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Still Strange in the Brain 

click to enlarge Jowe Head will perform with Hamish Kilgour on April 19 at Claude’s in Phoenicia.
  • Jowe Head will perform with Hamish Kilgour on April 19 at Claude’s in Phoenicia.

As the 1970s mutated into the 1980s, punk’s primal scream opened up new sonic vistas for musicians to freely mix wildly divergent sounds on rock ‘n roll’s palette.

Among the groups to jump into the fray was England’s Swell Maps, a band whose legacy extended well beyond their short life span. Incorporating the sounds of punk, krautrock, glam, and even prog rock into their exuberantly noisy bouillabaisse, Swell Maps bequeathed to the world such nuggets as “Let’s Build a Car” and “Read About Seymour,” alternative anthems that would go on to inspire bands like Pavement and Sonic Youth.
Swell Maps were also the musical launching pad of its founding members, including guitarist/vocalist Nikki Sudden, drummer Epic Soundtracks, guitarist Richard Earl and bassist/co-songwriter Jowe Head.

The multi-talented Head, who has also played in the much-loved Television Personalities, Palookas, Olive’s Hairy Custard, as well as his current project, Angel Racing Food, will bring his music and art to Phoenicia this month with a performance at Claude’s and a gallery showing at Arts Upstairs.

The sonic and visual sides of Head flowered side-by-side as he came of age in the West Midlands area, south of Birmingham and north of Stratford-on-Avon, an area he describes as a “cultural desert” and where he picked up his inimitable moniker, local slang for “someone who is somewhat strange in the brain!

“My development as a visual artist developed in exact parallel with my musical life. I cannot conceive of one without the other. I mediate to music—my own and that of other people—while I am painting or drawing. It’s also nice to have a visually stimulating environment when making music. I have even done some live action painting onstage but promoters don’t seem to encourage this for some reason!” wrote Head in an e-mail interview.

As an artist, Head, whose mediums of choice include painting acrylic on canvas, printing, and sculpture, makes a determined effort not to be continually holed up in a studio.

“I helped to run a community arts center called Chat’s Place in Northeast London during the 1990s. It was a groovy place to hang out and I worked with some inspiring people and learned a lot. I even performed as a costumed dancer when we assembled a float for the Notting Hill Carnival dressed as a Lobster! I am still doing some teaching work, which I enjoy—mainly visual arts skills with teenagers and a class at a mental health center. I think working fulltime as a painter or a musician in some kind of bubble divorced from your community can be a mistake; too much music and art can be self-referential and inward-looking. My students are an inspiration to me.”

This is Head’s third visit to the US, and he’ll be playing with the Mad Scene’s Hamish Kilgour (drums) and Lisa Siegel (bass) as well as William Berger on guitar on Friday, April 18 at 8pm at Claude’s, 76 State Route 214, Phoenicia. Opening for the ensemble will be JRBW, Phoenicia’s own supergroup. Admission is $10. “Mail and Female,” which showcases some paintings and block-printed work from Head during the last two years will open at Arts Upstairs, 60 Main Street, Phoenicia, on Saturday, April 19 at 6pm. (845) 688-2561;

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  • Musician as well as visual artist, Head will be performing and having an exhibit in Phoenicia.


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