Whenever Neil Watson and Cameron Allen appear one thing is certain. The boundaries between realty and the surreal will be seriously blurred. Their attempts to kick down the barriers between musical genres arises from a genuinely subversive urge. This has nothing to do with academic posturing, as the music comes from raw passion. People sometimes ask me why I listen to Zorn, Sun Ra, Ribot and others. It is because those people understand something very important, ‘Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed’. Neil and Cameron understand this and their collaborators do also.
The unsettling rumours started circulating a few months ago. Evidently there was an improvising band around town called the ‘Doughboys’. Musical blackguards. Few knew where they played and most dared not enquire further lest the blackest rumours were true. They fitted no particular niche and worse, they could veer dangerously across genres without signalling a warning. What might scare some, only served to tantalise me. Any band that plays foul piratical sea shanties, Hawaiian music, Americana, ancient country ballads, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash in a Jazz voice is going to interest me.
As with all vagabonds they eventually washed into the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) one blustery night. Roger Manins, a steadfast soul, well able to withstand the vicissitudes of public opinion booked them. On the night they stood brazenly arrayed, defiant as piratical adventurers can be. Ready to sing and to wildly improvise, often using the voicings and tropes of psychedelic jazz. Either that or they played a song dead straight just to confound. The instruments were as left-field as the bands dress sense. Neil Watson had an array of stringed instruments and some pedals mounted on a plank. He used a Mexican Fender ‘Stratocaster’, a ‘Hobner’ Guitar (this is a top-of-the-range knock off of a Hofner which he purchased in an Indian street stall) and lastly a Chinese made ‘special’ steel guitar. Cameron Allen played an old melodeon squeeze box, a tenor saxophone and a ‘virtual’ Doogan (it was not visible to the audience). Alex Freer and Rui Inaba lulled us into a false sense of security by playing relatively ordinary looking instruments, but when you looked closely there were frightening pirate fetishes tied to the them.
I thought that they were terrific and Neil Watson’s hint of Neil Young (subverted by Bill Frisell voicings) worked for me. At times they played the tunes dead straight and this only added to the surrealism of the evening. Once they sung a hearty ditty but I was not fooled. As I suspected, this softening up was precursor to a king hit. In this case a punked out rendering of the ancient sea shanty ‘Spanish Ladies‘ which I will post as a video. This is the sort of music that the downtown avant-garde cuts its teeth on. Where else would you hear an authentic version of ‘Pearly Shells‘ followed by something Pink Floyd might have done if they’d studied under Marc Ribot. Bless their black pirate hearts.
Disclaimer: No cats were harmed in the photoshopping of the above picture – the pirate cat is named Zirky
What: The Doughboys at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart, Auckland 20th November 2013
Who: Neil Watson – aka ‘Geetar Scrim’ (guitars), Cameron Allen aka ‘Lee Shawnuff’ (melodion and tenor saxophone), Rui Inaba aka “Pork Baster’ (bass), Alex Freer aka ‘Daddy Gaucho’ (drums).