Thursday, 20 August 2020

Mercator projected

Better git it in your soul: Mercator Projected, by East of Eden

In 1971 Peel played sessions by East of Eden. I bought Mercator Projected in the marché aux puces in Paris in 1973, and Snafu, in 1974, from a shop called Soul Hole just round the corner from the factory where I was working at the time in Loughborough, making cell doors for a prison. Late arriving information has allowed us to confirm that one of their numbers actually adapts Stéphane Mallarmé's "Tombeau de Baudelaire" -Slobbering in mud and rubies, the idol Anubis-as its lyric. (from 'Gum Arabic/ Confucius', on their first album ‘Snafu') They recorded a number called ‘Beast of Sweden’. No wonder they never got anywhere. East of Eden, formed in Bristol in 1967 and so technically part of the "psychedelic" thing, recorded a tentative single for Atlantic in 1968 before signing to Deram and making two albums. The cover of Mercator shows them dressed up as Chinese mandarins, perhaps freaky clobber of the time but also a reference to the photo of the band on the cover of Mingus Dynasty (some editions of it), which is perhaps where the east part comes from. The moon shone on the yum-yum trees, antelopes sang their song. Lacking a front man or a confident singer, obsessed by Mingus and Bartòk, they were never going to mint it in the pop shopping mall. Ah-Leu-cha, petite Afrique/ Ice-cream cones and Hide and Seek, says where they were coming from. They produced my favourite rock lyric of all time:

Flickering in slow light movements
Of her musicians, Eve pivots with the sun:
Bruised pink peel through sapphire dust.
Strike up! for the thin trapeze girl.

By reconstruction, Dave Arbus translated Stephane’s sonnet but became frustrated, partway through, by its potential as a song lyric, and adapted it in a direction of his own. He uses the Anubis/ rubis rhyme but strays thereafter into a wordscape for ‘A Night in Tunisia’. Too languid to engage in the burlesque sexual heel-drumming of rock, they strolled through a series of exotic pastiches with dreamlike delicacy. In 1969, it was perfectly unfashionable to play ska cover versions, then associated with skinheads; to discard the insistent rhythmic figures from Don Drummond instrumentals and tease out the pure lines of a lost bebop number-this was a salto mortale, an act of masking whose logic is unanswerable. Who knew in 1970 that the phrase "the palace at 4 am" referred to a painting from Giacometti's surrealist phase? The sax players wandered through their shared fantasy of being Booker Ervin and John Handy of the band that made Mingus-ah-um with catlike sure-footedness; the tune, ‘Better git it in your soul’, was Mingus' attempt to re-create the rowdiness of Black religious music from without, a literate mimicry which sums up the band; when they play like Bill Haley (for about 32 bars), it sounds like Illinois Jacquet playing Bill Haley, the brawling of a 1952 jump band snap-shot, a haleyness which the true Bill was imagining while he stumbled through dated routines. The Dionysiac surrender to drift and improvisation saw too many people revert to the sheet music they'd first learnt to play from, which is why progressive music is so forgotten today, but some bands of the late sixties recontextualised fragments from disparate musical languages, being possessed by them without being repossessed by them: along with Led Zeppelin, Kaleidoscope, and The Band, East of Eden have their place. As we relive the late sixties in the current passion for sampling and looping, I would like to think that poetry too will explore a psychedelic academicism, dissolving the edges of identity in a recombinatory drift.

East of Eden recorded a single called ‘Jigajig’ in 1971. Since the record company hadn't let them in the studio for two years, and then only offered them a single session, it would have been foolish to do anything but go for the hit: a jig, with rockist rhythm section, in the fashion of the time, which they could probably justify to their basic aesthetic by referring to Bartòk and his compulsion for the sound of Hungarian village bands. Made catchy and irritating by mesmerising and academic fast tempi and shifts of tempo which don't really penetrate the ancient rustic circularities of the material, it became a big hit and sealed their fate; it annoyed all the bien-pensants (Peelie certainly never played them again). The band split (the alto sax player isn't audible on ‘Jig-a-Jig’, although he gets the session credit), and the stand-in combo appeared before vast Top 20 audiences who discovered that they couldn't even play ‘Jig-a-jig’. The second East of Eden played some of the least memorable music I've ever heard, prematurely attacking the progressive rock aesthetic in favour of two minute songs and instant communication; one can't imagine the EE led by Arbus and Caines as singing about put on your dancing shoes. So everyone remembered them for this: a true damnatio memoriae. No re-releases on 10th Smile or Bam!Caruso for them. But in 1969 Richard Williams said "I believe what they are playing is both the truth and the future. (...) it seems to me that this is the music of the Seventies."
(written circa 1998 for an issue of Angel Exhaust that never came out)
Ron Caines' website says the lyric is: Flickering in slow light movements of her musicians
Eve pivots in the sun
blues and pink peal through saffire dust
strike up for the thin trapeze girl
(so 'peal' is like a peal of bells?)

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