“Are there any tickets left for that Graham Massey thing?”
Graham Massey is a local celebrity, having been in 808 State and worked with Bjork on her solo albums, so I assumed the Burst Couch event at Chorlton Arts Festival would be sold out. But I was wrong. I was able to pay on the door… just in time for the end of the Triclops set; their music was so ambient that chatting over it didn’t seem inappropriate, and most people were.
The venue was a revelation. I’ve been to St Clement’s Church Hall before but I never realised that one of the walls can fold back to reveal the interior of the church itself. This provided the perfect set for Sisters of Transisitors in their shiny vestment-like capes… looking like the high priest and priestesses of a kitsch cult sixties film.
There was one important rule though: we couldn’t take drinks into the church itself. So when the Sisters appeared, most of the crowd hung back at first, clutching their cans of weak beer and plastic glasses of wine. The crowd was self-policing. Only in Chorlton would an arrangement like this be workable.
The Sisters are four women on keyboards with Graham Massey on drums. I didn’t like the first few songs – it felt like we were trapped in a never-ending Doors solo… with occasional bursts of ‘mad organist in a haunted house’. I couldn’t imagine why I was supposed to enjoy the experience so I asked a friend what he thought about it. He started to explain that the keyboards were all from the 1960s… and I started to get it… this was a concept band. The fact that the music was a bit cack was of secondary importance to the assembled cogniscenti.
The four women swapped keyboards every track (or so it seemed), while Graham remained seated at the drum-kit, centre stage. This emphasized his dubious high-priest role, I thought, and rather undermined the women’s impact as ‘an-all-girl-band’.
Then, one of the Sisters introduced a song, saying ‘You’ve probably heard this one before…’ or something to that effect. I hadn’t, but to my great relief I really liked it. I was able to root it out the following day on YouTube:
Sisters of Transistors – The Don (2008)
At this point, the gig started to seem more promising. But it wasn’t long before we slipped back into Doors/Hammer House territory. The girls’ voices sounded great on ‘The Don’ but were not used much during other tracks. I wondered afterwards if ‘The Don’ was a cover or written by someone else because it seemed much more controlled and polished than the other material, which tended instead towards a strident wall-of-sound, without much obvious contrast in dynamics or tempo.
When I was trying to recall ‘The Don’ the next day, I kept getting Art of Noise ‘Peter Gunn’ in my head – which is odd because that track was all guitar and brass samples while the Sisters’ sound is keyboard quartet and drums. But the combination of the repeated melodic/percussive hook-phrase from the start and the sixties tv/film soundtrack vibe is similar:
Art Of Noise, featuring Duane Eddy: Peter Gunn (1986) written by Henry Mancini
You could tell everybody at the gig wanted to love the Sisters’ music… there was a definite smug ‘we’re people in the know’ feel about it. The media types were already looking forward to bragging to their colleagues about the event. But somehow I couldn’t imagine many of them listening to this music for pleasure in the comfort of their own homes.
The idea of an all-girl organ quartet is intriguing, as is the possibility that there might be some historical precedent, but the back-story to this band is so long and involved that reading through it becomes almost as tedious as some of the long passages of keyboard instrumental that we heard at the concert. Here is an excerpt from a BBC interview from April 2008:
Obselete musical instruments are intrinsically interesting to some people, and exploring what they can do through new compositions and live performance makes a novel project. But the end-product, the music, is likely to suffer from limitations imposed by the instruments themselves, and in the case of an organ quartet, by the shape of the band.
However, if Sisters of Transistors can pull it off with ‘The Don’, then more groovy compositions should be possible in the future… assuming that the Sisters want to be groovy. We could have four potential female ‘inductees’ for the Manchester Music Hall Of Fame for the price of one: result!