After a while you can become tired of watching the same old, same old. You get to a certain age having watched a plethora of performances and you are just in the comfort zone. You know what makes things tick, and what does not. Sometimes, though, you stumble upon something that just lifts you from deep within the rabbit’s fur and stimulates your senses. Minute Taker’s set at this year’s Refract:18 festival did exactly that.
Minute Taker – aka Ben McGarvey – made his entrance with a tape recorder. An old fashioned thing in today’s modern times of digital wizardry – and I thought ‘How cool is that?’. After all dear readers I am one of those kool kids from a bygone age of 80s raised on a diet of tape recorders. Minute Taker had not uttered a single word, or struck a single key on his piano or strummed a string on his carefully juxtaposed guitar. All he did was to hit the play button and we were all transfixed.
Of course, dear reader, such things tug at my heart strings and without wishing to sound like some old fart preaching to the younger generation about how they have it easy, it reminds me exactly how easy the younger generation have it and how in my day it was complicated mix tapes and now its playlists at your fingertips.
Minute Taker’s event was one of Refract:18 anticipated showings. An immersive gig from multi instrumentalist Ben McGarvey. Refract:18 being a ten day festival of experiential performance, music and events with the aim of challenging its traditional audience. With this in mind and given how much electronica influences McGarvey and the whole festival vibe, I was expecting something bold, vast, expansive with thumping electronic boom beats pulsating the fans.
It was anything but!
It was completely understated. A handful of people having taken their place in what was quite an austere setting. The Chambers in Sale was once upon a time a grand, stately room with oak paneled walls that used to play host to meetings of Trafford Council. Therein stood a solitary piano, adorning it was a synth, a loop station, a guitar, a xylophone and a percussion drum … and that tape recorder of course, all under a spotlight. This was going to be intimate and a raw exposure to Minute Taker and his setlist, make no mistake.
McGarvey promised us a mixed bag. A selection of his own songs from his albums, some new songs, cover versions and some songs from a concept album. And that’s what we got. We also got some chat from Ben in between his numbers, the kind of chat that is in keeping with his downbeat and folksy electronica.
I can see why Minute Taker has been described as ethereal. He is mesmerizingly celestial in his delivery. His songs feel at home in such grand settings and you find yourself drawn into a mystical world with a haunted feel and vibe. Indeed, there is much that is haunted about McGarvey’s music. His loops and beats are haunted. The tempo is haunted. The combination of synths are haunted. His guitar strumming is haunted. And his voice, its melody has a soothing dulcet tone, but speaks of the hauntedness of his subject matters.
And at times it is quite dark as it deals with themes of repression and schizophrenia to name but a few. There is light in the form of songs that come from his concept album that refer to a more cerebral outlook on nature and the world around us. Punctuated as ever are some wonderful renditions of 80s classics that include a sublime Eurythmics cover and an absolutely stunning version of Golden Brown by The Stranglers.
If anything sums up the fantastic talents of Minute Taker, then look no further than his stunning finale, a cover of a Pet Shop Boys classic. This is no paint by numbers, throw in an 80s classic that everyone loves, which sugar coats what he is about. No. Far from it. It is a wonderfully deconstructed piece of music that retains the spirit of the original but at the same time shows off the mercurial talents of McGarvey, as he builds from a few simple beats, encompassing all of his instrumentation and ends with a deafening drumbeat that has the audience utterly enraptured.
Verdict: Minute Taker takes us on a wonderful journey, full of wonderful haunted harmonies and downbeat folksy electronica beats, through his musical highlights, revisiting past albums, past projects, some new songs and some classic 80s cover versions.
What: Minute Taker
Where: Waterside Arts Centre Sale
When: 21st July 2018
Refract:18 runs from Thursday 19 to Saturday 28 July 2018. Tickets are on sale now.