Listening to……The Necks…..

Australia, as Sir Les Patterson so memorably informed us, has got culture up to its arsehole.  

Whilst this may be the case, it’s not too difficult to identify the oustanding musical contributions from Oz over the years.  Whilst individual Aussies may have escaped to form part of bands in Europe and America, there didn’t seem to be too much to write home about in Australia itself until the late 70’s -or maybe we just weren’t hearing it/ hearing about it in Europe. 

Around Sydney in the late 70’s, there seemed to be the stirrings of an embryonic punk scene and there were bands who did quite well out of that (The Celibate Rifles) and bands who remained obscure (The Gravity Pirates) straying across my path.  Of course, there was INXS , the Little River Band and all that mainstream rock bluster plus a band called Icehouse, who were good in a kind of sub-Ultravox/Roxy Music fashion.

None of which explains The Necks, who are based loosely within the jazz tradition but who borrow liberally from other genres .  The Necks are Chris Abrahams, Tony Buck and Lloyd Swanton who have been playing together and realeasing albums together since the late 1980’s.  Typically, a performance or recording by The Necks consists of one piece of around an hour in length based on keyboards (organ & piano) , bass and drums/percussion.   The musicians will work with one ‘riff’ or ‘pattern’ making slight but subtle changes over 10, 15 0r 20 minutes until the piece slowly changes its character and becomes something else. 

Whilst The Necks are undoubtedly a product of the indigenous jazz scene around Sydney, their influences tend to originate in Europe and the USA.  On the classical front, it’s possible to hear bits of Steve Reich and Philip Glass in there, in terms of jazz, people like Keith Jarrett have clearly had an influence and the early ‘Krautrock’ of Can, Ashra Tempel and Tangerine Dream seems to have been important.  On the other hand, if you listen to The Necks’  fifteen-album discography often enough, you could probably hear traces of Chinese opera and The Bay City Rollers.  The point is that the music ebbs and flows across 60 or 70 minutes, and the listener can make what they will of it.

Photo of  The Necks by Tim Williams

I’m listening to ‘Silverwater‘ (2009) which is the band’s most recent CD and which has pulled in enthusiastic reviews from around the world.  The band’s instrumental palette is here enlivened by the addition of electric guitar, played by Tony Buck. At first listen, I couldn’t honestly say that this is their greatest album, though others are saying just that. The Necks aren’t really like that – you have to listen again…and again…and probably several more ‘agains’ until you can truly evaluate what they are doing. What I can say is that already, ‘Silverwater’ seems to sit quite nicely alongside ‘Aether’ and ‘Drive-By’ and their other top recordings, which is a good sign, by & large.

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