Acclaimed West Australian guitar virtuoso Errol H Tout has released his new album, Dancing About Architecture, a labour of love recorded over a period of three years.
And he knows what he’s dancing about. Tout was Head of the Department of Architecture & Interior Architecture at Curtin University of Technology until 2008, then was more latterly a Senior Lecturer and Chair of the Science and Technology Stream. Then again, he’s also a graduate of King Crimson icon Robert Fripp’s Guitar Craft school.
For the one-time career architect and long-time musician, many things lie within the name of the new LP. Variously attributed to the likes of Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello and comedian Martin Mull, Tout dug further for this, the perfect album title.
“The first quote that I’ve been able to track down from 1931 in the New York Times,” Tout explains. “It was a journalist who actually said it in the context of writing and music being two different artforms and you shouldn’t try doing both at the same time. So writing about music was as stupid as dancing about architecture.
“Laurie Anderson used it too, I think,” he adds. “It’s been used and abused! For me, it just made a lot of sense. Once upon a time, being an architect and now I’m being a musician. So it fits well.”
Similarly, while music and architecture may be regarded as two different disciplines, architectural concepts play into the way Tout thinks about music…
“Very much so,” Tout says. “There’s a perception as you move through something. The perception of space is that you see it as you move through it. The perception of sound is that sound moves past you. So things move though each other and there’s should be a level of being able to discuss clearly about how it actually does it.
“You certainly have to do that in Architecture school. So architecture is about moving through space, and music is about moving through time.”
Dancing About Architecture follows up 2013’s The Post-Tumour Humour album and 2017’s Luminous. These three albums have been written, recorded, and released during Errol’s 10-year battle with cancer and are testament to the drive, creativity, and good humour of the man amidst that challenge. The new LP has been on the go since 2018, between surgeries and various hospital visits.
“I did it a very long time ago, some of it was done three years ago. There’s definitely one song on there that’s about me squaring up to the C-Bomb, a song called Seconds And Moments.”
The song features a rare vocal by Tout, complemented by an unexpected collaborator. “I sampled Bruce Lee talking about how he deals with an opponent in a martial arts competition,” he explains. “And it kind of made sense with what I was doing. So I took the sample and popped it in. I then wrote away and asked permission to use it, but they never wrote back so I assume it’s okay. So there’s one piece about the C-Bomb, the rest are about all sorts of different things.”
All sorts, indeed. Backed by a dynamic music video directed by Tout’s son Sam (who also contributes keyboards and bass to the album) The Black Dance recalls the alternative nightlife experiences of Tout’s musical past, when he was an emergent post-punk guitarist in the ‘80s.
“There used to be a nightclub in Perth called The Red Parrot,” he recalls, “and in this den of iniquity people used to wear black and they had a certain way of dancing. This reminds me of that. It’s kind of a Cabaret Voltaire kind of vibe, but with guitars. It’s a really old piece and I feel it sounds fantastic in this version that we’ve recorded.”
Album opener Spiders sonically evokes the arachnid onslaught that terrified Tout’s wife in their kitchen. “So I made something that has these little things that scatter and run across the stereo picture,” he says. “It also fulfils my objective of trying to make bright, cheerful, and sometimes witty guitar music without sounding like a complete tosser. So it’s a funny little thing about spiders that get bigger and nastier as the piece goes on. It’s got a real groove to it that I really like.”
Slice Me Up Baby, meanwhile, “is a really old piece about my first visit to hospital to have various things cut out of my body. There were so many people in the theatre and so many bits of gear. I thought, ‘is that all for me? Well, slice me up baby!’ It’s about trying to get on top of things and not let things get on top of you.
“It’s really hard to find a sample of someone cutting a piece of liver, because it doesn’t make much noise. I had to compromise and use bits of timber being cut and chopped around!”
Dancing About Architecture also sees the return on the inimitable rhythm section of Roy Martinez (bass) and Ric Eastman (drums) whose tracks were recorded in an impressive two-day session at Lee Buddle’s Crank Recording Studio (the rest of the album was captured in Tout’s own “modest but tidy studio”). Fellow guitarist, Mike Gorman, a player who complements Tout’s playing in a very niche manner, is also back. They come and go from places that many haven’t been before.
“Mike brings all sorts of stuff with him,” Tout says. “He’s done courses with Robert Fripp and all kinds of stuff as well, more than I have done. That’s how we connected. He kind of came over for a cup of tea and stayed ever since. He brings a lot to the table, there’s ideas that I had – on Secret Agent Theme and Surf Action – that Mike could execute better than I could.
“So it’s really nice working with another guitarist because we’re kind of on the same page. I worked with lots of other guitar players and thought differently to them, but the fact that we’ve both been to Guitar Craft courses keeps us on the same page.”
Tout states that he had 45-50 pieces from which to choose from for a place on the album. Given that it’s predominantly instrumental music, the 14 tracks chosen made their presence felt due to an interesting set of selection criteria.
“The selection criteria was that you should be able to sing most of the pieces,” Tout explains. “Which was a good kind of benchmark. Some of the pieces are really catchy, and I was really trying to do that. There’s other ways that guitarists do things, and they all have their merits, but I was after something that sticks and maybe has a little bit of humour and wit.
“It’s an area that I like to inhabit, and I don’t know an awful lot of people who would have done stuff like that. It’s slightly outside of the rock mainstream, but still with a fair bit of energy and fun in there as well.”
Dancing About Architecture is available on vinyl for the first four months of its release and will thereafter be accessible on all major streaming platforms. With his eye already on his next release, Tout is well pleased with how his latest chapter has turned out.
“It’s a part of a continuum of one’s life work,” he considers. “It’s another chapter, and there’s lots more to come. I kind of like that – doing stuff and moving on, then moving on and moving on. Doing something better and different and in other ways than before… but it’s nice working with these same people because they’re just so bloody good!”
Errol H Tout launches Dancing About Architecture at Ellington Jazz Club on Tuesday, September 7.