OK, a bit of backstory. This Heat are one of the most inventive bands to emerge from the UK. They formed in Camberwell in 1976, adhering to the philosophy of the D.I.Y. approach to music. Although they might’ve previously been involved with Progressive Rock & Punk Rock, they managed to stand apart by taking a radically inventive approach that explored different genres & styles, but were still just as confrontational & politically motivated as their peers. Like most of my favourite bands it seems, they didn’t have much commercial success; they released two full length studio albums, an EP, did a handful of live shows and then split up. But they carved themselves a legacy, and now they’re back in full force. The band was formed by multi-instrumentalists Charles Bullen, Charles Hayward & Gareth Williams, but Williams died in 2001. So, as a mark of respect, they decided to alter their name to This Is Not This Heat.
This is a concert that was supposed to take place in June 2016, but drummer Charles Hayward sustained an ankle injury which forced them to postpone. So, I’d been waiting nine months for this. The anticipation was immense… And, of course, as everyone involved was fully aware of how long they’d been keeping us in suspense, I felt like that gave them extra motivation to put on one goddamn hell of a show! Well, eventually…
This Heat’s entire back catalogue wouldn’t fit into the 2 hour 50 minute running time of the concert, so we were treated to a Charles Hayward solo set featuring new piano songs & a Charles Bullen solo set on prepared guitars. For anyone wondering, prepared guitars have their timbres altered by placing various objects on or between the strings. Both sets were OK, but it seemed like the pieces were works in progress. Although I admire them for trying something new.
However, it was what happened in-between the solo sets that was so fascinating. The Charlies made a rather brave decision to show a screening of John Smith’s short avant-garde film The Black Tower. Smith met This Heat in the 1970s and projected a number of his films at their gigs at venues such as the Scala cinema on Pentonville Road. As a filmmaker, Smith is known for work that “playfully explores and exposes the language of cinema and subverts the perceived boundaries between documentary and fiction, representation and abstraction.” Bearing that in mind, the film was about a man who’s haunted by a black tower which, he believes, is following him. We never see the main character, we only hear his narrative voice-over which takes us on a journey from paranoia, to mental breakdown, to mysterious death. But the film features enough “meticulously controlled images, puzzles, jokes & puns that make it a mind-teasing engagement and the undertow of melancholy is balanced with Smith’s wit and dry humour.” It was strangely mesmerising and I’ll be checking out more of Smith’s work.
After the interval we got what we’d actually bought the ticket for(!) The boys were joined onstage with several guests including James Sedwards, Chris Cutler (Henry Cow) & Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) to add new textures to their expansive world. I’ve never seen so many instruments nor so much equipment on a stage before. If there was space that could be filled, it was. The team started by launching into the brutal ‘Horizontal Hold’, which may be the greatest instrumental of all time. The musical equivalent of a kick in the teeth in the best possible way, it’s hard to believe humans came up with it. ‘Paper Hats’ has quite possibly the weirdest guitar riff I’ve ever heard, & a juggernaut of jagged post-punk sounds and hard rhythms.
Meanwhile, ‘Makeshift Swahili’ is a classic freak-out, all twisting and freeform before descending into chaos & insanity (and it was an honour to experience Charles Hayward’s Dalek chanting in all its horrifying glory…) But the centrepiece was the astonishing ’24 Track Loop’. The build-up was huge and when the beat dropped I felt like I’d been hit by a freight train. I had to remind myself that this track was originally released in 1979. I swear it pre-empted Jungle by about 12 years! The incorporated dub production techniques & tape loops were insane. While all this was going on, we were engulfed by a jaw-dropping lighting display, and I secretly hoped nobody in the audience was epileptic. If there was a deleted scene from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind where they enter the spaceship and the aliens are having a rave, it would’ve looked like this. It could’ve been music from Mars.
Bullen & Hayward were full of thanks at the end. Prior to their gig at Dalston’s Café Oto in February 2016, This Heat hadn’t played live since 1982. To come back after a 34 year hiatus, sell out the Barbican & find a whole new generation of people who’ve discovered your music & love you must be overwhelming.
As I trundled out into the night, I realised that perhaps the postponement of the concert was actually a blessing in disguise as it made their music even more poignant. See, as I mentioned before, This Heat’s music is very political. When this concert was originally supposed to take place on June 17 2016, the world was a more innocent place. Since then, we’ve had two major political catastrophes in Brexit & Trump. So, listening to some of their lyrics (“we are all romans, unconscious collective, we are all romans, we live to regret it”), (“history repeats itself, a war to end all wars, and the war that came after that”) just added to the paranoia… This Heat, still essential, still relevant after all these years.