For those of you who like your basic meat and veg, and sometimes think you belong in a different world, or the world you once knew has passed you by, and you feel a little anti-social in the face of fake news and a deepening sense of gloom, and whether you are thirty or sixty or older, there is only hope. And maybe nothing else. Except the Carnivorous Plant Society.
Which, as you might initially deduce, is hard to describe, let alone join. Well, actually, joining is easier than describing, because all you have to do, it seems, but I’m not sure, is go along to the Wine Cellar on a Friday night not too long ago. There’s no subscription, no joining ceremony, no initiation ritual, no secret handshakes. Just a modest effort at the box office, and an open mind…and you’re in.
And, as you enter this secret place, you encounter the guitarless world of Audrey’s Dance, which also prefaces the sense of community which the Wine Cellar personifies, so maybe that’s it, just be a cellar dweller and all will be well.
But a huge crashing noise shatters the utopian dream, and you wish for a dram instead, and off we go into a Kraftwerkian journey of synth rock, and ultra vox, and walk the Connie Plank, as Tom Healy plies his new synthesiser into monstrous scales of imaginative godspeak, and dance and drama, and Afrobeat and Finn Scholes, of whom we shall hear more, who adds a Caribbean vibe and a raucous Fela Kuti trumpet. It’s what you might once have called avant-garde, the advanced guard for this mysterious society where plants might eat you. A Triffidian nightmare, a Wyndham wank, a synthesised melange of German autobahn and Japanese gardens in an earthquake. And Cass Basil is on bass, also without guitar, and towards the end there’s a drummer called Alastair (Deverick) and a flugitive fleeing from monstrous plants to seek refuse in these sometimes Flaming Lips. And he’s called Tam. And then there’s Nick (Atkinson), who tries once but is refused because a sax is not a flugelhorn, but then gets a reprieve and joins the queue to the secret society and by now Audrey’s Dance has doubled and it’s an amazing journey to we know not Who.
But yes we do, and it’s a very quick change because it’s no change at all, except that Tom comes off and flugitive Tam Scholes picks up guitar and voila!, we have meat eating plants in a musical collective, led by his brother Finn who brings together the band, most of whom have other projects, with commendable regularity and prolific outcomes.
And now the spoiler alert. This is no secret society. And it’s international. And it’s real. There really are plants which feed on animals, and you can grow them on your window sill. Happily, there does not seem to be any evidence that Triffids are amongst their garden, so humans are safe if careful. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Clean your fingernails. Eat your greens. This is not a revengeful class of flora.
And so, much relieved, we can return to the music, which is hard to describe as other than fusion, of jazz, of rock, of country often bound up in psychedelic imagery conceived by the mercurial (clever, lively, quick) Finn and tonight at least, easy to dance to, as the Wine Cellar throbs along in mini mosh fashion.
The introduction is jazz and progressive country (a new term I have just invented) and if I point a “Phantom Finger” I might have it and Tam is playing like Bill Frisell and then we continue into spaghetti western territory in true Ennio Morricone fashion plus a little Hank Marvin guitar. “Car Dance” is yet another theme from an imaginary television show which you watch several times before you realise that the only endearing feature is the theme music. Finn sings, and sounds quite mainstream in an 80’s synth rock style, until his trumpet veers us off piste into retro jazz dance. And then there’s a tuba, looking ominously carnivorish and there’s great drama.
I don’t know the songs, but can recognise some of the tunes ( my collection of CPS records trebles later in the night), but the variety enthralls and we even get some poppy Chills sending spine shivers. There’s definitely a trip to “Mexico”. Bang the gong again to get our attention (what, who’s waning?) and a very commercial instrumental takes us forward until Alastair drums us into darkness.
Next we hear the Beatles introducing us to King Crimson and the Wine Cellar is humming with its essence of community. My mind is racing with context and reference and I finally settle on the Flock, except tonight the violinist is not here, and they have modernised into an outfit which strays into Caribbean and Cuban and country. And finally there’s a song about the arsehole of the earth, where you might inject the carnivorous enema, and although Finn might have preferred it that no one from Invercargill was in the audience I must disappoint. “The Bogan and the Kid” is his memory, and my memory is empty of bogans but I sure was the kid back in the day.
Carnivorous Plant Society are, if nothing else, great fun. But they are also something else, extremely talented musicians who love to play quirk. Quirky anything. But quirky dance, because you must move to this music, otherwise you are fused. And you don’t want to be fused, in case you explode, so you must move in fusion. Glorious fusion. Biological, not atomic, plants don’t eat meat, but they do engorge animal protein, and music erupts. Carnivalorously.
Bloody extraordinary sound conjured up by Rohan