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An outsiders view, of an outsiders music

by Michael Keane March 2004



Photograph by Tom Cops

At a recent Vase gig in Bristol, the programme notes for the gig referred to Vase as part of the Chippenham underground music scene. This is something of a misnomer, as Vase actually is the Chippenham underground scene.

It is a lot easier to be punk when you have other people to be punk with. Vase don’t have an in-crowd or clique to fall back on. The solitary nature of his working process and lack of peers give his work more of an edge. He writes and records because he needs to, not to impress his social circle, or to provide a back drop to a social scene. This gives a punk quality to his work, more in nature than tradition.

Greil Marcus once wrote that Bruce Springsteen’s 'Nebraska' is one of the quietest punk records ever made. I think he would say the same thing of Nocturne, if he had heard its venomous impulses. However, it’s clear from Stephen’s deadpan vocals, that culturally both records are poles apart.

Vase are as English as 'The Boss' is American. It’s not just any old Englishness though, the Vase recordings inhabit the slightly rarefied detached air of Luke Haines or even (on form), Kevin Ayres. This type of Englishness - for want of a better word, we'll call it posh - has rarely translated into mass appeal, especially compared to the working class observational style made popular by the likes of Ray Davies, Ian Dury or Blur.

This Englishness is personified in two songs on the Teenage Moonlight CD, “Perverse Prozac”, which manages to be wryly viscious and aloof, and the album's opener, “The Sphinx”. The old cliché about the English stiff upper lip is present throughout the Vase recordings, but it is even more interesting when some cracks are allowed to show, as in the slightly pained way the word “Woman” is sung. Yes, in other words, Vase is the Dirk Bogarde or James Fox of pop.


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