ENTRY DETAILS DATE: Thu, 4 June 2009 TIME: 1.35pm COMMENTS: We’ve been sailing for over a month – well done everyone. The rum’s on me! WATCH LEADER: Smally LOCATION INFORMATION FROM: Definitely right round the world if we can work out how to turn this ship around TOWARDS:Puerto Rico COURSE: Rectified, there’s a big wheel in the bridge that apparently when you turn it makes the ship turn too LATITUDE: Oh just check the bridge LONGITUDE: And repeat COMPASS: Going South VESSEL INFORMATION BOAT SPEED: Quickening now the engine is working BOAT PPD: Encouragingly steady ENVIRONMENTAL INFO SKY CONDITION: Calm after the storm, cloudy but with some spells of diamondiferous sunshine WIND SPEED: Sails are billowing, s’a good sign I guess WIND DIRECTION: Southways DEPTH: Getting deeper by the minute CREW: 16, 1 ghost, 1 pelican, possibly rat DJs, various guests PRESS COVERAGE: See below
Now that the storms of the weekend have blown over and I’ve time to sit out in the sun, I thought I’d publish in full a proposed article by Fin McCann of Indie Fart Magazine on the watery disaster movie that was the first and probably only performance by The Quixodelic Orchestra.
Smally, please find enclosed fax copy of proposed article for publication in July’s edition of Indie Fart Magazine. If there are any factual inaccuracies then I’d be grateful if you could highlight them and return them to me. Thanks – Fin.
Since I started working for Indie Fart I’ve received a LOT of strange mail. Free blow jobs for glowing reviews (three times I’ve been offered this and declined them all), shares in a mythical record label (they never returned my call), 2 weeks accommodation in Uzbekistan to run a feature on the burgeoning electromod scene (I’m still weighing this one up), and an offer to play drums on a tour of Wales (incidentally in case anyone else is thinking of offering me a drumming slot to make up the numbers in their band, I have no rhythm). The strangest letter I’ve ever received though was lying on my doorstep when I woke up last Monday lunch-time. Unstamped and covered in what looked suspiciously like bird shit, the return address on the back was marked:
SOMEWHERE IN THE ATLANTIC OCEAN
I read it while eating a bowl of Coco Pops and drinking a mug of strong coffee. The letter inside was a carefully hand printed request for me to attend a concert on a ship drifting on the Atlantic, full of musicians and artists and “street urchins” going under the collective name of The Utica Flower Company. The concert in question was to be “a one-off gig on deck in a mad storm using some of the most obscure instruments imaginable”. There was a telephone number to call and an afterthought of a p.s at the bottom of the page telling me that “transport to and from the ship will be provided”. Who knows what was going on in my head that afternoon, but I immediately picked up the phone and called my editor. As always he sounded sceptical, said instead that he wanted me to fly out to Boston to cover an up-and-coming band called “Magic Magic” that he’d overheard “people in the know” raving about. I suggested that if transport was indeed being provided that I could potentially haggle the return part of the journey to deliver me to the the other side of the Atlantic, saving the magazine the cost of a flight. The merest suggestion of cost savings changed his mind and he agreed to pay me for the ship article as well if it was any good. “Are you sure it’s safe Fin? It sound’s pretty suspect”, he said wisely.
I called The Utica Flower Company. After 20 rings and me starting to think this is a hoax, a girl’s voice answers. “Hello? (muffled speaking to someone in the background) Hey, the phone’s working… I’ve never heard the phone ring. We should sample it.”
“Hi, my name’s Fin McCann from Indie Fart Magazine. I’m replying to the letter…”
“…about attending The Quixodelic Orchestra gig… on the ship… the 31st of May it says here in the letter”.
“Oh”, she says and whispers something inaudible. “No, we don’t know anything about that. Sorry um… I forgot your name”.
“Fin. Fin McCann”.
“Fin, right. You say a gig on the ship? On this ship?”
“I think so. I got a letter this morning. You don’t know anything about a gig in a storm with err… obscure instruments? This is The Utica Flower Company I’m speaking to, right?” (I was starting to think at this point that maybe I’d missed something in the letter and was making a fool of myself, or else had dialled a wrong number).
“Yeah, that’s us. Well it sounds like something Smally might come up with… hang on…” – more muffled conversation, someone bursts out laughing in the background and says something like “I’ll go ask he’s at the ping pong waiting for the ball nine days”. A few seconds pass and she says, “So you’re coming out to the ship?”
“Hopefully yes”, I tell her.
“Cool”, she says, “how are you getting here? We’ve only got one pelican”.
“Sorry?” (I wouldn’t swear to it, but I’m 99% sure she definitely said “pelican”).
“Oh hang on. Sorry about this Fin.” I think at this point she puts her hand over the receiver, there is silence for a few seconds before she comes back. “Okay, so it turns out there is a gig – news to me, but I’m just… well basically part-botanist, part-engineer. I grow hybrid flowers. Anyway, Smally says that they’ll pick you up on Glasgow Green Sunday morning at 9am”.
“Great. I err… Glasgow Green’s a pretty big place?”
She laughs. “He says you’ve to watch the sky, you can’t miss it. Oh, Fin could you do me a favour? I really need someone to pick me up a couple of -”
The line goes dead and I stare at the telephone in amazement. What the fuck am I letting myself in for?
I was honestly expecting some kind of giant pelican to appear in the sky over Glasgow Green, but in fact it was but a helicopter with a moustached middle aged pilot called Jim at the controls. The appearance of the small chopper on a cloudy morning landing in the middle of the park caused something of a stir amongst the few locals who were walking their dogs, or futilely trying to jog themselves away from the grave. I glanced at my watch – 9 o’clock on the dot, picked up my travel bag and loped towards it. The pilot waved in my direction and over the whoop of slowing copter blades I’m pretty sure he shouted “Indie Fart?”
I nodded and jumped up into the empty seat beside him – have never flown in a helicopter before and the tics of nerves were fluttering in my guts. I introduced myself and he pumped my hand firmly, grinning. “Pleased to meet you Fin, I’m Jim. Let’s get you to out to the ship then shall we?” I strapped myself in and tried my best not to look down as we lurched up into the morning sky.
It was an eleven hour flight across the Atlantic. With Jim’s pleasant reluctance to engage in much more than short bursts of conversation, and the never-ending greeny blue vista of constant ocean beneath and before us, the flight dragged. Somehow I managed to get a few morsels of information from him – he’d originally been employed by an organisation called The Daydream Generation back in 2007 for a live virtual online music festival, transporting one of the presenters to various locations around the globe for live shows. “That was the brief anyhow” he said, “but actually I only ended up taking one of them up to the local High Street to get some bottles of beer. Was definitely the easiest grand I’ve made in my life…”
Now Jim had been employed by The Utica Flower Company on an annual salary that he wouldn’t divulge, but I gathered from the way he spoke that it was fairly substantial. “My remit is pretty simple – be on call 24/7 to transport people to and from the ship, crew members who need to get back to the mainland for gigs, journalists like yourself, potentially tourist parties later in the year. I can’t complain – been based in Bermuda for the last week, plenty of sunshine and my services have not exactly been on high demand. But they seem pleased – certainly beats the hot air balloons and pelicans”.
There it was again. “Pelicans?” I asked, trying not to sound too keen for more information.
Jim shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “Truth is there’s not much I can tell you about what’s been happening on that ship. Personally I’ve never set foot on it.”
Thanks to us switching time zones, we reached The Mardi at 4.30pm in the afternoon. The sky was a foreboding grey and the winds whipped the helicopter from side to side. Jim didn’t seem at all concerned and when I commented that the weather was getting “a bit hairy”, he merely laughed. I didn’t see the ship until we were almost upon her, a surprisingly large wooden vessel, black and white with crude go faster flames painted down the side, and three giant masts looming up in the gloom. I grinned nervously as we circled down towards it. “I always thought the sun shone permanently in the Caribbean” I said.
“Mostly it does”, said Jim, “but when there’s a storm, you’ll know all about it. Okay young man, this is where you get off – see that ladder in the back? Just a case of opening the door and throwing it down onto the deck. I’ll hover in as close as I can.”
I looked deep into his eyes half-expecting to see some sign that he was winding me up, but quickly realised that he wasn’t. Reluctantly I clambered into the back, and opened the door. The wind instantly whirled around the inside of the helicopter, stinging fierce gusts and rain and I nervously peeked out as I threw the rope ladder down in the direction of the deck. “Good to meet you Fin, I’ll be seeing you again tomorrow morning. Boston I understand?”
At this point I was seriously tempted to call this bizarre assignment quits, pull the ladder in and tell him to take me to Boston immediately, but I’d come this far and the storm appeared to be getting worse. I’d take my chances swimming from a sinking ship over being tossed around in a little tin helicopter at the mercy of the wind and sudden bolts of forked lightning any day. I threw my bag down watching it land on the wet deck some thirty feet below us and followed it down, clinging to the wooden rungs of the ladder for dear life. The buzzing of rotary blades and howling of wind combined like a tremendous wailing cacophony of sound in my ears and already soaked to the bone I finally felt my toes touching the hard surface of the deck beneath my feet. I stood there for a second staring up into the mist and rain and watched the copter pulling up and away, the ladder trailing behind it like a billowing snake.
I get my bearings, sling the bag over my shoulder and head towards the door of a raised area at the back of the ship. I’m pretty sure that the technical name for this part of a shipping vessel is not “raised area”, nor is it the “back” of the ship. Is it the stern maybe? Or the bow? Aft? Whatever it’s called, the door is firmly locked and when I press my face to the windows I see that all the lights are off and there is nobody there, just the shadows of what appears to be two enormous computers switched off. I suddenly get the eerie feeling that I’ve been dropped off on a ghost ship. Aside from the raging wind, crashing waves, and creaking of wood as the ship lurches from side to side, I can’t hear any sign of life, let alone see any. Shouldn’t there be somebody up here pulling on ropes, adjusting sails and doing whatever else sailors are supposed to do in a storm? My mind flickers back to the letter lying in the warmth and safety of my city flat and the request to join a ship “drifting” in the Atlantic Ocean. “Hello?” I yell above the wind, “Is there anybody there?”
No good, even if there was they wouldn’t hear me over the racket of the storm. As a great breaker surges against the side flooding the main deck with seawater, I spy a hatch on the floor behind me, pull it open and am pleased to at least find working electrical bulbs lighting my way down a metal staircase that leads me to an enclosed crossroad of possibility. My boots clunk on the wooden floor below and I stand there dripping looking left along the main corridor with what appears to be at least four cabin doors and still no sign of life. “Hello?” I call again, but still nothing.
I turn right instead and enter a small room with a table tennis table verging on being too big for it, an old arcade machine lying lifeless in the corner, and two black speakers mounted high on the wall to my right. I’m about to walk around the table to go through the door directly opposite me, when I notice the ping pong ball. It hangs motionless in the air to my right above the table, a floating white plastic orb that looks like it has been captured in the still frame of a special effects driven film. I walk round the table to my right looking for gossamer threads that might bind it there, but no. “It’s floating…” I hear myself say incredulously, finding it impossible to believe my own eyes.
I must have stood there staring at the ping pong ball transfixed for upwards of a minute, too afraid to move it in case this was actually happening – an inanimate object defying gravity – and not just a trick of my mind. Soon as I could find one of the crew the first thing I’d be asking about was what was going on in this room, even though I had a hunch that nobody in the world would be able tell me what was going on. I remember for the first time in my life I felt like Dylan’s Mr. Jones. Through the door at the far side of the room and away from the floating ping pong ball I entered a much wider and longer area that appeared to be some kind of communal living quarters. Two large tables with as many as twelve or fourteen plastic seats had been pushed together at the centre of the room and there were three or four near empty plates and cans of Irn Bru left lying on top of them (as a Scotsman my heart leapt at the familiar sight of the orange and blue crumpled tins). As I moved towards a giant notice board on the wall at the far end of the room, feeling the ship lurch as another giant wave crashed against the port holes to my right, I saw that the plates were filled with what appeared to be lettuce and cigarette ends. The notice board has one solitary sheet of paper pinned to it reads:
Hall of Heroes
(Help put together a list of our collective influences for an aesthetically pleasing collage of framed pictures – info is the comments section)
no deadline but we’ll be getting to it soon
1000 Album Cover March
(Help put together a collective pool of potential artwork for record sleeves. Details of how to upload to the Flickr account can be found here.)
ongoing until we reach 1000 (we’re currently at 70)
Collective Recording Project
(Just shuffle on down to the Sound Lab for info on various UFC recording projects)
ongoing – no deadline
Experimental Collective Record
(30 minute sound explorations to be patched together into one randomly incredible 30 minute fix)
(A catalogue of UFC videos for viewing pleasure)
(We’re going to do to books and writers what we do to records and musicians – let us know if anyone knows any writers out there looking to get published)
(For the Company t-shirts)
Annual Ship Ping Pong Championship
(all in good time)
(more info to follow… probably November 09)
(Putting the Company song words into technicolour)
It looks to me like there is an awful lot going on for a ship that appears to have no people on it. I walk on through another door and enter the ship’s kitchen. One thing that surprises me about the ship is the condition and quality of the fixtures and fittings. With the exception of the cigarette and lettuce platters, everything gleams, somehow combining modern design functions without taking away from the other worldly feel of the old ship. The kitchen looks immaculate as I walk through towards the next door on this seemingly never ending ship – I’m half-expecting to open a door and discover the entire crew huddled together fearing that we’re going to sink in this storm. The door leading from the kitchen is locked and I study the curious pattern of assorted shiny animal stickers on it that appear to fashion the words “ON ATE”. Just when I start to notice an incredible overpowering aroma of tropical fruits clearly wafting through from the other side, I feel a tug at the back of my damp trouser leg and look down.
Jesus. I think I shrieked like a little girl at the site of the pelican staring up at me. It was by no means the giant air-bus of the pelican of my imagination, but it was a pelican nonetheless, and as far as I could tell the only form of life on board the ship. It gave a funny little squawk and began to hop down another ladder leading away from the kitchen into darkness below. I peered down into the gloom and could vaguely make out its shadow at the bottom as it squawked again. “You want me to follow you?” I couldn’t quite believe that I’d said the words out loud, but blatantly it did.
“This is insane”, I muttered as I carefully climbed down after it, into a room that was almost completely absent of light and the pelican squawked again somewhere beneath me as if in agreement. As my eyes adjusted I could make out the outlines of various benches and boxes, unidentifiable machinery cluttering the room. I swear something moved in the furthest recess of shadows somewhere to my left, attempting to conceal itself in the darkest of the shadows. “Hello? Is there someone there?” – I heard my own voice reverberating around and stood still listening, but again there was nothing except for the moans of the ship and the faraway sound of waves.
The pelican tapped in the darkness ahead of me against the outline of a door, causing me to jump a little, before letting out another squawk. I stepped cautiously towards it, senses heightened, found the cold metal handle in the dark and pulled it open letting the artificial lights of what appeared to be some kind of engine room come pouring in. The pelican hopped on ahead and I followed, past a blue box with the name COMMANDER emblazoned across it along with what appeared to be crumbling stains of some kind of food. If this really was the ship’s engine then it was without a doubt the strangest engine I’d ever seen. I followed the pelican again back to a parallel corridor beneath the upper level where I’d first climbed down through the hatch from the main deck, with numbered doors on either side. The pelican was standing outside door number 3 looking back at me and then up at the handle. “You want me to open this?” I asked.
It squawked, inclining its head to one side, and I turned the handle and poked my head around the door. The small bunkroom had two beds at the far end of it and was littered with empty bottles, cigarette packets, discarded clothes, paper. In the middle of the floor sitting hitting a big silver keyboard was a guy in a green skull mask, green t-shirt and navy blue trousers, with giant headphones wrapped around his ears. He seemed completely oblivious to my presence and that of the pelican (though when I looked behind me the pelican was nowhere to be seen). I cleared my throat and said “Hello?”
Green skull’s fingers stopped in mid air above the keys and he looked up, lifting one of the ear-pieces. “Hi, I’m Fin McCann from Indie Fart Magazine… I’ve come to write a feature on The Quixodelic Orchestra gig tonight?” I told him.
“Ah”, he said, muffled behind the smiling mask, “You should report to our Communications Officer”. He looked back down at the keyboard and was about to drop the headphone back onto his ear as if this information he’d imparted would somehow make perfect sense to me.
“Erm, hello? I – err, it’s just that I’ve pretty much walked the length of the ship and there doesn’t seem to be anyone else here… there was this pelican, and a ping pong ball… I – do you know where I can find the Communications Officer?” I asked.
“Have you tried the Communications Room?” (at this point I noticed his Scottish accent).
“Which one’s the Communications Room?”
“It’s the one with the two super computers”, he said, “… although to be honest I think you’ll have trouble finding him anyway. It’s like that round here. People come and go and vanish into… spaces, holes. Secret rooms possibly. If I was you I’d just make yourself at home, find an empty cabin, or somewhere you can pass the time until the gig tonight”.
“So there’s going to be a concert on the main deck – in the storm?” I asked, finding it difficult to repress the notes of disbelief in the question.
“Hopefully. Is it bad up there?”
“Well it’ll be difficult to stay up there for any length of time without being swept overboard”, I told him honestly. I wanted to ask him who was steering the ship, what I was doing there, about the ping pong ball and the pelican, about the animal stickers and that dark room – but I sensed that he wasn’t happy with me standing there. I thought about asking him what he was recording and if he had anything to do with The Quixodelic Orchestra, but thought better of it. “Okay, well thanks anyway, if anyone is looking for me I’ll be waiting in the big room with the chairs where the notice board is…”
He shrugged his shoulders, mumbled something like “If you see any ice cream, don’t eat it”, replaced the headphones and began hitting the keys again as I closed the door behind me.
I couldn’t help look at my watch again. 11.43pm GMT – meant it must have been 7.43pm in Bermuda. Technically twilight, but it might as well have been midnight, the sky outside the window was black and the storm had slowly but surely gathered momentum as the day had gone on, the ship now being tossed from side to side like a toy boat in a jacuzzi. Since leaving the strange green skull masked guy my day had dragged. I’d wandered back along the corridor and found my way back to the communal living quarters on the upper deck, pulled a couple of plastic chairs together and using my bag for a pillow I tried to get some shut eye. I must have slept on and off for a couple of hours, being woken either by graphic dreams of floating faceless people and pelicans wearing lettuce spectacles trying to hump my leg, or else the ship suddenly lurching to a point where once I was convinced it was about to tip over. Eventually I was woken by a female voice, looked up and saw a young woman padding barefoot in the direction of the kitchen. “Hey”, she said.
“Hi”, I croaked.
“You want something to eat?” she asked me.
“Sure”, I said, cheered immensely by the friendly offer.
She came back a couple of minutes later and sat down opposite me, sliding a plate of lettuce and cigarette ends across the table in my direction. I stared at it blankly, while she uncorked a bottle with her teeth. “Rum?” she asked, proffering the open bottle in my direction.
I was speechless and she shrugged happily to herself, taking my silence as a “No”. She took a long swig and began to pick at the lettuce on her own ash-encrusted plate. “You’ve got to give Bobby credit for the thought that goes into his dishes”, she told me. “You should have tasted the pizza he made a couple of weeks ago. This lettuce and cigarettes isn’t up to much… but it’s a lot better than a two week diet of mash”.
I watched her laughing quietly to herself. “Is there really going to be a gig tonight?” I asked her.
She held her hands out in the universal gesture of your guess is as good as mine. “So are you one of the crew then?” she asked me, taking another hit from the rum.
I laughed nervously. “No – I’m a journalist. I was invited to write an article about The Quixodelic Orchestra”.
“Oh”, she said. “Who are they?”
“They’re supposed to be playing. Tonight. I got a letter. I was picked up by your helicopter this morning in Glasgow -”
“There’s a helicopter?” she asked me, “Wow, I never knew there was a helicopter”.
I continued to watch her poking the last of the lettuce round the plate with her fork in silence. She seemed a million miles away, dreaming of something, but definitely not completely at the table in the moment with me. “Oh well”, she finally said smiling and stood up.
“There’s a ping pong ball floating in the air next door”, I told her.
“Yeah”, she said, “I know”. And with that she about turned and padded back out of the room, the rum bottle dangling down from her hand.
Two hours later and there I was, a couple of minutes from the supposed gig and since she’d left I hadn’t seen a single other soul. Undoubtedly I was the victim of some kind of prank, but still I put down the Sudoku puzzle book that I’d packed in my bag and been working on, and made my way through to the kitchen and the ladder leading up to the main deck. I wanted to see for my own eyes the sight of nobody up there. The morning and me getting off this damned ship couldn’t come quick enough. I lifted the hatch above me with the wind and rain howling around my head and looked out across the deck.
I was genuinely shocked to see a solitary figure standing at the far end blowing what appeared to be bubbles from a trumpet. I could barely hear it over the shrieking wind and cymbal-like crash of waves, but it sounded like he wasn’t hitting a single note, blowing low flat guttural breaths and very occasionally a sharp squeak. The bubbles it blew were about the size of a human head, instantly exploding on the wind, streaming for seconds and vanishing into thin air. The guy who was blowing looked like he was in his late twenties or very early thirties, with short dark hair, glasses and face a blur of rain and cascading waves that arced menacingly over the sides of the ship. He looked like the archetypal drowned rat in the now familiar green t-shirt and navy blue trousers that I’d seen both Green Skull and the girl wearing. Several times it looked like he was going to fall over as the waves hit hard and a single peal of lightning temporarily lit up the sky, followed by a primal volley of close thunder, but each time he slipped and slid and regained his feet, grabbing hold of ropes and railings continuing to blow whenever he righted himself.
After a couple of minutes I couldn’t watch anymore. With the storm raging it was just about unbearable even to be halfway exposed to it, but somehow even worse was having to endure the utterly pointless and hopelessly weird scenario of watching the bubble trumpeter play. I pulled the hatch closed above my head and shook the storm from my hair back at the foot of the ladder in the kitchen. For a moment I didn’t really know how I felt about anything. Some things in the universe are just simply too strange to comprehend. I felt like some kind of soldier who has lived through a great battle and just wanted to sleep his last night in the jungle away before being airlifted to safety the following morning. I thought about how the fuck I was going to explain this to anyone, never mind my editor. And I tried my very best not to think about the bubble trumpeter up on deck as I fell back into my makeshift plastic chair bed, closing my eyes and hoping that time would be kind to me and tick by quickly. Next stop reality just so long as this ship doesn’t sink overnight.
for Indie Fart Magazine
Here is my drafted response, that I will be running past the Communications Team before mailing it.
On behalf of the Company I would like to thank you for visiting our project and for the review of The Quixodelic Orchestra.
I would like to point out the following discrepancies and insist on the following changes in your wordy and at times directionless account of the ship:
1 I think you are mistaken about the gig. Perhaps you misread the time on your watch and only saw the bubble trumpet warm up act. I watched the whole thing from Crow’s Nest 2 and at one point counted as many as 20 musicians being thrown around on the main deck playing some of the most soulful and expressive collectivised melodies on obscure instruments that I have ever had the honour of hearing.
2 I’d prefer if possible you remove all references to the floating ping pong ball. Those of us who enjoy the temporary relief of kicking back in the Recreation Room can ill-afford to have an influx of scientific anoraks clamouring to study the curious phenomena that we are experiencing. For a start there would not be enough room to play if a large audience were to form, and moreover it would unquestionably be off-putting for our ping pong players who are gearing up for the proposed annual champingpongship.
3 Please also remove all references to the pelican you encountered on board The Mardi. The full reasons are complicated, but to simplify things let’s just say it would get us into a whole heap of shit should anyone find out we stall have one.
4th and finally – My main objection to the article is that you paint us as being like some kind of disorganised bunch of weirdos and belittle the project at every available opportunity. On the contrary we are arguably a pretty decent collective entity comprising of many talented and decidedly nice individuals. The circumstances you have found us in might be a long way away from anything resembling reality, but this is the inevitable by-product of several years working tirelessly to champion the little guy on the street, to discover gems beneath the bottom rung, and to put it out there without any form of financial recompense.
That said, no press is bad press and we need all the help we can get, so if you could kindly run with those changes then we’d be very grateful. And if you’re not doing anything next year then I’d cordially like to invite you to accompany us on whatever our next adventure might be. For now I’m thinking “The Utica Flower Company In Space”, but a year is a long time and much can change in between now and wherever then may be.
All the Georgie