(written by sylvia patterson)
You wait a whole decade for a proper
rock nutter to come along and then five turn up at once. Meet
them. They're ULTRASOUND. And they're here to save us.
The last time anyone beat up Richard Green, Ultrasound's buoyant-haired and sensitive Bernard Butler figure, it was the 'handy'-work of Vanessa Best, Ultrasound's bass playing diva who's been known to call herself 'The Equaliser'. Then again, it wasn't as bad as the times she's thrown chairs and glasses at Richard's head. Richard did, however, once block access to their shared kitchen with amplifiers and four broken Hammond organs. Richard, an ex-proper trainspotter (greatest spot "The Deltic. Awesome!") and man of resilient work ethic, has never beaten up anyone in his life, though he's been livid many many times at imminent rock'n'roll superstar Tiny Wood's insistence that all he ever desired from life was "to do nothing" and his inability to wake up in the morning until his neighbour, skew-beard keyboard guru and drug addict Matt Jones has rung him six times of a morning to prove it.
Matt once took so much acid over a prolonged period he went home to his weeping mother with scurvy and a bleeding lung. And bald drummer Andy Peace used to be a weightlifting bodybuilder on steroids who, simultaneously, in the '80s, when he had hair, "used to go to a ladies' salon in Wakefield called Phillippes and get it couiffered, blow-dried, layered - the lot, maybe with a bit of flashing, and come out stinking of perfume-type things. It was perfect."
Ultrasound, it is abundantly clear, are not your average rock'n'roll gang living out some Famous Five thumbs-aloft-round-the-world beshtest palsh fantasy, and are, instead, in group therapy. "We need counselling." grins the pan-dimensionally dazzling spectre of Tiny Wood, 35, a quiet, deep-voiced and breathtakingly blunt northern soul simply resplendant in tartan bondage breeks, fluorescent purple top, dyed black 'wiggy' hair, luminous blue '70s eye shadow and a selection of hi-fidelity golden teeth, who's in the middle of not turning up for his fourth group therapy meeting in a row. "We're all in therapy. Because we can't talk to each other. We pretty much hate each other a lot of the time, there's....problems. I thought it'd be a laugh and they asked me all these questions like, 'Do you ever feel like killing yourself?' 'Well, yeah, everyone at least thinks about it, don't they?' so they sussed out that I was not mentally stable. Have you seen that Smashing Pumpkins video? When each member of the band is getting a therapy session? Fookin' 'ell! Jimmy Chamberlain the drummer is sitting there and the therapist's sayin','Well, if you like we'll have toys to represent each member of the band, would you like to say anything to them?' and he's picking up Snoopy or something saying, 'Billy, I've always wanted to say this, when you take the piss out of the fact I've got long hair it really upsets me...' and Billy Corgan's goin' 'What problem?! There's no problem!' and James Iha's goin','Well, my problem is footwear, I don't like the shoes they wear'..." They're all completely fookin' mad! And we are the Smashing Pumpkins!
Ultrasound are not the Smashing Pumpkins
nor anything recognisable that's come us possibly since the dawn
of the Manic Street Preachers in the respect of being an
extraordinary idea to believe in. And, just like the Manics,
beyond the idea they create colossal, irresistible, living
anthems borne from the liquid syphone off the diseased lumber
puncture of humanity - except with an overwhelming sense of
deliverance from evil, of communal emancipation, and of Hope.
With jokes in. At the end of the late-20th Century , while the
rest of alternative rock either a) sports a collective face like
a garden spade (you know, one of the really long ones) or b) is
forever in a bath of pale ale down the pro-celebrity football
bloke-rock shindig with its rullygoodfrendamine it met yesterday
under a cistern in Soho, Ultrasound loom like a kaleidoscopic
rainbow of redemption to remind us what this rock'n'roll stuff
was supposed to be about in the first place. And it's not about
The Beautiful People. The Beautiful People have got everything
else in life so they can get their exquisitely manicured backside
off our pitch, pronto, oh-keh?
It's about the other Beautiful People, The Real Beautiful People like the members of Ultrasound and all the rother geeks, freaks, and reality refugees with skins as thin as one cell of a steam-rollerer jelly-fish looking down the wrong end of an industrial telescope. In a wheelchair. People who understand that music cannot only change your life, but literally save it. People, who as our Jarvis put it, who don't want no trouble, just the right to be different. People traditionally represented by the metaphor of the fat guy at school who never gets picked for games. The person Tiny Wood is, stepped out of mythology, into our lives, to save them for good.
"Of course I was that kid who was picked last for the football team," he's saying, perched on an incongrously posh white leather sofa. "All those thugs lording it over you just 'cos they're good at football and they really are fookin' thick and they'll never do anything with their lives and then there's me (Huge grin, girly flap of the fingers), 'Alright lads!'" And Tiny Wood vibrates in his seat with mirth, the living, wheezing embodiment of the victory Vs. To this day, the thugs have never touched him; nothing scares a nutter quite like a bigger, very different kind of nutter. On Ultrasound's first unlimited commercially available EP featuring the already classic glam-stomp blinder 'Stay Young', there's an anti-parents-and-football speed punk bonanza called 'Football Meat' which goes, "We think football's crap!/Sport is shit!/Fuck face fuck off!", etc. "It's not really about football," titters Tiny. "It's just that good-and-bad-at-games thing. It's more about hating your parents. Vanessa had a problem with that sayin', 'My relatives have got to listen to this!' and Matt was sayin', 'But I like football!'"
Matt: "I adore football. I used to be a steward at Wembley and loved every minute of it." Help.
The legend of Ultrasound has grown in 18
months, from discovery as an NME Unsigned Band, through two
Goliath-rawk singles, 'Same Band' and 'Best Wishes', signing with
Nude, tours with Embrace and Travis (reducing those two's 'epic'
soundscapes to two parps on a kazoo in the middle of a typhoon in
North Dakota), to their current position as
granite-glam-psychedelic-pop pioneers who, if they were Genesis
(which they are not, despite extended soundscape 'axe' heroics),
would be the Genesis with Peter Gabriel in a blow-up flower petal
suit and a lawn mower on his head. With tunes you can whistle.
They were born in Wakefield College in 1989 on a Popular and Commercial Music course where mature student Tiny befriended Richard, a 16-year-old Velvet Underground-besotted classically trained cello player, who unfeasibly then befriended Andy, a body-building motorbike obsessive who liked trees and who wanted "to be Roger Taylor out of Queen". The trio moved to Newcastle and unearthed two scholars of jazz: the gifted and "completely paranoid" Vanessa who could've been the Tyneside Tori Amos and who, instead, has singlehandedly invented indie-opera, and the wily Matt, prone to statements such as, "I smoke cannabis all day, every day" and "rock'n'roll is a game and it has to be played, d'youknowhatImean?"
They formed imaginary bands, real bands, failed theatrically, moved to London, failed some more, and emerge today from the ashes of indifference a fully-formed phenomenom via the vision of Tiny Wood. He can perform sensational impersonations of Pavarotti and Harry Secombe and when he saw the playback of his recent debut television performance on Later With Jools Holland, was "traumatised and I don't think I'll ever get over it. I've been stamping me feet in the studio control room saying, 'I cannot sing, I'm absolute fookin' shit, why the fuck am I here?'
"Cos it's me and I'm so frustrated with me. And every single person I've spoken to has said, 'Absolutely brilliant!' and I'm like, 'You're wrong.'"
Currently completing their debut LP in a studio in Lincoln, Ultrasound's means of diffusing tension has been to hire a bouncy castle "30 quid a day, knock-down price" and the dubious practice of flinging cans of deodorant onto bonfires. ("Deodorant exploding all over the villagers. A huge success.") In 1998, five lifetimes of naturally psychedelic imagination is about to combust into Technicolor reality as Ultrasound perform their Magic Bus-stop impersonation right before our eyes. You wait a whole decade for a proper rock nutter to come along and then five turn up at the same time. Led by a bona fide People's Hero for the bamboozled generation, it's all there waiting for them; all they have to do is not kill each other, or themselves, first.
Andrew Victor 'Tiny' Wood was born in
Birkenhead and is incomparable to anyone else on earth, though
it'd be fair to say he's some unique existential hybrid of John
Peel, Jarvis Cocker, Les Dawson, Iggy Pop, Spike Milligan, Diana
Dors, Shaun Ryder, Bootsy Collins, Florence Nightingale, Eddie
Izzard, Henry VIII, Aretha Franklin, Nicky Wire, Tommy Cooper,
Mark E Smith, Vivian Stanshall, Liberace and Captain Beefheart
and, as such, is the living embodiment of The Experience of
Taking LSD. He's a human question mark who's just broken the
studio's wooden sofa, been referred to as 'one of you ladies' by
a woman rattling a charity tin and is a-seat outside a public
house in London drinking absolutely nothing at all as the sun
fades into orange overhead.
Coffee, alcohol and cocaine "don't touch me. Acid's the only one that does it for me; 'cos it's a good laugh." He is sitting next to a football. His nail varnish is pale blue.
"I've always hated adults," he announces breezily, puffing continually, "ever since I was a wee nipper. I hated my parents and I still can't talk to them. I remember when I was about 15 there were these aliens on the telly and me mum came and switched it off and I didn't even like the film, really, but I was so frustrated I felt like fookin' killing her. And I checked my emotion. I thought, 'Right, I'll remember this emotion, 'cos I that adults don't feel that, they don't feel as intense as that' and I still don't wanna forget it. I remember wanting my parents dead. I used to plot to have them destroyed. I used to daydream they'd be killed in a car crash and they never used to go out half the time. I used to read stories about orphans and wish I was one."
It is important to note here that Tiny Wood, is, in actual fact, once more vibrating with mirth, all golden-tooth beans and half-moon eyes. It is a vision of unprecendented bizarreness - and vastly infectious, so you sit there grinning like a gonk and you don't know why. Tiny doesn't really like anyone in the world apart from people "between the ages of eight and 17. I like the way they think, d'youknowhatImean?"
He's never really known what his parents did for a living: dad was an ex-merchant navy man turned "something to do with power stations" and mum "did photocopying in Nottingham Town Hall." These days they're "getting proud of me, cos I'm in the paper." Once he won a headbanging competition round a schoolmate's house. "They put on Status Quo's double live album," he puffs, "and you had to try and get to the end of it and I was the only man left standing." He borrowed Jethro Tull's 'Aqualung' album, went home, and via the combination of "cheap booze" and excitement, vomited all over the bed, the floor "and then vomited onto meself. The next day I was sittin in me room listening to the album again and me mum was cleaning me room up going on about having to clean up me sick and I was, 'Shurrup! I'm trying to concentrate, I've got new music!'" At the age of 12 he told them he'd be moving out "as soon as I fookin' could", which he did, aged 16.
"And I lived in the caravan next to the house," he grins, "with a power lead going from the house for the telly and everything. I'd started smoking gear so me and me mates would sit in there giggling and wait 'til 2am and raid the fridge. Me dad'd be going, 'Have you boys been smoking hasheesh?!'"
Still aged 16, Tiny moved out of the caravan and into the home of a hippy drug dealer, spending two years "listening to Neil Young and being a long-haired hippy - sandals, the works" before signing on the dole aged 18 for the next 15 years, and occasionally robbing his own mother, good God.
"I forged mum's cheques," he states, amiably. "I stole money out me girlfriend's bank account. Several times. When I was at school I was scratching Led Zeppelin or something on a desk, and the teacher gave it that old argument, 'You wouldn't do that at home, would you?' So I did. I went home and did it to prove I would, scratched me name on the dining table. A Wood. Mum wasn't best chuffed, but it proved a point."
What did you think about for 15 years?
"You can actually get into it, just... mong," he muses. "You watch telly. I dream of it now. All I ever want is to do nothin'. That's the reason that I work, so that I can get home and do nothin'. It was me that suggested most of the things we've done so far, moving back to London, but in the back of me mind there's always this, 'Great! I've got something to do in order that I can do it and then not do it, because the reward for doing something is doing nothin', isn't it? What's the point in doing something when you could do nothin'? Er...actually, I have to fight that, that's not right."
Fifteen years of impoverished 'nothing' did, however, create a richness in time, affording him a musicological guru's knowledge or rock'n'roll and its 'parent' design for life, ie, never do a rubbish job for no money and be a legend if you can while you're "at it." At Wakefield College, aged 28, Tiny was entrusted with taking lectures himself and, for the teachings of the history of rock'n'roll from 1950 onwards used the "really good example, it's all assimilated" of San Francisco art-rock herberts the Residents who wore suits and gigantic fibre-glass eyeballs on their heads. He is the sad fan's sad fan and 100 percent sentiment-free about his 2,000 vinyl record collection which he recently sold, Residents stuff included, for money for fags and food and an amplifier and rehearsal time. He'd taped it all, so he doesn't care.
Today he is still penniless but owns "a Switch card - I'm dangerous!", is £2,000 overdrawn on it and uses it anyway and supposes if he were a millionaire, "I'd probably buy loads of acid and just do it. I could spend a million just like that." He also advocates the pinching of CDs from shops.
"It's only an hour in a cell, big deal," he insists, last caught pinching The Who's 'Quadrophenia' because he didn't have it on CD, "and then some copper'll say, 'Don't do it again' and you're out. Anything's worth it for the music. (swoons) Music. You've gorra hear it, you've gorra have it, you can't wait around all your life to hear 'Sergeant Pepper' by The Beatles. So, whatever it takes, otherwise where are you gonna be? You're gonna be lonely."
Ultrasound are the kind of band who have
always assumed that if you asked for "a sound like the sun
going down" a wizardly producer fellow would know what you
were on about. One production fiddler lasted two days with
Ultrasound before he walked.
"We were gonna try and go in and make the best album that's ever been made," says Tiny, ambitiously, "and went in thinking, 'How are we gonna achieve this?', started playing around, experimenting with different sounds and he came in and said (briskly), 'What you doin'? Plug in you fucking bass and let's start.' And we were like, 'But we don't know which bass to plug in and where to plug it into to get the sound that we want', and he went, 'Well just trust me, I know what I'm doing, plug the fucking thing in.' So we were like, 'No, we wanna talk about this and we wanna have our ideas down on tape.' So he walked out."
In spirit, Ultrasound are less Radiohead, more Half Man Half Biscuit. Where Richard Ashcroft's grandest goal is "to do what REM have done", Tiny's is "to be like the bass player of The Fall." When Tiny yowls, "Hey kids!/ Rawk an' roll is here!/ So scream all you like..." on 'Stay Young' he is more Alice Cooper than Jason Pierce, more Marc Bolan than Jeff Buckley, more Keith Flint, Keith Moon and Keith Bleedin' Chegwin on a bender down the dodgems on Blackpool Pier than Ian Curtis, but, when he feels like it, he can break your heart into infinite shrapnels of imperceptibly emotional sorrow.
Ultrasound's next single is called 'I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours': "About a relationship that goes very sour indeed." A true story? "Erm, it's not for me to say. But yes."
When Tiny embarked on his first relationship he was 28.
"For the first couple of months I couldn't perform," he says, boldy, "because I thought 'Well, I'm not a woman, so I'm too ashamed to be there for you' because I don't really like the idea of a man and a woman having sex, it should be a woman with a woman and a man with a man, logic dictates it, a man knows best what a man likes, same with women. With men and women it becomes a big joke about men not knowing what they're doing and coming too fast; women demand different things. But I think you can work it out, be patient. I try and be that way. Difficult when you've got a raging hard-on."
At the age of four, Tiny started wearing his sisters' clothes.
"I'd get quite turned on," he grins. "Probably my first sexual experience was wearing me sister's brownie skirt with nothing underneath and a belt. I got tingles. I used to call meself Andrea and not answer to any other name. I was always convinced if I ever got enough money I'd have a sex change 'cos I always wanted to be a woman and that's how I feel. I get on better with women. I still kind of feel that way. I don't know if I'd go through with it now, but I'd prefer to have female parts than male. Male ones are a bit... useless."
Are you an actual transexual?
"I don't know," he says. "I've always liked the idea of wearing women's clothes, but transsexuals dress up like '80s porn stars, that's not what women wear. I tend to wear ladies' knickers, but proper knickers, not those frilly things. Your average...knickers, much more comfortable and real. Y-fronts, you don't need it. I used to wear dresses to college. I wore red tights and I had a pink handbag. I lived in this dodgy part of Newcastle full of lads who used to really shout and take the piss and I was like (utter confidence), 'Fuck you. Come on, try it.' And there's no way they're gonna have a go at me, 'cos I'll fookin' have 'em. Not that I would, but they think I would. Cause a bit of consternation."
You've a massive confrontational spirit inside you...
You were put on this earth to confound.
"Heheheh. Fuck things up a bit, yeah. And I do it because I know that everyone else feels the same way and a lot of people aren't given the opportunity and get beaten up or whatever. (Defiantly) No. I'm there for you. I'll do it, if you like, just to prove it can be done. And you're not gonna be ridiculed for it, if I can do it. Occasionally, someone does need to stand up and say, 'Fuck you' in a positive way and a big way. That's what we expect from our idols. Heheheh. (Begins chortling) It'd be a major coup to be as big as Queen, wouldn't it?"
I remember a kid saying to me once walking
down Pontefract High Street," says Tiny Wood in a
magnificent and specific fusion of the spirits of Jarvis Cocker
and Les Dawson, "Fookin' 'ell, you're fat, mate, what's your
favourite band, Meat Loaf?' Heheheheh. And I was watching a
documentary on Meat Loaf, right, about three days ago and I was
thinkin', 'Fookin' 'ell, he acts just like me! Some of them moves
I do!' And his voice is not dissimilar...and I look a little bit
like him...shit! I am The Indie Meat Loaf! And there's me
thinking I look like Nick Cave, slightly mysterious and dead
"But there's not many role models for fat people, is there, really? Me mum used to say things like, 'You wanna get on that Stars In Their Eyes, you've got a beautiful voice, you can do stuff like... and she couldn't think of anyone slightly large so she rang me up later and said, 'I've finally thought of it! Luther Vandross!'"
And Tiny chortles long and loud in the face of human pain. He would love to be thin. He's tried to lose weight several times since the age of 12. The last time was two years ago.
"I'm too embarrassed to exercise in front of people," he says, "so I used to wait 'til 3am and run around Acton Park and do some exercises in some trees so no-one could see. I did it quite regularly and it was going really well and it kind of stopped. But I really don't think of meself as fat, it's not what I see when I'm looking out my eyes. And when people regard me in those terms I find it shocking, like, 'Tsk, oh no, all you're seeing is some fat guy.'"
What Tiny has done, of course, is transcend his limitations through the almighty Rock Saviour because that, of course, is what rock'n'roll's for.
"I don't care that I'm not some sex god like Elvis Presley," he beams, fiddling with his jet-black rock'n'roll fringe. "I'm alright cos I'm doing this. Onstage, I don't come on as The Fat Guy. I'm just me, I just do what I do. I don't act fat, I just act the way the songs make me act. I want them to see the act not the fact a fat person's doing it."
Well, I think that's already the case.
"Maybe it is," he perks, "'cos most people don't even mention, they're always 'Wow, when you did this it was great'..."
See? You've done it. And we're all dead chuffed.
"I'm pretty chuffed as well," he grins, goldenly. "It means the message is getting through. Despite all the odds. Despite the fact we're a bunch of hopeless people who have so many disadvantages in life we can just...we can actually do this."
Ambling up the road to the tube station NME proffers an idle query: who out of Ultrasound is the weirdest? Would Ultrasound say?
"We've often discussed who of us is the weirdest," notes Tiny, padding softly along the pavement, football wedged in the crook of an arm, "and the only conclusion we've found so far is that everyone thinks they're the normal one."
Andy, existentially: "That's like saying, 'Which blue is the bluest?'"
"But," chortles Tiny, this glorious, giggling, magical man, punk rocker, would-be lesbian and living testament to the triumphant powers of his beloved music, flourescent blue eye shadow now glistening all the way down his cheeks, "I think it's probably me."