The Minster Church of St. John the Baptist Halifax is a beautiful parish church, which has served West Yorkshire for over 900 years. Its classical Medieval form, gargoyles and exquisite stained glass windows are both typical of the great churches of England and carry with them the weight of England’s tumultuous ecclesiastical history. As befitting such a building, it has a very fine roof.
On 10 May 2014ce, Current 93 came in and blew the roof off of the place.
(photo by Cat Vincent)
Current 93 – named for Aleister Crowley’s magickal current – have been a powerful, if sometimes overlooked, influence on industrial and dark ambient music and British magic and mysticism since their founding in 1982. Essentially a series of collaborations between founder and sole continuing member David Michael Tibet and a continually shifting collection of musicians (including the likes of Nick Cave, Björk, Steve Ignorant of Crass, Marc Almond, Antony Hegarty, Andrew W.K. and Tiny Tim), their sound has shifted from their original tape-loop-based work of their early productions to a style which Tibet has called ‘apocalyptic folk’ – and the Apocalypse, especially in the original Greek sense of ‘an unveiling’, is something Tibet is particularly interested in.
Despite the enduring Englishness of Current 93’s symbolism (Enid Blyton’s childhood character Noddy, picnics, fields of oil seed rape, British folk music and practices), Tibet was actually born and raised in Malaysia. Interested in the mystical from his youth, he has pursued these interests enthusiastically – his studies include reading Crowley at 13, training in Nyingmapa Tantric Buddhism (probably the reason he was given his surname of Tibet by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge during his brief stint in Psychic TV) and learning to read Hebrew, Akkadian, Ancient Greek and Coptic in order to better study early Christian works. Tibet considers himself a Christian, albeit one happy to work with these eclectic influences… and also to be the creator of what I truly think is one of the finest curses I have ever encountered: the track ‘Benediction’ from the first C93 album I ever heard, the long-time banned Swastikas For Noddy.
What drove me on then as now was my sense that time was running out, that the apocalypse was also personal and that playing hide and seek behind all the cartoon messiahs was the Messiah with both peace and a sword.
The Halifax concert was unquestionably a powerful manifestation of this compassionate-yet-cataclysmic apocalyptic spirit. It began with bells…
Before the band came out a carillon of bells played on the speakers, resonating in the Minster’s glorious acoustic space, as the aisles filled with an eclectic mix of music fans, pagans and goths (including one fine lady in full Edwardian costume). Finally, the band took their places and Tibet – a puckish, tiny figure in trilby and bare feet – sang out the first lines in his distinctive, querulous voice;
“The Invisible Church…”
(photo by Cat Vincent)
Never a band to excessively dwell on their musical past, the majority of the gig comprised a performance of the latest album I Am the Last of All the Field That Fell (A Channel) – the music mostly led by the playing of pianist Reinier van Houdt, a performer who never forgot that the piano is a percussion instrument. There’s a resonance to those songs and Tibet’s voice, even beyond that provided by the setting – a sense of what the Sufis call a zab’bat, a ‘forceful occasion’. Tibet is far from what one would consider a normal front man in the classic rock sense – often he wandered into the aisle of the church to just stand and watch the band as they played, sometimes singing from there (especially in the sorrowful ‘With These Dromedaries’, with its heart-wrenching line “I saw Jhonn pass by” – referring to his late friend and abiding influence Jhonn Balance of Coil). The gig ended with two rousing encores of past works – ‘Imperium V’ and ‘Black Ships Ate The Sky’. By the time the last notes echoed in those old church walls, the audience, the band, Tibet – even that ancient space itself – seemed transformed, carried into a future of possible apocalyptic times, somehow, the better and stronger for it.
I’m not an evangelist… Current is about trying to explain myself to myself and to work out my own salvation.
The album I Am the Last of All the Field That Fell (A Channel) and other Current 93 works are available from copticcat.com