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Westhill Whimsicalities: or “My Night with Monty Oxymoron”

Review of Westhill Whimsicalities, featuring PTHHHH, Ben Rivers, Monty Oxymoron, Alys Hawkins, Peter Moyse, and Blood Stereo at the Westhill Community Centre, Brighton, .

PTHHHH poster

PTHHHH poster

Saturday evening and the taxi whisks us away through the chill February night towards Seven Dials and the Westhill Community Centre to see our dear friends, the ladies of PTHHHH perform for the first time in an age, or so it seems. An extra “H” to their name now, perhaps because of an extra musician in their midst tonight…

We enter the small single room and having paid our £5 and the back of our hand stamped, we find our way to a small table lit with tea lights. Everyone has brought their own refreshments for the evening’s entertainment, and the Kemps are no exception, having decanted a quantity of fine red wine into two large elegant waterbottles.

I spied Caroline Weeks at the other side of the room and waved, she hopped and skipped across and gave me a hug, “Sooty, I didn’t recognise you” and with a kiss on the hand from Michael, ever the gallant gentleman, we chatted until she had to dash off and get the music set up for the first of the evening performances.

Alice Eldridge is, unfortunately for us, still in Australia, so won’t be a part of the evening’s entertainment, but Lizzie Carey who I caught up with a little later most definitely is. “Sooty!!!” she exclaimed when I patted her on the shoulder, squeals and hugs and kisses, a very excitable little thing. I point out Michael, who is across the room wearing his Alfred Jarry shirt complete with painted-on tie in India ink, she giggles and waves.

First on the list of entertainment, curated by the girls of Pthhhh is “Terror”, a VJ mixtape by Ben Rivers, which is projected via laptop onto a screen at the front of the hall. Gruesome to say the least, composed of extracts from Ben’s favourite slasher movies from the 80s and combined into one long piece. 15 minutes of “Is that you out there?” “This isn’t funny any more” etc. - followed by five minutes of continuous screaming, bloody mayhem & dismemberment. I chose to avert my eyes when the power tools came into the equation (“Oh no, not the sander”) with members of the audience, myself included, choosing to look into the middle distance until we hear the safe reassuring sound of the last accompanying note crash away into silence.

Next up is Monty Oxymoron. Monty turns out to be (a) a travelling member of The Damned playing keyboards for Captain Sensible and (b) also works for the NHS. Michael has already bought one of his CDs from a little table at the side of the hall; and is now wondering whether the man he gave £10 to was anything to do with the sales/promotion of the evening, or if some fortunate stranger is now just a tenner better off…

Anyway, Monty Oxymoron, regardless of the name, is actually very good. He climbed under the piano, and proceeded to play it from the inside out (somewhat reminiscent of Ron Geesin in the old folkie days), and bang melodically on all manner of equipment including what looks remarkably like a piece of ophthalmology equipment, well he does work for the NHS. He ended his performance playing the community hall piano in a more conventional upright way, dense chord clusters suggesting a meeting between Claude Debussy and La Monte Young - getting on like a supermarket on fire.

Then we have another video piece, this one delicately entitled Crying and Wanking a line drawn composition about loss, very effective, by Alys Hawkins. This has to be Lizzie’s idea!

Peter Moyse then climbs onto stage with his guitar and to the film footage of seahorses swimming in the sea, he proceeds to play lovely melodic music which makes you lose yourself in the deep. Images by Jean Painlevé.

Moyse’s final piece, which he said he felt he ought to explain, was a fairy story written for his little girl, when as a tiny child had asked him why the jars on the kitchen shelves were called “story jars”. This explanation delighted the audience and so did the music.

We are now joined by Michael Sippings who we haven’t seen for ages and who is really looking forward to seeing PTHHHH, he says he’s not too sure who they are, until I remind him that he and they both appeared on the same bill at the House with Iron Gate, for the “Bam Caruso Christmas Special” video. Ahh, yes, he remembers.

…and finally before the ladies are due on stage, we have Blood Stereo, which is the reason we strategically seated ourselves at the back of the hall. This is because last time Michael saw them at the Marlborough Theatre one of them was repeatedly banging his head against the back of the stage over the sonic howl when he suddenly changed direction and lunged straight into the audience, heading for Michael. Luckily he passed by without incident. Maybe he was just making his way to the bar…

Anyway, Blood Stereo are more subdued this time around, sitting on the floor, and I don’t notice their threatened loudness, possibly because of the menacing film footage of the Japanese Shûji Terayama variety!! (Terayama being the controversial director of such films as Emperor Tomato Ketchup and Throw Away Your Books, Let’s Go into the Streets) which Blood Stereo are improvising to. An edgy insiduous scraping accompaniment, more than a full-blooded assault on the senses.

And now, finally, PTHHHH - and they do not disappoint.

The ladies arrive on stage with Rebecca, one of the original members of the group, but someone who we have never met before. They are of course all well accomplished musicians with instruments ranging from ’cello, guitars, flute, bowed saw, harp, violin, drums, piano and various other weird and wonderful electronic and other equipment.

They also have a sense of the bizarre in their performances, with Lizzie entering from the back of the stage dressed as a ghost, while Rebecca, unable to see through her outfit, stumbled onto stage to join her.

They put on an enchanting show: they all began with false beards (“Eleven Mustachio’d Daughters”?) dashing young Victorian soldier boy/girls drumming snares and prancing Footso cats (from Twizzle) stalking our nightdreams; bewitching stuff.

They sang, they danced, they played, they ad-libbed when equipment broke down, and Caroline Weeks hop-skipped down into the audience and proceeded to dance the hornpipe. A raise of eyebrows… Cath (aka Quinta Quinta) charmed on violin & musical saw, playing as beautifully and evocatively as ever and the other girls all coming together to create a wonderful sense of fun and a slight tongue-in-cheek approach to performance. Wonderful to see them all again and so glad that they are back together as a group (even with the continued success of Bat for Lashes whom Caroline and Lizzie are fully-fledged members of).

So, there you have it, an evening with the ladies of PTHHHH - somewhere between a virtuoso string quartet recital and Open Day at St Trinians.