A Medway Vision 2 – Spontaneous Soundscapes


Since my first article I have been absolutely overwhelmed by people recommending talented creative people to me, or people agreeing with me about the Medway independent scene.  It does indeed seem that I’m onto something here.  Medway is on the march.  So let’s continue with our list of its artistic generals.

This week I have been introduced to the sound work of a band known as Hand of Stabs.  A band?  Like a rock band?  No.  Not at all.  Imagine a soundtrack to a surreal film.  Or a soundscape to an evening walk in the woods where you THINK you’re alone but you’re not sure.  Hand of Stabs are avant-garde, yes, but don’t let that put you off by thinking that the music is impenetrable.  It has a beat, but it’s the beat of nature, the beat of darkness, the beat of Medway.  For that reason alone, this is essential listening.
Mind you, they probably won’t thank me for calling them a band.  They call themselves a ‘sound art collective’.  Hailing from Rochester their site-specific improvised work is recorded at points of significance around Kent and the South East providing a connection to sacred history and landscape. Inspired by regular, often night-time explorations through these spaces, they are creating a series of ‘aleatorical’ soundworks.  In other words, much of their work is left to chance.  Spontaneous.  Improvised.  Directly from the soul if you like.

Hand of Stabs are called, intriguingly, Captain R. Standish, Jocelyn von Bergdorff and James Worse.  Standish and Worse have both been active in a number in bands and von Bergdorff was active in the cassette underground during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The idea of playing together came together around year ago.  Their work is influenced by the writings of the historian naturalist and engineer, William Coles Finch (1864-1944), Resident Engineer of the Brompton, Chatham, Gillingham and Rochester Water Company and his vivid descriptions of Edwardian Kent in his books ”In Kentish Pilgrim Land” and ”The Medway River & Valley”.   Their sound is a reflection of the significance we place upon our surroundings.

One recent performance at the Hulkes Lane Brewery came about because their friend’s great-great-grandfather a storeman at the Brewery in 1863, hanged himself there. He had been barred from the Brewery’s social club over some minor infraction and the ignominy was too much to bear. His death meant that his wife and nine children, who lived in a two-roomed tied-cottage on Hulkes Lane, were made homeless and sent to the workhouse. The feelings that these stories evoke allow Hand of Stabs to create their soundscapes.  Less story-tellers, more mood-tellers.

Other performances so far have included, the open air at Kits Coty and at the studios of Turner Prize nominated artist Yinka Shonibare as part of an installation by Luke Otteridge.  Hand of Stabs are continually looking for opportunities to play in interesting spaces to interested audiences and are very receptive to suggestions.  Think about your favourite places and now imagine it with the emotions of the location played out in sounds.  Like a dream.  Or a nightmare.  Powerful stuff.

With two CDs already out “The Geometry of Dust” and “Aktion #2: Hulkes Lane Brewery”, this year has just seen the release of a lathe-cut vinyl LP featuring Hand of Stabs and a collaboration with Medway legend Sexton Ming in his alter-ego of Jude Hagg entitled ‘Old Bluster saw the Beauty’.

Two weeks in and we have discussed two new groups, both creating dark sounds.  Is this a theme of Medway?  Exploring the dark side of life?  It certainly appeals to me as a filmmaker.  But as I’m finding out, that’s the great thing about the Medway Vision.  It’s diverse.  The dark side of life is there for sure, but as we shall see in the coming weeks there is also a lighter side.  Keep listening because darkness needs light.

“The Geometry of Dust” and “Aktion #2: Hulkes Lane Brewery” are out now priced £10.  For more information on Hand of Stabs contact: spoon-unit@blueyonder.co.uk

Mr Young

Independent Filmmaker




Area – South East

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