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Steve Davis on prog (and snooker)'s demigods

Cover art for The Nymphs' On Dry Land

What have Einstein, Picasso, Mozart and Ronnie O’Sullivan got in common? All are hailed as geniuses within their fields. Mozart doesn’t float my boat, Pablo wasn’t great at noses and as for Einstein? Well, any modular synth user knows that you can get something for relatively nothing! More on The Rocket later. So, bearing in mind ‘one man’s meat…’ , what artists would you personally bestow the word ‘genius’ on? And furthermore, what criteria would you use, other than you’re a fanatic? There could be a temptation to just consider relatively unfashionable artists. Would you put Dylan, The Beatles, Prince, Jackson and Cohen in there, or are they too appealing to the masses for you?

Maybe the criteria should be this: Firstly, astounding music needs to have been created. Stuff that seems bigger that the sum of its parts, music that makes you wonder how on earth the artist ever conceptualised it in the first place. Secondly, the strike rate of quality items within their discography positioned against the average tracks and ‘duffers’ that they churned out. Thirdly? Well, more on that later too.

My genius list? I would consider Robert Wyatt to be more of a demigod than Frank Zappa. No surprise to regular readers that I would be convinced that Christian Vander (Magma) was cast from this spectacular mould, and I wouldn’t argue with anyone who decided to put the little-known (in the UK) wizard Albert Marcœur in that bracket too. Other than that, who else? As I am by no means familiar with all the works of my final choice below, I will have to qualify why I’ve picked him.

The third criterion for ‘genius’ must be that his or her peers (not fans) consider that to be the case. In my humble opinion, Ronnie O’Sullivan (and maybe Alex Higgins) is the true genius of snooker. Every other player would love to play through his eyes for a day, if only to witness whether he’s getting different pictures to everyone else!

Tim Smith (Cardiacs) fits all three categories. Every musician I’ve spoken to that has rubbed shoulders with him cries “Genius!” The Cardiacs fan base is devotional, bordering on cult status. For non-believers, their music can, on first audition, appear too frantic. The Sea Nymphs side project might be a gentler introduction [see page 66 for our feature! – Sub Ed]. A new album On The Dry Land has been belatedly released, along with a reissue of the first eponymously titled CD. Proof of Tim Smith’s magical quality can be found in Lilly White’s Party from the first album. Maybe this track could lead you to investigate the whole back catalogue of a man who refuses to throw the towel in on creating weird and wonderfully engaging music.

Steve Davis on Autechre and DJing at Bloc Weekend