Two of a kind
Interview with Eyeless In Gaza
The Project Arts Centre is situated close to Dublin’s city centre, in an area of run-down buildings and city renewal, a sparse converted setting compromising two galleries, a small refreshment area and a modest theatre.
It is here that Eyeless In Gaza are due to play the first of two sets on their Dublin debut – albeit to a none-too-packed house. The gig has been badly under-publicised. The writer checks his watch midway through support band Rhumba-Rhumba’s opening spot. An unconventional duo, in terms of Ireland’s restrictive music scene, they use guitar and synth over a backing of taped rhythms. Though lacking presence and presentation (they neglect even to mention their name) they hold the audience’s attention with an essential rhythmic sound, conveying the impression that they could become an attraction in time.
Having spoken earlier in the evening to Peter Becker about the possibility of doing the interview before their first set, it begins to look like time for such a conversation is running out.
Peter Becker and Martyn Bates, collectively Eyeless In Gaza, arrive freshly laundered from the under-night hotel. In the Project canteen area, the writer meets, greets and sits down for a brief encounter with the band.
Eyeless In Gaza are a highly productive working unit, though both members currently hold down day jobs, Martyn Bates working as a hospital porter and Peter Becker as a laboratory technician at Courtaulds (the large textile firm). Though Martyn feel that they’ve got to the more of themselves if they fully concentrated on the music, he isn’t sure that Peter shares the feeling. But as they both still enjoy what they do and “there is no problem as far as ideas go” their output is still highly prolific even on the basis of getting together whenever they can during weekdays or at weekends – fitting the band into an “everyday” routine.
To prove the point they had arrived at that morning off the boat to Rosslare and were heading back straight after the second show. It’s tough life in a non-rock ‘n’ roll band. Being a duo, however, makes for easier mobility.
Ghosts in the machine
So far they have released two albums, the second of which, ‘Caught in Flux’ contained a free 45 12”, or “B-side” as they call it, and three singles; all but the debut single ‘Kodak Ghosts Run Amok’ (which they released at the beginning of 1980 on their own Ambivalent Scale label – it will shortly be available again as a European import) are on the growing independent label Cherry Red.
They feel very positively about the Cherry Red set-up. “There’s no problems there. The three guys that run it, you want to know something you just pick up the phone and talk to them. If it was some big company, loads of faceless people, you would have a lot less control.” Working with Cherry Red, they feel they’ve achieved the much-vaunted but often unrealised “total control”. They furnish the label with finished tapes and artwork which is then released in the intended form. As they put it, “What more could you ask for?”
The next album, ‘Pale Hands’, is something of a departure – it’s a collection of more atmospheric material, written as soundtrack material for prospective film work they […] through Cherry Red’s Norwegian contact as another import release. And they already have enough recorded for the next two albums which only needs mixing. I hate to think of the backlog if and when they do go full time.
Both members of Eyeless confess to being ignorant of musical technology. Peter Becker uses to a great effect those most lowly of electronic instruments, the Casio UI-tone and the then revolutionary Wasp, proving effectively that in the right hands it is the player not the instrument that controls and creates the sound. Starting originally as a guitarist, he turned to the synth not for the obvious “silly noises” but for its open-endedness. He is much in favour of cheap keyboards and the exciting sounds they are capable of producing becoming widely available. His partner feels that Peter was “too analytical, too technical for the guitar”.
The un-odd couple
Were they happy, the writer wondered, working as a duo? Had that always been the intention or did they arrive there by accident?
“Well when we first started out we thought we’d like to expand, but now I really like it like this. It really pushes us. You really have to fight to get something different.
It keeps you on your toes. It’s also one of the reasons we’ve stopped using tapes onstage too. It’s easy to record great-sounding backing tracks and just doodle over the top.”
Photographs as memories
The two players face each other onstage playing an opening (and closing) theme, an almost Gothic keyboard instrumental which presages the entry of Martyn Bates’ unusual and powerful voice; if you haven’t heard Eyeless In Gaza before it can catch you unawares. It soars and draws you in: the recorded work is transformed into a live animal, never intimidating but not allowing you to relax even momentarily in its company […] live effectiveness of the duo is fleshed out and fully realised. There is no verbal communication between songs: the music holds you as they change instruments and moods and textures: Becker on bass guitar (I would like to have heard more Wasp and Casio-tone keyboards (of sorts) as well as one-hand percussion, and Bates on keyboard, music-box and extraordinary voice. […] lasting around 45 minutes including work from both albums, the titles in this context are irrelevant), is just right; a longer set could have diminished their impact.
Their sound is intense and relatively sparse but doesn’t lack edge or depth. Becker’s keyboard work creates a full-bodied base around which Bates’ guitar and voice explore the songs. The only rhythm is that of the guitar and the occasional use of percussion – two tom-toms played by Becker with his right hand while playing his synth. Strangely enough it works.
All in all, Eyeless In Gaza proved to be the most enjoyable act I’ve witnessed since Orchestra Manoeuvres: I could imagine, with a strange twist of fate, how easily the roles of the two bands could be reversed, especially in the light of OMD’s Andy McCluskey taking time off to rethink his whole approach to live work and success.
In their own quiet way Eyeless may well have the better deal of the two operations, with more freedom of choice and movement.
Eyeless In Gaza make music with limitless potential, not realised by either “band” or public. They could be big but things being as they are, they will probably build an audience slowly with each successive gig and record. Their music requires more of the listener than a quick casual glance. It could remain a well-kept secret. But then that’s life … .
From A to B
Eyeless In Gaza are two very likeable people doing what they want to do in a responsible manner and, when it comes down to it, how many people can say that? Sure they have problems and they admit they quarrel a lot. But that’s […].