“What would you like best to eat?”
“Turkish Delight, please, your Majesty” said Edmund.
If, like me, you grew up in the era of the Sunday teatime adaptation of the Narnia saga, then the words Turkish Delight always have a certain power, bringing to mind scenes of intoxication, mental confusion and seduction. Whether the band of the same name caught the BBC’s version whilst hanging around early ’90s Boston, they’ve admitted in interviews that the CS Lewis novel was the original inspiration for the name. And like the White Witch, the gift that the band bring is simultaneously familiar and threatening, warmly rocking but with an artsy cool.
Now, over twenty years since the band split, DIY label Reckless Yes are reanimating their back-catalogue with a re-release of debut Tommy Bell (1996) and second album (1998), on one double CD: bringing the band back – Aslan-style – all in one package. It’s the label’s assertion that the band are as relevant and fresh as they were in the ’90s and, as someone who’d never heard of them until very recently, it’s hard to disagree.
Taken from Tommy Bell, ‘Spin’ is a perfect introduction to Turkish Delight’s welding of art-rock and now-wave DIY sensibilities. That monotone bass-y rhythm you hear throughout? That’s ‘the can’, a “a home-made, electric bass-like instrument made from a bucket, a pole, and strings” which sounds somewhere between the skiffle broom and something from a bad (ie. good) sci-fi movie. Leah’s vocals switch in and out of English with the lilting “I’d rather be a spinster / I’d rather spin” – a defiant, subtly feminist, statement, whilst still also being punningly wry. Drums rattle around while spectral sharp and piercingly howling guitar lines rotate throughout, with verse and chorus largely being dictated by a shift in power rather than an expected telegraphed shift in chords.
‘Spin’ is sinister, daft, experimental and ultimately, pretty fun. And the same is true of the video: typical of its time as a piece of ’90s video art, showing individuals spinning in stop-motion black and white, intercut with footage of the band both playing the song and playing the fool. Not only is this an insight into the Dada world of the group, and lead singer Leah Callahan in particular, but according to interviews it’s evocative of the experience of seeing them play live, with costumes and silly antics a prominent feature.
Tommy Bell is a mishmash of agit art and indie rock with aspects of found sound and the experimentation of jazz and noise – with all that’s promised by ‘Spin’ on there, and more. At fifteen tracks it’s also a mammoth of a debut and shows a band in full fettle, right from the off. Howcha Magowcha is a more streamlined sophomore effort, which Leah has said “shows off the band’s maturity”. Taken together, they demonstrate the brave new frontiers of post-grunge indie, a world where art and music could be treated as synonymous and simultaneous activities. Often described as Thurston Moore’s favourite band of the time, Turkish Delight stand out as uncompromising and truly independent pioneers who left two lightning rods of LPs. Listening to them back-to-back is like poking around an old wardrobe, before stumbling, confused and maybe a little frightened, into a fascinating new world.
Tommy Bell and Howcha Magowcha are both out now, via Reckless Yes, and available both digitally and on CD.