On Wednesday, I took a trip into Rochester to witness Seasonally Effected, an irregular event held in the Medway Towns to promote local artists. This event took place at Dot Cafe in Rochester High Street. By the time I arrived, the small venue was packed with welcoming and friendly people. Hot chocolate replaced alcohol between acts, who each in turn stepped forward from the audience, performed and returned to their seats, promoting participation over separation and the essence of the original punk ideal – ‘anyone can get up and do this’. This is a shared experience. Though essentially, I’m not the only one who has been drawn to the event by tonight’s headline act, Hand Of Stabs.
With no fuss or delay the threesome pass the performance poet as they take to the front of the gathering while event organiser and musician Roy Smith stands to deliver a few announcements – other local events and that Seasonally Effected will be taking a short break after tonight.
Hand Of Stabs take their name from a cult fantasy children’s tv series, Ace Of Wands from the early 1970s. While American kids grew up watching Sesame Street and the Banana Splits, British children were subjected to some heavy shit. Ace Of Wands takes its name from a tarot card. The main character in the series ‘Tarot’ combines stage magic with supernatural powers. Think Adventure Time meets Paul Daniels. This is weird
The music emanating from Hand Of Stabs is experimental, avant-garde, anti-pop. Or as Stuart Maconie more pretentiously defines it, “progressive pagan skiffle”. No, I’m not sure Maconie knows what that is, either.
Hand Of Stabs are a three-piece that combine conventional instruments with the non-conventional, in every sense of the word. Tonight they mainly play electric guitar, percussion in the form of a drum-frame (something of middle-eastern origin akin to a large tamborine), and the spokes of an electrified bicycle wheel (with various effect pedals including pitchshifter and delay) beautifully played with a cello bow. According to their Bandcamp page, they go by the names of: Capt. Rex Standish (guitar), James Worse (percussion), Jocelyn Von Bergdorff (wheel).
As far as I can gather, each Hand Of Stabs performance is extemporaneous and completely improvised. Tonight’s performance lasted for approximately 40 minutes. Though I was so engrossed and moved, I cannot be sure. Like the accompanying film score to a gothic horror or a psychological thriller, the music is absorbing, dark, chilling and full of suspense and mind-thoughtfulness. It is indeed, quite possibly pagan. But there is absolutely no trace of Lonnie Donnegan or any association with skiffle.
I had seen Hand Of Stabs once before. They played, against their better judgement, and were lost amongst four other bands presenting a colourful spectrum of popular music in a sweltering venue pouring pints of piss-weak lager. That night belonged to Lupen Crook and The Parade who peaked with songs of love and hope. But tonight and the future of Pagan Experimentalism and the Medway Sound, belongs solely to Hand Of Stabs.