Eyeless In Gaza

Biography



Here follows the current (and updated) “biography” from Ambivalent Scale on Eyeless In Gaza:

2014

“A biographical chronicle-journal” as relayed to this website via Ambivalent Scale. For Martyn Bates and Peter Becker, the story of Eyeless In Gaza “is still very much a story of a ragged spiritual journey … which became a life … ” – Martyn Bates, January 2014. Work continues on the new Eyeless In Gaza album, Mania Sour.

2013

As noted above, the whole story of Eyeless In Gaza is “very much a story of a ragged spiritual journey … which became a life … ” Or rather a “life-project” currently celebrating its 34th year with a wealth of stimulating new music – continuing unabated to fly in the face of changing mores, fashions – with an abiding concern for the soul of their music.

The year 2013 has seen much studio work from the band, as yet unissued and nearing completion – further work on the I ALSO DWELL album has been undertaken, while the main concern has been the unexpected development of a completely separate album based around drums + electric guitars / songs entitled MANIA SOUR. The band hope to release this new work Summer 2014, “ if not before ”.

This year also saw some of Pete Becker’s early work finally gaining a reissue (actually, a first time issue for some of the material, which also features Martyn Bates and members of Bron Area), released on the Vinyl On Demand label.

The Fifth Season/La Cinquième Saison is a new film by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth featuring music by Eyeless In Gaza – ‘Broken Bud, False Star: A Farewell for Phoebus’. Eyeless’ music was also used (perhaps surprisingly) in the TV series sequel to Sex & The City entitled The Carrie Diaries. Meanwhile, in Texas, NDN label boss Henrik Poulson has directed and produced a full length feature film entitled Helen Alone, which features several Eyeless In Gaza tunes as well as several Martyn Bates solo performances.

Eyeless In Gaza also undertook a series of live gigs including concerts in Paris, Mont St Michel, Coventry, and Covent Garden (London) during the two year period spanning 2012 and 2013.

2012

Early 2012 saw the full issue of a new Eyeless In Gaza album Everyone Feels Like a Stranger on the A-Scale label. This album covered a particular territory for the band, where can be felt a “deep respect for the song format … melody/harmony, a focus on the voice, inventiveness, and atmosphere ……… being particularly inward looking and reflective, for the most part.” with Martyn having the following to offer about the whole project: “I like the way that the songs and sonics have run on this album, obviously. As a general rule, personally, I’ve come to feel more and more that recordings are ‘where it happens’. Records or recordings are more ‘alive’ in many senses than live concerts are. Of course I feel that the two things are intrinsically different, and I also feel that the art of playing ‘live’ concerts is a peculiar, and a most special and ‘rare’ occurrence – each concert being a unique ‘happening’, for want of a better expression. But for me – records are the creatures that you send out into the world, things that will always live – creatures that live and breathe and take on lives of their own, beyond the moment.”

Eyeless In Gaza also issued a companion/sister album to Everyone Feels Like A Stranger entitled Butterfly Attitude, released in both cd, vinyl and mp3 formats – via the UK/Berlin based Downwards label. This release constituted a rare ‘licensing experiment’ by the still fiercely independent Eyeless In Gaza – which meant that among other joys Eyeless had the opportunity to do some work at George Martin’s renowned Air studios in Hampstead.

2012 also saw a welcome re-issue of the long deleted Orange Ice & Wax Crayons compilation, albeit with several extra tracks – constituting quite a different version from the original (published in 1992).

2011

Work began in earnest on a series of recordings that constituted the follow up to 2010’s Answer Song & Dance album. Eyeless In Gaza have also completed the production of a 26 min story-setting entitled The Shadow – running as part of the Weird Winter season on Resonance FM. (The series also features pieces by Advisory Circle, Jonny Trunk et al.) The band has also participated in a series of collaborative recordings with Michael Gira/Gerard Malanga’s erstwhile sparring partners 48 Cameras (due for release ‘late 2011’) – working on two pieces for Jean Marie Mathoul’s stalwart project. Meanwhile, working back under their own aegis, Eyeless In Gaza also recorded a live session of mostly new material for Resonance FM (broadcast March 2011). With sporadic Eyeless In Gaza gigs taking place in the late Winter, activity also continued to bubble elsewhere, generated via interest from (for EiG) some perhaps quite different quarters – curiosity which may well have been further stimulated by the recent publication of Rob Young’s Electric Eden book. This labyrinthine volume applauds Eyeless In Gaza’s part in that which Young dubs “the visionary music of Britain” – listing Martyn Bates’ Murder Ballads & Songs of Transformation collaboration albums with M.J. Harris and Max Eastley as among the best ‘visionary’ albums of 2004, along with albums by such artistes as Kate Bush / Talk Talk / Aphex Twin / Coil / Julian Cope/ Current 93.

A glimpse of the aforementioned “wealth of new music ” materialised on the current Eyeless In Gaza releases for the German based Monopol Records – with the album Answer Song & Dance, and on it’s accompanying single release Shorepoem. For these recordings, Eyeless decamped to Berlin’s infamous Hansa Studios (Bowie / U2 / Green Day etc, etc, etc.) where work was completed on the album and single. Part new material and part overview of latter day Eyeless In Gaza releases, Answer Song & Dance also featured a commission from leading UK poet Simon Armitage with the band rendering The Keep – a poem which could perhaps be said to reflect a more overtly Byzantine aspect of the poet’s work.

These releases saw supporting concerts and radio sessions in Berlin, London, Barcelona, and also with a set of special event “return home” concerts in their native Coventry, with Eyeless In Gaza – in “live mode” – displaying an increasing utilisation of the banjo/dulcimer/vocal skills of Elizabeth S.

One particularly substantial project which spilled over into 2010 from its beginnings in 2009 was the long awaited re-issue project Mythic Language. The band have undertaken a considerable amount of work on this triple Cd release consisting of formerly unreleased archive recordings, which is scheduled for release in April 2011, on the Hong Kong based Ultra-Mail Prod label. A huge undertaking , involving researching and sourcing archive material ranging from live tapes, “lost” archive studio recording, demos, and radio sessions for the BBC, stations in San Francisco, Europe etc. A Boxed Set, it also comes with a 5 inch vinyl single containing outtakes from the Kodak Ghosts Ep, plus two books in one – a 100 page book of “lyric fragment/Xerox experiments, set up to mix word and image” – entitled November: Inky Blue Sky. The second book is a 20 page work entitled Notes on Mythic Language, which according to Martyn Bates promises to be “a book about writing”. Selecting, sequencing, and working on this vast amount of material proved to be a somewhat cathartic exercise for Eyeless In Gaza. This will be the last “retrospective” release for the foreseeable future, as the band feel there is new music to address – and enough with the “taking stock”, already! (nb: This album has still to see the light of day, with the backers – Ultra Prod – hitting serious problems at the 11th hour, having to withdraw support.)

Eyeless In Gaza continued with the idea of playing special selected concerts throughout the year of 2009, with the band maintaining their premise of only playing ‘events’ and gigs for special events. On the recording front, work at the band’s Ambivalent Scale Studios was hampered somewhat during the latter half of the year, due to equipment repairs and refurbishment.

2009 also saw Eyeless’ seminal ‘wyrd folk’ album All Under the Leaves, the Leaves of Life re-packaged and re-released on Cherry Red Records, complete with extra tracks.

While not ostensibly qualifying as an Eyeless In Gaza release per se, Martyn Bates’ solo album/ book package A Map of the Stars in Summer comes close to qualifying for this particular distinction. Completed in February 2008 and released in March of that year, the A Map album was produced and engineered by Peter Becker – with Eyeless In Gaza contributing a track specifically for this release, entitled Needle to the North.

The year also saw the re-issue on Cd of the core five Eyeless In Gaza Cherry Red Records albums, all having undergone extensive re-mastering by Scott Davies. These classic early albums comprise what could be felt to be the “first phase” of the band – comprising Photographs as Memories (1980-81); Caught in Flux (1981); the later Back from the Rains (1985), but most importantly Drumming the Beating Heart (1982) and Pale Hands I Loved So Well (1982).

2008 saw the realisation of an ambitious Eyeless In Gaza project, comprising completely new material. Some 3 years in the making, the source pool of material recorded for the Summer Salt & Subway Sun was its fullest expression and realisation with the release of a box set triple album version – the band completing work on a 3Cd version of the Summer Salt & Subway Sun album for the U.S. label Beta-Lactam Ring Records, including what is perhaps their longest track to date, the epic, upwards of 18 mins Wildcat Fights.

In the August of 2008 the band also collected a prestigious Mojo Award for their contribution to the Pillows & Prayers releases, and also specially recording a song for a Leonard Cohen homage album for the magazine.

2007 Eyeless also completed work on a Cd of new material, entitled Summer Salt/Subway Sun which was released in August of that year, which took the band into yet new territories – expanding upon their long romance with key aspects of a fragmented wyrd folk, and with ‘live performance mode’ song settings – and also threading the album throughout with several spirited e-guitar pieces akin to certain hybrid strands of Krautrock.

The release of Summer Salt/Subway Sun was supported by concerts in Belgium, a festival set at Periferias, Spain plus a low key concert in Lincoln.

2006 saw concerts in Brussels, Geneva, Athens and Thessaloniki, partly to aid promotion of two substantial releases on the Sub Rosa label – Plague of Years by Eyeless In Gaza, and Your Jewelled Footsteps by Martyn Bates. These compilations, uniquely, covered the whole of Eyeless in Gaza/ Martyn Bates’ careers, with tracks licensed across several record labels. Plague of Years offered examples of the hitherto un-compiled experimental side of Eyeless In Gaza’s work, whilst Your Jeweled Footsteps afforded a long-overlooked opportunity of an overview compilation of Martyn Bates’ solo work.

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2005 brought, perhaps surprisingly, a wider interest in so-called ‘wyrd-folk’ – or rather, as Eyeless themselves have long termed it, ‘avant-folk’. Bearing in mind the contemporaneous acknowledgement in certain quarters (e.g. The Unbroken Circle) of Eyeless in Gaza’s long term partiality for this much misunderstood form, and with the band garnering 25th Anniversary plaudits from such esteemed tastemakers as the likes of Alan McGee (McGee wrote the sleeve notes to the then current Eyeless In Gaza compilation career overview album No Noise), 2005 saw in degree of consolidation – with the band’s “eclectic legacy and influential body of work …” moving towards a degree of recognition beyond a cloistered cognoscenti.

The earlier part of 2005 saw Eyeless attending to a flurry of varied and teeming activities, befitting a band who were celebrating their twenty-fifth year of activity. A 25th anniversary concert took place at Bush Hall in London, and a series of ‘anniversary’ releases were issued on Cherry Red records late June of that year. These releases comprised an overview ‘best of’ Cd – No Noise – combing a distillation of the Cherry Red recordings and the subsequent Ambivalent Scale label releases, a DVD entitled Saw You In Reminding Pictures, which comprised footage of Eyeless performing at Le Havre in 1982 plus footage from the November 2004 gig.

2004 saw Eyeless tread the boards as a “live band” for the first time in many a long year, performing a successful ‘secret’ gig in the Isle of Wight – an event which presages future performances from the duo. Further film soundtrack work also featured on the band’s agenda in 2004, with the recording and completion of music for The Resurrection Apprentice, directed by filmmaker Dan McQuaid – colleague/collaborator of/with Larry Fassenden/Jim Jarmusch.

Eyeless in Gaza/Lol Coxhill’s outré Home Produce collaboration album was realised and released in 2003, being perhaps the most “out-there” release to date from the band. Consisting in the main of what used to be known as “free-music”, this uncompromising release drew a deal of perhaps unexpected plaudits from magazines such as Wire.

In 2002, Eyeless In Gaza were invited by Bill Laswell to contribute to the maverick Hashisheen project. These recordings saw Eyeless working together on a piece with Genesis P. Orridge – on an album which also featured new pieces by Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Techno Animal, Paul Schütze, Jah Wobble and William S. Burroughs. The year also initiated an exciting development for Eyeless, in the shape of a long-sought quest into the world of film soundtracks – with Eyeless supplying two pieces for Patrice Chereau’s film of Hanif Kureishi’s novel INTIMACY. The soundtrack also featured cuts by The Clash, The Stooges, David Bowie and Nick Cave.

In 2000/2001 Eyeless In Gaza recorded the seminal wyrd folk/improvisational mix that is Song of The Beautiful Wanton – a work that eloquently draws together several key strands of Eyeless’ long and varied career – also constituting a “breaking away” from their relationship of several years with World Serpent Distribution to release the album on the well-regarded US independent label Soleilmoon.

Throughout the seeming ‘reflection’ period of 1997-1999, Eyeless In Gaza’s public profile in some respects can be said to have took something of a back seat, as Peter Becker busied himself to a lesser or (usually) greater degree with the recording/development & production duties behind several Martyn Bates’ solo works. These included the “seminal and classic” wyrd-folk album Imagination Feels Like Poison … not forgetting Bates’ U.S. release album Dance of Hours and the Bates/Anne Clark album of settings of Rainer Maria Rilke. Becker and Bates oversaw an extensive release and re-mastering programme of the Eyeless Cherry Red period recordings for Cd release – including several compilations. Bates put together two books of lyrics and notes for Stride Publications, while Eyeless In Gaza worked on further collaborations and contributions to several of Anne Clark’s European Sony released albums – while at the same time upholding their sustained ethos and ideas as regards contributing to several key compilation Cd’s released via a still-flourishing d.i.y/underground/alternative network – e.g. Ptolemaic Terrascope’s Alms release. Throughout this period, the duo continued to write, develop and record a vast body of studio works – amassing a working backlog of some hitherto unheard 100 plus pieces – work that continues to be transformed and re-modelled by the twin EYELESS workaholics, who have appropriately been dubbed by one particularly sympathetic journalist as “seemingly insatiable/indefatigable explorers of strange song and sonic hinterlands.”

1995 saw Eyeless relaunch the Ambivalent Scale label in co-operation with World Serpent Distribution initially with a sister/companion release to Saw You In Reminding Pictures entitled Streets I Ran, once again focusing on the improvisational. November 1995 brought Bitter Apples – a Cd of material with an emphasis this time strongly shifting the balance from the previous two releases onto the re-investigation of Eyeless’ own particular brand of song and avant-folk. Geared towards a live performance bias Bitter Apples focuses on the vocal/bass/guitar/drum axis – albeit in a distinctive and individualistic Eyeless mode, perhaps closest to their Drumming the Beating Heart/Rust Red September period in approach. Bitter Apples draws on folk, improvised and European traditional musics all combined with a fresh take on Eyeless’ own personal backgrounds of pop and art-punk ethics. An eclectic blend of melody and rich lyricism – the rawer side of which July 1996s’ All Under the Leaves, the Leaves of Life both continues and yet expands upon.

Collaborations with This Mortal Coil’s Deirdre Rutkowski followed rapidly (recordings later abandoned), as well as troubled flirtations with bands Cry Acetylene Angel and Hungry i (possibly, in some respects Bates is too much of a control freak; “if I work with more than one person at a time, then something about what I do becomes invisible”). Bates, incidentally, continued to carve out a fevered solo career, beginning with a 2-volume solo set, in 1994/95, on the Bruxelles based Sub Rosa label – song settings of James Joyce’s Chamber Music poems – and shortly after going onto explore markedly different territory on the Italian Musica Maxima Magnetica label with Scorn/Painkiller mainstay M.J. Harris entitled Murder Ballads (Drift); folk forms meet isolationist with chillingly eerie results (followed by two further volumes, Passages, and Incest Songs). Bates’ later solo releases are the song-based Mystery Seas, Imagination Feels Like Poison, and 2002’s Dance of Hours – a return to a simple context of voice/organ; stark, denuded songs and a very personal territory.

1994 found Eyeless In Gaza side-stepping much of the “pop” sensibility of 1993’s Fabulous Library with a 2nd post re-union (see below) album entitled Saw You In Reminding Pictures – essentially an album of spontaneous improvisations recorded in June of 94. Practically a continuation of the Pale Hands I Loved So Well vein of E.I.G. stylings, the music is richly lyrical and evocative, with much use made of non-verbal vocalisations, clattering percussion, keyboard drones and acoustic instrumentation. As ever with Eyeless, rich vocal melody is to the fore of the music and mix. Recorded mainly “live” at Ambivalent Scale, good use is made of subtle tape manipulation and “live” recording techniques, resulting in a compelling and intriguingly dense web of sound.

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This music, however, was not “ambient” in the then current “Chill-Out” or even “Isolationist” usage of the term – being instead a vividly filmic music with a direct lineage that had more to do with Eyeless’ own individualistic personal path of development than with an interest in any current musically fashionable mores. To paraphrase the Cd sleeve notes, on this release, much as they do throughout their illustrious catalogue: “Eyeless volunteer imaginary soundtracks, soundscapes for the reminding pictures in us all.”

1991 saw Bates and Becker inexorably drawn together again to work with self-styled Poet Anne Clark, contributing to and writing for her album The Law is an Anagram of Wealth. This collaboration helped precipitate a permanent re-union for Eyeless In Gaza in 1993, for the Fabulous Library Cd. Initially starting life as a Becker solo work (with Elizabeth S.), an invitation for Bates to contribute saw the album take on a hitherto unexplored aspect of Eyeless. With fresh impetus and enthusiasms for exploration and experimentation re-located, a permanent re-union was decided upon. Low-key “live” gigs followed in Holland, Belgium and Germany, embarked upon as something in the nature of an experiment, given that E.I.G. was felt by the duo to be pretty much of a “studio animal” in those days, preferring to work within the controllable confines of the Ambivalent Scale studios in Nuneaton, Warwickshire – (perspectives regarding this issue have proved to alter and shift from time to time during the course of the band’s long and varied career). Eyeless In Gaza nevertheless went on to play a ‘secret’ gig in the Isle of Wight in November 2004, where “the music felt right” … which augured well for further live performances by the band.

THE HAITUS/ EYELESS IN GAZA “Resting Period”: In February 1987, citing a need to explore fresh territories and musical configurations/situations, Eyeless In Gaza suspended activities, leaving behind an eclectic legacy and influential body of work that whilst being recognised by peers and contemporaries has still yet to be fully acknowledged and accredited by the press and the music industry in general.

Post-Eyeless, Peter Becker worked with Indie doyens In Embrace before briefly eschewing music concerns to teach computer skills. During this period Bates meanwhile, avidly pursued a solo career – covering a wide and varied remit … including collaborations to the soundtracks of Derek Jarman’s The Garden and The Last of England, as well as a series of solo albums that saw Bates armed with a 12-string acoustic guitar investigating traditional troubadour stylings whilst moving further and further from that particular context with each successive release.

Which (phew!) brings us (sort of) & finally, back to (a version of) the beginning.

… when, sometime way back in 1980, after releasing experimental/industrial tapes of Antagonistic Music/Dissonance (as Migraine Inducers), Martyn Bates formed Eyeless In Gaza as a duo with Peter Becker. Keen to explore musical territories that veered crazily from filmic ambience to rock and pop, industrial funk to avant-folk styles, the band steered hungrily and rapidly through several albums that culminated (or so it seemed!) in the reflective swan songs of Rust Red September and Back From the Rains, whilst chalking up along the way hundreds of concerts all over Europe and several best-selling Independent Chart singles and albums. And, as we all now know, all of THAT turned out to be just one of several beginnings/points of departure … .


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