Could he resist it, that was the question, and no was the
Calendric high-noon for a surreal one-off battle ...
Two teams, two captains, two halves of 45 minutes
- the big fight format adapted for a ding-dong with plenty cultural baggage.
Voice of the People vs. Orquestra Mahatma
A few heavy tackles, a couple of yellow cards, one or two
square-ups, some blistering runs, lots of mounting tension and
at the end of the day three goals.
And when Iran's second sailed in so gracefully, half-chip half-lob, the place went nuts. And the replays - the last two or three bars half-tempo from several angles - had everyone in hysterics. We had everything but bad pies and B*vril. A gem.
Enjoy Ben Watson's review of the match below.
You can see some undercover filming by VJ Flickering Light posted on Youtube by spanking these links:
USA vs Iran Part 1 USA vs Iran Part 2
Posted on the Babel Label's [now offline] Diverse News, Issue 10:
Billy Jenkins vs Orquestra Mahatama
at TJ's Woolwich on the occasion of the USA vs Iran World Cup match Sunday 21 June 1998.
Ben Watson reports.
SINCE the sole basis for scientific musical criticism is the socio-musicology of Theodor W. Adorno, the news that Billy Jenkins had organised a gig to coincide with the Iran versus USA World Cup football match immediately had this critic scanning the august dialectician's essay The Schema Of Mass Culture for hot tips.
There Adorno writes: 'Sportification' has played its part in the dissolution of aesthetic semblance. Sport is the imageless counterpart to practical life. And the more aesthetic images participate in this imagelessness, the more they turn into a form of sport themselves.
The Frankfurter's words coursed like mustard through my veins! Having long deemed Billy Jenkins a bulwark of obdurate resistance to 'sportification' - the reduction of jazz musicianship to competitive virtuosity, the reduction of popular entertainment to competitive chart-placings - his choice of gig intrigued me.
Refusing the ivory-tower idealism which allows certain (self-professed) Adornians to ignore popular culture in favour of replaying old albums by Anton Webern, and instead adhering to a dialectical materialism that insists that only interaction with the world can tell us about it, I hot-footed it to Woolwich.
Alighting at the Cyprus stop-off point on the Docklands Light Railway, I passed the great stretch of water that is the Royal Albert Docks to my right, over which a setting sun was casting a fetid aura, and breathed dust as London City Airport aeroplanes revved their jets. After asking directions of a group of cheeky but helpful urchins, I passed under the Thames by way of the evil-smelling North Woolwich Subway. The eerie green light and wide-open spaces of South London prepared me for unusual experiences. A trip through a deserted shopping centre reinforced the suburban surrealism.
TJ's was dark and closely packed with boisterous young persons. The match was already underway, the live-TV broadcast projected against the back wall behind the semi- occluded musicians. I quickly established that Iran was playing in red kit. The mood of the establishment was in Iran's favour, and my socialist leanings were gratified by the cheers that greeted any blows against Yankee Imperialism. On top of that, whenever Iran got the ball, Orquestra Mahatma would strike up a Persian Victory Qawwal & Party that was quite simply intoxicating. One craved an Iranian sally just to hear Mahatma strut their Arabian stuff. The Billy Jenkins posse responded with Chuck Berry riffs and bursts of Louie Louie. The way the musicians managed to both improvise to the events of the game and keep the music rhythmic and recognisably melodic was a marvel, and in the best traditions of music-hall's translation of film into lived, interactive variety rather than alienated, monothematic spectacle. Dancing broke out.
In the intervals it was a pleasure to watch the Babel Label's honcho Mr O. Weindling relish the sight of nubiles moving to the piped sounds of the True Love Collection.
In the light of this event, one can only conclude (in a detournement of Professor Adorno's remarks, cited above) that 'Billyfication' had played a part in the dissolution of the sporting spectacle. Active music-making is practical life creating an image of itself in collective communion. The more frequently unique musical events like 'Iran vs USA at TJ's' challenge the universalising aspects of the sporting spectacle, the more sport turns into a form of music itself.
Billy Jenkins must be congratulated for breaking down this particular Adornoite's aversion to the World Cup. One should also note his prescience in choosing this particular match (the only one I witnessed): in Tehran, Iran's victory was greeted with celebration-dances by women who'd thrown off their veils, and men openly drinking alcohol on the streets. Islamic Fundamentalism was confounded for a day.