Image: Terry Christian, Lemn Sissay, Kermit Leveridge, Greg Wilson (c) Elspeth Moore
Well, what an outrageous evening's entertainment this was. It was the first ever "Super Weird Happening", which, in short, is a series of Greg Wilson-curated events that contain poetry, seminars, a live performance from Blind Arcade (fronted up by Kermit Leveridge of Black Grape fame), and a DJ set from Greg to finish the night. In long, the reality of it is a lot more ridiculous.
Step forward Terry Christian - our errant host for the night. Going straight in with a joke involving Operation Yewtree and the 1970s, he then introduced the first guest of the night, the poet Lemn Sissay, a man who spent most of the 1970s in a childrens' home. That's a hell of an opening gambit...
Sissay was well up for the craic though, and began by going off on one in a "funny you should mention that actually" kind of sense, before stopping himself half way through the story from his days in the childrens' home when it dawned on him what exactly he was about to divulge. If you ever wondered how a poet can be lost for words, this is basically how.
Not that he minded really - he eventually collected himself and said "ah well, wasn't really planning on telling that one" and then just got on and manically read a poem. So gripped were we by this absurd exchange that we didn't manage to catch the look on Greg Wilson's face, but remain fairly confident it would have been a picture.
Then things just progressed from there really. Terry Christian quite rightly articulated what many in the room would have been thinking about Sissay, with his dreadlocks bouncing around and eyes blinking once a minute if he was lucky, which was, "surely he's on drugs?". We were assured that he was merely high on life, but not before an anecdote involving their mate Martin 'Sugar' Merchant, the front man from the legendary Audioweb:
"I remember being at parties with him," said Christian. "And people would go up to him asking him 'have you got any grass?', to which he'd reply 'do I look like a drug dealer?', knowing fine well he actually did."
This was appallingly brilliant - vintage Terry Christian. He hasn't changed. Racial stereotypes and drugs were not going to get in the way of a cheap laugh, but most of us did, just quietly. Kermit Leveridge was next up on stage… how was he going to handle him? A reformed addict who twice needed to be resuscitated after an overdose, who has been on the most profound of journeys that has recently led him to see the light and reinvent himself as a creative force.
We spent about an hour preparing some sensitive questions for when we interviewed him the other day (not to mention been wide eyed about the playlist he did for us, stream above), so it was particularly interesting to see how this one would pan out.
"You've actually died more times than Captain Scarlet" was what Christian plumped for. And off we go again. The whole show was basically like a combination of TFI Friday and a Moss Side Working Men's Club - but you've got to hand it to them; it's a different angle.
Those infamous after-show nights out, where Chris Evans, Danny Baker, Paul Gascoigne and Jimmy Five Bellies would proceed to get wrecked in Soho... Terry, Lemn and Kermit would have fitted right in.
But in amongst the crude humour and the many more unreportable anecdotes, there was good sentiment about Manchester's cultural past and what it stands for today. This was far better than rose-tinted Mancunians talking about the good old days, because it was clearly honest. The most important point was how the influence of black music on the Manchester scene is so under reported.
If you read his blog, you'll see Greg Wilson rightly championing this - that there was much creative life before the Hacienda and the ecstasy pill, and the influence of black culture on the nation's music stretched quite a bit beyond rastas making reggae in Ladbroke Grove, which the NME version of history may have you believe.
There was plenty of good chat to suggest that in the context of electronic music and DJ culture anyway, eighties Manc clubland was a more dynamic mix of cultures than even in London at the time, and we're still seeing the benefits of it today.
But just as sanity was beginning to prevail on stage (Greg Wilson had joined the conversation by now), things took another twist. The next 'guest' on stage was a man who had been sitting in front of us just before, who we had already christened 'Ali G' because of his earlier aggressive wrist movements in response to Lemn's poetry. Our wingman Henry was vital in all of this because he was able to confirm afterwards that the account of the night was true - that we weren't tripping.
So Ali G gets up on stage with what appeared to be a covered-up painting, which he somewhat undersold to Greg and the crowd by saying: "well it was just hanging around the fucking house to be honest", before revealing one of Greg's famous reel-to-reel tapes, embossed on a canvas.
This was the warmup set, remember. We'd almost forgotten what our main motivation for being there was, which was to see Blind Arcade. The music gradually got less and less important as the craic went further and further off the map, but given that Blind Arcade is the absolute epitome of a black/white fusion of sound, the more insightful elements of the on-stage carnage had actually built an appropriate context.
A bit of hip hop, a bit of rap, a bit of reggae, and a bit of balearic house, and all over the top of a nineties Madchester beat; Blind Arcade are a good advert for what can be achieved when you mix it up a bit and embrace some of what was good about the past. It was great to finally see the tracks from the brilliant mix/album from earlier in the year (hear below) performed live.
Kermit is a very charismatic front man, and BB. James is a technically excellent singer. We must have played our Blind Arcade-personal-fave, 'Give It Away', about a hundred times since it first appeared on Greg's soundcloud as part of the album; so with anoraks fully on, we paid close attention to how she sung it, and genuinely, she didn't miss a single note. Her pitch was spot on.
For their last track they invited various members of the audience to dance up on stage, which was a mighty fine touch and an appropriately chaotic free-for-all. It was just that kind of night. Greg then came on and opened up with Blueboy's 'Remember Me', but the version that's over ten minutes long, which until Saturday night, we'd never heard in public before. That was an inspired choice.
There's little need to go into further detail about Greg's music for the rest of the night - it was obviously good and the healthy Gorilla crowd appreciated it - but the impromptu madness of Saturday night is better summed up by the exchange with Blind Arcade member Cleve Freckleton (AKA Rev Chunky) in the takeaway afterwards.
"So how did you get in with Kermit and Blind Arcade?"
"Well I only met him nine weeks ago" replied Freckleton. "He could find a million better players than me but we just seem to be on the same level - he needs a bit of looking after… hahahaa!"
Then this descended into Cleve leaving a lengthy and abusive voicemail to one of our party who had made his excuses and failed to show up for the night, where he basically ended up sounding like that Norwegian football commentator after they stopped England qualifying for the 1982 World Cup ("Henry Cooper! Princess Diana! Maggie Thatcher! - can you hear me?" etc. See below)
So by the second minute of the voicemail, it had come to this:
"You've let yourself down! You've let your whole county down! Barnsley! DICKY BIRD! GEOFF BOYCOTT!
There was a brief pause.
"errr… HUMBERSIDE! "You've let them all down man!"
It may be a bit of a shock to wake up to a voicemail message containing the above, but it was entirely fair comment - such a poor decision to not witness what we had seen.
Even if an abusive voicemail galvanises him to catch any of the future Super Weird Happenings, there's absolutely no chance that the experience will be replicated, even if the line up was replicated (which it won't be - Greg and Blind Arcade are the only constants for the rest of the tour); and there in lies the point of this whole thing.
Yes, you could argue that the rationale doesn't stretch much beyond "put a load of creative people on stage and see what happens", but in our view this is an exciting model for entertainment, a refreshing change from more straightforward clubland events.
Review: Mike Boorman (follow him on twitter)
Greg Wilson's Super Weird tour also goes to Glasgow, Bristol and now the recently added Liverpool date in the upcoming weeks. Find out the full dates here in Kermit Leveridge's Super weird playlist.