.O.Rang. Lee Harris and Paul Webb’s post-isolationism cult on #neuguitars #blog

It’s night as I write to you. I have on my cd player the last piece of a personal micro cult that has been accompanying me since 1994 and that today finally sees its temporal and creative cycle completed. Today I finally want to talk to you about .O.Rang, a pioneering post rock duo, son of one of the most important pop bands of the 80’s English music scene: Talk Talk.

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On my player is playing the EP “Spoor”, dated 1994, the same year as the compilation “Ambient 4: Isolationism”, which I told you about some time ago and which I invite you to read again. From that double CD, branded Virgin, many drifts, many intuitions, many microcosms were born. The :O:Rang are one of these. .O.Rang were present with their song “Little Sister”.

I think it would be better, however, to start from the beginning, but I’ll tell you right away: in this post we will not talk about guitars. For the .O.Rang I will make an exception to the rules of this blog.

We are in 1988 and Talk Talk have just completed their album “Spirit of Eden”. The record was born marked by deep contrasts with the record company EMI, which was pressing for the group to take a more commercial direction. Vain contrasts because Mark Hollis, lead singer of the group, chose an increasingly experimental path. Bassist Paul Webb decided to part with the band to look for new paths, closer to his musical tastes. In 1991, after the release of the final album, “Laughing Stock”, Mark Hollis announced the dissolution of Talk Talk. Lee Harris the drummer, was reunited with his friend Paul Webb: the .O.Rang were born. It is possible to speculate that the last two Talk Talk albums and the work alongside Mark Hollis influenced their desire to produce experimental music and their intellectual and artistic ambitions. It is possible to think that, together, far from the perhaps overwhelming creative influence of the great Hollis, the two have been able to focus on their own personal poetics. It is possible to theorize that we wanted to continue on a different creative and evolutionary line. It is possible to dream that they still wanted to turn the page, leaving the world of pop, for unknown shores.

We are in 1994 and, as we have seen, .O.Rang participate in the compilation “Ambient 4: Isolationism” with a song with strong ethnic and tribal influences. Same influences that we find in their first album “Herd Of Instinct” which was released the same year.

Lee Harris and Paul Webb invite sixteen musicians to play and improvise with them, among them we find Graham Sutton (guitarist who had already founded the seminal Bark Psychosis, a band mentioned by Simon Reynolds in his essay on post-rock, friends of Lee Harris and then a drum and bass group, the Boymerang) and above all a talented young singer, a certain Beth Gibbons, future singer of the most famous trip hop group, Portishead. Musicians seem to be particularly fascinated by Caribbean and sub-Saharan African music and the theatrical staging of dark voodoo rites. The same aesthetic of the record and the photos it contains is a viaticum that almost refers to the last dramatic scenes of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now film.

1994 also saw the release of the EP “Spoor” defined in the notes as “Remnants of variation tracks re-appear on Herd of Instinct”. These are unreleased compositions, offspring of the same recording sessions, which remain in the same current as the main album.

We have to wait another two years, 1996, for the duo to come back with a new job: “Fields And Waves”. Album made with greater control and under the main supervision of Lee Harris, marking a shift towards more electronic and experimental sounds. The tribal exoticism of the first album is overshadowed by focusing on greater musical depth and a desire for introspection and meditation. The graphics accompanying the record also change: Paul Webb and Lee Harris are also passionate about photography and the “Fields And Waves” booklet is a succession of black and white and color photos with a very strong and intimate character. Like its predecessor, “Fields And Waves” is a commercial failure, but it has been critically applauded.

Then nothing more. A third album has long been announced by the band members, especially Lee Harris, on the official website .O.corner. However nothing has been disclosed so far and, as the years go by, the likelihood that “LP3” (or Loudhailer No. 19) was actually registered decreases, especially as their website .O.corner hasn’t been updated anymore. since July 31, 2004 and has disappeared from the web maps. Wikipedia informs us that a board game called .Go.rang, whose rules were created by Lee Harris, was produced in limited quantities and sold through the group’s website. This does not mean that the two members of the band have stopped all musical activities. Lee Harris collaborated in 2004 on the Bark Psychosis album, “Codename: Dustsucker” for which he co-wrote two tracks with Graham Sutton, while Paul Webb, under the pseudonym of Rustin Man, co-wrote his friend’s first solo album. Beth Gibbons, entitled “Out of Season” (where, moreover, Lee Harris also participated).

These are the facts, these are the poor informations I have been able to gather. Why shall Italk about .O.Rangs? Why shall I give them a post on a blog devoted to experimental guitar music? The reasons may be different and none of them really valid. Let’s start with the Talk Talk. It is unanimous that the artistic direction of the trio was firmly in the hands of the genius Hollis, but are we really sure that Harris and Webb only had a supporting role? The .O.Rangs can tell us a different story, a story where the other two also had something to say and, perhaps, even said it. After the adventure of Talk Talk they did not turn in on themselves, they were not satisfied with the royalties deriving from the sales of their previous records, but they wanted to get involved, continue their personal professional career, show that they can leave a sign. In this sense, their three albums were a success, they arrived at an intermediate time, when popular music was changing, implementing an intellectual retreat that would take it from post punk to post rock, passing through a form of ambient with dark and cold contents. The .O.Rang has been able to capture this frozen moment in some records with interesting contents and bearers of new ideas and possible developments. Then something must have got stuck in the creative mechanism. Something must have gone wrong and the ideas stayed where they started, like their records, frozen moments of possible developments that never took place. Maybe it’s better this way. The .O.Rang have followed the destinies of Talk talk and Mark Hollis, carving out a cult of niche enthusiasts. They have not changed, they have remained an example of unexpressed potential frozen over time. Collect them, you won’t regret it.

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