Acoustic Haze, March 5th 2000
Portland Arms, Cambridge, UK

By Nick Angelo


Acoustic Haze are probably the only acoustic progressive rock band and easily the most underrated band of this as well as of the last millenium. Part of the Haze mystery is that they have recorded under a bewildering array of different names. If you have not heard of Acoustic Haze you may have heard of plain Haze. Or, maybe, World Turtle, Satsuma!, Treebeard, Strongheart or von Daniken. Perhaps a plot at confusing music agents and set-in-their-ways music fans, it confuses even some of their own fans at times. Paul Chisnell complained at the Whitchurch Festival last summer: “We have been introduced under three different names in this festival. None of them was correct!” Despite their 20 years of gigging, this was to be the MacMahon brothers’ debut Cambridge concert. They were booked as Acoustic Haze but Paul Chisnell, Chris Jellis and Gordon Walker “bottled out”. Reduced to two fifths of Treebeard, the McMahons decided to do a first ever McMahon brothers acoustic set and a second electric set. The possibility arose of changing the band name to Electroacoustic Haze, Acoustic Turtle, Turtle Haze, the Haze and Turtle, maybe even Down to Earth Turtle. “Basically, our band’s name changes depending on how many people are in the band” brother Paul announced “and that means with just the two of us tonight we are going to play as World Turtle”.

They started with a slimmed-down Wave and went through acoustic versions of older songs and a few covers. The acoustic version of Fallen Leaves was especially captivating even as Paul Chisnell’s voice was missing. The vocal harmonies of the full trio would fill Crosby, Stills and Nash with envy. There is something clearly in store. “We are working on a CD with acoustic music”, Chris announced. “Oh, hi Paul. I haven’t said anything to Paul about this yet”. The Strawbs’ The Hangman and The Papist drew a wooh! at the drop of the head and an enthusiastic applause from the crowd. Then Chris said: “The next two songs are only nominally acoustic, as Paul will be playing an acoustic guitar. I, however, will be firing up lots of fiendish electronics from out here. This calls for a hat, what do you think?” He rummages around a big box and ­ abracatabra - he’s wearing a wizard’s hat with a drooping tuft at the top. “I hope this works” he says staring at his synthesizers and another voice behind me gleefully responds: “He, he, wizardy!” Then the McMahons burst into Dig Them Mushrooms with the passion of a St John’s fire. It is a Canterbury rock sort of tune that also sounds a bit like Rick Wakeman on acid, if you can picture that. The aural landscape was suddenly filled with endless layers of sound, including virtual drums from a computer, and many faces in the audience gasped, eyes blinked, people seemed almost levitating over their chairs. There was delirium in the response from the audience at the end. This was something they had not expected. How many instruments can the McMahon brothers play at once? Chris’s feet and hands were everywhere. Maybe even his hair helped through the Van der Graaf effect that had electrified the stage.

The electric set that followed was based mostly on their latest World Turtle LP. The sound was simply overflowing. How a band that has this ability to create on stage such a rich tapestry of sound can be so underrated is a mystery that troubles many a Haze/World Turtle fan. Chris was now thumping at an electric bass in addition to his Hammond organ, synths, computer and sampler while Paul was tip-toeing over a stageful of pedals throwing switches with his feet about as fast as he was plucking the guitar. Moods changed through the let-loose Let Go and the apocalyptic Heroes to the lyrical expanse of Wilderness of Eden and the heavier New Dark Ages and Vertigo. In the middle of Rip Van Winkle, American voices (Jamie Shea? JF Kennedy?) are heard from the sampler: “Nobody thinks twice about questioning soldiers if… We’re on a war to save the planet”. Then they burst into Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping and into the most amazing scene witnessed on that night. Chris would crouch to the floor, still playing his keyboards “I get knocked down” then jump five feet up in the air “but I get up again, you’re never going to keep me down”, playing his keyboards all the while without missing a note. The audience were on their toes, some bopping at the back. Then a return to Rip Van Winkle and off to a Floydesque Edge of Heaven. “Starlight finds you … you will be my rainbow’s end. At the edge of heaven we shall stand”. This is Pink Floyd country and it is good and fitting to close the set this way. “We may even come back if you promise to tell all your friends” shouts Paul.

Great gigs sometimes come in small packages. The McMahons also demonstrated that sometimes there is an inverse relationship between musicianship and how much money you want to make from music. Take my advice and if they are playing next on the same night as the Rolling Stones, spare yourself 50 pounds and go to see the McMahon brothers instead. And if the Rolling Stones are not playing, spend some money and go to see them anyway. If you happen to read this review while they are on their European tour and you cannot get to one of their European concerts, save up all your petrol and drive down to Whitchurch in Whiltshire on the 5th of August where they will be playing at the 4th Whitchurch Progressive Rock festival. If not for the sake of this review, then for the sake of your own peace of mind. You will not regret it. <

Acoustic Set:
Wave
The Hiring Fair (Ralph McTell)
Going to California (Led Zeppelin)
Fallen Leaves
The Hangman and the Papist (The Strawbs)
Dig Them Mushrooms
Back Home

Electric set:
Let Go
Heroes
Wilderness of Eden
The New Dark Ages
Vertigo
Rip Van Winkle/ Tubthumping
Edge of Heaven

One Day

 

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