Wild, deviant sax
Sukhdev Sandhu reviews Ted Milton, aka Blurt, at Union Chapel, N1 - The Telegraph, July 17, 2003
"No wave" was a frenzied and cacophonous genre of music that emerged in late-1970s downtown New York. Drawing on the ecstatic free jazz of Sun Ra and the shaky disrhythms of Captain Beefheart, no wave pioneers such as Arto Lindsay, Lydia Lunch and James White and the Blacks played an extreme form of avant-garde blues, full of screaming and skronking, one totally in sync with the depressed global economy of that era.
One of the most talented performers to have continued carrying the flame for that fearsome sound, albeit in his own very idiosyncratic fashion, is English saxophonist Ted Milton, aka Blurt. His debut single came out in 1979, and he was also one of the first artists to record for the Factory label; of late, though, his albums have been released in Hungary, Germany and France.
Now the recent interest in post-punk music has revived British interest in him. In advance of a forthcoming retrospective, The Fish Needs a Bike, he made a rare live outing in the vestry of the Union Chapel.
It was a quite extraordinary performance, as fevered and kinetic as any I've seen in a long time. Milton, wearing a dapper suit and with his mohican slicked back so that he resembled an East End gangster, bounced up and down between numbers, taking slugs from a bottle of whisky, wired as a boxer ready for a championship bout. His saxophone was slung around his neck like a weapon of mass destruction.
The sound was immense. Drummer Paul Wigens and guitarist Steve Eagles fashioned a jagged, barbed-wire backing against which Milton, well into his fifties, parped and blasted with purposeful abandon. The noise could be used to rouse troops during wartime or to drive dictators from their compounds. But it was also very funky, as the freeform dancing from sections of the crowd proved.
Milton sang, too. Well, he scatted, yodelled and barked. Songs such as Bullets for You and My Mother Was a Friend of the Enemy of the People were arty and Dadaist, but also harkened back to the nonsense verse of Lear. It was a great evening: one that yoked the cussed non-conformism of fellow British refuseniks Mark Stewart and Mark E Smith to the primal cabaret of Screaming Jay Hawkins. It was wild, mad, and utterly galvanising. So long used to blowing in the wilderness, way beyond the outer perimeters of fashion, Milton suddenly sounded like the deviant, volcanic sound of now.