Around five years ago I was introduced to a particular form of strange and wonderful music and word play called Edoddi as practised by the poet, musician and artist Moff Skellington. I had received information from Julia Adamson of Invisiblegirl about a batch of the latest releases from the label and one that caught my eye. mainly because of the very interesting cover art, and the title Gravy On A Plate Of Food, proved to be one of the most interesting albums I had heard in a long time. Since that introduction I have gone on to be an avid collector of the work of one of the most unique artists performing in the UK, if not the world, today.
Moff, whose given name is Andy Quayle, is an iconoclast blessed with a unique talent with words and music that defies convention and operates in a separate and quite distinct time continuum to the rest of the world of entertainment. His prolific and prodigious output, over twenty albums and one DVD since 1999, offers some of the most exciting and challenging work you are ever likely to hear. Aside from his musical endeavours he is also a gifted and talented visual artist who has exhibited his unique painting and drawings in many different locations. He has recently moved into the world of video to create a fascinating marriage of his paintings and music.
The vast majority of the Moff Skellington albums are home recordings, on which Andy sings, talks and plays a variety of instruments, including accordion, melodica, harmonicas, whistles, ukulele, guitar, huttyphone, stylophone, bodhran, jaw harp, kalimba, dulcimer, metronome, tenor horn, baritone euphonium, various percussion and elastic bands.. The results are then mixed and mastered to create amazing collections of songs and poems. Everything is recorded in real-time, there is no cut and paste, no sampling, no drum machines, in fact nothing artificial at all, except perhaps the stylophone.
Moff’s manifesto is simple and quite direct
“The chosen musical form is that of Edoddi, a species of folk music which celebrates the very individual and often skewed perceptions of the world engendered by modern life. Edoddi provides a refreshing alternative to the prescriptions and formulas of mainstream and “alternative” folk music. Edoddi philosophy: nothing is arbitrary. Make it up as you go along, it’s bound to be authentic!”.
I have been reviewing Moff’s albums on and off over the last five years and, by way of an introduction to strange and wonderful world of Moff Skellington, here is a selection of my thoughts on a selection of the releases.
The Corrosive Norm is the earliest of the four album Eddodi cycle released on Invisiblegirl and, in context, perhaps the most “experimental” of that collection. There are perhaps more reference points, well clearer ones at any rate, to folk and blues idioms here, whereas the others evoke some of Moff’s listening to other artists. None more so than “Under the Parish Lantern”, with its wailing blues harmonica for example. The opener “Flesh Owned Joy” is a rolling instrumental dominated by the squeeze box and chittering percussive sounds, and sets the scene somewhere in a smoke filled back room of a pub in the distant rural hillocks of Yorkshire. An alien swanee whistle sound gives it away as Skellington territory as a mutant blues emerges. The musical theme continues with the beautiful “Company of Sparrows”. The tempo is taken up a pace with the insistent “Tom Brown’s Schooldays” which focuses on people with “tallow legs”, this morphs into pure psychedelia towards the end leaving this listener wanting more. There is perhaps more of an introspective, or indeed contemplative, look at life here. I for one would love to meet the “vile pearly gobshite with the scrotum chin”. Moff’s strength here is his use of language to convey perhaps mundane matters to another place where more thought is given to the stuff of life. “Cage of Lifeless Feathers” another instrumental, deals in repetition, and grunting/clattering noises, as a harmonica picks out a simple refrain, and evokes a feeling of apprehension tinged with hope – the last 60 seconds or so a unique convulsion of sounds and rhythms. “Wyndham’s Marina” is a lurching march – one can imagine large farm yard animals slowly moving in time to this mesmeric rhythm.
Matters get a tad surreal with the multi-layered voices of “Supercigs”, dub echoes and distant whistles, and the reflective “Old Men dressed as babies” continues the Skellington schema of observation and commentary, in a doleful tone. This is furthered with a maddening waltz called “Gracie-Doll Effort”, which appears to continue the albums’ theme of older people. It is here that Moff most closely resembles the work of Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart. “My House” goes somewhere else completely with its distressed harp and guitar sounds, and multi-layered and filtered voices. A simple rock rhythm kicks off the dark edges of “Epinephrine” as “vocodered” vocals take Moff up and down a couple of octaves suggesting what was to come on the “Gravy on a plate of food” album, the rhythm is soon lost to a bubbling passage of disjointed percussive sounds as voices form a soup of aural pleasure. The mad walking bass of “The End of the World” is a light relief after the proceeding – one cannot help but smile at the joyous levity of this arrangement. The skipping “Arndale Warden” seems to suffer from the vocals perhaps being mixed too low at the start – however it picks up towards the end and the odd couplet of “Daffodills Nil – Antibiotics Five” needs some careful listening. Matters conclude with the wonderful “There’s nothing like a nice sit-down” perhaps the most radio friendly of the pieces. Of all the Moff albums this is the one that requires the most attention as there a great deal of detail within.
The dark days of January 2012 were brightened somewhat by the arrival of a The Pukes Of A Hot Cloister album. As usual there was a feast of lyrical athleticism, Moff plucks words out of the ether and re-arranges them in a completely unique and totally compelling way. This album is particularly full of memorable “Moffism’s”, too many to mention and all rather special, there is some degree of continuity from prior releases in parts, with several references to molecules, and the usual bovine references that are scattered across the albums, and the opening instrumental “House of New Bricks” is quoted in the words/music of the penultimate track “Four Peg Wooden Unit”. Two of the tracks “Time for Nervous Questions In The Pub” and “Confident of Pending Treats” formed part of the six song set Moff recorded for my “Reformation” radio show, the other four appearing on the previous years Embers from the Rapid Eye album, so there is some specific continuity between those two albums. As is usual with Moff you know what you are going to get – the difference with each album though is how he has progressed his art and which particular parts of his “dreamscape” he is addressing in this instance.
The opening “House of New Bricks” sets the scene with a stately waltz around the accordion with bluesy harp wailing – this soon transforms into the strange and somehow beautiful “Crap and Ugly Toys” which is Eddodi in its purest sense. From there on we are gently led through a journey of fascinating words and unique music. A contemporary “manifesto” of Moff’s work, whether it be his art or his music, described a reality comprising three interacting factors – octoberness, perfection and slapstick. Simply put these three elements , anticipation, entropy, and the essentially comedic nature of existence, intertwine to allow innovation, expression and interpretation. I am resisting the urge to release spoilers about the content of this album as I believe that the listener should absorb this marvellous work and draw their own conclusions from the text/sound. All I will say is that the other-worldliness of Moff’s output is never more apparent as it is here. He has always been unique. no one else is doing music like this – it just seems he has built on his work to date to create something rather special. Variety is the watchword here and it is all good. Comparisons, bench-marks, yardsticks etc are impossible so the listener needs to approach it from his/her perspective.
Thorny Conduits was the eighteenth album emerging from the hive of production at Uterus Cottage And as with all of the previous Moff product it is both unique and instantly recognisable. At the time Moff appeared to be a little concerned as the potential “musicality” of this latest artefact – I reassured him that, whilst there is a particular shift towards more obvious melodicism, there was still sufficient “eddodi/moff-ness” enthused/infused into it to reveal it as a genuine Skellington album. The thing that shines through with this release is more use of the squeeze-box , however the usual Moff home-made instrumentation is still in place creating that unique and playful sound. The use of ambient sounds, whether thorough the clicking of some alien insect or the swirling sound of a distressed synthetic wind, add colour and vibrancy to the serial nature of the riffs and melodies. Lyrically he still retains a fascinating use of language that marks his best work – whether it be “Spudback Soldiers”, “Birds Eating Berries” or indeed “A Despond Bucket”. There are a couple of shorter tracks (less than a minute) which provide for amusing interludes. Footwear appears to be theme running through a number of the presentations, a particular and peculiar outlook on the world , you have to listen to it to understand what I am going on about here. The variety of voices he manages to use also creates a sense of theatre which is a hallmark of the best of his work. A case in point is the utterly marvellous “Hank Marvin’s Slippers” which manages to distill a cocktail of Frank Zappa, Half Man Half Biscuit, post-punk, klezmer and eddodi in a fantastic and maddening other worldly dance of pure magic.
The 2013 album, The Guild of Distant Relatives, album finds Mr Skellington is in fine form again, with his usual collection of sideways-on looks at the world. The great man advised me at the time that he considered this album to be a 4/4 percussive “dance-o-tronic” selection of pieces. In the most part the description is correct, we have fourteen slices of pure Eddodi varying from up tempo and bouncy, to slowish and ambient. The use of non-traditional instrumentation is perhaps more evident than in the previous three releases, and Moff reflects a more avant-garde approach musically whilst sounding a little more accessible in terms of the words. My immediate thoughts revolved around comparisons with Talking Heads, The Residents and Pere Ubu given the other worldly nature of some of the material. The use of spoken word is also perhaps more apparent. This is uniquely English, and steadfastly northern, but in terms of subject matter, which varies from bags of compost, shadowy figures that inhabit moorlands, and a dead person that follows their killer around, it inhabits a range of different places in your own mind’s eye. I’m reluctant to single out specific tracks as the whole album is excellent but I will point out a few. “Bulking Up On Special Custards” finds Moff getting into a funky groove with a set of lyrics which, as usual, defy convention, but are immediately memorable. “Shallows Windows In the Ice Reveal” enters a parallel universe where beacons of intelligent rust block carriageways and people sip Staffordshire Tea. “The Harryhausen Bounce” has an amazing set of guitar riffs which would not have been out-of-place on “Trout Mask Replica”. The opening two tracks “My Upholstered Flask” and “Hiding from Mrs Maynard” are remarkably good also and a good place to start if you want to receive your first dose of Eddodi. This album is in the great tradition of luminaries such as Don Van Vliet, Ivor Cutler, David Thomas, and Salvador Dali , essential listening for people who love music and art that does not fit in with the mainstream.
As an introduction to Moff’s work the compilation album “Variety Bandstand” can be found at Bandcamp, it contains a selection of tracks from the albums Gliding Through Stone, Embers From The Rapid Eye, The Pukes of a Hot Cloister and Thorny Conduits
With three new albums and an EP recently released on German Shepherd , a trio of recent successful live performances, and a growing reputation, the time seems right to make a huge fuss about this unique and very special artist.
This overview hopefully marks a point in time where Moff’s genius begins to reach a wider audience.
All items unless marked are released via the Uterus Cottage label – all of the back catalogue, excluding the Invisiblegirl releases, will be re-released on German Shepherd over the next year.
- Eddodi (1999)
- Moff Skellington and Raildogs – The Main Road Threatening Invasion (2003)
- Little Shoes – Ambushed By A Vacuum (2005)
- The Corrosive Norm (2007) Invisiblegirl
- Sperm Jingle Harvest (2008) Invisiblegirl
- Gravy On A Plate Of Food (2009) Invisiblegirl
- A Book Of Fretful Chums (2009) Invisiblegirl
- Blues House and Titty Bottle (2o09) Invisiblegirl
- Gliding Through Stone (2010)
- Embers from the Rapid Eye (2010)
- The Pukes of a Hot Cloister (2012)
- Thorny Conduits (2012)
- The Guild of Distant Relatives (2012)
- Skegness (2013)
- Scribnalls (DVD) (2014)
- Villages of Bicycle Rain (2014) German Shepherd
- Marine Sugars (Locally Glimpsed) (2014) German Shepherd
- The Corduroy Bridge (2015) German Shepherd
- The Corkscrew Tongue (2015) German Shepherd
- Under The Cobweb Sea (2015) German Shepherd