Founded by poet/performance artist Ted Milton in 1979, unclassifiable trio Blurt were associated with Factory Records during 1980 before moving on to pastures new. Their albums include In Berlin, Blurt, Bullets For You, Poppycock and Friday the 12th. The group continue to tour and record, and released ferocious new album Cut It! in 2010.
'Funk From a Funny Farm'
Born in 1943, musician, poet and self-confessed 'performance junkie' Ted Milton had been around several creative blocks before meeting Tony Wilson in 1978. As a verse writer, his work appeared in the Paris Review and Children of Albion: Poetry of the Underground in Britain (1969). As a left-field puppeteer in the 70s he performed with Mr Pugh's Puppet Theatre and the Blue Show, as well as supporting Ian Dury on tour in 1978. Ted also contributed a puppetry scene to Terry Gilliam's 1977 comic film Jabberwocky. Few early Factory artists could boast such a colourful background.
Milton first met Tony Wilson following one of his puppetry performances, when Wilson was scouting for acts to book on Granada TV arts and events programme So It Goes. Milton duly appeared on the show in the summer of 1978, a memorable edition which also featured the group Wire. Wilson went on to found Factory Records, whose first release, the iconic A Factory Sample (FAC 2), appeared in January 1979. Meanwhile Ted Milton had taken up the saxophone, and formed Blurt in Stroud (a town in rural Gloucestershire) towards the end of 1979, together with brother/drummer Jake Milton and guitarist Pete Creese. Jake had previously played with psychedelic group Quintessence, and also Eric Clapton. Early critiques compared the trio with James Chance, Captain Beefheart, Wild Man Fischer, the Pop Group, Tom Waits and any number of left-field jazz icons, though their stripped-back, noisy, avant-garde sound continues to defy easy categorization.
One of Blurt's first acts was to record a sparse demo tape on a TEAC four-track machine at Jake's home in Stroud, a copy of which Ted sent to Tony Wilson. Always alert to potential genius, Wilson suggested that tracks from the Stroud tape form one side of the second label compilation, A Factory Quartet, due in April 1980. An optimistic Factory newsletter in January announced the project as 'another Factory Sample' on double 10" format, and described Blurt - the first southerners associated with the label - as a 'sax-based dance band... fronted by former anarcho beat poet - reformed.' If Blurt seemed an unlikely Factory band, it's worth noting that in 1979 Wilson had tried to licence an album of Charles Bukowski readings, although this project foundered.
Lindsay Reade, then married to Wilson, recalls: 'Ted Milton was a friend of Tony's and welcome visitor - he stayed at our house in Charlesworth on several occasions when up from Stroud and we also visited him. He was very amusing and clever as I recall. I suspect his contribution to the Quartet came from Tony's appreciation of his originality, humour and performance that, like John Dowie, was on the wacky side of things but not perhaps of lasting significance to Factory.'
Since the Factory club (aka Russell Club) in Hulme had closed earlier in the year, the label began hosting Factory package shows at home and abroad. Thus Blurt played at the 'Factory by Moonlight' showcase in London in April, staged over three nights at the Moonlight Club in West Hampstead. Blurt played on the second night, a Thursday, along with A Certain Ratio, Kevin Hewick - and Joy Division, who performed unannounced on all three nights.
According to NME critic Mark Ellen, Blurt delivered the best performance of the night: 'Blurt play second and steal the show. They claim "age not beauty" and hail from Stroud (for their sins). The only vague comparison is with James Chance, but when someone shows singer/saxist Ted Milton a copy of Buy the Contortions afterwards, he says he's never heard a note of it.
'To revive a long-buried and much-abused term, these guys arepre anarchy. Jake Milton plays a smaller drumkit than B-52's Keith Strickland, or rather, half of it. He beats out the steady (tribal) rhythm on a snare and a closed hi-hat, adding a tom-tom and a crash cymbal for the last bar of each number. Pete Creese plays either rock guitar riffs like Duane Eddy on a tape loop, or a two-chord repeat; there's no bass. And Ted, who's a dead ringer for Tom Waits, goes berserk over the top, mostly with the aid of an alto sax.
'The amount they manage to cram into one set is unbelievable. Owing as much to free-form Charlieprker as to the scat-vocal era and 50's American bop, he overlays these dead-simple rhythms with a frantic cross-current of raucous jazz and Gothic chant, adding intros like he was raised on blues or even gospel (!), using the splintered sax figures as an extension of his lyric fantasy.
'It's all-purpose chaos; it's brilliant! He dedicates one number to "all the people who couldn't be here tonight because, basically, they're dead". Where can you go when you're that far gone?'
Ted confided to Chris Bohn that he appreciated the new, post-punk audience attached to Factory: 'Although I come from the wrong direction - I'm the wrong age, I come from the theatre, a poet - at least these people give me five seconds before deciding.'
The projected April release date for A Factory Quartet came and went, this delay caused in part by complications with embossing the gatefold sleeve. In the meantime, Blurt took part in two further Factory package shows in London. At the Institute of contemporary Arts (ICA) on 20 June the bill was shared with A Certain Ratio, The Durutti Column, Section 25 and Kevin Hewick, while punters at the Music Machine on 28 August were treated to ACR, SXXV and Blurt. Blurt also played with SXXV at the No 1 Club in London (Islington) during this period, and with ACR and Durutti Column at Rafters in Manchester on 21 August, the latter show promoted with an attractive Jon Savage poster.
Of the ICA show, Chris Bohn wrote in NME: 'Blurt are the other Factory oddballs. Led by performance artist Ted Milton on sax, the ungainly trio (made up by a loopy guitarist in oversize trousers and a ruthless rudimentary drummer), they cross Captain Beefheart's racing subterranean nonsense funk with the highbrow intensity of James White's over-the-top blowing, and still manage to amuse. That's down to Milton's facial contortions matching his heavily echoed sax mugging and mock primitive singing. It's rumoured that Milton was at one point mooted as replacement for Mark Stewart in The Pop Group. Now that would have been fascinating, but for now Blurt will do fine.'
Blurt's performance at the Music Machine two months later was more subdued than usual. Nick Tester complained in Sounds: 'Whatever happened to serious fun? Blurt were only mildly amusing with their usually chaotic brand of funk from a funny farm blunted by a few caustic sparks. The normally absurd Ted Milton seemed quiteplite tonight, and when the word "shit" cropped up appeared to shout "offal" instead. His madman-is-a-trapped-victim revenge stayed softly ridiculous. He was only shouting to himself, a perverse little theatre all to his own.'
If London was tiring of of regular Factory nights, Blurt grew increasingly frustrated by delays in actually releasing a record on the distant Manchester label. Thus the first rudimentary Blurt single (Get b/w My Mother Was a Friend of an Enemy of the people) appeared on the short-lived Test Pressing label in August 1980. Again taped on four track equipment, it established a Blurt tradition of recording in the studio as-live. Milton explained: 'Blurt recordings have always been son et verité, no studio techniques involved at all... snapshots.'
The group also signed a publishing deal with Blackhill Music, and were booked to support Roy Harper on a UK tour. A debut John Peel session was also taped in September. Blurt should have toured in Belgium, Holland and Germany with A Certain Ratio and Section 25 in October 1980, but just days before leaving learned that Factory had forgotten to make the necessary arrangements for Blurt to takeprt. Irritated, Ted Milton later told Dutch magazine Vinyl: 'Thanks to Factory we were two weeks out of work.'
A Factory Quartet was eventually released in December 1980 as FACT 24. By now a conventional double 12" album in a textured gatefold sleeve, FACT 24 lacked the visual or musical impact of FAC 2 two years earlier, and attracted mixed reviews. Only Blurt and the Durutti Column won critical praise, Charles Shaar Murray of NME declaring Blurt the 'finest moment' on FACT 24: 'The guitar and drums of Pete Crease and Jake Milton (repctively) generally restrict their role to that of backdrop for the whoops, trills, squawks and lectures of Ted Milton, who displays an admirable flair for melodic, sonic and rhythmic improvisation throughout. Can this man make noises? He certainly can.
'Blurt are the most appropriately named group encountered for some considerable period of time... It's the incompleteness of their music which provides its grab. Don't just listen, participate (great music for bass players to practice to). As Brilleaux would say, eight bars on the bass.'
In Sounds, Dave McCullough was content simply to describe the sides by Blurt and Vini Reilly as 'very good', featuring some 'great sounds'. For the rest, Factory itself was taken to task for becoming a 'rock and roll equivalent of the South Bank Show, with sweet little Tony Wilson a surrogate Melvyn Bragg.'
On 13 December 1980 Blurt performed at the Free University in Berlin, a show billed as 'Rock Against Junk' and also featuring Gang of Four, PVC and others. The event was professionally recorded, and early in 1981 Factory's new continental sister label Factory Benelux scheduled the release of Live in Berlin by Blurt, listed as a 10" album (FACBN 5). The first three releases on Benelux had appeared the previous autumn, being singles by ACR, Durutti Column and Section 25.
However, Blurt parted company with Wilson and Factory after Ted Milton decided to hawk the live album to a British label instead. It's also likely that Wilson knew it was impossible to provide the band with substantial funding or wages, while their geographical distance from the Manchester office on Palatine Road did little to aid communication - this at a time when telephones were still a comparative luxury. Whatever the truth, Blurt were off the Factory roster, and the release of the live album through Benelux cancelled. In an NME interview printed in April 1981, Ted Milton told Paul Tickell of Factory: 'We had no contract and could never think of ourselves as Factory artists. We seemed irrelevant to their scheme of things... Some labels might be honest, but many just offer some charisma and not much else.'
That same month, Milton told Melody Maker: 'My feeling about Factory is that they have Joy Division and A Certain Ratio and everything else is a sidetrack. They might be interested in us, but they only have a certain amount of time and energy. We also had a sense of being on hold. Factory is a style, like Habitat or something like that, a house style... I was bugged by the presentation of Quartet, too sort of twee for my liking. But they're not interested in asking you what you want to see there and stuff like that, it comes from the top, it comes from Tony. You get a feeling of being a pawn, actually. It's very distressing.'
Thus the live set came out as a conventional eight track album, In Berlin, on Armageddon Records (ARM 6), housed in a memorable sleeve depicting pink bin bags on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. A Factory Benelux edition, on 10" vinyl, would finally appear in 2013. Reviewing the album for NME, Chris Bohn wrote: 'Blurt live are great grotesque theatre... But they've yet to make an album proper, and this one unfortunately doesn't really satisfy that need. Theoretically a live album's the perfect setting for Blurt, but much of the joy of the trio in concert comes from Milton's hamming and mugging, his illustrative gestures, and from watching his more extreme blows.
'Losing the visual impact doesn't mean a loss of excitement - that comes on record when Milton gets lost in some revelry of his own, leaving the, er, rudimentary rhythm section to crank things up alone. Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence. Not for nothing has Crease been nicknamed The Human Loop.
'But the most unfortunate aspect of this live album is the familiarity of half the material... As a document of a Blurt concert it's fine: it works too as an adequate introduction to Milton's bizarre imagination. The rest of us, however, already familiar with his bitter, funny assaults on conventions and expectations, hoped for something more from a Blurt debut.'
However Melody Maker offered unqualified praise, Lynden Barber observing: 'It captures brilliantly what they're all about, all the rough and tumble and rough tumble spilling gloriously out of the speakers with ten times the energy and attack of a studio album.'
Armageddon also issued the second Blurt single, The Fish Needs a Bike, which appeared in 7" in May, backed by This Is My Royal Wedding Souvenir. Bike remains one of Blurt's best known aural assaults, although Milton was keen to dispel the idea that Blurt were a form of surrealist cabaret, telling Chris Bohn: 'No! Edward Lear I find melancholy, diseased poet, and I don't think my stage act is very funny. people might think there are three peculiar men onstage, but that's because we're not dressed up like 15 year olds following the dictates of fashion. I look a bit anomalous, out of place, but I'm not a comedian. People come to our gigs and get freaked out. It's not laughalong along... I know a lot of people who play down what they have to say onstage and just churn out do-wah-diddy cynical calculated pop. It's patronizing. Of course, we get up and get labeled inaccessible. We don't want to be a cult - that's death.'
Run by Dave Kitson, formerly a booker at the Moonlight Club, Armageddon morphed into Red Flame Records, where Blurt remained. Eponymous debut studio set Blurt was cleanly recorded at Windrush Studios in Gloucestershire and released in May, together with a 12" single featuring a different version of The Ruminant Plinth and non-album funk track Spill The Beans. Unlike In Berlin all this material was new, yet reviews of the album were lukewarm. In NME, Amrik Rai expressed mild disappointment: 'Blurt! Noise preferred to poise. Milton runs out of funny clever ideas after about three songs so he goes back to square one and tries to pull a fast one. It doesn't work. Blurt would have made a great single. There was a time when Blurt were better than this and because of that even Blurt is worth half an hour of the discerning record player's time.' Sounds were less impressed, describing the set as 'tedious, would-be cleverness.' Almost three decades later, however, an epnded CD on LTM would become a particularly popular reissue, with Spill the Beans being compiled by deejay Trevor Jackson.
For some time after Blurt were relatively inactive, playing live only occasionally, and releasing no new records until 1984. Guitarist Pete Creese departed, and was replaced by Steve Eagles, formerly of pop hopefuls Thepotos. A second studio album Bullets for You was followed by single White Line Fever, as well as a second live album, Friday The 12th (recorded at Kortrijk, Belgium, in October 1984). Milton also released a solo single, Love Is Like A Violence, telling David Quantick of NME in February 1985: 'I can see lots of opportunities that I've failed to take, doors have opened and I've not gone through them. Maybe that's a good thing that I've not gone through. There was a radio ad, which said a great dog deserves a great dog food. And I thought the two... a great dog deserves a great dog food, so fuck you! It's like, so that is success.'
The revitalized Blurt went on to record a series of singles and albums including Poppycock (1986), Smoke Time (1987), Pagan Strings (1992) and Celebrating the bespoke Cell of Little Ease (1999), some released on their own Toeblock label, and more recently corruscating long player Cut It, issued by LTM in October 2010, featuring new drummer David Aylward. Two Best Of Blurt volumes were also compiled by Salamander. Ted and Blurt continue to perform and record around Europe, and remain a cult underground institution. There are worse forms of death, Ted.