Blyth Spirit – Ian White’s Musical Rituals

The industrial jazz-noir from the drummer of Gallon Drunk and Big Sexy Noise.

Blyth is the musical project of Ian White, former drummer with Gallon Drunk, Lydia Lunch‘s Big Sexy Noise and others, and is about to launch onto the world with the first LP, Confessions of a Justified Sinner. It’s a thunderous, organic-industrial collision of percussion and brutal instrumentation – a sound that at once obliterates and raises to levels of ecstasy, the soundtrack to a twisted road movie that doesn’t exist. In a world of increasing musical conformity and bland repetition, it’s an impressively original work – yet it has a sense of familiarity to it for those of us who grew up on the sounds of Lunch’s more experimental collisions of No Wave and jazz, having those same combinations of discordant, unsettling moments and the sense of being something we know – but just can’t quite remember.

It is, essentially, a crashing of genres and sounds from a musician who has a wide sphere of influence, as he explained to us: “I was very much into Fifties/Sixties jazz and at the same time things much louder like The Stooges. I was really influenced by Coltrane and Nina Simone. Fantastic drumming on her records! I started playing with Gallon Drunk in November 93. They basically needed a drummer for their short tour of Japan and I was recommended by Terry Edwards, the sax player. James (Johnston) told me later that I was the only one who went to the audition who could actually play the drums and he liked the fact that I was wearing a three-piece tweed suit!”

Johnston – who appears on Confessions of a Justified Sinner playing guitar – and Edwards have form with projects outside the standard rock ‘n’ roll, most notably in the too-long out-of-print audio adaptation of Derek Raymond’s extraordinary novel I Was Dora Suarez – a project crying out for re-release and released the year that White joined the band. Clearly, it was a musical meeting of minds and invariably led to Lydia Lunch, who was doing her own experiments of discordant and atmospheric jazz and brutal spoken word performances.

“I started playing with Lydia in 1999, again as a recommendation for a European tour. The first time I met her was on the plane, on the way to our first gig together in Athens. We’ve been great friends ever since and continue to do stuff together. Big Sexy Noise was in fact my idea, strangely enough! Because of James Johnston’s amazing and raucous guitar playing and her incredible lyrics, I suggested doing a stripped-down, almost heavy rock kind of thing. Everyone was up for it. Sadly we only recorded two albums and a live album. Probably the most fun I’ve ever had on stage! I also toured with Barry Adamson and played on the last solo Peter Doherty album Hamburg Demonstrations and on James Johnston’s great solo record The Starless Room.”

From band member and backing musician, the next obvious step is to set up your own project. As White says, “I always wanted to see if I was capable of making music on my own!”. For some artists, a solo career is just that – based entirely around their own image and name. For others, it becomes a more anonymous experience, with a band – or at least project – name making it seem less about them as a person and more about the music. A project name also opens up the possibility of exploring different musical genres and areas within different identities.

For Blyth, White says “I just started messing around with sounds and samples and doing lots of drums obviously! It came together when I wasn’t doing much touring and I was getting increasingly frustrated not playing much. I wanted to be able to play live without having to always rely on others to do so. Blyth is definitely a solo project, which I play live on my own triggering samples and playing the drums. I will certainly be continuing with this, recording and playing as many gigs as possible.”

While an essentially one-man project seems tailor-made for the lockdown world, Blyth actually began life before Covid was even a thing. “I had been recording a lot of the stuff myself, slowly throughout 2018 and 2019. It came together in December 2019 when I started recording the live drums at the fabulous Soup Studio, an old boat moored on the Thames in East London. We were still recording bits and starting to mix when the lockdown happened. I tried to mix it with Giles Barrett who had engineered the live sessions which proved quite difficult sending files back and forth and not being in the same room. For me, the lockdown was extremely difficult as I ended up basically living in my studio on the settee. Time seemed to go so quickly and yet I seemed incapable of achieving anything which was a real shame. We finished the record probably around July 2020 but then with the next lockdown and not being able to do any live shows I decided just to push it all back to now.”

We’re always reluctant to define music here on The Reprobate – while the world is a very less tribal place than it used to be in terms of music, it’s still all too easy to dismiss music based on what we think it is rather than what it sounds like. I wouldn’t dream of trying to tell you what Blyth is, because if nothing else, the ever-expanding list of sub-genres and twisted definitions have become ever more pointless. Instead, let’s allow the man behind the project to make his own description of what the music is.

“It’s supposed to create a sense of ritual. Something that has repetition which builds and changes slowly as it progresses. In some ways, it’s dance music as it has that sense of abandon. There is sadness in there too. Being instrumental I wanted to try and create that uplifting sadness that can come with rhythm and with carefully placed instrumentation especially piano.”

DAVID FLINT

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