Alan Moore & Tim Perkins – The Highbury Working: a Beat Séance [Studio RE, 2000]

Alan Moore & Tim Perkins - The Highbury Working: a Beat SéanceIn ‘The Highbury Working’, comic book writer, weirdy beardy magician, psycho-geographer, genius and polymath, Alan Moore, excavates the psycho-geographical landscape of London’s Highbury and Islington areas. Synthesising the ectoplasm of its arcane ghosts, Moore resuscitates the forgotten fables beneath its dark underbelly of seething sewer systems, aided and abetted by fellow polymath, musician, producer and sound architect Tim Perkins.

‘The Highbury Working’ is Moore’s third CD following on from his earlier collaborations and performances ‘The Birth Caul’ and ‘The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels’, with long term friend David J, the Bauhaus bassist with whom Moore has also previously collaborated on the V for Vendetta soundtrack, ‘This Vicious Cabaret’.

‘The Highbury Working’ is based upon a one-off performance, which Moore refers to as being, ‘A Beat Séance’. An occult arts lab of arcana and epistemology, featuring eight metaphysical, or to be more precise, Meta-fictional narratives on the origins Highbury and Islington’s concrete landscape. Moore is at the height of his occult powers, whereby, as if by magic, Moore conjures a vivacity of fabulist tales, both real and imaginary out of the ether. Here, Moore seems to be a vessel, a combatant engaged in a psychic assault, which attempts the total divineification and unification of the psychometric mapping and profiling of Highbury and Islington’s hidden arcana throughout the ages. Moore demarks this fabulist landscape and its surrounding areas by referring to them in elemental ways. The narratives are therefore split into ‘Terrae’, ‘Aquae’, ‘Aeris’ and ‘Ignis, or to be more precise for the non-hip amongst you, Earth, Water, Air and Fire.

In ‘Lady, That’s My Skull’, Moore’s naturally resonant, deeply rich Northamptonshire brogue is deployed in a highly naturalised way, although non the less used to stunning effect, as he proposes his own unique occult manifesto, stating ‘Think of us as Rosicrucian heating engineers. We check for pressure in the song lines, lag etheric channels, and rewire the glamour…. decode the orbit maps left there …then go to work. Slap up a wall of ectoplasm, standard Moon-and-Serpent contract’. This is an hallucinatory gothic scene, whereby a dissonant fade in collapses in upon itself beneath squealing guitar chords and jazz hi hats, as Moore comes over as being possessed by a Victorian spirit wife, before dissolving and fragmenting the narrative until it becomes lost amongst a weird psychedelic echo.

‘Skeleton Horse’ starts over a low bass rumble, as ethereal voices become dislocated transmitions, before trailing off, becoming replaced by overdriven shards of raw guitar squall and sonar bleeps. Spooky telephone tones of sound releasing ‘methane dialogues’, where ‘Underage toshers trawl the human silt for coins, for lost engagement rings, prospectors up shit creek panning for diamonds, like the rest of us.’ ‘Skeleton Horse’ sees Moore’s archly observed, otherworldly narratives coalesce in a nocturnal twilight zone, transmitting from deep beneath the surface of contemporary culture still being haunted by the ghost of a ‘bone mare’, a coalman’s horse who fell into the earthworks, buried alive, becoming yet more raw material for Moore to excavate.

The second section, “Aquae”, unearths the people who provided Highbury with its architecture. The site of St. John’s Priory was once the scene of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, eventually becoming better known as the Alexandra Palace. This was also once home to Gio Vanelli’s freak show and music hall, and the sight of a ‘spectre epidemic’ in 1869. It featured weird and bizarre acts such as Namatar the man frog, the acrobat Leotard, and the Siamese twins Chang and Eng. Gio Vanelli’s freak show was a place where ‘anything could happen’, and in Moore’s mind it probably did. The establishment eventually closed down, due to its perception as having eroded the moral fabric of 1869 society, threatening to undermine wider public morals, and an early precursor to the moral panics of the nineteenth century. This then is the setting for ‘Peppers Ghost’, a place where an ‘erogenous zone fades into the twilight zone’, an electronica novelty song of vaudevillian thrills and spills, perfectly realised by sound architect Tim Perkins.
As the weird football type chant of early Elizabethan harpsichord mutates into mid tempo drum ‘n’ bass noise, ‘Hat-trick’ introduces itself by referring to the 1919 Arsenal team’s apparent addiction to panic inducing ‘courage pills’, as Moore’s archly attuned narrative paints a Hogarthian portrait of the team as steroid imbuing junkies.

The third section is “Aeris”, where ‘Opium Nights’ break beat and timpani drum rattle proceed in a similar vein, as Moore’s conducts yet another occult excavation, ‘This is an astral Highbury of the air… a stratosphere in which rarefied intellects might dance… accessible by heart, or drugs…’
It seems that Aleister Crowley lived in the Highbury area for a period, as did Samuel Taylor Coleridge. ‘Opium Nights’ finds Crowley haunted by his heroin addiction, while simultaneously Coleridge is busy being haunted by the ghost of his lost love, Sara Hutchinson. Hutchinson eventually appears before him in an opium-induced state of narcolepsy, as he realises that ‘Her pubic hair has been replaced with tiny peacock feathers, his saliva tastes like stars’.

‘Limbo’ is a trippy eastern skank, a dubby vibes piece where the mood is constructed around a chilled piano motif and an ‘on the nod’ imagery, whereby the physical collapses in upon itself, replaced by the ethereality of the night. This is a strangely uplifting sepia tinted snap of an ‘astral Highbury’, transcending its physical domain, as its concrete streets disappear far beneath its astrally projected other self.

In ‘Ignis’, the final section we get to ‘No1 With A Bullet’, this is the real highlight of the séance, a spaghetti western theme, infused with the spirit of Midnight Cowboy’s mouth organ and quietly strummed tremolo guitar and occasional whammy bar, complete with a cameo appearance by Heinz, it doesn’t get better than this as Moore recounts the murder of Joe Meeks landlady, and latterly after turning the gun upon himself, his own suicide on the third of February 1967. Meek was famous for being a far out record producer, purveyor of the ‘Telstar’ sound, frequently emulated but never bettered. According to Moore‘s excavations, Meek had been attempting to find that all elusive sound effect. or as Moore puts it ‘Kneeling in the wires, Joe kissed the singers cock, the sun through Heinz white hair was like a halo’.

The final track, ‘The Angel Highbury’ manages to synthesise all of Moore’s previous disparate narratives into a Highbury now ‘on fire with resurrection’. A Highbury where Arsenal play a little friendly game of football with Vanelli’s freaks while Moore himself performs a little of his own ‘voodoo CPR’, thus reviving the patient Highbury, now refreshed and well enough once more to take its place again as a psycho-geographical landmark, a 21st century location for future occultists, telepaths, and psychics, all of them leaking ectoplasm and dissipating psychic energy, while ‘…up above them all the Angel Highbury stands… her robe is stitched together from the tattered cover fronts of pulp science fiction magazines, erupting from the Fantasy Book Centre in Holloway Road.’

Keith Haworth

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