Coventry (vibra)cathedral

Saturday nite’s alright for droning and throttling, says Martin Longley.

Vibracathedral Orchestra/Death Shanties
The Tin, Coventry

Another Saturday nite, another uncompromisingly alternative evening at The Tin, Coventry’s ever-imaginative den, nestled in the Canal Basin, situated just outside the city’s ring-road.

It’s part of a regular gig-series called Lady Godiva’s Operation, pulling together references to The Velvet Underground’s 1968 toon and Coventry’s own historical naked noble. These sessions are assembled by drummer Alex Neilson, who also opened the proceedings with his own Death Shanties, a Glasgow duo grouping with saxophonist Sybren Renema.

Setting up in all-acoustic mode, in front of the actual stage, this pair were louder than most amplified combos, mostly set to 11 on the throttle-dial. It was more of a throttling of throats than an engine-rev. The dominant character was violent free jazz, with Renema most frightening on his baritone horn, but still highly worrying on alto.

Cheeks puffed to Dizzy extent, he circular-gulped vast stores of air to fuel ragged blasts of abstract gristle-gobbets. Neilson was more varied, storming with full volume-power, but also balancing multiple accents and tones as he danced around his skins. Renema anticipated a changeover from alto to baritone, kneeling with his bigger horn balanced on the floor, at the ready, teasing the gathering as he telegraphed a swift re-planting of his lips.

It looked for a moment like he was going to blow both at once, Roland Kirk-style. Neilson called out a high vocal moan, almost embracing that of the saxophone, before inserting a small plastic birdcall pipe, chirping for a space, drooling, then hurling it at the front table-rows.

Death Shanties played for 35 minutes, and cleared the air to maximum extent. After the set, your scribe overheard Neilson telling a couple of punters how he wraps his baritone in his underwear, then shoves it in his rucksack for the journey home, and could he leave it lying on the table next to theirs, until gig’s end.

Vibracathedral Orchestra are heading towards their twentieth anniversary, a Leeds collective with their minds set on the heart of the shamanic drone. In this case, they were a quintet, with guitars being the most popular instrument, although multi-instrumentalism was looming, with additional attention given to percussion, electronics, vocal effects and the odd appearance of violin.

The identities of the players are difficult to nail down, but founder kingpin Michael Flower was to the rear, mostly thrumming laid-flat strings or conventional guitar. Neil Campbell was also present, the only player without a guitar, rummaging around with his collection of wiry electronics boxes, rattling goblet drum and throwing stadium rock poses whilst strafing his violin to ear-chafing ends.

As perhaps expected, their extended piece unfolded with layers of steady texture, ritualistically inclined, and building to a resounding peak around halfway, as the frontal multi-instrumentalist picked up his guitar and started to shape a purposeful riff which imparted a transfixing momentum. This was the point where the other players were simultaneously fuelled, and the inherent factors connected. Suddenly, all the energies were released.