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Off The Page: A further digression #1

Tony Herrington

It's by way of some sweet synchronicity (as opposed to careful programming) that appearances by Robert Wyatt and Scritti Politti's Green Gartside will top and tail the Off The Page festival in Whitstable this coming weekend.

Way back in the days of North London’s burgeoning post-punk underground, writer Ian Penman was a regular visitor to the now legendary squat Green shared with the other members of Scritti Politti, and he has recalled how Wyatt's Rock Bottom and Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard albums would reverberate through that famously squalid Camden house night and day, insinuating themselves into the occupants’ addled but expanding collective consciousness. And sure enough, in 1981 when Scritti’s still sublime sounding “The ‘Sweetest Girl’” single was released by Rough Trade, who should pop up playing piano but Old Rottenhat himself.

What Green and his comrades recognised in Wyatt's music was a shared belief in the pop song as a cultural agent that could act on you rhetorically and sensually at the same time. (Of course, just a few years earlier this was the self same notion that Wyatt’s colleagues in Soft Machine had utterly failed to grasp, and so they kicked their greatest asset out of the group – duh!) The directions that both Wyatt and Green have pursued over the years have kept faith with the idea that if you build them right, pop's shiny plastic vessels will be sturdy enough to accommodate and transport anything you might care to load inside of them, even Stalinist propaganda and Derrida-derived post-structuralist theory.

This Friday in Whitstable, at Off The Page's opening night event, Robert will be discussing live on stage some of the music that has most animated him over the years, and without wanting to give anything away, all of his choices somehow reconcile the urge to innovate or proselytize with the desire to craft perfect pop moments. Meanwhile, on the Sunday afternoon of the festival, Green will be going head to head with Mark 'K-punk' Fisher in a discussion that will no doubt make the synapses snap as it attempts to deconstruct the processes by which such a seemingly flimsy form as the three minute pop song can both distill and amplify hyper-advanced philosophical concepts, and in turn can be re-energized (rather than overloaded) by absorbing such heavyweight material.

Can’t wait!

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