Music fans and gig-goers in Brighton of a certain persuasion will certainly know Monty Oxymoron as crazy-haired purveyor of mad professor piano improvisations – whether playing solo, as part of the long-running Safehouse Collective or even as auxiliary member of avant-garde institution, The Vitamin B-12. Others will know him as keyboardist with first-generation UK punk pioneers, The Damned, with whom he’s toured and recorded since 1996. If these two identities seem like polar opposites, it’s worth remembering that free improvising saxophonist Lol Coxhill played with The Damned as far back as their second album, 1977’s Music for Pleasure. Anyone in doubt of Monty’s credentials as a similarly genre-straddling figure would do well to check out his Bandcamp page, where he’s been digitising a selection of obscure tapes that reveal a singular and restlessly ebullient creative mind. Sure enough, both ends of the spectrum are well represented. On one hand, Exuberant Improv in the Chapel of the Ascension is, as the name suggests, a suite of spontaneous performances on grand piano, organ and harpsichord, showcasing Monty’s quicksilver skills and considerable chops as an improviser at the keyboard. At the other extreme, 2010’s Visions of the Ecstasy Aunt is an album of catchy pop/punk and psychedelic nuggets with Monty playing all the instruments. Most tellingly, the album also features a cover version of ‘Two of a Kind’ by Syd Barrett, like Monty, a native of Cambridge and The Damned’s first choice of producer for Music for Pleasure (in the end, they had to settle for fellow Pink Floyd member, Nick Mason). The song’s inclusion hints very clearly at Monty’s position in the lineage of the UK psychedelic underground – a fact made most obvious on the earliest sessions to be found at his Bandcamp page. Danger Monty At Work! from 1984/85 again finds Monty playing all instruments (except for the drums, provided by his uncle, Damien Dunnington), as he tackles a grab bag of styles – from punk and ska to new wave, heavy metal and funk – all executed with a manic, youthful energy. Again, the key track is a cover – this time ‘Why Are We Sleeping?’ from Soft Machine’s 1968 self-titled debut, a cornerstone of UK psych written by Kevin Ayres, in whose band Lol Coxhill played from the beginning of the 70s. It’s enough to cement Monty as a descendent of that most English corner of psychedelia, the Canterbury diaspora. Perhaps the most pure session of Monty’s currently available is also the earliest – Tune Into Channel Z, recorded by a 20-year old Monty in 1981. Originally released by underground cassette label, Acid Tapes, in 1984, it’s another dizzying compendium of styles touching on dub reggae, punk thrash, and various experimental strategies: the title track is a feral free-form freak-out worthy of The Red Crayola; ‘Splendid Pomposity’ is a synth-drenched vamp with Monty the axe-hero channelling Jerry Garcia; and ‘Old Fashioned Jam No. 1’ is a barrage of sped-up percussion and tape effects like an off-cut from Frank Zappa’s Uncle Meat. Meanwhile, daft but deft pastiches such as the rock and roll twanger ‘Stop Playing Football With My Heart’ and ‘The Moth Blues’ (“well, the moths ate my jumpers, the moths ate my shirts / they ate up some other clothes, which was much, much worse”), situate Monty firmly in the environs of the absurdities of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band. Monty Oxymoron is a true English eccentric, a criminally under-sung musical treasure and keeper of the flame of essential underground activities.
Daniel Spicer, Brighton & Hove, 17/06/21