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With "Cipher Caput", Treatment have been releasing one of the highlights of psychedelic music in the 90s, it's just brimful with swirling sounds, complex rhythms, exquisite, stinging guitar lines, voices that drift from left to right. Strange and accessible at the same time, "Cipher Caput" enfolds many layers of Treatment, from the floating pieces of "Dissolving" to the pushing "Damage". Bits of Arthur Brown (in "Doubt") are mated with a true understanding of RnR ("The Big I Am") or what the Bonzo Dogs would sound like if they were a child of the eighties ("Decay"). In it's genre it's unique, for all its bite and energy and smoothness, like a mad killer stalking your house, once hammering furiously at the front door, then crawling on all fours under the bushes in front of your living room or whispering coyously, seductively at your bedroom window.
Gordon Leach, 36, who also plays cricket under the name of Squatter Madrass and who had just come back from a cricket tour, cites Arthur Brown as a major influence, regards Jimi Hendrix as the best, Keith Richards as a great, honest guitarist. How did the stage name come about, the French writer? "No, the Italian cheese."
Treatment recorded their last album in 1989 and hadn't been doing much for a year or more. "Richard at Freakbeat was the main reason why Treatment got back together to do "Cipher Caput". He likes Treatment so much. We used to record in Bruton in 1981, 1982, 1984 and 1985. We recorded lots of material in studio we set up there which never got released. Richard wanted to do an album from that, called "The Bruton Tapes" - it may still be released on Delerium some time. That interest in us got back together. We'd all be writing songs seperately. "Cipher Caput" has all songs credited to Treatment, but they were all written by different people. The two I wrote are "Dissolving" and "Damage", Adam wrote "Designer" and one I can't remember. Clive wrote "Doubt", "Holding On" and "The Boing Song". Paul McWhinnie, the keyboard player, wrote "Decay", "Risky", "Hidden Attack" and that couple of jams. It was a good album, but still I think it could have been a lot better."
Well, you can always say that.
"There's at least another album's worth of material that we recorded at those sessions. The ones that are on the album are just those that were completely finished at the time or not too long. There's partcularly one track, which actually is Richard Allen's fave track, called "What The Hell To Do" which is nine and a half minutes long, so we would have to had to cut off at least two other tracks to put it on. And also conceptually it didn't quite fit. So there's all this stuff sitting there waiting to be released, but the album was recorded in 1991 and that's already three years ago. It took three months to record, another six to eight months to mix. We didn't actually get the time to do it faster, because our producer, Matt Saunders, and it's his studio, Survival, it was recorded at, has always a lot of things on the go, and so do we. And there wasn't the time. When we'd finally done it, we took it to Richard and they are not the fastest either. So it took ages to come out."
It's always been a struggle for the band with the way the music business presents itself.
"We started in 1980, and the aim was to shock. The band philosophy was to be a bit iconoclastic."
To be subversive?
"Very much so, like 'Don't take the shit you're told! Resent normality, conformity, oppressive power."
"Right, tho' we're all middle class ourselves and come from a comfortable background. I've never been rich, but I've never been poor either. But we are opposed to greed. Adam is a Buddist, and tho I'm not, I agree with this Kharma thing, that what you do, will come back to you. There's no point in being selfish."
I see egoism as the major devil on earth. "So do I."
I won't give you a Treatment history, dear reader, you can read that covering 5 pages in Freakbeat #7, a recommendable mag anyway. Will Treatment last despite the struggle?
"Good music lasts, fashions don't. In the early 80s we really played a lot, and we were totally unfashionable in the early 90s, but we've moved on too. It's even more of a struggle now, I've got a straight job, working with a computer business, Paul Ross, the drummer, has as well, and he works with other bands. And so do I... I play with the Hipshakers, with Adam and Clive. Paul has always been in other bands and so on. It's strange, like the Ozric Tentacles used to support us, and now we are in the position that we have to play support to them."
Why so few records, lack of opportunity or what you've previously been pointing out, the band's laziness?
"Laziness! We used to trip a lot, take a lot of acid and mushrooms in the early 80s. Making records didn't seem the point then. The tapes are there, a lot of it even on multitrack, but it didn't seem to be of relevance to us to put them out as records. We've never been commercial, you see, or commercially minded. The idea was never to make money, but to make music, write it, record it, experience it... that was always much more important than releasing it and trying to sell it. We never felt like going through the process of marketing ourselves. You've got to use the papers, the radio as a vehicle then."
And you would have to use asthetics in a way that the outcome is nice and consumable, whereas Treatment has always been disturbing.
"Yeah, not only visually but also the things we talk about and write songs about. That's why it works with Ozric Tentacles because it's pretty music."
Do you feel pleased about what you've been doing?
"I wouldn't miss the times we had. But when I listen to these old tapes, I hear the imperfections, especially with my stuff. In my head, I hear it the way it should be, and not the way it is there. I like the tape of the Stonehenge gig in 1981, when we played with Nik Turner of Hawkwind and somehow the songs sound very different with him. He's a great saxplayer. But when I listen to the other tapes, it's little bits here and there that I find missing - less the imperfections in playing, but the overtones that aren't there. I can listen to these old tapes in a way that they are telling something about a specific point in my life, what I was doing when all this was going on, the people who were touching on it. As your life changes, obviously your outlook changes. In the early 80s we were really innocent and quite young. There was a lot of idealism, to the fact that things should be free, that you shouldn't have to charge money. We never charged very much for playing, money wasn't important then. It isn't important now, I should add."
When you started, your music was even more unfashionable than it is now. How could you cope with the obvious apathy by people drawn into your thing?
"There would be a lot of apathy from the public in large, not at the gigs, tho' at the typical gig of 1980, 1981 there would be some apathy. We didn't dress right, we dressed mad. We never dressed as a unit anyway. Clive's dresses are always completely off the wall. He'd frequently paint a skull on his face, and people weren't really doing that then. We all had different ideas, and those were conveyed in our dresses. But with the stuff we were and are playing, like "Nothinghead" which is very upfront, it is very hard to be apathetic to. So we'd polarize audiences, either you loved us or you hated us, but we always got a response in either way. When we played North London, where we all come from, the audience got very involved up to a point where they would join us on stage. There was this famous gig at the Camden Rugby Club. This huge, steaming cauldron of mushroom tea was made, where all these mushrooms were, prss=prss=prss, spreading out, and where almost all the audience and us were completely out on this mushroom tea. For a lot of people there, it was a sort of initiation into the psychedelic world."
You got get wonderful reviews by Paul Strange in Melody Maker.
"And we got one terrible review in Sounds which said it was the most dreadful thing they've ever seen. I never minded that. It was better than saying like "They're quite good."
At the time when you started there was this media-hyped neo-psychedelic movement with the Mood 6, Miles Over Matter etc.
"The latter were good friends of us. We didn't mix with that crowd. It wasn't really a scene. And it wasn't psychedelia, it was a fashion cult - they didn't take drugs."
Did drugs matter?
"The drugs were a window, through which you could climb into this other world. So they mattered, because they were a shortcut to this feeling of oneness with the universe. We did a couple of gigs in Colchester, where I went to College with Paul Ross, with Psycho Hamster And The Killer Doughnuts. Drugs were very much a part of that scene, and sometimes the gigs and the feel were so wonderful and it sounded amazing, and there were others where it wasn't: it sounded terrible. Drugs altered my perception, the way I heard, saw, felt things, but they are also a tremendous physical physical jolt, an attack on your physical system, and that's why I don't do them any longer. But there were songs like "Pain", which is on the live album, which was coming straight out of trip, we just started playing and suddenly there was this whole song 'I'm in agony, and I'm really suffering'. "Hidden Attack" is another one that happened that way."
They don't see each other very often.
"Since the last gig I haven't seen the band at all. We wouldn't have survived so long as a going concern unless we had done that. We'd been working together for 3 or 4 years in the early 80s, and then we've left it and come back together again continually for the last 10 years. When there are certain tensions within the and, you've got to work through it. It's been easy for us, because if we felt there was tension we would go apart and not see each other for half a year, there's no pressure on us to perform. Let's face it, ego is a real pathetic little toy. Carlos Castandedas said about the "Way Of The Warrior", to be impeccable, to do what is right, to be in chord with the universe, with God - or whatever you might call the supreme power - you have to have many abilities, apart from confidence and belief, you've got to have honesty and integrity, control and forbearance and timing. Timing is a real important part of it: it must be the right thing at the right time. You've got to wait for that time."
There's still so much in Treatment for the future.
"Definitely, we haven't made our final statement yet. We still haven't touched the piece of music we would call our masterpiece."
He's got that project going, which he doesn't want to call a solo album because the musicians on it will be recruited from the Treatment personnel. He's been writing songs over the last few years and he wants to see them recorded. It will involve a drummer, bassplayer, keyboard player, horn players and another guitarist.
"It will be called Wim Wimmers & the Voyeurs and will be done in a different way. Treatment always played live in the studio or were recorded live in concert. I want to do this one differently. I want to layer it - start with the rhythm track first and then add things as I go along. It will be a Treatment album, but as, when you get input in so many directions, the sum of it is less than all it's parts - and that's my criticism on "Cipher Caput" - I want to guide it in a way that in the end it expresses something more tangible than the parts of it. It will be my view of the Treatment, not the Treatment, and that's why I can't release it under that name. Clive has also a collection of his music on tape, called Jawbandage - I think Delerium is going to release that - and it's his view of things. He's a poet so he starts with the lyrics first and then adds the music, whereas I work the other way round. I think of riffs, melodies, tunes - he thinks of words. He's also the most politically against the diminishing of civil rights."
... like the Criminal Justice Bill which is hanging over Britain like a dark, black cloud. England and Germany obviously have something in common: Conservative governments and the advance of the police state.
Adam, the other Treatment guitar-player, is the most musically committed. He's never gone straight and got a job...
"He teaches guitar, which is a very rewardable thing, and he plays in wine bars to earn his crust."
Paul Ross has got a dayjob now, and in the evenings he plays in a sort of cabaret/cover band who do Beatles and Gary Glitter covers in working mens clubs. Hans-Jürgen Klitsch.
Treatment are the ultimate trip. First time you see 'em you either hate them or you feel queasy and awed. If you stick the course, the second time you see 'em you're beginning to buzz as the raw power sets in and the lyrics strike home.
And the third time?
You're left high and dry and starting to appreciate how much they have to offer - lyrics, visuals, dance, obsessions, power, moody subtleties, wild characters, interesting improvisations and vast mental violence.
Treatment are genuinely psychedelic, not a re-hash of Sixties Paisley boys. Their approach is different; long involved workouts sit beside short silly songs. The vocalists scream and blubber. They hit each other. They throw the role of lead vocalist around. They're extremely versatile. And most of them live in a squat in Notting Hill Gate.
There's Clive Number, the tall lean madcap on bass. Prone to stuff tissue in his mouth and spit it out again, Clive's capable of dazzling bass runs, idiotic shouts and aggressive paranoid behaviour.
Next there's Muitant - a cold considered keyboardist who keeps his emotions fully in check. Quietly spoken, he has a delicate, very pure vocal and he acts in a mutated fashion - hence his nickname. He's capable of producing very strange sounds from his keyboards and he favours candles on top of them.
Bearded, shy and highly talented, lead guitarist Gordon Zola looks like a reject from a Gong audition. He stands well to the back, producing long, flowing, highly intricate solos of immense beauty.
Occasionally Gordon will dash up to the front of the stage to take a lead vocal on one of Treatment's silly songs - "B-B-B-Baby" and "I Hate Sheep" being good examples.
Mister Ross is the drummer. Not prone to tedious solos, he keeps the unit in check, often playing jazzy, almost swing rhythms. He looks the sanest of the band, but has been known to don strange attire. A constant worker, he never lets the beat tire.
To the uniniated, rhythm guitarist Adam Blake is the band's natural front man. True, he takes many of the lead vocals and his is the foremost face, but Adam would be the first to admit that Treatment work as a unit, of which he is just a part. Adam's interestingly mellow voice is also capable of surprisingly high falsetto vocals.
Finally there's Boring Ben - a heavily made-up clown figure whose sole job is to freak out while the band play. He's the most interesting member of Treatment to watch as he perfectly mirrors the music's mood through grotesque facial expressions and vivid body movement.
These then are the human elements behind Treatment. Dark and brooding these men may be, but there are other forces at work which combine to give an edge to Treatment's playing.
Please welcome "Jameses" and "nothingheads" - two highly involved obsessions that all the band share.
"Imagine," says Gordon "that you're happily enjoying an evening at home and the doorbell rings and you've got that feeling inside you... you know that whoever it is, it's Mr James... it's something low! Something low you don't want."
"You have to sit there with a tolerant look on your face." says Clive, "while inside you're going 'Aaaaargh! Aaaaargh! Aaaaargh!'.
"Jameses have no self respect... once you tell them to go away, that you hate the, then they go, but they come back the next day and say 'Hullo Clive, it's nice to see you, how's life?... 'And then you think 'Oh God, it's James again'."
Fine... now what about nothingheads?
Big chorus: "They're out there! They're everywhere! Surbiton! Surbiton's the place!"
Clive: "As a comparison, James is like the black side, the really low side, whereas nothingheads are the masses of empty skulls that walk on legs and float around."
"They take what they're given, do what they're told and die like robots," says Adam.
"There are millions of them, but they have domination over the rest of us and we resent it.
We used to destroy a nothinghead every gig - symbolically that is. We used to get these polystyrene dummy heads and do these little demonstrations - 'This is a nothinghead, you've got a nothinghead, I've got a nothinghead, everybody'd got a nothinghead, so we'll destroy the nothinghead.'
"Musically Jameses and nothingheads bring an edge to our playing... well they usually do."
That edge has been growing keener during the last few months as Treatment, begin to shape their musical future. Rising on the hind leg of the new psychedelic explosion, they've now broken away from it to a certain extent, but gigs are still hard to come by and a deal looks a long way off.
Treatment formed in early '80s around the crumbling remains of Colchester-based Psycho Hamster (another great inspiration for the band) and the London-based Captain Comedown and the Mindtrippers. R&B band The Cannibals deserve a mention here too, 'cos both Adam and Clive were involved with them shortly before Treatment formed and it's left a mark - Adam often resorts to bluesy R&B riffs in the midst of longer Treatment improvisations.
There's little recorded work available at the moment, although the band's debut single - "Stamp Out Mutants" / "Doncha Know" - is well worth tracking down, as is their cassette album "Intensive". It was that tape's power, variety, depth and imagination that first attracted me, and once I'd seen them live I became totally hooked, particularly by Boring Ben.
"He makes the band's visuals," says Adam, "We're all musicians - musicians aren't necessarily showmen - and having somebody like Ben takes the weight off you to some extent. You can get on with playing music which is what you're there to do. He's brilliant for that."
But there's more to them visually than just a clown freaking out to a bunch of weirdos. There's an overchanging mystical feel to all their gigs, so are we talking drugs here?
Big chorus: "Yes!". Adam: "They make you take a long warm look around you, but we're certainly not into smack / rock epics... we do tend to act a bit crazed. A lot of people have said 'Aw, you must have been tripping', but often it's not the case."
Drugs aside, there's another facet to their musical creativity.
"Improvising is a very important part of what we do." says Adam. "Some bands are so soulless because they play the same things every night, but with us a lot of the songs are different. There are no two versions of one song that are alike because we improvise - it's a way of keeping the music alive."
"Alive" is almost an understatement. A typical Treatment gig will show a wide range of emotions - from the crazed mortuary agony of "What Happened?" and the hate song "Nothinghead Boogie", to the intensely sad "Love's Getting Nowhere", via the tight, taut R&B workout of "B-B-B-Baby" - yet at the next gig the songs could be the same but the musical approach and feel will be staggeringly different.
Treatment don't like much of today's music, prefferring to reel off past greats like Captain Beefheart, Can and Kingdom Come as bands they admire. They appreciate music with bottle - punk woke them up, but most of the raincoat brigade sent them to sleep. All except Joy Division.
Adam: "Now they were quite good. They had genuine misery credibility because Curtis topped himself!"
Clive: "He was really miserable!"
Adam: "He was genuine! He MEANT it! You can't take that away from him, he was pretty sincere!"
And as for the music business... "It sucks", says Adam.
"Because it's incestuous, it's parasitic and it's obsequious. It's not about music, it's about money. They've lost sight of music, thinking about money. In the old days - in the Sixties when there was so much good music about - the business was run by people who didn't know what they were dealing with.
"They had all this music - they didn't understand it - they just thought 'Well if we throw enough of it against the wall some of it will stick.'
"But now the music business is being run by people in their early thirties - coke sniffing Californian types - who've been through it all, and remember it all, but it's all been fucked up 'cos they've been bought with so much money, position and power.
"They know what they think the people want and they give it to them, and because that's all they give them the people buy it 'cos there's nothing else to consume. And it's all pervaded... that's it's all pervaded... that's why I think the music business sucks."
Treatment are not known for mincing their words. They've got masses to say and many different ways of expressing it. They may be jokey and weird in their dress, their songs, their obsessions and their visuals, but underlying it all there are much more serious messages. It's about time the music business sat up and listened to a few of them.
The Tamla Mushrooms (great name) turn out to be Treatment, plus Stoney Beach, a wonderful female with black hair, a good figure and a great voice. It's only her second gig and the outfit shuffle through a selection of Tamla greats ("Stoned Love", "Heard It Through The Grapevine", and "Heatwave") to reasonable applause. It's okay, but nowt special.
Now then... take a hefty swig of beer, feel the mushroom haze swelling inside your head, swallow that dodgy tab and shut your eyes. Ready for Treatment? Of course you are!
If it's your first time remember that anything can happen, and if you're an experienced traveller prepare for yet another musical, mystical, physical and mental high from this bunch of neo-hippies.
We're off! Screams, wild jazzy drumming, absurd feed-back guitar, hypnotic droning organ and thunderous bass combine in a startling vision that overpowers the brain, blotting out the realities of day-to-day tedium and the thought that Britain is prepareing for war.
Numbers, songs, compositions and statements come and go in a hzy whirlwind of freakdom. Certain bits stick out immediately, while others await further investigation.
The "ballads" - "Love's Getting Nowhere" and "I Wanna Meet You Nothing Head" - are marvellously brittle; painful structures on which to ride. "B-B-B-Baby" nears punk stupidity with its vitriolic burning riff, repeated stuttured hook and hectic pace, while "I Hate Sheep!" is the night's silly piece, guaranteed to bring a smile to nervous voyagers.
All aboard! - Paul Strange.
A strangely unremarkable name for a remarkably strange group. Treatment, who have just begun to confront the public at large, dare to fly right in its face. They have more bald nerve than post-revolutionary Iran and probably invite almost as much odium.
Intrigued? You will be.
With warning lights flashing, faces painted, signs, masks and sunglasses, they take the stage with the grim determination of a group that knows it's not going to be liked and doesn't much want to be.
Checking the sense of the ridiculous in with the coats, it might seem for a moment that the psychedelic revival is breathing down our necks - or, more fancifully, that someone has arranged a small rift in the time-stream. I never saw The Move or The Bonzo Dog Band in their day, but I imagine it would have been something like this - bizarre and colourful but without the foolhardy conviction a group like Treatment must need to do it in this day and age.
Bravery and stupidity often go hand in hand and Treatment actively defy the mockery they're bound to get.
Bully for them!
They wear the stigma with pride and love them or loathe them (which you probably will) we should be grateful for a group that rubs so hard against the grain, if not for testing the strength of the grain then at least as an antidote to uniformity. They are an anarchic little combo, impossible to take in at once, and often quite preposterous.
To coin a phrase on their behalf, only the strange survive. Paul Ramball.
© Delerium Records 2000.