2015/01/25

Where the Points Converge

Synchronicities are important for John Higgs. In 2000 TC (2014), his book about the band TC Lethbridge, he tells us that the value of "following the synchronicities" (p.49) was one of the many lessons he learnt from Brian Barrit. Barrit was a psychedelic pioneer and author of The Road of Excess (1998). He collaborated with Timothy Leary and is one of the many personalities who move through Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger (1977). Barrit was also a friend of and mentor to the band. As they – Flinton Chalk, Doggen and Kev Bales – improvised in Avebury throughout 1994 Barritt appeared fresh from his absorption in Krautrock and rave and encouraged them to take their music "to Jupiter" (p. 57). 'Appeared' is very much the operative word as according to Bales, he was first introduced to Barritt just as he was reading Cosmic Trigger: "Hi Kev, I’m Brian, I’m in that book, you’ll find me on page 111" (p.56).


2000 TC is full of these weird intersections. It's the story of the band, the story of their album 2000 TC as well as the story of their seemingly endless movement through a sequence of personal, professional and symbolic synchronicities. It starts with the spreading of Leary's ashes in 2006, recounts Chalk's geomantic experiences with Julian Cope in 1992 and charts the development of the group into a series of interconnected musical projects: Brain Donor, The Sons of TC Lethbridge and Spiritualized. The narrative pauses for Barritt’s passing in 2011 and ends with the imminent revival of Robert Anton Wilson by way of Ken Campbell's daughter Daisy Eris, the Cosmic Trigger Festival of November 2014 and the return/arrival of TC Lethbridge as part of that event. Whereas Higgs used synchronicity (particularly in the Jungian sense) as a tool to narrate the events of his previous book, The KLF: Chaos,Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Quid (2012) in 2000 TC synchronicity is an essential part of the narrative under discussion. In order to understand the full significance of TC Lethbridge appearing at the festival, it's necessary to meditate upon the various connections that constitute the band’s secret career.

It's for this reason that towards the end of the book Higgs tells us the date. He says that he is writing the end of the manuscript on Monday 13th October 2014, six weeks ahead of the live debut of a band who formed 20 years before. The book is thus revealed as a pre-emptive history of an extensive pre-history that is yet to be public knowledge. Rather than memorializing the band in the wake of a 'legendary' gig, Higgs lays out their narrative so as to prime the approaching concert as something of a charged birth.

Reading the book I was much taken with this covert approach. It seemed that for all Higgs' expressed awkwardness in writing the biography of a band "that no-one has heard of" (p. 108), the unheralded nature of the project was something of a magical act appropriate to the life of the group: a personal act of dedication. Certainly the extremely limited print run of the book (111 copies: no doubt a wink to Barritt's appearance in Wilson) reflects this. Whilst the story recounted connects elements of failure and frustration with the obscurity of TC Lethbridge, what emerges is also the cultish aura of an intentional retreat from view. One gets the sense that - consciously or not - the band chose to be invisible. As such it's unsurprising that the most extensive outline of their history is essentially a privately circulated document. As a comparison, Bill Drummond and Mark Manning’s Bible of Dreams (1992?) comes most readily to mind.[1]


On a more personal note, the specificity of the book’s completion date sparked off a series of my own synchronicities. 13th October is my birthday and on Monday 13th October 2014, I received and spent the day reading Higgs' The KLF. The year before I had marked October 13th 2013 by listening to A Giant (2003) by The Sons of T.C. Lethbridge. A much earlier October 13th involved an odd experience trying to buy Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (1997) by Spiritualized. I had ordered the album in a high street record store with the intention of collecting it on the 13th. I placed the order on the phone but on the day turned up and asked for it at the wrong shop. Here I found that the store did indeed have a copy of Ladies and Gentlemen but it had been ordered and held for someone else. I thought that was the end of it but the guy at the counter then offered to give me the single copy for free on the basis of some arcane record dealer logic I still can't fathom. He said I should have it for nothing because it was over a year since he had first ordered it in for a guy who never turned up to buy it. Apparently the album arrived at his shop on October 13th 1998 and remained unclaimed, unrequested and unsold until I arrived and asked for it that day, October 13th 1999. Maybe the other guy bought 'my' copy at the other shop a year earlier. Or something.

The link between TC Lethbridge and Spiritualized is that the latter currently contains two thirds of the former (Doggen and Bales). They joined in 1999 whilst they were still working with Cope in Brain Donor and The Sons of TC Lethbridge. I had gone to see Spiritualized in 2008 in celebration of another personal milestone. Anyone who saw the band on that tour will probably agree that Jason Pierce was mining the most riff-heavy sections of his back catalogue. Sonically it was Spiritualized via Spacemen 3 and Brain Donor and TC Lethbridge. I knew the history of the line-up but I hadn't expected these multiple identities, as it were, to be so evident during the show. Of course, Higgs informs us that it was during the 2008 tour that Doggen re-established his friendship with Chalk and began the long journey towards finally releasing 2000 TC and performing live. They had drifted apart due to their differing creative relationships with Cope in the aftermath of their time in Avebury. However, by 2008 Doggen and Bales were both severing their relationship with 'The Drude' (for good reason: read the book). Point is, the 2008 Spiritualized gigs were very much instances of personal, musical and symbolic transition for all involved. No wonder that it seemed as if three or four different bands were galloping through the songs.[2]

So what? Who cares if I got a book for my birthday and happen to like the same bands that Higgs writes about? A lot of things happened on October 13th and have happened on October 13th just as they have done and will do on every other day of the year. This of course is true, but the point of a synchronicity is precisely that there is no definite connection between the ideas, events or actions that are brought together. When Jung speaks about the structure of a synchronicity he does not talk in terms of cause and effect but in terms of an "acausal connecting principle". The significance of a synchroncity is not the actual connection between ideas or events, but the psychic connectivity. When thinking through a synchronicity the question should not be one of rationalization, ('is there an actual connection?') but active speculation, (how and why have these things been connected in this way?) J.G. Ballard put this another way when he denied the possibility of coincidence. There are no coincidences, he said, but instead "deep assignments run through all of our lives". In making these connections between my own reading and record buying I’m not intending to impose upon them a gravitas they clearly do not deserve. However, I am interested in how their recall in the light of reading Higgs might foreground something of a 'deep assignment'.

Everybody endlessly mythologizes the detail of their day-to-day existence. It is purely and simply an existential defense mechanism that helps stave off knowledge of the encroaching void. Looking for points of intersection helps to plot out a narrative and it is this sense of trajectory that constitutes 'purpose'. On this level, the synchrony I felt with The KLF and 2000 TC ultimately helped neutralise a sense of purposelessness.

When reading about Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty on October 13th 2014, I was struck by the description of the formation of The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. Higgs tells us that Drummond was visiting his parents on New Year’s Day 1987, having "left the music industry" the previous summer "at the symbolic age of thirty-three and a third". Drummond goes out for walk and upon his return telephones Cauty to announce the start of their "hip-hop group". It’s not clear what precisely happened to Drummond during his walk. He was obviously dissatisfied with solo projects like The Man (1986) and ready to work in the kind of register that Cauty's skills with music technology could facilitate.[3] That said, despite the extension and complexity of that which they go onto do as The JAMs and The KLF, the biographical detail of Drummond’s phone call indicates that they are essentially a response to his arrival at a particularly "totemic age" (p. 93). 

For reasons that should be obvious, I was reading this whilst being uncomfortably aware of my proximity to a comparable totemism. I say "uncomfortable" because I felt that having reached a similar age, I was neither where I wanted to be, nor had I done what I had intended to do. Also, unlike Drummond's instigation of a "revolution in [his] life", I felt that my own opportunities for making such a seismic change had passed. Three months later on January 15th 2015, I read 2000 TC, having been kindly supplied with a copy by Mark Sampson at Iron Man Records.[4] To learn that Higgs was completing his book just as my black cloud was starting to descend was really quite startling.

2000 TC is essentially the inverse narrative of The KLF. Both stories are connected on the basis of a shared sense of ritual. However that of The KLF is built upon the initial achievement of success. Whatever was signified by that fire in the boathouse at Jura required Drummond and Cauty to have accumulated a million pounds in the first place. By contrast, just as the flames began on 23rd August 1994, TC Lethbridge were coming to the end of their time in Avebury and about to begin their extended hiatus. According to The KLF, Drummond and Cauty then spent much of their subsequent careers "haunted" by the act and engaged in an attempt to understand it (p.11). According to Higgs, much of Chalk’s involvement with TC Lethbridge was an attempt to creatively process his mystical experiences with Cope in 1992. On this basis, one could say that it failed, and failed just as Drummond and Cauty were beginning to think through their experience. Whereas The Modern Antiquarian (1998) established Cope as one of the contemporary mediators of Lethbridge-type speculation, Chalk's musical project lacked the same exposure, and thus the sense of 'closure' that one might hope to build into any ritualistic act.[5]

That said, I came away from 2000 TC having felt it was a response to The KLF insofar as it privileged the persistence of vision and the importance of personal insight, in excess of the monetized pre-requisite that underpins Drummond and Cauty’s potlatch. Aside from being a great book about male friendship (and the difficulties of creative ego), it also suggests that some projects work in relation to their own specific temporalities rather than the convenience of a given schedule. If it’s not working, it might not be you that’s at fault; it might just not be time for it to work. By that I don’t mean to invoke the language of unfounded self-help, but to point to a different model of success and realization than is currently prioritized in contemporary, (i.e. hyper-accelerated, massively compacted) understandings of achievement. Similarly, in 2000 TC, moreso than in The KLF, Higgs valorises a processional, non-reciprocal sense of success, insofar as an act of personal significance can be perceived as such without the necessity of external validation. Of course, not everyone has the luxury of two decades to devote to a single project, not least one that tries to understand a mind-bending encounter with glowing standing stones.[6] But I took the extractable point as being one that celebrates not the privilege of the 'artistic' psyche but the efficacy of the mind's basic software: the associative, generative and synchronistic faculties of thought, memory and analysis. If you want 'direction' (I'm now saying to myself, having taken the other post-it notes off the mirror) in excess of that which forms the necessary trajectory, there's no need to look ahead, to defer it ahead or to lament its impossibility. Instead, look back into the wake and zero-in on the points of consistency. You've been there before and you'll go there again. There's a line in amongst all that flotsam. Find it.






[1] A single copy of Bible of Dreams apparently resides for perusal in The Curfew Tower.
[2] Compare this to the gigs Spiritualized did with the same line-up in support of the album Sweet Heart / Sweet Light (2012). Good but not great. Muted would be the word. Significantly less fire. Maybe Pierce did manage to get Doggen to hold-off on the rock riffs.
[3] Cauty was also the guitarist in Brilliant, the unsuccessful band that Drummond had managed.
[4] The envelope carried a postmark of 12th January. I received the book on the 14th. Looking at this from a purely speculative and mythopoetic view, I could regard the fact that the book spent the 13th of January in transit as somewhat significant. The claims of various mail-artists regarding the 'energy' accumulated by the art object as it physically travels through the postal network spring to mind. I was half expecting to see a Trystero printed on the envelope.   
[5] This forms a key point of the magical discussion in 2000 TC. There’s a particularly good quote from Richard Stanley on page 22. Chalk's involvement with The Modern Antiquarian project is also a key theme of the book and underlies his Avebury experiences. 
[6] Neither does Flinton Chalk by the sounds of it. 2000 TC deals with musicians of limited financial means. The importance of pursuing an idea, despite the glacial pace imposed by other, more pressing requirements seems to be the main point.