In Praise of Carson Wells
Allow me to document that our friends in Carson Wells played an absolute belter of a set last Friday in Conroy’s Basement, Dundee (21.09.18). They played all of their new LP, “No Relic”, plus four of the most banging tracks from their 2015 album, “Tread a Northern Path”. What made this even more impressive was the fact that Carson Wells haven’t had much time to practise together recently. This did not get in the way. Instead, they just got on with the job: they played a flawless set, which they somehow made look effortless while simultaneously cranking the intensity.
This set – likely Carson Wells’s last ever – impressed how excellent their new LP is on me, and, I have to confess, reminded me how incredible their older songs are. At the time, it left me with no choice but to take myself off into a corner, let my hair down, and mosh my head off. I usually only do this at home these days, sometimes in the company of my two-year-old. But Carson Wells made me do it in public. And they are also, unknown to themselves, making me do this: sit and type up a little account of what their very special band has meant, and will to continue to mean, to me.
To put these comments in context, I should note that I’ve started to keep a mental list lately. If converted to paper, it might read: ‘why playing in a band is a good and beautiful thing’. Working on this list does not mean I’ve ever seriously doubted this matter. It means that I’m preparing for a future encounter with a truly horrible individual: the kind of person who thinks that playing in a band can only be a waste of time, and who expects a balance sheet of reasons to the contrary.
I’d start with reasons that would speak directly to this imaginary nemesis: playing music changes the plasticity of your brain and nervous system in very productive ways, etc. After this, I’d try a different set of reasons: music is an expressive art as opposed to a representative or mimetic one that is limited to clichés, etc. These, however, would quickly look like very pretentious reasons. So I’d try another set of plainer ones: there is nothing like the experience of ‘clicking’ as a band when trying to work through a dynamic bit, and there is nothing like trying to hold a tricky bit together, and actually managing it, etc. Ultimately, I’d end up with a version of what Ross from Carson Wells articulated beautifully on Friday: playing in a band is a nice way of staying friends and making friends.
I was informed by Iain at the gig that Carson Wells and Kaddish have played 21 shows together. That incorporates over a decade, split releases, three albums apiece, and shows together in a couple of countries (sorry we didn’t make it further afield). It was an incredible privilege to watch their band evolve over that time. From raw young guys we spoke to one evening outside the Balcony bar in Dundee, to hulking beasts of rock.
In saying this, I might seem gushing or patronising. That’s a risk I’m willing to take to get the main point across: Carson Wells are, it seems to me, a band who emphatically showed their reasons for being a band.
On the point on friendship, for instance, I can point to very specific things. From Huw (among others), I learned over time to try to temper my vocal raging. How successful I’ve been in this is another matter, so let me also note that I once witnessed Huw produce an act of devastating athleticism: a strike in a game of ten-pin bowling that left the entire lane shaking. From Ross, I learned to tone down the ‘attack’ of my guitar playing. This was an invaluable lesson for me, because my hand often cramps badly. These days, when it does, I can genuinely say that I think ‘slow down, what would Ross McClay do here?’ This leads me to Iain, and the discussion of a very interesting paradox. This occurred either on the way to a gig in Nottingham, or on the way out of Nottingham, after the gig, just after we spotted a sign for Sherwood Forest. The paradox was this: ‘if Robin Hood did not really exist, then he exists now in the same way that he has always done’.
Depending on how you are inclined to resolve this paradox, Carson Wells may themselves be a bit like Robin Hood: they owe their name to a character in a work of fiction. In another crucial respect, however, they are completely unalike: to me and many of my closest friends, it really does matter that Carson Wells existed. Unlike Robin Hood, they are not some obscure eternal object – they, like all bands, were a finite one, coming from somewhere, trying to show their reasons for being one with every gig they played. In their case, this was pulled off with ever increasing intensity and success.
This has been a short letter to friends. It has not been intended to be an exclusive one, and there are host of other folk I’d be inspired to write something similar for in similar circumstances (Deeker, Owen, Ross…). It’s just that Carson Wells have, by going on indefinite hiatus, gone the way of legend (this time a bit like Robin Hood again). To be honest Huw, Ross and Iain, it would have been enough to have made friends with you, but when your band turned out to be incredible, well that was something very special indeed.
Over and out.
By Dom Kaddish, 23/09/2018
Thank you and godspeed, friends.