Swarming Streets

Last Hints Magazine

Swarming streets
The screech of brakes
A mad dash across town to John White´s current digs in Bentley. I have the address written on a piece of paper so that I don´t forget it: 47A, Denby Street . . .

The house resembles something left over after a receding flood - gloomy and slightly imposing. John greets me at the door - a quiet, withdrawn man in his mid-twenties, tall and painfully thin, like an ad for a Summer vacation in Dachau. I step through the door and into a room bathed in submerged light. The ´furniture´ consists mostly of recording equipment - a Revox, a drum machine, a number of guitars and amps, and various less readily identifiable items of electronic hardware. I sink into a rickety rocking chair, switch on my trusty Grundig portable cassette recorder, and set it down on the nearest flat surface . . .

John White is U.V. PØP - singer, songwriter and guitarist. A one-man band for the 80s. When he began to play live in the early part of 1982, his ´band´ consisted of nothing more than himself plus a series of pre-recorded backing tapes. The arrangement proved both pragmatic and effective; it allowed John to present his music to the public to his own best advantage. As Richard Strange once sagely observed: ´A Revox doesn´t answer back.´

John´s material is intense and challenging, not exactly experimental but certainly pretty unconventional. ´Portrait´ and ´No Songs Tomorrow´ are fairly straight forward verse / chorus songs, but John´s voice is as ragged as fingernails bitten to the quick, and the best items in his repertoire are those where he either distorts his vocals via some devious electronic gimmickry (as in ´Sleep Don´t Talk´) or dispenses with them altogether, (as in ´IC´ and ´Sleep-pop´). One of his most recent numbers, ´Commitment´, veers intriguingly close to Cabaret Voltaire territory - a flat, vulgar, braying American voice (culled from a self-help cassette) keeps breaking into the mix a la ´Slugging For Jesus´ ...

John White is not an articulate man, and his lyrix are largely devoid of subtelty. He uses words like blunt instruments. In conversation he´s similarly plain-spoken-almost the archetypal bluff, no-nonsense Yorkshireman.

My trusty Grundig finally switches itself off, having commited about an hour´s worth of dialogue to memory. I rewind a little of the tape and play it back to make sure it´s come out, then eject the cassette and slip it into my pocket. When I finally take my leave, John is crouching on the floor, surrounded by all manner of electronic paraphernalia, listening to one of his own backing tracks with a beatific smile . . .

Lack of space prevents me from including any ´actual quotes´ in this piece. Besides which, I think banal ´music talk´ is best left to the established pop journals. Although he uses the name U.V. PØP, White is no more a pop musician than I am a pop journalist. If anything he´s more of a researcher, trying to find out more about the nature of sound and its applications. It´ll be interesting to see how his career develops in the future. Consider this a preliminary report ...