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Nick with Warrior Squares at The Sunday Sonics 2015 Photo Alexander Brattell

Nick with Warrior Squares at Thee Sunday Sonics 2015 (photo Alexander Brattell).

Conjuring music from trees

All musicians are unique in their musical production, but Nick Weekes is a man whose music attracts curiosity because of the unusual instruments he has created from tree branches and other found objects. Zelly Restorick interviews Nick – who does sterling work to keep the HOT website going when not fiddling with branches and wire racks – to find out more.

After years of asking Nick to alert me to the opportunity to hear his tree-music played live, I recently attended a gig where Nick performed solo: it was well worth the wait. Myself and all the other people in the room were magnetically drawn in by the haunting evocative sounds he produced using bow on branch: on this occasion he had brought along what appeared to be two stripped-of-foliage Christmas trees to play on. People were intrigued, going up close to him as he performed, to see how the music emerged from such a bizarrely eccentric combination.

And this Friday, Nick is performing with Warrior Squares at Kino-Teatr, accompanying A Page of Madness, a rare Japanese silent film from 1926. The film is the product of an avant-garde group of artists in Japan known as the Shinkankakuha (or School of New Perceptions) who tried to overcome naturalistic representation. Lost for forty-five years until being rediscovered by director Teinosuke Kinugasa in his storehouse in 1971, the print existing today is missing nearly a third of what was shown in theatres in 1926. The film does not have any intertitles, which only adds to its unsettling and disorientating effect while fitting perfectly with Warrior Squares’ exploratory and improvisatory approach. If you’re seeking the perfect alternative on Friday night, this is it.

How long have you been a practising musician – and what instruments were you drawn to initially – and over the years?

Hard to say. I was never trained so it’s been a long journey. I suppose it began with my tape experiments as a teenager. I had a bass guitar back then though and messed around on it. I always liked the idea of owning a synthesiser, but that has never happened.

What catalysed the idea of playing branches?

I was cooking up a project similar to Eskimo by The Residents (check them out!). They invented a fictional musical world of Eskimo music for their album and it fooled everyone. I liked that idea. Anyway I came up with the concept of ‘Tree People’, an ancient civilization that used the materials around them, such as branches and pine cones. I went for a walk in Darwell Woods near Battle and found what I was looking for. When I got my first branch home and hooked it up to some effects, the sound was exceptional: I couldn’t stop messing around with it. That was in 1998 and I’ve used the branches for a sound source ever since.

At The Spirit of Gravity, Brighton Photo Agata Urbaniak

At The Spirit of Gravity, Brighton (photo Agata Urbaniak).

How do you choose the branches – and do they all produce different sounds? Are some trees better than others?

It’s quite tricky actually. I’ve not used anything other than pine and it has to be a species with a lot of resin, as this gives the richest tone, rather like the wood used for violins. They last a long time so I don’t hunt for them a lot. I do quite often find what I think will be a beauty but it’s a dud when I get it home and it’s dried out. I haven’t experimented with other woods much. They all have a unique set of tones and the individual stems always seem to relate harmonically. I don’t claim that I can play Bach on them [pun noticed and left in], the sound is rather rough on its own but I tame it with electronics


What are your aspirations and goals in your musical life?

I have a lot of unfinished recordings, so maybe get them sorted and released somehow! I like making sound worlds, so having the time to work on these is also a goal. I’d like to see how it goes down in mainland Europe and Scandinavia too, so some touring would be interesting – and probably solo, although maybe that’s a bit far-fetched.

Which bands do you play with locally?

I’m in a couple of local bands, Warrior Squares and Column 258. The latter is more like a rock band and I play bass mostly, but they’re both experimental and there’s a lot of improvisation.

What connected you to Warrior Squares?

I met them in 2009 at The Roomz in Western Road. They were interested in some crazy films I made at college… I don’t think they knew about my branch work. We had a jam and that settled it – I was in! Little did I know I was to be joined by the almighty Geoff Leigh. I’ve been a Henry Cow fan since the early 80s when I chanced upon a cassette release of Legend in Our Price records.

What is special about the gig on Friday?

The film is remarkable and has incredible acting, story, editing and special effects. It’s a work of art and it’s not even complete. The director lost the original cut for many years and it remains unfinished. Kino-Teatr have sourced a print of the best available quality so it’s a good chance to experience the film. It’s also perfect visual material for what we do in Warrior Squares. I’m rather excited about it.

Tell us about your connection to Hastings and St Leonards on Sea.

I attended Hastings College of Art & Technology for a number of years and moved here in 2006. I’ve been fond of the place ever since visits as a child in the 1970s though. It’s a very special town.

Scene form "A Page of Madness" by Teinosuke Kinugasa

Scene from “A Page of Madness” by Teinosuke Kinugasa.

A Page Of Madness, with live soundtrack by Warrior Squares: Friday 9 February at Kino-Teatr, Norman Road, St.Leonards-on-Sea. Buy tickets here.
Facebook events. 
Kino-Teatr events.



Warrior Squares will also be participating in Thee Sunday Sonics, a programme of of experimental music, sound, art and film at The Printworks,Claremont, Hastings TN34 1HE on Sunday 11 February. Curated by artist Danny Pockets and James Weaver of Warrior Squares. DJs from 1pm and live experimental bands from 6.30-11.30pm.

Warrior Squares Facebook.

Warrior Squares Bandcamp. 

Warrior Squares Soundcloud.

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Posted 22:45 Wednesday, Feb 7, 2018 In: Music & Sound

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