Wednesday, March 02, 2016

COUM Transmissions at UKC, 1972

Sir Robert Bunkum recently brought to my attention part of an interview with Foxtrot Echo about his involvement in the pre-Throbbing Gristle performance collective COUM Transmissions. The other day I spotted a poster on the Kent University campus for a DJ set from an ex-Busted (embarrassing boyband) member...

...and found myself thinking "Is this what things have come to?", remembering campus gigs in the late 80s — Spacemen 3 in Eliot Common Room, Cardiacs in Rutherford Dining Hall, local crusty squatter psych-collective Door Marked Summer (plus their dogs!) playing an anti-Poll Tax fundraiser, Sons of the Desert playing up a storm in Rutherford JCR, anarcho-comedy-punk mayhem from Degeneration and the associated Tankerton Dance Ensemble...

But that all seems quite tame now, having read this. I was obviously born 15-20 years too late...

* * *

Can you remember any eventful gigs?

The one at Kent University was quite an extraordinary one. It was 1972 I think, let me just look it up ... we might as well pin down the actual name ... Copyright Breeches, of course. The whole concept of Copyright Breeches had a few layers to it. We used to steal ideas, talk about stealing ideas. Well, not always steal; we'd find them and use them in a new combination. Cross breed. Create mutant forms. Mixing it with something as opposite as possible and seeing what came out of it. Which is quite a creative thing to do. Because we were claiming things as our own we would possibly be sued for breach of copyright so we started discussing all this in the Alien Brain in Hull. That was the name of Genesis' house, an old jam factory. We were talking about Coum stealing things and it being a copyright breach, and I said, we ought to be honest about it and just call things copyright breaches. So it was like a whole performance where we'd be accused of stealing things, possibly ideas. We didn't know if it would be because we made it up as we went along. Genesis had some copyright britches made. The C for copyright as the pattern on these big broad trousers. And there was the book made as well with the bicycle wheel like Marcel Duchamps work on the cover. Published by Beau Geste Press. Now that's another story because that's him! Genesis pretending to be another organisation. When he was typing furiously full time he gave the impression that Coum was a big organisation. Write in the third person things like that. It reminded me of the scene in the film Beau Geste, the foreign legion is defending the fort and all the legionnaires get killed until there is only one left. So that the marauding Arabs don't overwhelm the fort he props up the bodies of his comrades with guns and he runs backwards and forwards behind them firing so it seams like there are more people firing than there is. I used to refer to him as Beau Geste. I addressed letters to him as Beau Geste and he rather liked that idea. But anyway I digress. At Kent University an old friend of mine, Davy Jones, was quite sympathetic, so he promoted the gig. Our advance publicity, our notorious reputation was so effective even before we got there that the University authorities banned us from performing within the university. So the student union, to prove a point, hired this circus tent and put it just outside the perimeter. Now part of the problem was that there was no direct electricity supply. Somebody rather ingeniously took off one of the panels on one of the street lights and wired up a direct link to that. So we did have some power.

The national grid!

Unfortunately half way through the evening. It must have caused some problem, a short circuit or something. Half the City of Canterbury was thrown into darkness because of our performance. The lights went out. It was quite an extraordinary gig because there was the Reverend Cheese Wire Maull with his guitar, this prepared piano, we ordered in advance, altered it a bit on the day. Genesis had his drum kit. My friend Robo Ray. Me and Robo Ray did some tapes; we did some for Coum too. Rather like supermarket jingles, slogans from 1001 ways to Coum, information, we had a xylophone effect and incidental music. It was like Muzak but putting over avant garde ideas in a low key way, like easy listening. Anyway, there was him. Cosey of course and the dog, Tremble. Me, Foxtrot Echo although I think for the evening Genesis pretended that I was from the Gay Liberation Front. Because a guy who was also in Coum, Nicholas Bramble an ex-ballet dancer, very temperamental, for some reason he didn't come and Genesis thought it was such good copy he pretended I was him to the journalist that interviewed him. Because, well, I was wearing mascara, glitter eye make-up and lipstick anyway. I suppose it was quite credible. Genesis did some sort of playlette wearing transparent nappies. We were playing improvised music with slogans. Cheese Wire Maull did a Beatles medley and some of his own songs. People shouted things, we shouted back. There was a load of saw dust that was thrown everywhere. I don't know where that came from. I had some feathers... Then of course half way through it all became dark. It became touchy feely. Some people got really confused. It became something of a legend. It was talked about for some time. Banned again.


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