COUM Transmissions – Home Aged & The 18 Month Hope

Exclusive: Genesis B. P-Orridge introduces unheard archive recordings from h/er provocative art collective

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In 1971 COUM Transmissions often invaded weekend shopping and other “normal” activities of the Hull population, improvising surreal street theatre in bizarre home-made costumes creating props from repurposed trash. One was an old baby pram I made to look like a covered wagon in the wild west. It was covered in found objects, all sprayed gold or dayglow, like broken dolls, pacifiers, driftwood, broken toys and broken machines. COUM were soon “discovered” by the local paper, the Hull Daily Mail, and then by the Hull Arts Centre, who were funded by various Government programs. We become the notoriously weird but fun eccentrics of Hull culture. We were based in “The HO HO Funhouse” (originally in an old fruit warehouse) and named by myself and Paul Frew climbing onto a third floor ledge to paint its name on the outside wall, cheered on by visiting Hells Angels who used it as an ad hoc club house every now and then for wild three day parties. Despite our growing public presence COUM were shocked to be invited to take part in the Nationwide creative cultural events celebrating the United Kingdom joining the Common Market (now know as the EU). My psychedelic pram was displayed in the Ferens Museum and titled “Wagon Train” along with a photo of me in a gold gas mask with a bowler hat covered in parts of smashed radios and a dayglow orange coat titled “Mr Alien Brain”. A character who still crops up every now and then even now. This too caused public consternation and the usual “is it art?” articles in the local papers. There was severe unemployment in Hull in the early 1970’s and civil unrest by the Dockers Union and Trawlermen. Sadly after the “Cod War” fishing died in Hull. Given that all of COUM Transmissions at that time were on the “Dole” (Welfare) as were the Angels, skinheads, hippies and freaks who nicknamed it “The Bank”. The radio interviewer fails to comprehend “satire”. The questionnaires were actually full of fun, cynical and meaningless questions leading the “applicants” round in frustrating circles but in such a ridiculous way that it turned out to be very successful and could be seen as a precursor to the questionaires included in the first edition of Second Annual Report and the “Skill Sheets” sent out to volunteers who wanted to actively participate in Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth.

"Doo Da Excerpt"

Haydn Robb played bass guitar for a few months when COUM did musical improvisations. He also moved into one of the 17 rooms in the second Ho Ho Funhouse, Prince Street, off Dagger Land. He had lived in Germany for a while during the Beat boom and been a member of the “Rattles” who couldn’t see the witch…it seems that while I was recording music and sounds he had some grudge to release. Northern English humor relies so much on pushing people to their breaking point and if they finally get angry then the joke is funny. There’s always been a sadistic side to Northern humor. The accents are so strong that I can’t be sure who was threatening me by proxy on behalf of Haydn. My natural response was to drive him ever more angry by asking the same questions over and over again. This was an aspect of the radical psychodramas and deconditioning excercises I was immersed in whilst in The Exploding Galaxy commune in Islington in 1969.

"Prescott & Williams 1932"

In the Funhouse there were 2 upright pianos in the kitchen. There was also a 4 foot diameter hole in the ceiling. The room above was used as my drum room primarily. For some reason it never occurred to any of us to patch up the floor. Another exercise, how aware of your surroundings were you? Nobody ever fell through miraculously, but when it snowed or rained that came through into the kitchen! Gradually we installed speakers all around the funhouse, hidden in walls and behind plastic sheeting. COUM even had small speakers hidden outside so we could whisper to shoppers and passers by having great fun creating aural confusion. The overloaded quality of the sound is partly caused by the weird delays, textures and tininess of the multiple speakers bouncing back and around all the rooms returning eventually to the kitchen where various decaying tape recorders were storing them. By pressing tape recorder play buttons, previous sonic layers were added breaking down, as far as I could, the linearity of sound and voice.

"'Edna And The Great Surfers' In St. Georges Hall, Bradford, October 22, 1971"

Sadly I cannot recall how the hell we managed to con our way to supporting “HAWKWIND” at Bradford St Georges Hall in 1971. A commune of freaks in Hebden Bridge had been busted and the concert was to raise funds for their legal costs. Tony Menzies (aka “Babbling Brook”) played guitar for the first time in his life. Cosmosis was dressed as a classic English schoolgirl and walked about firing a starting pistol. John Smith, from Bridlington cane dressed as a surfer and “sang” standing on a surfboard on a bucket of water. The first part of the performance consisted of bringing on all the drums from 3 full kits and laying them out, there was a craze in bands in that era to have massive drum kits, so I ended up with one impossibly big and unplayable. At the end we threw sackfuls of polystyrene granules everywhere. Polysnow as I called it. Hawkwind were actually quite amused and very courteous to us, even when they had to clean granules out of effects pedals that were jammed up. Strangely enough Nick Turner’s Hawkwind toured in the USA in 93 or 94 and Nick invited me to play sampling keyboards with them for the Bay Area gigs. I asked Nick if he remembered that gig and COUM and he did! He immediately recalled a schoolgirl in stockings firing a gun, and those damned polystyrene granules. Obviously all was forgiven and I had great fun playing with Hawkwind.

COUM Transmissions

"Cement Men – My Granny Goes Grave Digging"

This poem is by FIZZEY PAET (sic). He saw COUM around Hull and was fascinated. It was quite easy to find out where we lived and so one day he knocked on the door and asked to come in. He talked about his unhappy early life and his dream to perform and gain personal strength through that process. When asked, so what character do you want to be? He said a roller skating clown! Cosmosis made him an incredible patchwork clown outfit, an amazing piece of sewing. One day he turned up at the Ho Ho Funhouse distraught. He’d had a perm and his hair had gone “all fizzy”. He was terrified to go home. It took ages for us to slowly straighten his hair with hot irons and cocoa butter. Pete became “FIZZEY PAET” that night, the unique spelling was his. One of the beliefs I’ve always had since the 60’s is that every person HAS a genius factor. A creative means of perception that is suppressed and bullied out of us by so many means. COUM tried to release, to liberate that inner energy in all who passed through and often by simply saying “Ok then you do it”, was all it took to alter the direction of their life and help them discover as much as they chose of who THEY desired to be. This poem is the very first poem he read out loud to us. By May 1973 he was starring in a performance art project commissioned by Granada Television “The Marriage of Fizzey Paet and Tremble the Wonderdog” in Manchester! Fizzey is a wonderful being, one who could easily have given up his dreams and fallen through society’s cynical cracks, but he faced his fears and became a long term part of COUM Transmissions.

"18 Month Hope"

During my travels and deconditioning boot camp in Islington Park Street as part of The Exploding Galaxy (later renamed Transmedia Exploration) I had few possessions. A sleeping bag, a journal, and a violin and a small bag to put these in for travelling. One day, wandering around Islington in a floor length brocade “wizards” robe carrying an old rifle and my violin (who knows why I was never arrested for carrying that rifle? ) I met a guy with a violin. He turned out to be involved with the “Third Ear Band”, a favorite of John Peel’s and mine. They later did the soundtrack for Polanski’s “Macbeth”. He invited me into his flat and we began jamming together regularly. One thing about that era of the Galaxy/Transmedia that frustrated me was there was never ANY form of music or even sound concrete. When three or four violins play this style they create amazing trance inducing drones and soundscapes. This is a recording of me maintaining my violin disciplines. It’s a pity we had no echo decks or more violinists. To this day we break out our violin, in PTV3 and with Tony Conrad when he does concerts with me and Morrisson Edley Odowd. Sir Bulwer Lyttin’s book “ZANONI” convinced me violins and violas, cellos, but especially violins are alchemical keys to undiscovered portals and alien domains.

COUM Transmissions

"Home Aged"

This is a solo musical construction. Eventually, through the generous auspices of The Very Reverend Lelli Maull, we acquired more tape recorders, so by playing the takes back and forth, one sound at a time, it became possible to structure pieces a little more. The slightly sitar like sound is an acoustic guitar I was given on which the neck was loose so you could bend its strings to get those effects. It’s important to remember that we lived with hot water ever there, the slightest electricity. After three months we fixed the toilet. The building was a ruin. There were only three rooms where water didn’t run down the walls when it rained. A Hells Angel called Gypsy lived in a semi-wet room with Rick who was a Freewheeler. Now it has been renovated and listed as a Historic Georgian Building! They should put a blue plaque up saying “COUM Transmissions were here”. Gypsy moved on when we left for London in 1973 and Rick was killed riding home from the South on his motorbike in a head-on collision.

"Genesis P-Orridge talks to David Mayor at 50 Beck Road, Hackney"

For years I recorded obsessively; experiments, poems, interviews, phone calls, conversations. Hundreds of cassette tapes. This is self-explanatory except to explain who David Mayor was. David ran a printing press “BEAU GESTE PRESS” from a beautiful farm in Surrey, or was it Sussex? He was heavily involved in Fluxus and most of the books they printed were Fluxus oriented, or anything avant garde. It was David who invited COUM Transmissions to take part in “FLUXSHOE” a travelling exhibition of Fluxus including artists from Japan, South America, Canada to improvise actions, artworks, mysteries as we moved from museum to gallery to museum. David was a great catalyst for melding ideas, archiving works, and an amazingly pure. Beautiful soul. He lived only on weeds for a year and wrote a book about all the free food growing everywhere afterwards. One of the most spiritual artists I have ever met. He eventually printed a book of my photographs in “COPYRIGHT BREECHES”. During this conversation in 1975, me and David talk about music with art and how I am looking for some “real musicians” to play in a band I am thinking of starting called "Throbbing Gristle" which combines pornographic collage work with rock music.

Home Aged & The 18 Month Hope is out on October 29 on Dais Records

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