Unknown location, Salford, 4 February 2012
Great Waves are calling and as the duo take to the cage I can sense that there is something at the window — a thickening of the air, a darker darkness … I look up at and there seems to be thin black smoke wafting in through the cracked panes of sooty glass like a Salford Vatican. Nobody else seems to notice. I think I’d better warn my companion but he’s vanished.
I try and regain some equilibrium by focussing on the band as they ease into a set that is a seamless, drifting, mystical whole … Great Waves are another of the growing breed of Manchester two-pieces who seem able to create a fullness of sound that few more populous bands achieve. But in contrast to the brain-smashing guitar frenzy of Ghost Outfit or Brown Brogues, for example, this pair makes blissful, metaphysical music that calls forth distant shores and altered states of mind …
Lead singer David De Lacy is a mesmeric presence on electric guitar and vocals; with his pre-Raphaelite good looks and an air of effortlessness, he slowly strums his way through each song in a distracted manner, as though he is not with us, occasionally throwing his head back to give a lazy, jaded, stretched-out ‘whoop’ that is full of ennui, lambasting every rock and roll cliché in the book, while his partner Oli Ocean rocks back and forth at his keyboard, layering beats and swathes of sampled synths.
I don’t know where I got this Pilgrim hat from but in my mind I’m the Phantom of the Opera — more Leroux than Lloyd Webber — up from the catacombs to preside over the music-making with a sinister sort of justice. Beware my Punjab lasso … The SWAYS intern has been on the gin again and she’s stood next to me making mischief, having discovered the location of the smoke machine. There’s a button just to the side of the stage and she gets carried away.
I turn round to see if the black smoke is still leaking into the SWAYS gas chamber but it seems to have stopped. What I hadn’t noticed are all the dusky ravens that got in at some point and which are now perched on top of the stacks of rock wool, watching Great Waves, silently cawing.
I can’t find my companion anywhere. The intern has been dragged away from the smoke machine and I wonder where everyone has got to. I don’t recognise any of these strange souls peering in at the cage, drinking and grinning. In fact, they don’t seem entirely real, more like the empty husks of human beings. It’s a bit like the Night of the Living Dead or something … If I cut them, would they bleed?
Just as I’m beginning to feel totally alone, I see a familiar face over to my left. It’s my Grandmother, who’s dancing away and flickering with strange jerky movements that repeat themselves over and over again. I’m not sure what she’s doing here. I didn’t know she liked Great Waves. She’s wearing a white kimono and a sugegasa. She’s only about three feet tall which is smaller than I remembered her, but on reflection that was about two decades ago, back in Japan when she was lying on her death bed, and I’m a lot bigger now, so it’s quite likely that she’d be smaller than I remembered. Things change. Whenever you revisit your childhood, you wonder at what point the world shrank.
The fact that she’s dead seems strange but not unreasonable. Part of me wants to go and speak to her but I think that might ruin the spell. It’d be better if she could just come over and join me in this wooden sailing boat that’s riding the waves of this music quite calmly now, rising and falling about the still point of the turning world. The sea is inky black. In the distance I can see the White Cliffs of Dover, haunting in this half light. On the top of the cliffs, pale white souls wheel and turn in their spirit-state, blurred and emitting holy light like a William Blake painting. They follow the ship along the shore, urging us to land, but the movements of the tide will not allow it. The need to land grows more and more urgent, however, and I start to panic, taking quick sharp breaths, because I need to go and see my brother and sister who are living on the island in a fisherman’s cottage with at least twenty other children who are also my brothers and sisters. They’re all wearing traditional Japanese costumes as though they’re getting ready for a dancing festival.
The terrible truth is that there’s some sort of plague that’s causing everyone very slowly, one by one, to turn into devils. The children are all at different stages of a hideous transformation, with their skin going damp and greenish, their nostrils widening, their voices deepening … I’m the one who has to cure them. I don’t quite know where our parents are but I do know that the whole responsibility for their well-being lies with me because I’m carrying an old battered leather suitcase with medicine bottles rattling round inside it. I’m the doctor. I’m meant to do something.
Wearing my black Pilgrim hat, I lead the children along a deserted beach in the drizzly rain. I’m holding hands with my youngest sister and the rest of them, who are all at fairly advanced stages of the metamorphosis, follow in a row behind. As we walk along the shoreline, the heavens are full of the most beautiful music. We stop and listen, transported by the light of his voice and the revolving of the spheres … Some local fishermen catch sight of us. They ask if we want to go with them to see some geysers which are meant to have special healing properties so we all get into their boats, which are loaded with nets and piles of dead fish, and they take us round the coast to a bay where warm jets of water shoot skywards in huge towering columns, like they’re spurting from the blowholes of ginormous whales. When the jets reach their peaks they crash back down, showering us with spray and making surging waves that lift the boats high into the air. But it does no good.
A book I’ve been reading falls to the floor and I’m getting more and more worried, because the medicines haven’t worked either. Being near water only sees to make the children worse and I’m starting to suspect that it’s having so much contact with water that’s making them change into devils in the first place. Whenever they drink they get sores all round their mouths. They refuse to have baths. Just to add to my problems, I’m getting the feeling that, because I’m not in any way changing myself, they all secretly blame me for what’s happening, as though they think I’ve brought the disease with me from Japan.
As I try to figure out some sort of solution, one of my little brothers skulks into the room. He’s in an absolutely terrible state. He smells vile, his eyes are yellowing and his skin has turned a dank boggy green colour. It’s covered in a thin film of slime. Worst of all, one of his arms is literally rotting away. It has sludgy brown patches on it like the flesh of a mouldy apple. I tell him to wait one moment while I go out the room. I rummage round in a wardrobe then return with an old rusty chain-saw. I turn it on so that I can cut off his bad arm off but as I lunge at him he lashes back at me with superhuman strength. The chain-saw falls to the floor, spinning round and round, and he shouts at me in a growling, menacing voice that comes from deep inside his gut, with no connection to his mouth and unrecognisable as his own, that he’ll be back to get me before running outside into a fierce storm. The front door slams shut, making the whole building tremble.
I walk down the garden and into an orchard, shouting ‘hello, hello’ over and over, until I reach the top of the White Cliffs of Dover where I see my sisters all lined up along the edge, holding hands and staring out to sea, listening to the electric music that seems to be drawing them towards the edge. They’re enraptured. They don’t even notice me. They’re all wearing white smocks that flutter round them madly and I’m scared that they’re about to be lifted up by the gale and flung out into the crashing ocean like helicopter seeds. Just as I’m about to run over and pull them back from the edge, a Shinto priest with crazy white hair spilling from beneath his kanmuri stalks up to me through the wind and rain. He raises one arm skyward and yells out furiously that there’s nothing more that can be done for any of these sinners, so why don’t I just turn the video off?
Someone taps me on the shoulder.
‘What?’ I say, turning round, confused.
‘Nice hat,’ says my companion.
I’m baffled by the sound of words.
He grabs me by the scruff of the neck. ‘Are you alright?’ he asks. ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
‘No, no, I’m fine’, I reply, coming to my senses. ‘What’s happening?’
‘I don’t know,’ he laughs. ‘I’ve got no idea. Nobody does. That’s why we’re here.’
Photography © Magnus Aske Blikeng at www.mabvision.com and Pat Hill.
Next time, the final instalment … The Führer Bunker Exhibit C: M O N E Y