"We're havin' a bring-and-buy sale but we'll do a techno set over it. A techno second-hand-pant-ruck, that's what it's gonna be called."
Incendiary take a stroll with The Witch & the Robot
You might not know a great deal about The Witch and the Robot at present. I don't expect you to be ashamed about this either, lest not for a little while, for they are not a band who "get around" socially. Preferring to stay put in their Lakeland retreat rather than brave the inane social merry-go-round of the music industry, The Witch and the Robot content themselves with creating incredibly powerful, pretty unnerving folk pop; at times verging on an early Beefheartian sound, at others a warped acoustic pastoral vision not a million miles away from Fried era Cope. Only with paper-mache masks, and surreal spelling.
Incredibly, Mr Venice - member of the band - contacted Incendiary with the aim of letting us know that he would be in Amsterdam, whilst he (even more incredibly) filmed Arthur Brown's Halloween spectacular at the Paradiso. Working off the maxim that lightning doesn't strike twice in the same spot, we went along to find a shuffling Mr Venice, accompanied by Andy, bassist of top Lakeland band Lovers of the Arctic Circle, a band who have drawn a lot of praise from this magazine! This was shaping up to be a top afternoon.
We shuffled (due to Mr Venice having brought a pair of shoes too small) to a hostelry that would provide a sustenance both men were in need of after a spectacularly disappointing night in Amsterdam.
MrV: This town is full of bronzed, well appointed young laptop owners with scarves. Where are the bloody hippies we'd heard so much about?
A: We got bloody fleeced in booze prices last night. Fleeced. And not that I am in any way a connoisseur of these things, but the Red Light was uniformly poor.
IN: What possessed you to film Arthur Brown?
MrV: Arthur Brown wears jump suits and drives his own very battered Saab around. It's our job to film Arthur Brown. We've followed him around a bit this last week.
Safely ensconced in the pub, we decided to give vent to this frustration in the form of some searching questions.
IN: So, describe, in your own words, The Witch and the Robot.
MrV: It is what it is, never met the witch, never met the robot, not that I'm not certain that they exist, but erm... she lives on Helvellin, of that we are pretty sure... and she made the robot a few years ago but that changes, because her reality changes, and therefore his reality changes so sometimes the robot makes the witch, but at times they come together, somewhere...
Having said that it might be Sca Fell.
IN: Very much a Lakeland presence...
MrV: Yeah definitely. They both fought in the French revolution after William Wordsworth chickened out (cue incendiary editor spitting out his beer) they were aided by the zombies, they were there during the terror, I think they needed it.
IN: The Zombies as in the band? Colin Blunstone et al?
A: No, normal zombies...
MrV: You see once Wordsworth had come back from France the zombies went out. It all ended up being a bit like Hills of Eyes. It will be a good film I promise.
IN: Golly, well; from the outside you seem an enigmatic bunch what with the Residents style heads and the worrying autistic drawings, this all adds up to quite a menacing image. Is that fair?
MrV: It's a country setting children's tea party gone a bit wrong. It starts innocently enough but with the demons of sex and death soon buggering it all up. Ever present demons.
IN: As in your video, the dancing man was quite frightening I thought...
MrV: That'd DJ Aesthetic Heartbreak. He's never met the witch and the robot either (giggles)
A: I think he's gonna die soon as well.
IN: In a new video?
MrV: We were thinking of a snuff movie (giggles). It is quite frightening.
IN: He could be chewed to death by rats
MrV: It's quite exciting for him, given he's paper mache. I think that's a good end, very much in line with Nosferatu. You know he came about a few years ago as we did our world tour around some of the more rural areas of the Lake District. It was just him convulsing on the floor over a backdrop of some Bowie, but then he stuck around for a while and he's still knockin' about.
IN: What is all this Cumbrian musical hegemony?
MrV: I think in all seriousness there is becoming a sort of critical mass of serious musical practitioners in the Lake District/Westmoreland/ North Lancs area. Other bands like Seven Seals are putting themselves about, making a name for themselves; talking about the rural side of things. So what was once perceived as a weakness now is an undoubted strength.
A: Rather than wait for people in the so-called scene in London to notice us and have to change to fit in, now they've got to listen to us. We don't care about them anyway.
IN: I always think that the UK should be more regional in its powerbases - the BBC to Barnsley, that's what I say! And the Bank of England to Skeggy.
MrV: The BBC won't move to Manchester anyway. I can tell you that for sure. They'll all resign.
A: They won't know where to get on the train.
MrV: They've opened a Groucho club in Newcastle as a token gesture to different accents. The pet on the head from the owner.
IN: So you think music is going to swing towards a rural powerbase?
A: Not necessarily something overtly rural. We are looking to develop festivals...
MrV: We are doing a festival called Fear of Mountains which is a day long thing and will look to utilise the work from all the sound artists in Cumbria, a lot of dance music.
A: There's a big dance music scene in Cumbria, the Attic Records lot...
MrV: But yeah bring all these people together under one roof and see what happens, show some explosions, public bombs... sounds quite a nice day.
IN: Beats recorders and morris dancing I suppose.
A: We are actually doing something along more traditional lines.
MrV: We're havin' a bring-and-buy sale but we'll do a techno set over it. A techno second-hand-pant-ruck, that's what it's gonna be called.
IN: What do you see as trying to capture on the LP?
MrV: Well, it's me and Mr Goodnight. It's us really trying to find a way to record the year dot. It's just us two. He's got this little room called the Robot Room and it's got a little recording facility. So it's just... yeah! It's something about the Lake District and at the same time its showing that there's more to life than the Lake District, with all its outsider influences, it's bizarre. It's just songs and of course songs always end up sounding like someone else's bloody songs (giggles). This is just the way life goes.
IN: What on earth did you do to the Vanguard* after we despatched them to interview you? I was quite worried about them. The only evidence of Vanguard/Robot activity I received was a picture of a big paper mache head in a gambling den, apparently in Birmingham.
MrV: Yeah well, we are Northern European and we all hail from a drinking culture... and I don't know if they were ready for that.
IN: How in God's name did you end up filming Arthur Brown?
MrV: He played a venue in Barrow, oh God this is boring stuff. Boring. Boring boring, everyday reality. And we ended up following him. At the moment we are making a documentary about an autistic man called Albie. He does the disco for heavily disabled children in Barrow in Furness. We took him over to Lourdes because he's quite a devout Catholic, and he did a disco there.
IN: Do they have discos in Lourdes?
MrV: No, no, he had to be sanctified by the authorities.
A: There was a whole lot of holy water sloshin' about, 5 litre tubs of the stuff, with people filling up tanks of it to take home. You could feasibly bathe in it. I think we did.
MrV: So that's our everyday reality. A lot of the Witch and the Robot visual stuff is based on the life of Lakes resident Josefina de Vasconcellos who was a monumental sculptress and lived to 101 years old, she's a forgotten artist who made sculptures for churches - a lot of my answers are coming back to Christianity, I dunno why – anyway she knew TS Eliott and a lot of famous then contemporary artists. I made a couple of films on her. Lots of quotes from her come through in our music. She was a bit of an oddity as a human being, a very strange woman.
As an artist she wasn't very good and she certainly won't trouble the pantheon of the history of art in any way. She was a personality rather than a person.
IN: So what have I got to look out for on the album?
MrV: Strange Walk Every Day is influenced by the Albie film.
IN: On learning all this I'm now surprised you haven't just concentrated on releasing film scores and make an LP that way. Maybe do the soundtrack to the next Tom Cruise film. I might even go to the cinema to hear your demented noise coming through the speakers...
MrV: When Tom becomes an old man, that's when I quite like his film rolls, with flour in his hair and his peculiar arm motions...
IN: I think we'd better terminate the interview right there...
Words: Richard Foster.
(*the Vanguard; one of this country's finest new bands and most incompetent interviewers - ed)