Stephen Jansen is a prolific and successful author who decided to try his hand a few years back penning a tribute to one of his favourite bands of all time, Hawkwind, in collaboration with one of its longer term inmates, Harvey Bainbridge. The resultant book, “The Light from Dead Stars” is a must-read, especially for fans of Hawkwind and their offshoots. In fact for anybody ever involved, however slightly, in the periphery of rock bands in the 70’s and 80’s, this book will have you splitting your sides from beginning to end. Although names have been changed to protect the (not so) innocent, it won’t take you long to “twig” that this book is in fact part semi-biographical, part-fiction and, beyond a shadow of a doubt, part-chicken. The chicken itself deserves a BAFTA for its sterling performance in weaving some kind of manic order through the shambolic chaos of a rock band in meltdown, coupled with a group of fervent followers and hangers on who you will come to love (and possibly, hate, in equal measure!) by the amazingly well thought through prose.
Stephen has been kind enough to write me an extra “lost chapter”, in the style of his book, to review the latest Computerchemist double release album “Signatures ft. Zsolt Gálantai”. Here it is, printed in full below. Thanks, Stephen!
IN THE CELLAR OF ANCIENT NIGHT
This is where hotels come to die.
The last thing I remember is the road blur from the tour bus and getting off to sleep around three hours past midnight. The buzz of the gig fades but the bus is decelerating. My curiosity is awake and I think I’m in an alternative dimension named Hungary. It’s raining the kind of rain usually available in the UK, no doubt it’s heading that way later. The closely packed wind driven streaks of water hurl themselves from the sky with the intention of corroding everything in a single day. The sky is low and dark grey, unloading the rain onto the cold highway. Cafes and bars pass by, drenched in sepia by the half light. It’s probably rained here since the Jurassic era. I watch thick droplets of liquid pour down the bus windows. A small road works on the main street conveniently placed in the centre of a junction to apprehend any traffic, holds one mud encrusted labourer in a yellow hard hat, water proofs, and overtime. He digs like a disillusioned gold prospector at the thick mud while standing ankle deep in the water pouring into the hole where he hacks at the Earth. The bus navigates this obstacle and heads for a crumbling building where I can see a rain melted sign with the town’s name erased by rust. The streets are deserted. No parked cars. I wonder if the inhabitants are entombed in their rooms, staying out of the cold and bad weather before their TV’s, or still in bed. This grey wasted day deserves no attention. In the damp and windswept car park of the hotel, we carry our bags into the lobby. There is no one to meet us. No desk clerk dressed in black. I follow Jerry and the other members of this exhausted band named Ozone up the stairs to our rooms. Eight hours to kill before the gig and nothing to do and I can’t sleep. I find a water proof jacket and leave the hotel. The others will sleep or play games on their I-phones until gig time. I don’t tell them I am going out.
In the rain again. I see a tall female dressed in a long coat that’s decorated by yellow paint splodges. She is spray painting a Banksy type shock of blue graffiti up the wall of the hotel. The word is Zsolt. It sprays from the can and across the stone like a time lapse frost.
“Hey,” I call to her. “Speak English?”
“Better than you,” she says.
“What is Zsolt?” I’m feeling like John Cleese in Life of Brian.
“It’s a name,” she replies while continuing to spray the wall.
“That a band?” I ask
“He’s a drummer. Why don’t you get out of the rain?”
“I can’t sleep.”
She studies me. Checking me with her sharp European features and eyes of cosmetic powder blue, Seeing if I’m worthy of some great secret she is about to share. “You’re are a musician?”
“Come, we’ll take a cab,” she smiles. “You should meet Zsolt, and Dave.”
We walk to the road and a taxi rumbles into view, coughing rain from its fat radiator grill. This is the first car I have seen since I got here.
“Where is here?” I ask her.
“This is the middle of it all. You are?”
“Angiewoman,” she says and we shake on it.
“That a graffiti name?”
“It’s a name.”
Serves me right for asking.
This is the cliché of basements. Descending worn stone steps under a high school. Angiewoman leads me into a damp brick enclosure filled by stale air and a cluttered collection of recording gear, microphone stands, laptops, preamps, headphones, cables and stands. There is also a vast Gretsch Maple kit with a serious human being perched in the centre of it.
“Zsolt,” says Angiewoman.
The man waves at me and without warning launches into an attack on the drum kit, an explosion of acoustic percussion blended into something very cold and synthetic. The attack stops after a few seconds and I’m left shell shocked.
“How was that?” he asks, looking at me but not talking to me.
To the left, another man stands up from where he had crouched below a synth rack.
“Larry,” said Angiewoman. “From Ozone.”
“Dave Pearson,” nods the man.
“Where am I?”
“In a basement,” says Dave.
“No, this place, where is it? I’ve been on a tour bus for a thousand years and I don’t know where I am?”
“You’re at a rehearsal for Computerchemist.”
I might as well listen, and then maybe they’ll tell me where I am. Dave stands before the synth rack and nods to Zsolt and they begin to play a structured piece reminiscent of White Eagle era Tangerine Dream that I later learn is named Caterpillar Pirouette. I settle into the belief that this will be an excursion into the musical landscape of Klaus Schulze and Can but by the middle of Dobdub, it’s obvious I’ve been wonderfully fooled and diverted through a side door leading to a laboratory where Computerchemist produces excellent music such as this. They play an outstanding track called Zsoltmatic-10, which demonstrates the total input of Zsolt as an active contributor as opposed to a hired session man. This is definitely an I-Pod album when it’s released. The piece ends and they make coffee but Angiewoman has some Polish vodka which I gratefully drink until I have a pleasant haze before me that I hope might be the beginnings of sleep.
“I have no idea where my hotel is,” I say.
“Don’t worry, Angiewoman will get you back there,” Dave mutters.
“So what’s the idea behind all this stuff?” I ask, sipping the vodka.
Dave sits on a flight case and sips his coffee, “we decided quite early on to create two different compositions for each one of the drum sessions, to pick out which were the more promising candidates for final selection. Each track has a sequencer laid down as the first part of the musical composition. On some tracks, it’s a piano. On some, it’s a bass line. On some, it’s — well, sounding like a sequencer, but all holding true to the “Berlin School” style of composing. “
I slide down the wall while nodding and paying attention. The vodka is a warm explosion in my chest.
“The tracks were pretty much falling into two separate camps,” continues Zsolt. “Some felt “light”, and some “dark”. Generally the “darker” pieces were more guitar heavy, but it was more a mood feeling.”
“What about Angiewoman?” I ask, on the edge of sleep now.
“She does the artwork. We’re calling them Signatures I and Signatures II.”
“Is it still raining?” I wonder aloud.
“Maybe. What time is your gig?” asks Zsolt.
“I don’t know,” I mumble. “It’s been a long tour. Can I hear the album through again?”
Dave hands me a CD, “burned it while you were listening. Tour bus music,” says Dave. I stay in the basement all night, not caring about the Ozone gig I may or may not have missed. In the grey dawn, Angiewoman drops me back at the hotel. It’s 5am and the cold dawn rain is pouring on me. I don’t go back to my room but instead wander off in search of food and further adventure. When I get back to the hotel later that afternoon I learn that I missed the gig. The band are pissed at me but they let it go with the laughter because I’m dressed from head to toe in silver cooking foil, a small TV aerial on my head and a shirt that reads Psychic Defence League. I have no idea what has happened or where I’ve been.
I’m bundled onto the bus.
It is still raining.
© Stephen Jansen April 2013
You can buy Stephen’s book “The Light from Dead Stars” from Amazon in both kindle and paper edition. His homepage is http://multiplefracture.moonfruit.com/ where you can find out details of his other books too, including the “Chronophobia” sci-fi series.