Bobby Barry Weaves a Curious Tapestry with Meccano Club

Bobby Barry’s new tape, Meccano Club (released May 1, 2020 by Bloxham Tapes on digital and cassette), is a two-track MacGuyver-esque collage that distills innovative textures from various household objects. Barry, popularly known as “Monster Bobby,” is a UK-based singer and songwriter known primarily for creating pop girl group The Pipettes, active in the early 2000s before disbanding in 2011. In contrast with his pop producer persona, and very apparently on this latest offering, Barry’s personal expression dives deep into the avant-garde and intellectual.

For Meccano Club, Barry’s ensemble includes an electric shaver, three radiators, a kettle, one scouring pad, a pencil and sharpener, a pestle and mortar, and two music boxes. Combined with field recordings gathered in Bắc Kạn (Vietnam), Victoria (Australia) and London (UK), Side A – Physics Out of School Hours is tied together by audio captured in 2006 of a man named Desmond Briscoe, co-founder of the BBC Symphonic Workshop (which he and Daphne Oram established in 1958). The most apparent thread that ties Briscoe to Barry’s work is the fact that during his high school days, Briscoe was a member of his local Meccano Club. 

Bobby Barry--Photo by Thanh Mai Nguyen

Bobby Barry–Photo by Thanh Mai Nguyen

Meccano is a line of construction toys dating all the way back to 1898, when Frank Hornby introduced the world to his concept of free-form technical model making using sets of gears, axles, wheels, and motors. Those of us who grew up in the U.S. may be more familiar with the colloquial (and nearly identical) Erector Set, which emerged in 1913 in New Haven, Connecticut. 87 years later (in the year 2000), Erector was acquired by Meccano and merged into a unified brand. The titular Meccano Club refers to organizations that continue to engage active memberships throughout the world. Unified under the International Society of Meccanomen, a descendant organization of Hornby’s original Meccano Guild, these groups gather to share ideas and enthusiasm for Meccano kits.

Aside from the inclusion of Desmond Briscoe’s voice on Side A, the connection between this charming pastime and Barry’s meditative work is not made so apparent by the broad strokes. Indeed, Barry’s brief liner notes, published on the tape’s Bandcamp page, reads like a kaleidoscopic koan, perhaps challenging the listener to establish a meaning of their own. Side B – Night Falls, Lakeside is addressed in the notes to “nocturnal somnambulists,” and concludes in this context only with an ellipsis. 

Bobby Barry

Bobby Barry

The material itself presents no less an esoteric riddle. In Physics out of School Hours, the above mentioned household objects, atmospheric field recordings and Desmond Briscoe’s voice lay down a quasi-linear patchwork that suggests a kind of musical cohesion as it rambles along for just over twenty minutes. The implication of building something unique with an assemblage of universal components taken from one’s surroundings points to the suggestion of the Meccano kit, Briscoe recounting his time in the Meccano Club serving as the catalyst and synthesizing an abstract musical narrative. Night Falls, Lakeside remains subtle and ambient through its twenty-two minutes and two seconds, expanding into a four-minute climax of distortion and decibel before proceeding through an ethereal, electro-melodic trance spread over the remaining ten minutes.

In all, Meccano Club offers an enticing and satisfying listen, particularly to those sensitive to the appeal of building order in entropic spaces rife with particulate noise and occasionally familiar sounds. Barry’s work is calm, confident, and intelligent, and manages to separate itself from the novel, muddy din of so many contemporary cassette tape projects through its constellation of objects-turned-instruments and curious, documentary-like connections to his inspiration.