31/1/20 Funky Tracks Album of the Week

BE SPECIFIC by The Improv Game

Let’s face it: improvised music is not for everyone. Jazz-heads claim it is all about the notes that are not being played, but what if these unplayed notes are the really good ones? Then they’d just be playing bad notes.

Alice, Jeremy, Lucy and ‘Lanky Tim’ are the founding members of The Improv Game. They met at Cambridge University and are proponents of the British school of long-form hardcore endurance improv.

In 1987 an audience member at a lightly-attended Edinburgh show at the hallowed Pleasance Orifice made the simple and now legendary suggestion ‘be a band!’ and for the next thirty-three years and counting, that’s exactly what The Improv Game did.

A theoretical and borderline hypothetical album, Be Specific is the 7th to be released in their critically acclaimed career, although it is hard to decipher whether the acclaim is also part of the pretending and broadsheet reviewers have become entwined in a game which has got seriously out of hand.

The album never stops for breath as if perennially terrified of losing our attention. At seventy two tracks it is refreshingly brief compared to their usually longer efforts.

Instruments are not played traditionally but instead replaced by the keen mime action of a band member, usually Jeremy, saying ‘Look, now I’m playing a BANJO!’ and throwing in jovial crowd-pleasing ad-libs like ‘Where did you come from Cotton Eye Joe?’ in a slapdash American accent.

There is a rawness to this album that can only be achieved through a total disregard for preparation or quality. Tensions between the group are evident with Lucy being very vocal at points about why they’re still doing this when they all had first class honours degrees and could have contributed something meaningful to our dying planet. Such concerns are quickly dismissed as the other members tirelessly mime ‘rebuilding that 4th wall.’

Over the years the band has become shrouded under a cloud of unanswered questions. Lucy and Lanky Tim have been married since 2002 and both have acknowledged in separate interviews that neither are 100% aware whether their relationship (and teenage daughter) is just part of an elaborate riff. Jeremy’s early investment in bitcoin makes it unclear whether the cryptocurrency was ever an actual thing or something he made up mid-gig in 1998. Alice’s lack of a physical body makes people wonder why she’s considered on equal terms with the other members when she is at best an extended ethereal skit.

I don’t have the answer to any of these questions but I know good music when I hear it and you should hear it too.

*****

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