October 6, 2001

Momentous time for Nihilist Spasm Band
By JAMES REANEY -- Free Press Arts & Entertainment Reporter

A lifetime of listening to the Nihilist Spasm Band has no doubt warped my ears and distorted my judgment.

Still, this month would seem to be a momentous time in the career of the London noisemeisters' 35-year overnight success story. The band has a new, double-CD called No Borders, featuring a distinguished U.S. guest, jazzman Joe McPhee. Like all Spasm Band releases over the decades, it sounds like their best.

As proof of that, a California avant-garde operation called the Cortical Foundation recently issued a new vinyl edition of the band's April, 1968, debut album No Record. It still sounds like their best, too.

Meanwhile, band members will be in New York next week for the beyond-hip No Music festival. The festival was previously held at Aeolian Hall and the Spasm Band's Forest City Gallery base, but it's moved on to New York. McPhee is aiding festival guru and London arts activist Ben Portis and the Spasm Band in making it happen.

A number of the Spasm Band's admirers, including rock band Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore, will be at the event.  (Moore and McPhee will perform with London's masters of noise in separate concerts).

The band and co-producer Portis can bring its double-CD with McPhee to the festival. To these admittedly warped ears, McPhee plays the role of a graceful spaceship, sliding through crashing asteroids, grinding space debris and joyful yelping  and squawking. McPhee plays tenor sax, pocket cornet, didgeridoo and Casio sax and mixes with the friendly din's  ebbs and flows beautifully.

McPhee's most memorable contribution is Nihilist Party Lights, his poem for the London band. It is the sweetest,
kindest and truest observation ever about the noise/not-music of the Spasm Band.

Londoners Hugh McIntyre, Murray Favro, John Clement, Bill Exley and Art Pratten and former Londoner John Boyle, now of Peterborough, comprise the band. All have had successful,  non-musical careers. Three (McIntyre, Exley and Pratten) are now happily retired, Clement is a doctor and Favro and Boyle are leading Canadian artists.

Those London six are also present on No Record, the 1968 album. Also in the lineup for that gem is the late London
artist Greg Curnoe and another founding member, Archie Leitch, who left shortly after.

Curnoe and the others always delighted in denying he was the leader. Indeed, no one could be leading this cheerful mess of homemade kazoos and guitars, sputtering drums and assorted invented instruments. The titles include The Byron Bog and When in London Sleep at the York Hotel.

The Nihilist part of the band name came from the jokey Nihilist Party of Canada, a pastime of Curnoe and others. A
spasm band is a term for the bands organized by African-Americans whose poverty led to the construction of       their own instruments.

No Record was made at a time when the Spasm Band was playing at the old York hotel (now Call the Office) on Monday nights. The band still plays on Mondays, but at the Forest City Gallery. Back then, one of the York's proprietors made the comment that "after 10 beers, they sound like Lombardo."