'Angel passage' by Alan Moore and Tim Perkins
by Ian Simmons
[ cdreviews ]
Alan Moore is best known for his pioneering work in comics, most notably his occult re-imagining of Jack the Ripper, From Hell, which is about to boost his profile further with the bowdlerised film version featuring Johnny Depp hitting the screen. His talent stretches far further than this, though. Of late he has developed a nice line in psychogeographical séances, spoken word interrogations of the soul of London, tapping into the city's unique undertow of half-forgotten legend, rumour, magic and chaos. London is a city unique for the depth and continuity of its being, accreting layer upon layer of detail, of darkness, of mystery and singular character. For someone so rooted in his hometown of Northampton, Moore has an amazingly strong sense of this spirit, putting him up there with seasoned London hands such as Iain Sinclair and Michael Moorcock, who have an innate radar for the subterranean ebb and flow of the metropolis.
Like From Hell, Moore's primary work of London psychogeography, Angel Passage invokes one of London's presiding spirits, William Blake, and was first performed as part of the Blake retrospective 'Tygers of Wrath'. But whereas Jack is a distillation of all that dark and poisonous in bloodstream of the city, Blake is the city's avatar of light, the imaginer of London as a shining new Jerusalem, the seer of angels in the heaving filth of 19th century streets. Angel Passage takes us through Blake's life in five pieces, recited over Tim Perkins' complementary music, resurrecting the visions, the struggles, the poetry and pictures, the joys, disappointments and final apotheosis of Blake's extraordinary existence.
Most spoken word CDs survive, at best, one hearing, after which either the content or the performance palls irrevocably. Alan, however is blessed with one of nature's more listenable voices, a warm Northamptonshire accent and a dry understated delivery which perfectly suits the visionary content of his work. He also has an ability to write material which survives repeated playing, much as his comics are among the few you can read more than once. On both this and his previous CD, The Highbury Working, which summoned the spirit of one of London's least-loved districts with amazing success, Moore is accompanied by the music of Tim Perkins, and if there are any drawbacks to this piece, they lie here. Alan's material is easily strong enough to stand alone without the music, and Perkins' backing is musically fairly conventional, often seems to bear little relation to Alan's recitation and frequently succumbs to bombast. The tone of Angel Passage is less consistent than The Highbury Working, and by and large less successful, although the final track here, 'Heaven', melds voice and music better than anything else the pair have recorded, bringing the cycle to a climax with a driving motorik sound reminiscent of Neu! On the whole I'd like to hear Alan perform unaccompanied, or working with more experimental, more restrained musicians. Here the music sometimes drowns the words and often works against the flow. He was better served by his collaborator on the third of these psychogeographical pieces, Snakes and Ladders, which calls up the tormented ghost of Arthur Machen and swirls around Red Lion Square, where it debuted at a meeting of the Golden Dawn Society in Conway Hall. This appeared recently in comic form and was interpreted very sympathetically by Moore's From Hell partner, Eddie Campbell.
A further slight drawback here, is the direct focus on Blake's life. This imposes a narrative structure on the piece which slightly cramps Moore's imaginative reach, which benefited from the more free-flowing opportunities of The Highbury Working and Snakes and Ladders. For all this, though, it is still a superb piece of work and comes packaged with magnificent graphics - well worth the investment, and I, for one, will be looking forward to more of these.