As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, we’re partnering with The House of St Barnabas for 50 days of listening experiences.
Bowers & Wilkins flagship 800 D3 loudspeakers – part of the 800 Series Diamond range – have been installed in the Monro Room at the heart of the club, creating one of the most intimate and acoustically advanced listening environments in central London.
For 50 days, members of The House of St Barnabas can hear one superbly produced album per day, each chosen by Bowers & Wilkins’ engineers, friends, and The House of St Barnabas.
Every album has been chosen for its composition and recording process, and the albums cover a range of genres, decades and formats. The list includes Darkside, Miles Davis, The Knife and Kraftwerk. We‘ve invited five influential, innovative guests to create a special listening event and Q&A around a chosen album or selection of tracks.
The partnership will culminate with a unique performance in the Chapel of St Barnabas.
Thurston Moore, founding member of seminal art-rock band Sonic Youth, is one of the world’s most creative and well respected guitarists, and was our first guest. Sonic Youth have influenced countless indie bands and musicians: it’s hard to over-estimate the band’s cultural importance.
His current project, The Thurston Moore band, features ex-Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Goodge on bass and Nought’s James Sedwards on second guitar. Their debut album, A Better Day (thurstonmoore.com) exemplifies what Moore does best, combining edgy, experimental guitar with accessible, melancholy pop.
Music writer and vinyl fan Mark Barry, the evening’s compère, began the event by playing a pristine-condition copy of Fred Neil’s folk debut, Bleeker & McDougall (1965) before introducing Thurston Moore. Neil’s evocative baritone is a perfect showcase for the 800 D3 speakers, placing the listener in the studio with the legendary singer.
Thurston came armed with a handful of records chosen from his collection, joking that although his vinyl collection lived mainly in New York, he’d been living here for the past four years and “managed to amass a few hundred thousand more.”
His first choice was Hallogallo from Neu!’s eponymous 1972 classic debut. Recorded with the legendary producer Conny Plank, the track is a flawless example of the sound Plank pioneered in his studio, later known as krautrock.
The tight drums and insistent ‘motorik’ driving rhythm had heads nodding and showcased the speakers’ ability to elegantly punch the bass into the room. Thurston moved into the audience to listen, later commenting, “that’s the best I’ve ever heard that record”.
Neu! was followed by Sparks’ thrillingly urgent hit This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us from the Muff Winwood-produced album, Kimono-My-House (1974). An album once described as a “sex fuelled cocaine orgy of exotic sonic violence” and still sounding like no-one else.
The song had clearly had some impact on Moore in his teens:
“This was really significant to me in the ‘70s, and I just thought the sound of it was amazing.”
Describing it as “a remarkable recording”, Patti Smith’s Gloria from her debut album, Horses (1975), followed. Recorded in Jimi Hendrix’s studio, Electric Ladyland on 8th Street in NYC by the Velvet Underground’s John Cale, the rudimentary guitar playing compliments Smith’s anarchic vocals perfectly. Interestingly, Thurston revealed her choice of producer was based on aesthetics: “Patti liked the way [Cale] looked on his album cover, so she chose him for visual reasons, which is a very unusual way to choose a producer.”
Patti was swiftly followed by Miles Davis’ ‘So What” from his 1959 album Kind of Blue, an album considered by most experts to be the greatest jazz album of all time. Effortlessly accompanied by Bill Evans on piano, Cannonball Adderley on alto-sax and John Coltrane on tenor sax it’s an almost perfect piece of music.
The final track, Little Red Rooster, was taken from Sam Cooke’s peerless Night Beat (1963), recorded over three nights in RCA’s Hollywood studios. The speakers’ Diamond Dome tweeters reveal the intricate detail of live recording as a quartet of studio veterans, their playing admirably restrained, allowed Cooke’s voice to soar, transporting the listeners to a hot California night 53 years ago.
Enthralled, Thurston commented: “When you listen to these speakers, it’s almost like you were in RCA studios. But in 1963 no-one had play-back systems in their homes with this sophistication. Records were made in such a great analogue way, but people had very compromised mono sound systems – often more like vinyl destroyers. So it’s fantastic to actually hear what was going on in the studio.”
Almost avuncular in his velvet armchair with a glass of red wine, art-rock’s greatest son summed up the evening:
“To have a sweet spot like this to play records, nothing beats it.”
800 D3 speakers
Turntable – Rega RP8
Amp – Classe 2300
Pre-Amp – Classe CP800
Find out more about 800 Series Diamond
Find out more about House of St Barnabas
Thurston Moore’s album The Best Day is out now