OS SENHORES (1985-2020)

L-R
José Maria Lopes – guitars, bass, percussion
Heitor Alvelos – vocals, percussion, keyboards, clarinet
Helena Luísa Soares – vocals
Orquídea Calisto – keyboards, violin
Anselmo Canha – bass, guitars, keyboards
Paulo Solá – drums, percussion

Os Senhores were a short-lived Portuguese band, active from late 1985 to mid-1987, and briefly resurrected in 1990. We convened as an impromptu thought, neither ambitious nor committed: Anselmo happened to own an electric guitar and a bass guitar, so we felt half-way there… Besides, five of the six members attended art and design school, so we saw the band as a chance of expanding our emulation of the avant-garde we were taking in by then, performance art in particular. But in truth, when on stage, we mostly retracted to an inept version of familiar rock idioms.

Portugal was just beginning to open up to the international cultural scene back then; for a younger generation of creatives, this meant a visceral rejection of tradition (“Fado??? The past!”), and a thirsty embracing of whichever echoes made it from abroad, often in the shape of expensive import vinyl or hissy third or fourth-generation cassette dubs: from post-punk to post-modern, we all wanted to break from the old paradigm. And yet we were painfully blind to the fact that we were largely replicating another paradigm: we simply lacked the broader conceptual and contextual milieu in order to push things further beyond the peripheral or derivative.

A venue in Lisbon, Rock Rendez Vous, was congregating this younger generation through a series of rock marathons and competitions. We dutifully applied and stepped on stage for the first time ever in March 1986. A handful of gigs followed, and we recorded various sets of demos at Luís Carlos’ Studio X in Porto. We rehearsed on weekends and through the night at empty shops in shopping malls.

Paradoxically, our objective lack of formal musical training and relative scarcity of musical skills provided us with a potential degree of freedom. And oh, we were free to be ourselves: the female singer was a Siouxsie devotee, the male singer was heavily into Krautrock, the guitar player wanted to play the blues, the drummer just wanted to hit stuff. The bass player and the keyboard player held it together somehow. This seemingly impossible mix of aesthetics could have produced something special; instead, we tended to cancel each other out. We were just too often caught between the dilemma of pursuing said freedom (and risk illegibility, even to ourselves), and the desire to prove our worth within the familiar canons.

We broke up primarily as a consequence of the fact that music-making was just not our priority… and besides, our interpersonal dynamics were changing, and Anselmo was being called into duty by Volúpia Mundana, soon to mutate into Repórter Estrábico. For a while I attempted to push the old boat, but it was just no longer possible. We had to say “no” to what would have been our first TV appearance (the keyboard player was gone by then and the female singer was not available for her own reasons). By 1990 we recorded a couple of rehearsals with a rhythm box replacing the drummer that had been drafted into military duty… this produced nothing salvageable. As a “coup de grace”, Anselmo and I produced a virtual “last statement” by laying the basic tracks on a Fostex 4-track, and then collecting the guitars and vocals on subsequent sessions. And that was that: I crossed the Atlantic, Anselmo flourished with Repórter and José Maria kept refining his already fine guitar playing as a private hobby. The others left any semblance of musical ambition behind.

Fast forward to 2004, and the process of digitising the surviving analogue tapes from this era acted as a trigger for a partial reunion and subsequent music explorations under various guises that persist to this day (unwww, the futureplaces impromptu all-stars orchestra, antifluffy, before surgery, gravitas, the odd collaboration with Touch and Tuxedomoon members); in-between this sporadic activity, a cassette release from our old archives was agreed upon, and cooked slowly throughout the ensuing years.

As the reader may realise by now, there is little of musical or aesthetic interest in these recordings: their value is essentially documentary, more of a snapshot of a given era. Yet their release provided us with an opportunity to revisit the source material and have a go at reconfiguring it into something else that, while remaining faithful to its original references, would make a somewhat better statement in itself.

We tried quite a few approaches, to no avail… some worked sonically but distanced themselves too much from the original, thus losing the plot; other attempts just seemed dragged down by the linearity of the original compositions.

In the end, we opted for a more straightforward approach in the re-working of the original sources: we had various recordings play simultaneously, without further tweaking. Whatever fell on top of whatever else, so it stayed.

In this way we were able to preserve the original sonic, structural and contextual aspects of each recording, while somehow amplifying the tightrope of chaos/ineptitude we traversed throughout those two years. And just as decisively, through this process of superimposing, we were able to reveal a few odd juxtapositions that, had we had the vision back then, could have been infinitely more promising than the elusive post-something format we obsessively kept hunting down.

So what do you know: the first release by Os Senhores, over three decades after we split (and not very amicably, as rock and roll would have it). Hey, it took us slightly longer than originally expected. And we are all now back in touch: old age has its perks.

A short audio sample can be heard here: Live in Guimarães, November 1986; I can be heard on keyboards B-)

Cassette available now on The Tapeworm.

A reunion after 33 years, 26 September 2020: