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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, December 16, 2004
    Everything keeps Dissolving
    Sensitized to loss by BBC4's Peel tribute I turn the pages of this month's The Wire to discover that Jhon Balance finally lost his long-term battle with alcoholism, never regaining consciousness after a fall downstairs on 13th November. Just 42, he was. My age.

    It's easy to say why I'm sad about the untimely passing of Peel, the affable champion of outsider music, and footy fan. Less easy to surmise my respect for Coil, whose music and life-vision was so extreme I don't think even Peel would play them. Balance and his partner Sleazy (Peter Christopherson) pushed everything to the limits. As The Wire ed Chris Bohn writes, this included forging "lines of enquiry into the most arcane corners of occult knowledge" and the drive to "mint sounds that would act on the molecular level, in much the same way as the chemicals they were ingesting impacted on them." True - open yourself to Coil's music and you find it really does go through you.

    Hardly great role-models, then, Coil. Except for a certain purity of vision which was to do with a genuine desire to "open channels towards new ways of perceiving the world," as The Wire's Chris Sharp puts it. Theirs was "a wildly various but ceaslessly questing body of work". And, despite being drawn to the darkness, in Coil's music "there is almost always something redemptive to be found in its inky depths."

    This is the key to the goodness in Balance. He said he created moon musick, and the moon is not only the globe beneath which acts of terror take place, it is also the gentle mover of the tides, the earth's friend. You can feel that in the music. His extreme vision included a lighter touch, and friends remembered him at his funeral with readings from Aleister Crowley and also by playing the theme tune from Are You Being Served, which he'd performed at his last show in Dublin (doubtless a transfigured version). You get that in the very English oddness of Broccoli and Queens of the Circulating Library, which I've blogged about before.

    Sobering to read the masthead of the Coil website today. It says, starkly, coil: ended. Their cd Coil Live One opens with a title which seems to express the loss of Jhon (on top of the loss of John): Everything keeps Dissolving. Those are darkly tragic words. Except for this thought - if you are an alchemist then dissolving is the means of re-creation. Within Balance's music all shapes, forms, preconceptions, laziness and tired ideas dissolve. To be transformed into sounds sometimes brutal, always vital. Which is why it will continue to invigorate the lives of those who dare to let it in.