Come on a truly unique, mysterious and magical trip in both words and music with THE CYCLE TO WORK SCHEME and me.
“There’s a package for you here, have you ordered anything?”.
Confusing words, because I hadn’t.
I moved downstairs to see a vinyl shaped package with an address scrawled in handwriting I didn’t recognise. In a swirl of paranoia I considered leaving it for a 48 hour incubation period but then curiosity got the better of me and I tore it open. Inside was a vinyl entitled THE CYCLE TO WORK SCHEME – COMMUNICATIONS. I flipped it over to try to shine a shaft of light into my confusion only to discover that seven tracks were listed, MONDAY – SUNDAY (each track exactly five minutes long) and the credits – performance, field recordings, photography, poetry, music, film, artwork, all lived experience, all communications – were credited to the same THE CYCLE TO WORK SCHEME.
What the hell is this?
I pulled out the record and something else fell out, a beautifully produced booklet with pictures of somebody’s mundane day to day experience accompanied by several poems and a ticket to a YouTube experience entitled ‘WORKERS’ ELECTRONIC OPERA’.
Torn between slapping on the vinyl or heading to YouTube, I chose the former. The click of the needle was followed by a bicycle bell, mellifluous bird songs, footsteps, a clearing of the throat, a runny sniff at which point I wondered if this was simply the sound of a thirty-five minute bike ride. I needn’t have worried. A voice, most definitely Scouse, took over whilst the field recordings dropped out of the mix.
“I work the early shift” it drawled, “because I seldom sleep through…” the Larkin-esque opening continued with “No, it wasn’t supposed to be like this…”
What the hell is this?
I reached for the booklet and found that what I was hearing were the poems featured therein. A droning mysterious echo entered the fray as the astonishing and prescient line “We didn’t clap/ we’re terrorists now” pounds through the ether as does “Death to Landlords” a couple of lines later on. The constant shift from the mundane to the political, mundane to political over the disconcerting musical background is mesmerising and powerful and then at 3:55 a driving dance heavy techno beat kicks in before dropping out again as MONDAY closes.
What the hell is this?
As sure as day follows night, TUESDAY follows MONDAY, and some computerised beats herald in a chilled out track and the same voice begins, “Bus-stop smashed up…” as part of a political reverie on the same themes of the rich hurting, then abandoning, then killing the poor. Delivered like a spaced out Jello Biafra some of the confusion is beginning to clear as the words recall Irvine Welsh‘s sardonic “Choose Life” rant that is used in the opening of ‘Trainspotting’, only in a far more brutalist and forceful manner, something that might be expected after the misery of the last decade of chaotic and crushing Tory rule. “If you bring hope, they’ll kill you/If you bring peace, they’ll kill you”.
My word, this is something!
WEDNESDAY sees a switch of narrator as another voice, this time female but still most definitely Liverpudlian enters the fray. Gender issues are chewed over and spat out in the first three lines as is a catalogue of 21st Century soul crushing ‘life’ (because it ain’t living, it’s dying) experiences. The tender and somewhat heart-breaking “because I’ve been feeling these things a bit more of late and I don’t know why” adds to the sense of despondency at the lot of the people being fed this claustrophobic, catatonic way of living. A sax enters, gently swaying in the background before another voice, possibly the same as the first, wails to the same sax refrain, a disembodied “I am your fellow man“.
THURSDAY hears the first voice return, sans music initially and with the hilarious “I’ll never be a jogger” in it’s armoury but the force in the attack is provided by the potent “Direct your ire up“. The “I am your fellow man” refrain can be heard once more and indeed more urgently as the musical accompaniment becomes darker, almost Lynchian in it’s depiction of the truly disconcerting dystopia that is life for many UK dwellers today. Once can sense with each passing day, the anger building.
FRIDAY starts with the knowingly cool “I’d rather be late than run for the bus” and then begins to list everything that is the day to day drudgery we squeeze into in order to simply survive, a drudgery that still sees us priced out of attaining any of the things necessary to truly ‘living’. There is a pleading “Stop clicking your pen, please!” as the voice has by now become strained and almost broken in it’s delivery whilst the surprising “the difficult life of the grey heron” is repeated over a dance beat to close the narrator’s FRIDAY.
Like I said. Lynchian.
One might expect a break from the monotony of Monday to Friday drudgery by SATURDAY, but then, isn’t it the case that most of us postpone the things we need to do Monday to Friday in our personal lives whilst devoting ourselves to the MAN, only to find ourselves sorting out the bills and trying to squeeze anything in that could remotely be construed as leisure before the Sunday dreads return? SATURDAY has a clapped dance beat and hears both male and female voices swap their personal take on their weekend with talk of “rotten floorboards“, “sold out carrot cake“, “the neighbour swearing at his wife” before the latter voice asks, nay demands “More recreation/All recreation“.
SUNDAY begins with a reminder that the narrator is our “fellow man” and a tribalistic beat kicks in accompanied by a discordant recorder and a church organ (it is SUNDAY after all) and the talk at the table is of “death to Sunday dinner“, “the disenfranchised, the always left behind” before the chanted “Direct action/Direct action/Mobilise” eloquently expresses what is needed, and sadly what is lacking. The final line “We don’t have dream jobs because we don’t dream of work, why would we?” is a clever and concise response to the advertising executives wet dream promotion of jobs being somehow perfect. When we dream we dream of the fantastic, the otherworldly and the beautiful, and not our day to day existence. Why would we, indeed? As the final notes of THE CYCLE TO WORK SCHEME – COMMUNICATIONS slowly fades away, I find myself, unlike I do in my daily life, eagerly wanting to begin the week again.
What I have just witnessed is socialism set to music, and a it is quite unique artistic statement.
I head over to YouTube to experience it all again at ‘WORKERS’ ELECTRONIC OPERA‘. The video is a wonderfully amateur melange of interesting visual observations that will have you internally groaning at times (office computer/bus bell/brick wall), whilst also appreciating simple beauty at others whilst the words and music from the vinyl play as one MONDAY – SUNDAY cycle (excuse the pun).
I spotted some shoes on the pedals of a cycle which is as close as I have come to identifying the purveyors of this fabulous piece of art (because as suggested earlier, that is what it is, a fantastic and unique piece of socialist art). For me, COMMUNICATIONS conjures up Alan Bleasdale‘s Boys from the Blackstuff (an excellent production of which is currently playing at The Royal Court, Liverpool incidentally) and also Big Hard Excellent Fish‘s Imperfect List updated for the the 21st Century, for the now. Whilst the accents hint at a place, the words and sentiments make for a country-wide commentary of the times, an eloquent expression of life that can be heard and seen all over this ravaged isle.
I then came across the above flyer online and went along to try to put names and faces to the project. All I found was a small venue with a screen on the wall, upon which the video below was showing and it was being watched by some fellow confused visitors, and some lovely and cheerful but tight lipped employees handing out delicious soup and bread for free. Socialism in action.
I have my suspicions as to who is is behind THE CYCLE TO WORK SCHEME but in some ways I don’t want to know and am comfortable in the belief that this is simply an anonymous “fellow man” and “fellow woman” speaking, and as THURSDAY fantastically asserts “How much more visible do you want us to be?“.
I am not entirely sure just how many copies of the vinyl/poetry booklet combo exist but I know Probe Records, Liverpool sold out of theirs within a week (and in chatting about TCTWS in there the other day, I know they are getting more and that they too are enamoured by the project -“best local album we have heard for a while”- always a good sign from those fine purveyors of musical taste).
It also looks like they can be accessed via the link here:
Finally, if you want to watch the ‘WORKERS’ ELECTRONIC OPERA’ it is here, as evidently good socialists I am sure THE CYCLE TO WORK SCHEME wouldn’t object to me sharing.
If you would like to own a copy this wonderful artistic endeavour, Rush to avoid disappointment would be advice.
I am happy to share this with you, my brothers and sisters, as it was shared to me, so…
Review written by:
your fellow man.