Blurt at Voodoo Rooms, Edinburg, July 26 2012
By Neil Cooper
In the silence, Ted Milton sits behind a microphone centre-stage and blows up a balloon he ties and places at his feet. With a set of carefully placed clips, Milton hangs up a piece of white material too big to be a handkerchief, too small to be a sheet. His back-drop in place, and largely hidden from view, he takes something from a violin case, and a naked Barbie doll appears bobbing above the makeshift curtain. “Oh, look!” says naked Barbie in Milton's squealy voice as a white ping pong ball on a stick appears. “A molecule!” This happens several times until Barbie is surrounded by molecules and Milton presumably runs out of fingers. A large plastic hand appears a la Terry Gilliam's Monty Python work and the word B.O.M.B. is spelt out as Milton's foot causes the balloon to explode beneath him.
As an opening gambit for an Edinburgh Jazz Festival gig, it's hardly Manhattan Transfer, for which we should all be grateful. As an introduction to Milton and his saxophone/guitar/drums power trio's Puppeteers of the World Unite! forty-odd year retrospective, it's also an insight into Milton's very singular anti-career path, be it as poet, puppeteer or post-punk provocateur.
As Milton folds up his hanker-sheet and puts Barbie back in her box, guitarist Steve Eagles and drummer Dave Aylward stumble into the show's thirty-two year old title track, a circular sideshow stagger given increasingly splenetic sheen by Milton alternating between short, stabbing bursts of skronky sax and a vocal that lets rip with Barbie's voice some more with a warning shot of “Behind you!” As tightly rehearsed as they are musically, Eagles and Aylward look over their shoulder in response to Milton's refrain.
For almost ninety minutes, Blurt's crisp, bass-free insistence becomes as funkily demonic as James Chance or early 1980s Ornette Coleman. Mapping out a back-catalogue of shoulda-been absurdist-pop hits declaimed with a pukkah sense of drama, Milton's facial expressions contort into something that's part manic desperado, part benign elder statesman. Looking for all the world like a comedic approximation of Stewart Lee's dad, on miniatures like 'Poppycock' and 'My Mother Was A Friend of An Enemy of the People', such extremes meet somewhere in a very peculiar middle.
As Milton slow-walks his cohorts off-stage before doing an equally deadpan volte face for a four-song encore, Blurt's mix of European arts-lab vaudeville and the briskest of blow-outs is a one-off that's quite possibly the most important booking Edinburgh Jazz Festival have ever made.