Return of the Wizards of Twiddly
I first encountered the Wizards of Twiddly whilst living in the North West of England in the early 1990s and was immediately smitten. Their music was intelligent and yet humorous, complex and yet toe-tappingly catchy. Never taking itself seriously. At the time, their lineup featured a non-musician on stage - who'd create crude sketches during the tunes and reveal them to the audience at the end each piece. He left the band in 1993, but otherwise their lineup remained intact from the earliest days until they went their separate ways after performing a couple of tours with Kevin Ayers, playing both support slots and as his backing band. They then variously involved themselves with other activities including theatre, Zappa tributes, and guest appearances with other bands, the Twiddly brass boys contributed to the startling Super Furry Animals debut and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci 'Barafundle' album,
But it seems the band which had dispelled after those Ayers gigs in the mid 90s was a source of much pleasure to many audiences and (presumably) the band memebers themselves too. Ten years on, they began gigging again sporadically, then a couple of CD releases came - a live recording "Live at the Zanzibar" (2006) and the archival "The Uppendium (Volume 3)" (2007). There was talk of new recordings, but we've had to wait until the very end of 2010 for the new recordings to be released. Would the new tunes compare to "Large Geographical Features", "Incapable of Clear Thought", "Inarticulated Lorry", "Sex, Drugs and Morris Dancing", "Septic Tank", "Anti-septic tank" and all the rest? I didn't doubt it - and I am not disappointed now!
Their latter involvement as a band with Kevin Ayers and that during subsequent years three of their lineup were heavily involved alongside the late Jimmy Carl Black in the Zappa tribute band The Muffin Men should give you some idea what to expect. There's a musical seriousness, and an English wit which extends beyond the bandname and track titles to musical jokes such as the frankly bonkers "Friendly Fire" (eventually released on CD on the Upendium disc). They trumpet player once described them as "a jazz band with a heavy metal guitarist" - and as labels go, it's as good as any.
On this new disc they are augmented by a keyboard player (very effectively) and the late Jimmy Carl Black - to whom the release is dedicated. The keyboard player is none other than Mancunian Jazz Leg' John Ellis (whose impressive CV includes Corrine Bailey Rae, Lilly Allen etc). Otherwise the lineup comprises Sax/Flute, Trumpet, guitar, bass and drums, with most of the band contributing vocals. The rhythm section is as solid as they come - Andys Delamere and Frizzell are capable of serving up a laid back groove or a mad thrash in any meter under the sun, and every thing else in between (and sometimes at the same time) - and could clearly navigate all these tricky proggy time changes in their sleep. Delamere always has the groove in his pocket, whilst Friz can push and pull the groove as the song demands.
An insistent staccato crescendo sequence, then "People with Purpose" instrumental theme kicks in, a proud and stately bass driven brass band - like it were the theme tune to the New Wizards of Twiddly TV Show. "Just Above Your Thing" follows - displaying all punky-jazz attiutude. The organ adds a new dimension here to the Twids sound, but the familiar riffing horns and Belew-esque dextrous guitar histrionics and whammy tricks are all there. Carl on guitar playing Fish Rising rhythmic tricks again using an echo box (is that also him on the album's intro sequence?).
"Cardboard Banjo" is next - and may be familiar as there's a live performance on You Tube - a wonky-pronky riff, Twiddly story telling and some rather well done layers of vocal harmonies. More soap-boxing on "Big Bigger Bigot". I remember this number from thei last gigs with Kevin and was actually not impressed back then. Here, in the studio session the song works well, Massive crunching chords and an impassioned vocal performance from Simon. Some reprive from the aural onslought arrives in the shape of the gentle Hendrix-lilted "Sounds of Success" - perhaps displaying the Ayers influence most heavily, a slow number with a triplet feel, almost coming over like a waltz.
"Anti-tank Tank" (spot the ongoing theme there?) is a typical wild Twids brass riffing number. Effortlessly skitting across different time signatures.
Next up is one of the album highlights "Hooverman", featuring Jimmy Carl Black, a diatribe against greed and imperialism. Anarchic Jazz, Blockheads style! The brass melodies like a big band version of an intricate early Crimson tune. Very much in Billy Jenkins territory.
"Interlude", a charming reedy interlude (is that Andy on melodica?), leads us into "Cyber Nipple". Thrashy urgnet riffing and raging. Like a descendent of their early piece "Shocks, Tyres and Exhausts" albeit with more serious subject matter I suspect. Then comes "Adverse Camber" another I would single out for beginners to the Twids to try, for its wrong-footed guitar and brass lines. I am reminded of often overlooked but excellent Fripp band The League of Gentlemen - or at least the very best bits of their patchy sole album. It's an evil stomp - in the same territory as their earlier mental "Inarticulated Lorry" piece, but it also shows that Carl has been studying Zappa!
After all that intensity "Bless the Tank" takes a sharp tangent - it's a playful and melodic piece which leads us into the 70s British jazz tinged "The Great Unwashed". It's as funky as hell too. Rapped vocal and serpentine Zappa-esqueinterlocking melodies and a cracking trumpet solo from Martin.
The crazy "Ping Pong Head" is next. I predict this in the one that will divide audiences. It will either entertain or infuriate. A mental vocal/brass jazz jigsaw and featuring a spoken vocal from Jimmy Carl Black. Early Crimson-eque in the instrumental breaks and Jarrett piano flourishes.
The leaves only "Burned Alive" the third of the standout pieces such strong melody and up there with some of the Twids finest - as if the Beatles hadn't broken up but joined forces with Soft Machine's Septet's brass section instead. The easter egg at the end of the track (a reprise of the TV show theme tune!) closes the album with a gentle 60s vibe.
This is album of the year for me (with honourable mentions to Sanguine Hum and Arch Garrison). The Twids have returned with an album every bit as strong as "Independent Legs" and "Man Made Self" - and sounding even better. The recording and production work is flawless. They have never sounded so good. Treat yourself this Christmas to the new album - available from http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/wizardsoftwiddly1 and www.burningshed.com
Stunning third album from Liverpool Legends
"'The best band ever to come out of Liverpool"
"'The best band ever to come out of Liverpool"
Steve Davis BBC 6 Music July 2011
''People With Purpose' is a manic jaunt through blaring horns, enigmatic vocals and frenzied bursts of guitar, which is all tied together with the deepest rhythmic grooves you could hope for. Mad, bad and dangerously addictive'
Steven Reid seaoftranquility.org
''Yes, they're still quirky always bittersweet, richly detailed and with a down-to-earth brilliance. With People With Purpose the Wizards Of Twiddly have created a richly detailed living thing of an album, something that sounds absolutely honest and engaging with their real world.''
The Organ ('Thing of The Day') May 2011
''This is album of the year for me .The Twids have returned with an album every bit as strong as "Independent Legs" and "Man Made Self" - and sounding even better. The recording and production work is flawless. They have never sounded so good ''
Nick Loebner progressiveears.com - 21st Century Progressive Rock
'' When someone gets around to re-scripting the map of the musical landscape of Liverpool they may scratch below the surface and find the influence of Zappa, Beefheart, Soft Machine loitering in the undercurrent. Somewhere upon that redrawing the name Wizards of Twiddly will be somewhere at the forefront, for nigh on two decades now these impish rascals have proven themselves to be mercurial musical magpies...''
Mark Barton, losing today - indie music online July 2011
''Liverpool-based stalwarts get better and better; they have a great new album out, People With Purpose - recorded over the last couple of years, it sounds great, catches some of their live energy....That unique mix of classic English prog, bits that taste of Cardiacs or Gong and bits that are all of their own''
organ magazine @ resonance fm
'A mish mash of musical madness, combining brassy prog, sonic psych and jazzy twiddling..'
Jumbo Records, Leeds
''This new album is superb, and the band has dulled not a jot after their long layoff. All the usual Twiddly madness, a sort of 'Frank-Zappa-plays-Viv-Stanshall-a-la-King-Crimson' all delivered with humour, great musicianship and fine production. Look, just go and buy it or download it – you'll love it! '''
Phil Escott via Facebook
'' Without a doubt The Greatest Album ever made !! Get it... Buy IT... Download It... Spread it about.... The World Deserves to hear this!!! '''
Phil Hartley, Anti Pop Records