2017 has been a busy year for Cosey Fanni Tutti. In February, Hull 2017 UK City Of Culture mounted the first major retrospective of Coum Transmissions, the pre-Throbbing Gristle performance and art collective that had essentially been blacklisted and driven out of Hull in the mid 1970s. In April, Faber & Faber published the exhaustive ART SEX MUSIC autobiography – 500 fascinating pages blurring the edges of art, music and creativity with the struggles of life as an independent artist, and a notable quantity of odium thrown in the direction of Genesis P-Orridge (much to the chagrin of his abiding followers!). A high profile exhibition at Cabinet Gallery in London from September to November explored the “magazine actions” and self-commodification of her adult magazine work in the late 70s. Complimenting all of this was a seemingly endless cycle of press, interviews, podcasts, book tour engagements etc.
On the music front, the Chris & Cosey, CarterTutti, Carter Tutti Void axis of noise was mostly quiet as preparations for what was announced as the final Carter Tutti Void album in 2018 rumble along in an old school house in the Norfolk Fens. In light of all this activity, it is unsurprising that Throbbing Gristle that Mute Records rekindled their relationship, with Mute (not Industrial Records) handling the ambitious programme of 40th anniversary Throbbing Gristle reissues.
No doubt it’s been on the cards for a while, but the balancing act of moving forward while servicing the archives has finally found time to sprinkle some TLC on Cosey Fanni Tutti’s dark and perplexing TIME TO TELL. Originally released on cassette by Flowmotion in 1983 and reissued on CD in ’93 and 2000 by Chris and Cosey’s own Conspiracy International, this is one fragment of the wider puzzle that seemed somewhat neglected in recent times.
Apart from the 2008 CoH Plays Cosey CD with Ivan Pavlov and singles with John Duncan and Philippe Petit, Cosey Fanni Tutti never really ventured into solo recording or outside collaboration (at least, not in terms of what the public has seen) and TIME TO TELL remains her only solo album.
In terms of presentation of the album as a library item to stand alongside all other Cosey Fanni Tutti related recordings, this is impeccable. Simple embossed silver lettering on the front of the gatefold sleeve, a 12”x12” 16 page booklet and clear vinyl are a material indication of the attention this project has been given.
This album is broken into 3 parts, which as you can guess aren’t exactly pop cuts, so it presents best results when taken as one lengthy piece. Many years ago, I acquired this as a single MP3 and it still makes sense to me to approach the whole project as one straight listen.
With a slow strobe of unnerving analogue synth and ethereal spoken passages, TIME TO TELL occupies the entire A side and is the undoubted lynchpin of the album. The basis of the vocal content was a lecture Cosey gave to art students in Leeds Polytechnic in 1982, dissected her work in striptease, performance art, adult modeling and music. All of these texts are reproduced in the booklet, but with their density of experience and intent, there’s simply no way to deconstruct them second-hand for review purposes. It’s all fascinating, insightful and matter of fact, and after years of suffering a crappy bootleg of this, it’s a pleasure to be able to follow the narrative accurately. On the flipside, RITUAL AWAKENING is a sedate affair, setting a tone of strange meandering similar to that which was employed liberally on the CarterTutti album FERAL VAPOURS OF THE SILVER ETHER in 2007. THE SECRET TOUCH completes the journey with similar restraint and the familiar isolated soundings of cornet present in much of her recorded output.
Album credits state that this is ‘edited and remastered by Chris Carter’ – I’m guessing that ‘edited’ means that this has been adjusted to fit on a vinyl format and varies in length from the cassette recordings. The rabid and the pedantic will also note the absence of the extra track SUCH IS LIFE from the CD reissue. This argues the point that this is not the definitive version of the TIME TO TELL project, but I’m working with what’s presented here, not the needs of OCD collectors.
The 12”x12” booklet is an exemplary part of the package – biographical texts, archive interviews, transcripts, photos and clippings set the album in context with all of Cosey’s work. It would be foolish to expect that 16 pages is anywhere near enough to cover all of this comprehensively, but I guess that’s why the autobiography was 500 pages long!
One might cautiously present this as a progressive feminist statement, and in it’s purest sense it ticks all the necessary boxes (and much more), but with all the factionalised squabbling that taints the modernised “f” word, the content here is still as likely to be picked at and demonized for not complying with some imaginary rule-book or other.
After 34 years, TIME TO TELL still sits comfortably (or uncomfortably depending on who you are) as a radical artistic statement, everything tying in thoughtfully and conceptually with Cosey Fanni Tutti’s overlying statement that “My life is my art, my art is my life”.