This Is Not This Heat live in London

Prog reviews This Is Not This Heat live in London.

live shot
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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The idea of This Heat playing together on stage again had seemed so utterly unlikely that even at the end of this spectacular set, it took a while for those present to process what had just happened.

The group disbanded in 1982 and tentatively reformed in 2001, but due to multi-instrumentalist Gareth Williams’ illness, nothing came of it and he died a few months later. That’s why, as a mark of respect, this show was not by This Heat, though it was definitely their unique music, alive again and breathing fire.

Formed in 1975 out of an attempt to launch a new version of Quiet Sun, This Heat ended up as a trio with drummer/vocalist Charles Hayward, Williams and guitarist and multi‑instrumentalist Charles Bullen. Of all the groups born from the 70s progressive rock milieu, they were the most experimental. This show takes place on the 40th anniversary of their first ever gig.

Considering the trio were so powerful back in the day, the fact that there are nine or so musicians onstage – including Oren Marshall on tuba, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor on electronics and guitarist James Sedwards – seems a little excessive. But right from the start, with Hayward sitting tight on the juddering stop-starts of the brutal Horizontal Hold, it’s clear that the music has been meticulously rehearsed and arranged, yet still sounds relatively sparse and concentrated: “gritty and disciplined” as Chris Cutler, one of the three drummers, along with Hayward and Frank Byng, later commented.

On the mournful Not Waving, This Heat’s soundworld is reproduced with keyboard drones, viola and clanking ship’s bell, while there are new improvisational slants on the sonic downpour of Rainforest, from their 1979 debut album This Heat. And the lengthy 24 Track Loop – an early experiment in remixology – gets the surprisingly young audience dancing and whooping.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the expanded line-up is that Hayward, Bullen and a number of guest vocalists – including Hayward’s daughter, Merlin Nova – sing harmonies that forefront the melodies in otherwise rather forbidding songs like Makeshift Swahili and The Fall Of Saigon.

There’s an unexpected joyousness about the occasion. The finale of Health & Efficiency starts off as an exultant energy rush into the vocal section, then shifts seamlessly into a mesmeric Can‑like groove with controlled mayhem going on above, including Thurston Moore wigging out on guitar.

Who would have thought This Is Not This Heat, originally that most serious of groups, could be so much fun?

Mike Barnes

Mike Barnes is the author of Captain Beefheart - The Biography (Omnibus Press, 2011) and A New Day Yesterday: UK Progressive Rock & the 1970s (2020). He was a regular contributor to Select magazine and his work regularly appears in Prog, Mojo and Wire. He also plays the drums.