Andrew POPPY (b.1954)
On Zang Tuum Tumb
CD 1: The Beating of Wings (The Object is a Hungry Wolf (1985) [12:26]; 32 Frames for Orchestra (1985) [8:35]; Listening In (1985) [13:02]; Cadenza for Piano and Electric Piano [14:31]; Inside the Wolf (theme for Channel 4’s The Tube) [3:15]; The Impossible Net [16:27]; Listening In (Re-modelled) [3:52])
CD 2: Alphabed (A Mystery Dance) (The Amusement (7 inch edit) [3:15]; 45 Is [20:37]; Goodbye Mr G [14:33]; The Amusement (12 inch) [7:23]; Kink Konk Presto [4:50]; East Fragment [6:02]; Kink Konk Adagio [6:05])
CD 3: Under the Son (The Sequence [8:36]; The Passage (Parts 1, 2, 3) [26:05]; Sometimes it Rains [3:40])
Performers not identified by reviewer
rec. details not given
Full price
ZTT 186CDX [3 CDs: 73:08 + 63:44 + 38:21]

Andrew Poppy is probably the least known of the once-new English experimental school of composers, which includes Graham Fitkin, Lawrence Crane, Howard Skempton and the late Patrick Morris, amongst others. His neglect is a mystery to me for this is very approachable music and a recent show at King’s Place, with his new band, proved just what we are missing. This three CD set is a retrospective and most welcome it is. An LP and CD of the first four pieces was issued in 1985 and that was a revelation, for here is a new kind of minimalism. The Object is a Hungry Wolf is a fine example of Poppy’s work, using the well known language of American minimalism but allowing himself time for the interpolation of lyrical material, and if this holds up the minimal movement who cares? This is a very exciting piece, full of chunky reeds and rampant keyboards, with strings and voices. At first sight this might seem rather too familiar - you might feel that Steve Reich is in there somewhere - but he isn’t - for Poppy creates a sound entirely his own. 32 Frames for Orchestra is a thrusting, aggressively forward-moving, piece for a largish ensemble, brilliantly played here under the composer’s direction. There is a version Poppy made for the Graham Fitkin Band but this is the original and it’s the one to have for its sheer momentum. Accept no substitutes!

Listening In is a very funky chamber piece for trumpet (Bruce Nockles), guitar (Jack Hughes) and keyboards, samples and voice (Poppy). Drum led and it’s got an obsession about it which keeps the music moving onwards. The Cadenza for Piano and Electric Piano (Glyn Perrin and Poppy) is a study in the most minimal of repetition, a simple up-and-down arpeggio. Inside the Wolf uses Fairlight and Synclavier Samples - as I never watched The Tube I had never heard this before - I suppose that that says something about me! The Impossible Net claims to use the same orchestra as 32 Frames but you’d be hard pushed to guess that was so for the first few minutes. It never obviously becomes orchestral music - there’s a lot of keyboard writing, as well as what sounds like sampled guitar and drums. This is a very strange sound-world. Finally, Listening In (Re-modelled) another exploration of unusual territory. This makes a suitably upbeat end to the first CD.

The second disc, Alphabed, was issued as a CD and LP in 1987 comprising the second, third and fourth tracks heard here. The material is more pop-orientated than The Beating of Wings, but it’s pop filtered through the knowledge of Glass and Reich. That said, Poppy’s music owes nothing to either of the Americans except a passing nod in their direction for the processes used. The sound-world here is clear and precise, with a nice sense of humour showing through. The brilliant minimalist conception that is 45 Is possesses great energy and it’s full of interesting changes and instrumentation - good use of voices too. To balance the extreme energy of 45 Is, Goodbye Mr G is nicely laid back, but it still has lots of subversive things going on, not least the constant drumming, and the spectre of an electric guitar. The Amusement throws us back into funk and repetition and a marvellously insistent bass. The last three pieces run together as if they were sections of a larger score. Kink Konk Presto is a brass and rhythm -based driving fast piece. East Fragment is a piece which I can only describe as being static whilst incorporating some movement, while Kink Konk Adagio continues in the vein of East Fragment but with slower funk material added. This is a very exciting CD, which shows several different sides to Poppy’s talent.

The final disk, Under the Son, here receives its first issue. It’s short on playing time but big on substance. The Sequence features the usual Poppy mix of drums and rhythm section, over which a male voice intones what sounds like nonsense words. It’s the most “60s” of the pieces, trancelike and simple in its effect. The Passage (Parts 1, 2, 3) is the longest work here and it is fully developed, the growth being splendidly worked out, and the whole making a very satisfying composition. This is a good place to start for it speaks in a straightforward language and is easy to understand, despite the terse argument Poppy creates. No bad thing for a contemporary composer. Finally, Sometimes it Rains, a short rhythmic piece brings the sequence to a joyful close.

This is a very exciting set of CDs, of music by one of the lesser-known, but certainly not lesser talented, British composers at work today. Poppy’s work is unique, and although he uses minimalist forms he has forged his own style and voice. The presentation is excellent, in a sleeve which opens to reveal the three CDs and a very useful booklet. This is not to be missed.

It can be bought from Andrew Poppy's website.

Bob Briggs