Long Live Père Ubu !
Pere Ubu never do things by halves. Not content with inventing modern rock music in 1975, they set themselves the task of stylistically reinventing themselves with each subsequent album release. Next to Ubu, over the years, David “Chameleon of Rock” Bowie has looked as staid as Status Quo.
“Long Live Père Ubu!”, released Monday 14th September, is inspired by the proto-Absurdist stage play that gave the band its name – Alfred Jarry’s « Ubu Roi” (King Ubu). Its premiere in Paris in 1896 provoked riots in the theatre and a national scandal. A vicious and satiric re-telling of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” Jarry’s work lambastes do-gooder monsters and the survival of the Unfit.
To promote its release, the band will be performing at The ICA, The Mall, London on Friday 25th September. To do it justice, Pere Ubu has devised an extraordinary concert event that involves connective dialog, electronic ambience, choreography, and animations by legendary film-makers The Brothers Quay. Not so much a case of Rock Music and Theatre coming together, it is more that the two find themselves engaged in a bloody fight to the death. Singer David Thomas stalks centre-stage, inhabiting the grotesque persona of the doomed Père Ubu, beset by the incompetence and treachery of his minions, who are all played by members of the band. The concert takes the shape of a radio play, steeped in the avant- garage sensibilities that the band pioneered. Tickets cost £20 in advance and go onsale on Friday 15th May – Box office : 0207 930 3647 / online : www.ica.org.uk.
During the hellishly protracted process of writing the songs for the album, band leader David Thomas refused to speak to his band.
« He wouldn’t see anyone. He didn’t answer the phone, » guitarist Keith Moliné explained. « The last time I was down to his place in Brighton he had cleared out his living room and installed two concentric rings of antique Mac computers, not one of them less than 20 years old. Somehow he had wired maybe 20 of them together. The heat and pulsing generated by all those old machines hit you like a wall. ‘This is Mr. Ubu, he’ll write the album,’ was what David said. Then he sent me packing. I didn’t see him again for nearly a year. »
« We began to get emails with MP3 files,” Moliné continues. “You could hear him walking around mumble-singing and you could hear waves of buzzing and tapping. One file would be labeled ‘Bass Drum,’ another ‘Guitar Track,’ and so on. »
Thomas made ever more punishing and unreasonable demands, insisting that the band rehearse “Mr. Ubu’s music” over and over at Thomas Alva Edison’s family farm in Milan, Ohio.
« He would sit there arms folded, eyes closed, with a scowl on his face, listening to us rehearse, » Moliné said. « Then he would make everyone stop, and he’d call his home in England – no one was there but something picked up the phone and he would make one of us listen to ‘Mr. Ubu’ – ‘That! Play that!’ he said. All you could hear was buzzing and tapping, maybe a car going by outside or someone walking past his window, or some piece of singing in the middle of it all. He’d go out, telling us get on with it. Sometimes, we’d just write our own music but he never mentioned it if he noticed or cared. Just started singing. I think he must have been listening at the window. »
With the songs nearing completion, the band took on the challenge that Ubu-philes have spent thirty years hoping their heroes would tackle: the staging of a multimedia avant-musical entitled “Bring Me The Head Of Ubi Roi.” True to form, they decided to do it The Hard Way. Thomas spent 18 months adapting Jarry’s text, taking on the stage role of Père Ubu himself, and recruiting the actress/chanteuse Sarah Jane Morris (ex-Communards, Happy End) to play his conniving wife, Mère Ubu. In addition to arranging the songs and contributing music, the band and their soundman, Gagarin, were enlisted to play supporting roles on stage and perform dance routines. That’s right, dance routines.
The play, staged for the first time in London in 2008, was glorious, riotous chaos. When an audience member required the attention of an ambulance crew during one of the performances most of the audience thought it was part of the show. Jarry would have been delighted. The songs from the production and some of the incidental music are here on « Long Live Père Ubu!, » the band’s 16th studio album. Ambitious, harrowing, hilarious, it’s unlike anything they’ve done before. Typical Ubu.
PERE UBU is:
David Thomas – vocals / Sarah Jane Morris – vocals / Keith Moliné – guitar / Robert Wheeler – EML synthesizer, theremin / Gagarin – electronica / Michele Temple – bass / Steve Mehlman – drums
A radio play version of “Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi” is available fromwww.hearpen.com, Pere Ubu’s download web site.
URL for “Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi”:www.ubuprojex.net/bringmethehead.html.