Bernie Sizzey: Music For Shock Treament Lounges

Today's post is a big one, but this is a big discovery: a prolific outsider artists' complete works now available for free download. Meet Bernie Sizzey (aka Bernie aka Solitaire): mental patient, transvestite, drug user, coprophiliac, and, more importantly, singer/guitarist/keyboardist/ lo-fi home recorder and songwriter for 30 years now of everything from instrumental ambient space-rock, to unrepentant lysergic trip-outs, to confessional ballads detailing his life in catchy, upbeat songs that are never feeling sorry for themselves. He hasn't been dealt the best hand in life, but you won't hear him complain. (Well, unless maybe he runs out of pot.)

He was discovered by electronic/experimental musician Lee Ashcroft, whom some of you mashup fans may remember as "Mixomatosis." Lee writes:

"I have my friends at Colchester Arts Centre to thank for introducing me to Bernie's world. It was 2005, years before I'd heard the term "outsider music", and I went to see Matt Elliott from Third Eye Foundation live. Leaving the venue I walked past a table full of hand-made CD-Rs. Stained by tobacco and cannabis smoke and leaves, they each bore the name Bernie Sizzey. Bernie was nowhere to be seen but, after being told the Arts Centre was the only reliable place to find these discs (a fact that remains to this day - you won't find him on, I was told to "help myself". Few others did.

This was raw, powerful music. Through the haze of psychedelia, it seemed that one man had encompassed pop, rock, trance and hip-hop into a single, unique sound. At one moment he could be rapping about the Avon lady, the next singing a ballad to his mother, who put her son up for adoption mere days after giving birth. He had made his life an open book, and channeled his demons into some of the most exciting music I'd ever heard.

I wouldn't meet him for another four years. Arts Centre staff had told me he could often be found sitting on a wall opposite the centre, behind the local Mercury Theatre, wearing ill-fitting women's clothes and drinking special brew. And sure enough, walking through town one day, there he was. So excited to discover he had a new fan, he hastily put together a box-set of his entire repetoire from 1981 to 2007. Knowing this box-set, 'Be Kind, I'm Cute', was released in an edition of precisely two copies, I offered to put the contents online.

Finally, after two years of ironing out the myriad glitches present on the discs (some the result of poor-quality audio leads, others the result of the aforementioned drug leaves), I placed the entire collection, including materail released since, onto Bandcamp. Why am I doing this? Because this needs to be heard. All outsider art is important, because it avoids all commerical thought process. Art is often defined as something which lacks a genuine purpose. Outsider art has a purpose, if not for its audience, then for its manufacturers. It's art that exists not because it wants to, but because it NEEDS to.

Bernie's music is vital, and deserves to be heard. I consider it a real priveledge to be able to share it with the world, because I know that whatever problems Bernie faces in his life, knowing his music has an audience is something he can take a lot of comfort, satisfaction and pride in. No amount of money can achieve that.

Lee Ashcroft, January 2012

PS. Matt Elliott was unavailable for comment."

The following text is edited from emails and transcripts from Bernie:

"Hello Mr Ashcroft. Testing, testing, hello Mr Ashcroft and the nice guy, kind guy that wants to do this (that's you Mr Fab!)... I dont understand what a blog is, see? um... right. Biography. Born 28th April 1964. I was adopted nine days later by a couple, Mr Henry and Barbara Sizzey. I used to live up Layer Road, my mum was born up there. My dad used to live in Ipswich, then to Langham. Um, that's my dad, my adopted dad. I'll tell you about the social work slags later but um...

Yeah, adopted when I was nine days old. My mum and dad were really good people. They brought up three of us children. We were all other people's children that they brought up. We grew up with an Alsation, Sheena, and then Max when Sheena died. Lived in Brightlingsea, although actually... my mummy never wanted to know me. It will remain nameless. Don't really know if I want to see her. She got rid of me once. Don't really know... anyone if... if I could stand to get rejected by another human being again like that. But my mum and dad brought me up.

Oh yeah, the social workers, they said you can look up your blood family, which I gave them the name of, and they said "but you can't look up the Sizzey family, 'cos they're not blood related, and you couldn't do that. It would be against the law," and I said "up yours, social worker"...

Yeah, um, got hurt terribly by a woman. My first girl really, up the Colne High School up there in Brightlingsea. I think it's called the Colne Community College now, or something. I went there... started there in 1976...I asked a woman... gave her a letter and stuff... that girl in my class, in my form room... if she'd um, we could like get it together. She was really posh and that, and big arse and stuff, and... you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife for the next three years. Didn't tell my mum. My mum said "did you go out with her?" and I said "yeah." But I said "she don't wanna meet you" and stuff. So I lied blatantly to my mum and kept everything in after that really.

Later, I had some good friends around me though, and uh, but later I got into, like, a bit of coprophilia and scat and stuff in the local bogs [toilets]. I could even get a few... TICs with washing lines and stuff and a few shoplifting in Woolworths. Couple of Clash tapes and things, and Buzzcocks and that. They used to keep them in the cases in them days! Ha ha!

Anyway, moving on from that. I did have a girlfriend about a year later when i was 13. 13, 14. Carol. She was a bit plain for me. She's a nice lady and... went back to school after the summer and she weren't there. Apparently she'd move on, anyway. I took it pretty badly, after the other girl as well, who'd turned me down. And um... really things took a bit of a nose dive after that. Always had a sick note for school. Always had a sick note for sport, and that. I hate sport.

Cut a long story short: About the age of 15, started playing guitar. Picked up my sister's one. It was nylon. I put steel ones on it which cut into the neck, but it still worked. I learned how to tune it to itself, and... I still don't keep it in proper, classical tune because they're all up themselves. Tune it how I want. Anyway... started having a group called Rohan. AJP, who's on 'Reel to Real', I think he's a radiotherapist now up there in Peterborough...Haven't got a lot by them anymore, all the tapes have got lost, but I have got the two songs off 'Reel to Real' that I done with AJP...They used to say "don't bring Bernie," you know, because I was obviously so strawn away and that, and dirty and that, that they just didn't want to know. So that was the end of Rohan.

Aged 16, got into Severalls. By the age I was 21, I'd already had ECT [electro-convulsive therapy aka electro-shock]. Had ECT on my 20th birthday! 21st April 1984, we all know what I was doing that morning. Getting a taxi, a paid taxi into Severalls... we was very poor though, so we got a... hospital taxi took me there.

Realistically, it was just drugs, drink, special brew. Not many girls. Couple of lays, but no actual girlfriends until I started making my music. This doctor, this psychiatrist just turned my guts so much that I felt I had to write her a few love songs, to be cute to her, and tell her she can always kidnap me, keep me in a cupboard and kill me. "How much is it?" So I made a few songs, then when I wrote 'Beacon' on 'The Game so Far', sent it to all the neighbors, hey bingo, Vanessa said she loved it. Rest of then 'til now's been history. I've been loved. I've learned how to communicate. I really love that girl Vanessa. And just recently I've got Bandcamp... and Lee's been absolutely fantastic.. you (you Mr!), you kind man, good for you. If you ever need anything sucking, come this way. I mean... I didn't mean that! I mean... if you ever need... ah, bottom."

And that, I believe, marks the first offer of oral sex I've received on this blog. And it's about time! Anyway. Ladies and gentlemen, with no further ado, may we present:

The Complete Works (So Far) of Bernie Sizzey

Where to begin? Lee recommends the "Flux Transmissions" album, and I'd add his sampler "Hippie Scat." "Flux" contain gems like "Dream-Conduit," and the winning bubblegum of "Spinning Top!!" "Scat" is packed with hits like his insanely catchy and funny "Smokin' and Trippin' Song," the 1:30 long should-be-garage-rock-classic "Her Favourite Rubbish," an ode to a "psychedelic Avon lady in the sky...", and "Friends Forever," a great bit of space rock disco - imagine Chic covering Hawkwind. The lyrics to "Slave Shuffle" hints at the darkness in his life ("am I just a basket case/not fit for the human race?") even as the New Wave synth-pop music sets toes happily tapping.

It is these older recordings, sometimes released under the name "Solitaire," that are the most intensely personal, lyric-driven tunes, written in an informal, off-the-cuff manner, as if an uninhibited neighbor stopped you on the street to tell you what happened to him today and to share old stories. Pick hits from "Bit By Bit": "Days," "Garden" (a tribute to his recording engineer!), and "Squeeze," and from "The End Of The Game": "Moonshine Man" (about his dealer), and "Hippie Scat," which details the stupendous amounts of chemicals he ingests. Which leads to this chicken/egg question: did his mental problems/hospitalizations result from his drug use, or are the drugs a way to help him cope?

More recent releases such as "Hard-Wired," the pointedly-titled "Music For E.C.T. Lounges," and the more dance-y "Dementia Praecox" are mostly instrumentals in the Pink Floyd/Tangerine Dream school of head music. Recording quality, tho still a bit lo-fi, is definitely improving.

Much thanks to Lee for allowing us the opportunity to be the blog that gets to introduce Bernie to the world. As Bernie says, "Have a nice trip!!"

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