of the workers’. Campbell, meanwhile, was putting on some of the best nights in Edinburgh’s burgeoning late 1970s post-punk scene. As well as managing Josef K, the future TV producer had picked up Article 58 for his Rational Records label. This was after Alan Horne, who co-produced the record with Josef K guitarist Malcolm Ross, passed on the band in favour of signing Aztec Camera.

“Allan said to me, the future lies in the past,” MacIntyre beams as he prepares to celebrate 25 years of running the conceptual ideas factory that is the Creeping Bent Organisation. “That period in Edinburgh was really exciting. It felt like people were having great ideas every week. Hearing the Scars record the first time, walking into the Tap O’Lauriston and seeing Josef K and Fire Engines sitting there, for a kid from Strathaven that was really exciting. There was something in the air at that time. It wasn’t just the music, it was about literature and art as well. When John Peel played Article 58, the excitement of that is something I’ve been chasing ever since.”

Campbell’s pearl of possibly appropriated Proustian wisdom bears long-term fruit this coming weekend at a very special one-night extravaganza programmed as part of Celtic Connections. Things Are Tough, We Can Still Picnic takes place at Glasgow arts lab, the CCA, and features the world premieres of two very special musical troupes. Not for nothing, it seems, was Article 58’s three-minute opus titled Event to Come.

First up, MacIntyre will unveil his own Port Sulphur project, a Creeping Bent house band of sorts, whose live incarnation features a pan-generational pedigree of artists including former Orange Juice guitarist James Kirk and ex Aztec Camera bassist Campbell Owens. MacIntyre likens it to “a post-modern version of Booker T and The MGs.”

Port Sulphur’s first foray into the world was with the motorik strains of the knowingly named Fast Boys and Factory Girls single. This featured on full-length follow-up, Paranoic Critical, while the live set will also feature excerpts from Valentino’s, a collection of musical sense memories named after Campbell’s Rational era club and available for one day only on February 14th.

“Port Sulphur is effectively my indulgence,” MacIntyre says of what began as a solo project excavating half-formed recordings and reconstructing them using chance elements drawn from Luke Rhinehart’s novel, The Dice Man, and Brian Eno’s oblique strategies. “The initial idea was to have no collaborators, and taking any notions of authenticity out of the project was really liberating for me.”

Things changed, however, and MacIntyre started seeking musical responses to what already existed from a pantheon of fellow travellers.

“Once you have Vic Godard or Davy Henderson from the Sexual Objects on a song it becomes amazing,” says MacIntyre, “and you let them sculpt those songs the way they would rather than how I’d do it. The best example of that was when I gave James Kirk a really electronic track, and it came back sounding like Orange Juice.”

Sharing joint headline status is Pop Group guitarist Gareth Sager and the new beat combo he styles as The Hungry Ghosts. Sager’s musical eclecticism has seen him move from the incendiary ferocity of The Pop Group, through the free jazz playfulness of Rip, Rig and Panic, the punk-funk of Head and even a Debussy and Satie influenced solo piano record recorded at Abbey Road.

The Hungry Ghosts, however, strip things down to what Sager styles as “stomp-glam-funk. I’ve made about 25 albums, and I’ve never put any limits on what I do, but it felt like the right time to do something just with guitar, bass and drums and nothing else. I’ve never written in a purely rock and roll context before, and I wanted to see if the songs would stand up without me being tempted to put strings or a Hammond organ on them.”

The results of this back to basics approach can be heard on Juicy Rivers, which forms the third part of Sager’s Creeping Bent triptych begun with The Last Second of Normal Time, first released in 2003, with the second part, 2009’s Slack Slack Music, just released in a new CD edition.

Sager also appears on Paranoic Critical, providing loops and fuzz clarinet on constructions based around the vocals of poet and sometime collaborator, the late Jock Scot on one track, and the also departed Suicide vocalist Alan Vega on the other.

“It’s not everyone who’d phone me up and ask to put music to this recording by Alan Vega,” says Sager, “but Douglas is a maverick, and I think it’s important as we become an older generation not to just curl up in front of the TV, but to get out there and do what you want to do whatever age you are.”

Friday night’s extravaganza will be presented under the guise of Everything Flows, a happening new ‘cultural events organisation’ which has already hosted German record label Marina’s similarly styled quarter-century shindig. This weekend’s event, which also features support from nouveau indie janglers The Plastic Youth, looks set to be even more conceptual. Its attitude dates back to A Leap into the Void, the Yves Klein referencing multi-media extravaganza that launched Creeping Bent at Tramway in Glasgow back in 1994.

“To me, Creeping Bent isn’t a record label,” says MacIntyre. “It’s an art project. We believe in having total control over the means of production.”

This is something picked up from Bob Last and Hilary Morrison’s Edinburgh sired Fast Product imprint, which understood the value of packaging, both in terms of visual identity and putting on events rather than plain old gigs. It’s also about working with artists over a long period of time.

“A core part of Creeping Bent has been working with Gareth and with Davy Henderson,” says MacIntyre. “What they’re doing is really valuable, and it’s not a nostalgia trip. The work they’re producing today matters as much as anything they’ve done at any time in their careers. They’re great artists, and it’s important to get their work out there.”   

Key to Creeping Bent’s cross-generational continuum is Green Door, the Glasgow-based studio credited on Paranoic Critical which has become a musical think-tank for some of the most interesting younger musical auteurs in town. This includes Sam Joseph Smith, who will play as part of Port Sulphur on Friday.

“It’s great being around the place,” says MacIntyre. “It feels like anything interesting coming out of Glasgow just now is coming out of Green Door. For us, working in that environment and seeing what’s going on is really exciting. It’s all about keeping your antennae up on what’s happening,” he says, “and then stealing it.”

Things Are Tough, We Can Still Picnic, 25 Years of the Creeping Bent Organisation, featuring Gareth Sager and The Hungry Ghosts, Port Sulphur and The Plastic Youth, CCA, Glasgow as part of Celtic Connections, February 1. Juicy Rivers by Gareth Sager and The Holy Ghosts and Paranoic Critical by Port Sulphur are available now. Valentino’s by Port Sulphur is available for one day only on February 14.

The Herald, January 31st 2019


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