Panels, poets and magic bands. Oh yeah - and THE Magic Band
Some musicians influence other musicians. Some painters influence other people who paint. But some artists defy categorisation to such an extent that the list of people they influence is as random as the phone book (“The what?” – everyone under 30) and, if the artist is really good, possibly just as long.
Captain Beefheart was one of those artists. As a favourite of John Peel and influencer of artists as varied as Mark E. Smith, Franz Ferdinand and Simpsons-creator Matt Groening, Beefheart is widely recognised as one of music’s great innovators. However, he also worked as a visual artist and poet, record producer and film director, threading his frayed aesthetic through a hefty, multi-textured body of work.
Following two decades of sonic exploration, Beefheart retired from music in 1982, subsequently working as a painter until his death in 2010. However, ten years before that retirement date, his first art exhibition took place at the Bluecoat here in Liverpool, an event that will be revisited over one November weekend in the city.
While music is one of the weekend’s key elements, organisers say the event will “consider Beefheart as a ‘twentieth century visionary’ working across music, visual art, writing and performance”. Rather like Liverpool’s own Adrian Henri, Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet) can be considered a "total artist", and a Bluecoat symposium on Saturday November 11 will discuss him in precisely this light.
The day of presentations and panel discussions will include contributions from “experts and enthusiasts” including Gary Lucas of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, Beefheart’s biographer Mike Barnes, artist Graham Crowley, record sleeve designer Steve Hardstaff, Rebecca Ayres from Sound City, John Hyatt of The Three Johns, and fans who witnessed his various Liverpool gigs.
The symposium will be followed by Doped in Stunned Mirages, a one-off poetry event featuring 13 writers who have accepted the challenge to write a new piece in response to a specific Beefheart album. The participating poets include Patience Agbabi, Vahni Capildeo, Sarah Crewe, Patricia Farrell, Peter Finch, Libby Houston, Tom Jenks, Chris McCabe, Robert Sheppard, Zoë Skoulding, Helen Tookey, Matthew Smith and Jeff Young.
Saturday evening culminates in Fast N’ Bulbous at District, a gig that gives Beefheart-influenced musicians an opportunity to play their own original work alongside reworkings of Beefheart songs. The line-up includes Edgar Jones and the New Jonses, a.P.A.t.T, Strange Collective, Dave McCabe of The Zutons, Psycho Comedy, The Cubicle, Karm and Pale Rider. The significant showing by Liverpool artists reflects the extent to which Beefheart’s twisted Delta blues bled into the Mersey over the years.
Sunday November 12 will see Beefheart fans taking a psychogeographic tour of “Beefheart’s Liverpool”, exploring “resonant locations and other hidden corners of the city’s cosmic and psychedelic imagination”. These include the site of the Liverpool Stadium and the first Probe shop.
The weekend rounds off with Ice Cream For Crow, an exhibition of black and white artefacts arising from an “innovative and intense making project by young artists from Liverpool, Dublin, Leeds, Manchester and Salford”. Curated by John Hyatt of Liverpool John Moores University, the exhibition, at Make in the North Docks, is inspired by the fact that Beefheart allegedly created his 1972 Bluecoat works during one intense burst of activity.
With all this Beefheart-inspired creation and discussion going on, it’s just a shame that the man himself can’t contribute. However, organisers can boast that they have the next best thing with an appearance by The Magic Band at the Philharmonic Hall’s Music Roomvenue. Though not officially part of the programme, the group features original Magic Band members John French and Mark Boston (health permitting according to the Phil’s website), and will no doubt ensure that the city feels something of the great man’s spirit coursing through its veins.
Each event is ticketed separately, though a discounted weekend ticket is available for £20. The full Captain Beefheart Weekend line-up and ticketing details can be found here.