Camberwell Now - Ghost Trade/The EP Collection album review

This Heat’s melodic avant-prog lovechild Camberwell Now in fine, acerbic fettle.

Camberwell Now - Ghost Trade/The EP Collection album cover

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Formed in the early 80s after This Heat’s dissolution, Charles Hayward (drums, keys, voice), Trefor Goronwy (bass, keys, voice) and Stephen Rickard (tape effects) recorded just one album and two EPs. After being holed up for a couple of years in the famous Cold Storage studio the emergence of their debut EP Meridian (1983) indicated the trio would be continuing down the furrow of darkly oblique songs and soundscapes that This Heat had previously ploughed. A fevered, obsessional affair, they wrangle an acerbic electro-acoustic musical Esperanto whose syntax is as startlingly as it is provocative.

That improbable mix of the ferocious and inchoate is brilliantly honed on their first full-length release, The Ghost Trade (1986). Their volatile hyper pop comes wreathed in layers of ex-BBC sound engineer Rickard’s found sound tape effects, courtesy of his ‘tape switchboard’, a kind of cassette-powered music concrete Mellotron. The strange textures emanating from this device are no mere add-on but an essential component to the band’s DNA. Spiralling between the seething hi-hat beats and driving bass, environmental thrumming, plangent trace echoes of different times and spaces enter into the music to collage and collide.

Hawyward’s barrage of indignant lyrics point accusingly at consumerism and the excesses of unchecked corporate and political power. Polemics aside, they vibrate with an urgency and punkish energy that’s counterpointed by near-constant shifts in time signature and exotic timbre. Cleverly articulated and unerringly focused, it’s a thrilling rush. 1986’s Greenfingers features the addition of saxophonist Maria Lamburn whose work provides extra lustre. Despite their turbulent sound, Camberwell Now aren’t afraid to employ beautiful melodies. The touchingly fragile Know How remains one of their most haunting moments. These impressively presented vinyl releases are accompanied by extensive self-written liner notes which offer some revealing insights on what is both a remarkably inventive and innovative experiment in sound and songwriting.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.