Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra
Steve Lewis and Jonathan Raisin
24th June 2010
Held on the top floor of the View Two gallery opposite the Cavern Pub
in Mathew St, the View Two gallery is an unusual but very well-suited
location for low-key gigs. Arranged almost as a cabaret night, with tables
and chairs set up with lighted candles on them, the wooden floor and brightly
coloured canvases are a world away from the sticky floors of the Academy.
On arrival I am greeted by the sight of a collection of upturned bicycles
including one roughly arranged into the same formation as a drumkit. It
gradually becomes clear that this will form the main part of tonight’s
performance and isn’t a sculpture that is part of an exhibition.
The equipment onstage certainly marks a departure from the usual backline
of amps and PAs found at most gigs.
First performance of the night comes courtesy of singer-songwriter Ade
Jackson. Opening his set with the self-penned track ‘Crystal Jane’,
Jackson alternates between fingerpicked verses and strummed choruses,
accompanied by his high, keening voice. The wooden floors of the gallery
add extra resonance to his acoustic guitar and bring reverb to his impressively
wide-ranging voice. The highlight of his sixsong set is a traditional
sea shanty with additional lyrics, strongly reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s
harrowing 1964 composition ‘North Country Blues’.
The following set comes from Steve Lewis, under the guise of Deep Cabaret.
Playing a baroque Gretsch guitar, most of his set is semi-improvised,
with some tracks sounding similar to the sonic territory Scott Walker
explored on his 1995 ‘post-rock’ album Tilt. With lyrics drawn
mostly from novels and poems, Lewis also includes words of his own. His
second track is introduced as a history of twentieth century literature,
culminating in a verse from TS Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’.
All of the tracks are driven by slow, cyclical arpeggios, which slowly
mutate into loose song forms. In one of the strangest cases of audience
participation I’ve been party to the assembled crowd are invited
to join in on the closing track, a Buddhist meditation chant.
Next, Lewis is joined on the stage by event organiser Jonathan Raison,
who accompanies him on piano as the singer improvises a set of verses.
The music at points sounds like a cross between a discordant version of
Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and the fractured score
from cult 1960s film ‘Peeping Tom’. Raison is an excellent
piano player, deviating from a chord progression or riff into more atonal
material then back again with consummate ease.
Concluding the night are the Levenshume Bicycle Orchestra. It’s
possible that the group are one of the mostly accurately named bands ever
to exist, as they indeed appear to hail from Manchester and their musical
equipment as it is consists almost entirely of modified bike parts. Admittedly
I spend the a few minutes of their set playing trying to figure out how
exactly they make amplified sounds from the assemblage of gear onstage.
Possibly influenced by dance music pioneers Kraftwerk, the group seem
mostly preoccupied with the German group’s method of transport,
as they have also long been obsessed with bicycles.
Once the group begins playing, the volume they summon from the distended
pieces of metal is fierce. A dismantled racer bike, its spokes plucked
like a metallic harp, occasionally having a violin bow ran across it,
switches between a mournful wail and a jangling, rattling dissonance.
Accompanied by a drummer whose kit replaces the traditional two cymbal
hi-hat with a small bike wheel and what appears to be a hubcap, they produce
deep, clanging soundscapes.
Despite the obvious visuals that surround the group, the band may possibly
have benefited from projection screens with images beamed onto them. Musically,
the band play what appears to be a random selection of noises, which gradually
morph into a rhythmic whole, as various distinct parts begin to emerge.
The occasions when the players are simpatico with each other are frustratingly
rare however and much of the performance is random sounds and noises generated
from the plethora of FX pedals that sit on a table stage front. When the
players do hit upon a theme it lasts only a short time before breaking
off into more random improvised noise-making. Innovative certainly, but
a little more structure to their performance wouldn’t have gone
Lost Voices takes place at the View Two gallery on the last Thursday
of every month.