August 2nd – The Festival of The Headmakers

It was in 1979 when the first of The Headmakers’ records started appearing properly in the music shops of Buentoille, although Greebus Doche’s House of Excellent Music claims they had a home-made EP with a couple of their early songs on it, that had appeared at some point in 1975. They never bought it from anywhere, it just turned up – probably some small band trying to get some exposure. They threw it out after a stock check; it looked unprofessional, was unsaleable. Some say that they never had this record, that they are making this up for some kind of vicarious prestige, in order to be part of the story of The Headmakers.

They never achieved the astronomical success of Ursula Morg or The Greedy Bastards, but The Headmakers have achieved cult status amongst record collectors, and a small but thriving fan base. Party of this reason is that the band have never performed live. It’s difficult, in Buentoille at least, to garner much success without working your way up through the pub circuit and then, if you are lucky, graduating onto the music halls and clubs, the outdoor stadia, live on TV. There are some people who will tell you that they went to an early Headmakers gig in some basement beneath The Sparrow’s Lunch, or in some old factory, but they are almost certainly lying. The Headmakers have never played live, because they probably don’t exist.

There are fifty two Headmakers albums out there, a few of which are only existent in one or two copies, the others presumably lost to similar destructive acts, when the record shops realised that they weren’t on their delivery manifests. After the first few albums, however, it seems that The Headmakers no longer self-published, and began selling their wares through Tornado Sam’s Rootin Tooters, a publisher, manufacturer and distributer of small-batch records. Samuel Windwhip, the sole owner of the business, has been approached by several journalists over the years, looking to reveal the identity of The Headmakers, but apparently they never met in person, only ever conversing by mail that he sent to a (now disused) postal collection box.

Probably the two most popular albums, for their actual musical content, are The Prophecy and Broken Wine Bottles Line the Avenue. The Headmakers’ genre varies across their records, but in these albums it is best characterised as ‘electronic folk rock’. Traditional vocal arrangements are common in these albums amongst their usual mixture of electronically modified potbelly plucker (a kind of guitar common in Buentoille that features an irregular, broken-up fretboard and sympathetic strings), piano and custom percussion. The songs ‘The Handover’ and ‘General Sympathetics’ are stand-out classics with their use of binaural throat singing. Whilst these are the most popular albums musically, there are others which are more sought out for their non-musical content, for what bookends the songs.

Twenty eight of The Headmakers’ albums are presented as one long recording, with the set-up and marginal chatter all preserved on the record. It is this chatter that most fascinates many of their fans, for this is the only information we really have about the famously reclusive band. ‘How was the train?’ asks the lead singer and potbelly plucker player Harris Neuwall, of the pianist Kimae Andonor, at the start of the album The Lord’s Teeth, and so follows three whole minutes of inane conversation, the kind of thing that we all say but need not to, before any music actually begins. In some instances songs will stop half way, Elaim Drugel swearing as they loose the beat on the empty bean cans they were playing, or as an old milk bottle they used for the high notes smashes. They start from the top, ‘we can cut it from the recording later, right?’ says Andonor. For whatever reason they saw these details worthy of being retained in the final, published album.

You can get some post-edited copies of The Lord’s Teeth and the other one-shot albums like it, where everything but the songs has been cut out, but for most Headmakers fans, this is sacrilege. For them, the whole point of listening to the albums is revealing these little conversations, their sitcom-like character interactions, slowly unveiling a narrative beneath it all. It’s clear that whilst Neuwall thinks he is the most important person there, Andonor is the one really running the show. Drugel mostly provides comic relief to these two warring personalities, and can often be heard laughing or scoffing at them in the background. Between ‘All My House is a Lizard’ and ‘Beetle Fulminations’ on the album Interested Parties, Drugel whispers to the listener, close to the mic, whilst the other two argue, ‘they won’t say it but they’re arguing because Kimae slept with his girlfriend and he’s angry even though it was supposed to be an “open relationship”.’

The albums are filled with little details like this, little insights into the world of the musicians which, in aggregate, tell quite the story. Sometimes it is jarring, picking up a new album that was published few months since the last, when you can tell the dynamic has changed, that some argument has been won or resolved or festers still. When the last known album, Saintly Pleasures was published in 2004, Drugel has died in a boating accident, and has been replaced by a new drummer, Wes Quickthumb, who seems very confused by the setup. Neuwall and Andonor keep arguing about who should have been with her that day, whose fault it was that she went out alone with nobody to save her from the water. Their arguments have less fire in them than before.

If you listen carefully, you can work out which street Andonor lived on, which cafe they all frequented for breakfast, where Drugel bought their drumsticks; they were always breaking, but she refused to get them from elsewhere. Avid fans have followed them to these places, closed their eyes, listening out for familiar voices. No faces adorn the album sleeves of The Headmakers’ records, so how would you know if you ever saw them? According to Professor Mitchel Voight of Yerbai Noon University, these fans are fools, waiting for something they will never hear.

In 1992 the Professor published a paper on the band, in which he had analysed the voices carefully and found that they were all probably voiced by one person; the band was a careful creation of some anonymous musician. They attempted to correlate the voice with that of other famous musicians, but none seemed to fit. Since then, this interpretation has been contested, especially by those fans who organise the festival today, a pilgrimage to all the places identified through the marginal album chatter. They knock on all the doors on Andonor’s street, they go to the place they all ate together, they leave flowers by the bend in the river where Drugel died, on this, the anniversary of her death.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Crushed Ice Festival
  • The Festival of Unheeded Retaliation
  • Ham Day