Spoilt Victorian Child

Another odd record from Owd Scrat…given their last item The Seven Oracles Of Gogmagog caused quite a jumble in my poor brain with its overload of information, perhaps an aesthetic of delightful sensory confusion is one of the hallmarks of the label. Stolen Things (OWD SCRAT OWD011) is one single 12:32 track based on a Paul Rooney tune, remixed by Creeping Things who is Lola de Witte-Still (from Berlin and Berwick Upon Tweed).

On the surface, it’s a kind of contemporary electro-pop record with many of the production tricks that annoy old fogeys like myself (insistent beats, simplistic melodies, autotune), but once past this we find it’s an elaborate, many-layered construction. To begin with, the original source material wasn’t exactly a record, more of an art-installation piece – which is in keeping with Rooney’s visual art credentials. It tries to tell the story of a Victorian child thief, put on trial for shoplifting, and makes use of numerous printed materials to collage together a very fragmented tale, including a contemporary court report and a Victorian hymn tune, plus the printed works of Jean Genet. To make manifest the inner voice of this anti-heroine, Creeping Things recruits a number of vocalists (Neive Zenner, Amelia Andrews and the Highside Singers) to contribute song and spoken word, and it’s not long before Stolen Things emerges as a “mini-opera” (as the press notes have it), with a complex and overlapping libretto where the Victorian girl’s words are competing with the voices of others (for one, a condemnatory crowd of moralists in the courtroom) on what is an extremely overloaded track. The pop music elements are quickly routed by these more experimental strands, and it’s hard to know where to put yourself, or even which parts of this kaleidoscopic melange we should be focussing on next.

Last heard from Rooney himself with his Futile Exorcise record, which was likewise an attempt to give voice to lost and forgotten souls (dead ones, in that case), so this collaboration with Creeping Things is evidently in keeping. An ingenious construct, although not one that’s especially easy to listen to. Maybe next they should attempt a remake of ‘The Trial’ from that awful Pink Floyd album The Wall…it could only be an improvement. Released October 2019.