Experimental Health is the 14th album from The Telescopes and their 3rd release on Weisskalt. The Telescopes are an all-embracing concern which began in 1987 – the only constant, being sole composer and instigator, Northumbrian born, Stephen Lawrie. The band’s line-up is in constant flux: there can be anywhere between 1 and 20 members on a recording. This album was created entirely independently by Lawrie in a remote cottage in West Yorkshire between January and May 2022.
Experimental Health is folk music made with broken toys and cheap synths – mostly Pocket Operators and miniature synths. Here are no guitars present on the album, most of the instrumentation costing £50 or less. The complexity of sound rests within the simplicity of the composition and musical arrangements.
Lead single, “The Turns” borrows from Edward ‘Diogenese’ McKenzie who was capable of arcane wisdom such as “Live while you can and live in clover, when you’m dead you’m dead all over”. The phrase appears in the song as ‘live while you can and live all over, when you’re dead you’ll be dead all over’.
McKenzie was one of many homeless people who found a place with the artist Robert Lenkiewicz. McKenzie agreed to have his body preserved as a memento mori after his death and retained as an artefact beneath the bed of the artist. Stephen’s wife Andrea was painted by Lenkiewicz. Andrea now works in health care, ‘the turns’ is a terminology used for turning a patient in order to prevent bed sores.
The track “45e” is a clause in the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 protecting the public from receiving mandatory medical treatment. The song was written in reaction to the possibility of a breach of or change in this legislation. The possibility of such an important basic human right being disregarded is counterpointed in the song with the summation – “Drugs so awesome they have to force them”.
“Repetitive Brain Injury” was inspired by a conversation on dementia. “Let him wander, let him roam, always something’ll bring him home” is an old saying that was relayed during the conversation. The song’s refrain is built around evolving/revolving modifications of this phrase that tell an abstract story of somebody who was let down by a system that was there to help them.
The album closes with “The Turns Again” which grew out of an improvisation based around the outro of “The Turns”. An uncanny happy accident occurred when the vocal track on the outro to “The Turns” was reversed and the phrase ‘turn again’ changed to ‘there there’ which is repeated as a salve mantra throughout the song.
The Telescopes’ music has constantly pushed its own boundaries. The music overlaps many genres following its own inspiration-led course. Time has shown The Telescopes music not only withstands repeated listening but also reveals something new whenever one ventures between the grooves. It has been described by the music press as ‘more a revolution of the psyche than a revolution of the sidewalk’; a thread consistent throughout a body of work spanning over 30 years.