Bertie Marshall is a multi-talented creative. A writer, performer and memoirist. He also the fronted the short-lived 80s post-punk band Behaviour Red; a band that also featured Noel Blanden of now-label-mates Normil Hawaiians. Their sound was wild and free. Marshall continued in an atmospheric vein on his own and became interested in spoken word and poetry in the 90s. His new-old album ‘Exhibit’ is a collection of Marshall’s 80s and 90s output.To say this is esoteric is putting it lightly.
Tracks range from the intense chants and tribal drumming of “Ke Ke Ke Ke Ke Ya” and “Chihuahua Talking Dog” to the unsettling scratchy violin staccato oddness of “Talk To Tapestries” and “The Old Man Carrying A Black Bag Is In Their Garden”.
What holds this all together is Marshall’s adventurous approach and bold, confident vocal explorations.
At times the album has the intensity of attending an occult ceremony. Tracks like “The World Is Round” share a lot in common with the dark, nightmarish atmosphere of Scott Walker’s later works.Lyrically, repeated phrases sit alongside complete nonsense and primal yelps, sometimes within the same song.Musically this is often deliberately ugly with the instruments focus more on rhythm than melody. Guitars are played down tuned so much that the strings flub around and sound out of tune.
That is, until we reach the uplifting “Meshes Over Morning”. It shines almost like a tribal Beat Happening. It’s an unexpected moment of beauty.
“Offerings” continues the melodic approach, with a revolving hook and guitar harmonics before briefly hitting an unexpected groove. It exudes confidence and conviction in Marshall’s ideas.
By this point we’ve kind of hit the “post-punk section”.
“Shaking Johnny” has all the bass backed oddness of Primus, without the incessant slapping, mixed with the avant tendencies of Tom Waits. All this amidst a thick fog of droning feedback.
The pounding “The Tattoo Breathes” does nothing to relieve the oppressive atmosphere. The drums are industrial and brutal while the bass is so subby it’s like a punch to the guts. There’s a gnarled filth akin to the Jesus Lizard and the Birthday Party, minus the slick musicianship.
“Little Red Sports Car” has an opening riff like a warped “Smoke On The Water” with junk percussion while Marshall rants and whispers in sinister tones over the top. Marshall’s vocal on “Commit To Fire” has a rich Scott Walker quality as he croons over moody synth chords and reverb heavy percussion. The production only increases the other worldly quality to the album and this perhaps reaches its peak on “Authoress”. The bass sounds occupy the foreground creating an ominous quality while a bizarre synth warbles, off kilter, to probably the most straightforward drum beat on ‘Exhibit’.
Remarkably this collection, which spans over two decades, sits so well together you could be forgiven for assuming it was intended as an album all along.
‘Exhibit’ is an intense, ethereal and challenging collection that is at times darkly comedic, impassioned and wild. An incredible introduction to a fascinating cult character.
‘Exhibit is out today, 29th October, via Upset The Rhythm
You may enjoy this if you like Scott Walker, Tom Waits
Listen to “Shaking Johnny”: