Mystery Dick and Pestrepeller
are improvising drone rock noise bands
based in the UK.
Personnel - History
Mystery Dick are Ed
Pinsent and Harley Richardson,
two artist/musicians from London.
Ed Pinsent is an archivist
by day, by night the editor of The
Sound Projector, an articulate and imaginative magazine covering
unusual and visionary music as well as other noise ignored by the mainstream
press. Ed presents a
weekly radio show on Resonance FM. Ed is also a cartoonist, creator
of surreal, whimsical and avant garde comic strips featuring characters
such as Windy Wilberforce and Drake Ullingsworth. Some of his long out-of-print
comic strips are now available electronically on his website.
In the 80's Ed was a small press publisher, putting out many of his
own titles as well as the influential Fast Fiction anthology - he also
found time to run the small press distribution service of the same name.
Harley Richardson is a
musician, writer, artist and a prolific doodler - see his blog.
He contributes reviews and illustrations to The Sound Projector
and used to run the TSP website.
In days far gone he edited Ugly Mug, an anthology of British
underground comic strips. Having failed to ferret his way into The Fall,
he plays musical improvisations with various impromptu gatherings of
friends from Walthamstow and is a guest musician on several recordings
by North London songsters The Original Beekeepers.
From time-to-time Mystery Dick hook up with renowned punk
cartoonist and musical agitant Savage Pencil
to form Attack Wave Pestrepeller.
THE MUSICAL HISTORY OF MYSTERY
Ed Pinsent (b Liverpool,
1960) had been playing clarinet ever since he was 9 years old, but his
more avant musical leanings started in 1977-1978 when at art college.
He bought 2 guitars and learned Led Zeppelin songs from tab charts.
Dave Pickett, fellow art student at Liverpool and briefly drummer with
The Teardrop Explodes, made an offer of forming a band called The
Occasional Tables. Nothing came of it.
Ed started to produce solo improvisations at home using
his Kay electric guitar and a cheap practice amp. Frustration,
pain and bitterness were poured into unlistenable solo excursions.
Typical teenage angst. Some were taped onto cassettes, none have survived.
During 1981-1982, Ed met Peter Woodin and Hilary Thompson.
Pete Woodin was running a DIY tape label called Erasehead
Cassettes for his own musical endeavours, including art pranks
like Anyone Can be Eno, and Hilary and The Hummingbirds - a showcase
for Hilary’s Lesley Gore songstress aspirations. Hilary and The Hummingbirds
produced a live tape What’s Ed Doing?
for which Ed contributed a short live guitar solo recorded at a Coventry
art school gig. Later Ed, Pete and Hilary (joined by Tone the Bone)
recorded a set of bedroom songs as The Donnington Self-Caterers, and
Ed made a solo tape September Songs in 1982. By this time Ed was mostly
inspired by the songs and sound of This Heat, the Art Bears and Elvis
Back home at Liverpool 1983-86, Ed learned more chords
and songs for the acoustic 12-string, including versions of blues songs
by Mississippi John Hurt. He developed methods of improvising solo.
Using the family piano, he also learned rudimentary piano methods, copying
tunes by The Residents and developing them into extended improvisations.
Soon after moving to London, Ed met Harley Richardson
- then a young cartoonist in his teens. Ed shared his many musical interests
with Harley, and by the mid 1990s they started playing jams together
using guitars and keyboards. These early jams were not very original
- mostly copies of tunes by Link Wray, Kenny and The Kasuals, The Residents
- even Blue Oyster Cult tunes were attempted. But the duo found they
had a certain musical sympathy and could
produce pleasant two-chord improvisations not far removed from Popol
THE MYSTERY DICK IS FORMED
One evening Ed arrived at Harley’s house filled with tension
and hate. Without another word, the pair launched into a 30 minute noisy
free-form improvisation, with Ed leaning on the keyboards with his shoes
and Harley (somewhat bewildered) letting his guitar feed back into the
amp. The distorted tape which resulted - known affectionately as The
Volcano Tape - effectively began the career of Mystery Dick.
Savage Pencil took an interest as soon as he heard that
noisy free-form jams were happening somewhere in London. He joined rehearsals,
by now taking place in rented practice studios, and the trio
Attack Wave Pestrepeller was born. By now Harley had mastered
feedback and learned how to control it with a battery of effects pedals,
half the time sounding like a demented 1960s US garage band. Ed had
bought a vintage Vox Continental organ and began to drone with strange
mixed chords in an eerie way. Savage, the least tutored of any of the
band, made an ungodly racket on his overamped guitar or by pumping found
recordings through his CD-player.
Wherever Attack Wave Pestrepeller performed, strong
men would blanch at the hideous wall of noise, and stare in disbelief
at the band’s total musical incompetence.
THE MYSTERY DICK MADRIGAL CHOIR
Savage Pencil conceived the idea of combining the fearsome
noise of Attack Wave Pestrepeller with the voices
of madrigal singers. The idea was to combine two different sounds,
but also two different approaches to making music; the singers, who
could sight-read music, would be forced to improvise and sing without
sheet music to guide them. The idea was tested in Ed’s London kitchen,
causing maximum distress to the neighbours for
long, painful hours. The 5 singers struggled to be heard over
a cacophony of feedback, organ drones and bitter grunts from Sav’s Rogue
Moog synth, although the handheld tape recordings of the sessions magically
extracted the true essence of the event.
To realise this idea more successfully, AWP booked time
at a studio in Islington. This time three singers turned up and Sav
X dropped out. It became a Mystery Dick session, the droning noise somewhat
gentler and more dynamic in approach, and thanks to recording technology
it was possible to hear the singers. The results (since edited by Harley)
are utterly unique music, an uncanny combination
of elements the like of which has never been heard. All improvised
live in the studio and (apart from a single clarinet solo) with zero
overdubs. Ed added semi-religious titles to the long tunes, inspired
by an ecstatic holy vision he had received through the stained glass
windows of Fairford Church.
THE DICK IS RISING
Mystery Dick have now, through countless bedroom recordings
and occasional live gigs, evolved an extremely
limited but effective musical language. Harley tapes everything
they produce like a compulsive anal-retentive. As they produce diary-mode
drawings in sound, the emotionally immature Ed Pinsent is still rarely
able to control his feelings and everything comes tumbling out. Sometimes
he even falls asleep over the keyboard, hypnotised by the interminable
Mystery Dick drone. Harley continues to master the electric snakes of
feedback noise, and instinctively knows where the right notes are without
knowing what they’re called. He used to use too many effects pedals,
but now he’s learning to limit himself.
At worst, their sound lacks any musical foundation, since
neither of them really understand how to use chords or notes effectively.
Neither do they practice sufficiently to hone their improvisational
abilities, so that successful results are not always guaranteed. At
best, they produce an extremely coherent and closely woven sound, based
entirely on intuition and chemistry arising between the sympatico personalities
of the duo. They are thus rather unique. They
are more than the music they consume. They can communicate.
THE PATH OF UNKNOWN MYSTERY
Although Harley first approached improvisation with total
scepticism, he has since become a convert to the method and has
since formed impromptu groups based around talented friends visiting
his house. Once, he succeeded in a musical direction that was so unbearably
beautiful that a visiting stranger had to come down to the living room
to hear. She was a classical musician who had devoted years to learning
how to play the trumpet properly. Improvisation was totally outside
her frame of reference. When she learned that music could be made so
easily and by people with no ‘proper’ musical skills, she burst into
Ed Pinsent continues to sink deeper into insanity and
brooding, bitter emotions. At each Mystery Dick live gig, he now starts
proceedings by invoking the Ka symbol
in order to gain mastery of the cosmic forces. However, the gesture
never seems to work. The music seems to work best (like Ed’s old 1970s
improvisations) when propelled by anger - taking revenge on incompetent
organisers or other egocentric performers who have the audacity to presume
they are more important than Mystery Dick.