Friday, December 20, 2013

Buy Music For Christmas! Kerry's 2013 Rundown

'Tis the season to spread the love and BUY music as presents! Support the UK's finest alternative musicians! Here are my recommendations of friends' and acquaintances' music that has been released this year. Remember to buy them from the source (helpfully linked below)!

1) Roshi feat. Pars Radio - 3 Almonds and A Walnut

My main girrrl released her new alt-pop/electronica album early in the year. The first track is a killer version of an Iranian children's poem, with the rest of the album weaving Pars Radio's atmospherically-gritty electronica in more traditional Iranian material and evocative original songs. She's been nominated for a Songlines award this year!

2) Anna Meredith  - Jet Black Raider

The follow-up to composer-performer-daredevil Anna's first EP Black Prince Fury (both named after her ma's childhood horses, don't you know). It's four injections of punchy, bleepy, bonkers electronica, which got rave reviews in the summer. Anna's looking forward to supporting Anna Calvi in 2014...

3) Lisa Knapp -  Hidden Seam

One of my favourite folk artists brought out her long-awaited second album this year, and it's a gloriously-textured feast of loveliness, with mostly original tunes connected to the elements. It features guest vocals from Martin Carthy, James Yorkston and Alasdair Roberts with beautiful instrumental writing. Lisa's been nominated for BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in Feb 2014!

4) Rhythm Sticks - The Hen's Tooth

A load of 16-year olds from Tottenham! Steered by death-baritone Andrew Plummer and drum-devil Tom Greenhalgh! This album is properly excellent, mixing grooves, rock and improv. And speaking of Andrew and Tom, check out their single with terror-blues trio Snack Family from last summer.

5) Alasdair Roberts and Robin Robertson - Hirta Songs

My favourite folk singer in a collaboration with my favourite poet, collectively mining their dark and dolorous Scottishness. Alasdair sets Robin's specially-written lyrics in a love letter to the remote archipelago of St Kilda. Alasdair does his usual wizardry as a tunesmith and Robin will make your ears crumble with his readings...

6) John Potter, Rogers Covery-Crump & Chris O'Gormain - Conductus, Vol. 2

Lovely 13th century French vocal music and poetry from York-based tenor chaps including my ex-lecturer/guru/landlord John Potter...

7) House of Bedlam - Talking Microtonal Blues

Helmed by composer of brilliance Larry Goves, this instrumental chamber ensemble loose an album of wild, vivid sounds and textures, interspersed (and mixed with) spoken word from Mathew Welton. It's FAB.

8) Olivia Chaney - Olivia Chaney

OK, so this came out at the end of last year, but I hadn't yet got it... this is English singer-songwriter Olivia's thoroughly shimmering debut EP. Original songs, fab lyrics, and she's basically the 21st-century Sandy Denny. And now she's been signed to Nonesuch! Score!

Cheeky plug

Metamorphic - Coalescence

The original jazz-folk-prog sextet I sing with, led by pianist Laura Cole, released our second album in the spring, to great reviews (and Brian Morton from Jazz Journal's album of the year!). It's a mix of grooves, folk song shreds, wild improv, vocal loops, and P Diddy basslines, obvs...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Autumnal catch-up

Level of conviction in own genius: 6.5
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 2
Reading: Lucy Wood's debut collection of short stories, 'Diving Belles' / FIRE-themed music for my Strawberry Shortwave Radio Show
Hair day: GINGER

Cripes, it's been an AGE since I've written here. It's mostly because I have been pouring my writing efforts into a Faber Academy fiction-writing course, which I intend to aid in turning me into a sort of Sarah Waters/Hilary Mantel/George RR Martin combo (ahem). I have had a blissful time off composing given the operatic excesses of the larger half of the year, hurrah! Words are MUCH more fun.

Instead this autumn I have been celebrating juice's 10th anniversary, where we had a marvellous gig at Kings Place with friends and workshop participants, and juicing it up in America (see here for juice's breathless blog on both things). I've been getting an explosion of orangey hair and a new tattoo. I've been teaching songwriting at the University of Kent, a new department set in the historic dockyard at Chatham, meaning I have to dodge steam vehicles and emerge from blasting S Club 7 and Radiohead and Tom Waits at unsuspecting 20-year olds and look straight onto whopping great submarines and battleships.

I've also been keeping up the broadcasting fun by presenting and producing the Strawberry Shortwave Radio Show on Haggerston Radio, which takes a theme each week and includes everything from throat-singing on horseback, post-punk, electronica, mictrotonal detuned pianos and MORE. Check out the extensive archive here!

Saturday, August 03, 2013

New Complexity Car Park Massacre

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Hours of creative activity achieved today: 0
Listening / Reading: Joanna Newsom on my underwater mp3 player whilst swimming my daily kilometre / Game. Of. Thrones.
Hair Day: chloriney

How lovely that I can saunter a mere mile down the hill in this August's delicious early evening balm, end up in London's current coolest endz, climb a few storeys of a manky car park and immerse myself in some serious-assed contemporary classical music. YES!
I've finally had some free evenings to visit the London Contemporary Music Festival's epic debut run, in league with art commissioners Bold Tendencies, on the penultimate (disused) tier of Peckham's seven-storey car park. Thursday's steamy evening saw two operatic monologues: the first, by the outrageously talented Kate Whitley, set a chunk from the play Glengarry Glenn Ross, a top film of course with Jack Lemmon going into a meltdown. Baritone Charles Rice did a marvellous job of commanding the whole audience as he moved amongst them. This was a compositional answer to Gerald Barry's (not to mixed up with England footer international Gareth Barry, as I once did to DJ Tim Winter. BLUSH.) La Plus Forte, which was fun, but somehow not as much as Kate's piece. I enjoyed seeing the young 'uns in the orchestra (ably conducted by Chris Stark, as these things often are) squinting hopelessly into the fierce sun firing straight at them.

But perhaps a contender for gig of the year so far was last night's cracking, crackling evening entitled 'New Complexity and Noise'. In some excellent programming, we saw a poor Yahama grand piano being well and truly bitch-slapped: first by Mark Knoop in two visceral pieces from Michael Finnissy's English Country Tunes; and then by Australian free improviser Anthony Pateras, in a rampantly exhilarating solo that was like a silent movie pianist who had gone COMPLETELY OUT OF HIS MIND. Ferocious pounding, fierce tremeloing up at the top end, and stark, rhythmic dark chords were flung at us like bricks. Brilliant. Sara Minelli did a great, spitty, flutey job of Ferneyhough's Cassandra's Dream. I mostly really enjoyed the interaction with the trains rattling past outside, especially in the trombone solo work by Aaron Cassidy: the train squeaks seemed to emerge from some of those quiet, squalling brass notes, or vice versa, and it was magical to see a couple of hundred faces, sitting on the concrete floor at the front like us, or on benches, or standing crowded around (some having strayed from the hipsterville central of Frank's bar on the top floor), listening intently for ten minutes to what sounded like a very sad, very drunk mosquito. Anthony Pateras also paired up with legendary experimental drummer Steve Noble for a couple of free sets, with whining modular synths or thunking prepared piano interacting with Steve's manic 'FUCK the washing up!'-style improvs with shallow snare drum, cymbals and singing bowls. Finally, there was a set from noise merchant Russell Haswell that had me immediately dashing for the far wall, away from the PA. I like noise, y'know; I just wish it didn't have to be so loud. Ha. Well, I think I'm allowed to scoff at the nonsense that is the pornification of volume, seeing as I've got only one working ear. Still, I took in another few minutes, enjoying the sight of Russell, hunched and fag in hand, lit by a single hanging naked lightbulb, with the dark shadows of the crowd looming all around him; as if he was soundtracking his own imminent death by mass zombie attack. As I left the car park, the retching rumblings and eviscerating squeaks sounded like the apocalypse had truly come to Peckham. Fab.
So congrats to chief contempo music young guns Aisha Orazbayeva (a juice labelmate), Nonclassical's own Sam Mackay, and 'cellist and Kammer Klang curator Lucy Railton! My end of South London is the best place to be in the world this weekend. Kudos!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Wild Sing, Wild Swim

This week saw a smashing night for juice and MaJiKer at the very eclectic Holt Festival, where our fellow artists were the likes of John Hegley, the Britten Sinfonia and The Proclaimers. YES. I think it was our best joint gig yet, and marvellously received by all-comers, aged 8 to 98, who clamoured to take part in our interactive Radio JaJa piece. We are nothing if not inclusive... Then it was up north to co-devise and perform a music-theatre piece with wonderfully-named York University PhD student Nektarios, who has an unusual approach of really getting under the skin of his performers and creating pieces very personal to them. Last year, he got us to talk about our first loves (cue much heart-rending sobbing, at least from me, ha), and wove these into this final work which also included singing into a grand piano, imitating sirens, taking the mickey out of his grandmother, and accompanying a Cypriot song. I loved this bare-all approach: that the audience could watch us as musicians, and suddenly be confronted with such personal revelations; like we were removing masks and reminding them that we were just human, and just like them. Here's the trailer for Nektarios' piece!

Gig of the week was, however, over at the Manchester Jazz Festival, where Metamorphic were one of four bands chosen for Jazz on 3's BBC Introducing stage. It was a top gig, with a heartily whooping crowd; I made sure I wore my sluttiest possible outfit (ha) and rocked out on stage; I also enjoyed being a bit more adventurous in the freer vocal sections, inspired by working with Royst on the tour. Our set is being broadcast on Jazz on 3 on August 5th and on iPlayer for the next week, and you must listen to it!

Wild swimming scout of the North, Oli (depping on sax for Chris), had tipped me off about a cracking outdoor swim at Gaddings Dam in the Pennines. So after four hours' sleep (having celebrated at our classy Staycation apartment by drinking Oli's dreamy homemade elderflower champagne and being flung around commandingly by Tom, who turns out to be a dab hand at Lindy hop), Oli, his ebullient keo-mun-go player friend Eun-Jung and I got a train to the cutely squat market town of Todmorden. We climbed the two miles up onto sun-baked moorland to this four-acre-plus reservoir, with dry-stone walls sloping down to black water with a glint in its eye. We coaxed Eun-Jung in up to her waist before taking off to swim a length of the Dam to the far corner and to flop onto England's highest beach! On climbing out, we stood dripping and looking west into Calderdale, on the best view I've ever had after a swim: dancing cotton-sedge in the foreground and magnificent, pale mustard-coloured hills beyond. Heading back down, there were butterflies everywhere: trios of cabbage whites did Japanese fan dances, and red admirals kept repeating themselves over and over next to the path, as if they were bunting heralding our return. BLISS.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Woodwosed, Trembling and Itchy

Level of conviction in own genius: 10
Hours of creative activity achieved today: 2
Watching / Reading: The Tour de France finale / 'Game of Thrones' by George RR Martin, shamefacedly bought at Herne Hill Books, where I normally buy things like psychogeography by Robert McFarlane. Ahem.

Woodwose was a triumph at Wigmore Hall on Friday, hurrah! I was sooo pleased with it all, and with how much the participants seemed to enjoy throwing themselves into it. The community choir, Paddington's All Sing, were as gutsy and characterful a chorus as you could hope for, and the school groups all their bit, with some smashing face-pulling and zombie-poses from the Year 5s at Queen's Park and totally wicked acting and beautiful singing from the Year 7 lasses at Marylebone School, whose two-part South African lullaby made me blub. Amber from Marylebone, who played the Lonely Girl, did her best music-theatre hand-gestures and sang like a dream. I'm rather in awe of tenor Andrew Kennedy, a big bad operatic prof who breezed in this week to do the central role; his communication and Woodwoseyness was masterful, like he could do it in his sleep. I had some cracking praise afterwards, from the big tearful man who crushed me in his bearlike embrace, sobbing 'Britten would be proud!', to the man who told me that my talents outweighed my reputation and that I looked like Annie Lennox (I also got a lot of comparisons to Pink from the girls), to the All Sing-ers who enthused that the opera was a masterpiece and that it was one of the best days of their lives. SOB! This is really me, this community opera thing... more please! I hotfooted it to Brixton's Hootenanny for the unofficial Woodwose after-party featuring Step 13 - fresh from playing to a thousand people at dawn at Glastonbury a fortnight ago, and with Andy on bass - who made us all melt into sweaty drum 'n' bass puddles.

It's been gig central as usual this week. I went with photographer mate Dannie to Bush Hall to see the Incredible String Band's Mike Heron with Glasgow psych-folk-rockers Trembling Bells. The 'Bells are pretty great, melding folklore and place and a sense of real British rootsiness with rollicking drums, rock-ish pretensions and Lavinia Blackwall's astounding Sandy Denny-meets-classical-soprano voice, which soared and fluted effortlessly as she sang about Yorkshire rivers and rituals about earthworms. Mike Heron, bless him, was not in great shape, though this may have been due to having his arm in a cast following a stage calamity in the night before's gig, and his voice was pretty off-target. But there were some charming moments, my favourite being when drummer Alex Neilson and Lavinia did a simple, intertwining a cappella duet.
Finally, it was off to the Lexington for another round of doing improvising backing vocals for one of my favourite musicians, David Thomas Broughton (Sarah and I had done the same at Cecil Sharp House last year). This time, we were joined by musical compadre Laura Moody, who did a short solo set including two new ones involving serious Diamanda Galas-esque croaky distorted vocals, and a 'nihilistic sea shanty'. Hurrah! Then we had an absolute treat in the slight, colourful form of Japanese 'musician-artist-inventor' Ichi. Part-children's entertainer, part-magician, part-well funky musician, he is a delight, pulling out hybrid homemade instruments as if they were rabbits from a hat. He came onstage on stilts, playing a harmonica. He played a steel pans. He blew into a balloon which became a sort of bagpipe. He brought out a little harp/thumb piano/trumpet combo, whilst using his feet to hit a bass drum behind him, or clacking the little castanets on his toes. One of his stilts turned into an upright bass. Another mutant trumpet became a percussion instrument, pattered on with metal rings on his fingers. He disarmingly introduced songs in halting English by saying things like 'this song is about animal;' 'this song is about big mosquito' before launching into curious chanting, high-pitched mantras. The coup de theatre was when he combined several of his instruments into a delicate narrow slide for a ping pong ball, which miraculously rolled down into his steel pan, creating waves clanging, plasticky-metal ringing. Sarah and I watched the whole thing with our jaws slowly hanging further and further towards the floor. It was BEEEAUTIFUL and one of the best things I've ever seen. Catch him wherever you can.
With no soundcheck, David simply crouched to his merry band (Sarah, me, MaJiker, Laura, and guitar/effects dude Napoleon III) and said nonchalantly to just join in whenever, before he meandered onstage and began another night of his idiosyncratic brand of bewitching troubadour-clown-looping in his doleful baritone. He had a terrible chest infection, but brilliantly used it to his advantage, looping his coughs and looking miserable enough to make his audience uncomfortable. And we loped on with him soon enough, after the lovely Bishi had done a brief guest vocal. We picked up harmonies, copied his arm movements, beatboxed, stamped our feet, did mouth-pops and water-gurgles, and it was VERY FUN. I love how David truffles around for the imperfections that you normally try and iron out of a performance and makes the most of them, and how he turns a humdrum stage set-up into props for his baffled, trying-to-keep-it-all-together stage persona. And it makes us react to it, and do it to. Super-liberating and exhilarating!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Double Opera Whammy IN THE BAG

Level of conviction in own genius: TEN!
Amount of creative activity achieved today: like the Tour de France, it's been a sort of rest day, to make up for extremely arduous compo over the last 2 weeks
Reading / Watching: A.S. Byatt's deliciously evocative 'The Children's Book', all late 19th-century Arts and Crafts, politics and fairy tales / 'Game of Thrones' Season 3 has landed, as a perfectly-timed reward for opera-finishing! Hand-chopping, nipples being removed, slave soldiers... I've NEVER BEEN HAPPIER
Hair Day: Sedately fastened under a hot pink scarf, land girl style

BOOM! It's been a heavy two weeks of Serious Compo, finishing off Dart's Love, which I did yesterday, though boring part-making is still to come. A weekend of incessant score-formatting and tweaking has left me with an injury peculiar to composers, the very twingey and numb 'Sibelius wrist'. I'm sooo pleased that Tim, the MD, and Bill, the director - and Tamsin, the librettist - are all loving the look of it, hurrah! Now just to convince them that everyone needs to be in swimwear for the opening night... Here are the details for the August 17th/18th shows at the Tete a Tete Festival!

I've been writing a swimming diary to accompany the opera, which has been a lovely way to embrace my swim-sessions more deeply. The lido has to be borne in a different way now that the sun is (gloriously! MIRACULOUSLY!) out: the water is filmy, with much creepy human-derived flotsam and jetsam, and is crammed with slowcoaches. But it's still a blissful hop, skip and a dive away, and I've supplemented it with dips at the Hampstead Ladies' Pond and Shepperton Lake, where I went with DOLLYman compadre Jimmy for some open water swimming with the Iron Man-training big boys.
I went from finishing one opera to rehearsals of the other: it's Woodwose week, and everyone  - two primary school and a secondary school class, community choir and Open Age group, tenor Andrew Kennedy and band Ignite all piled into Wigmore Hall for the first time together yesterday. It's strange not to have been involved much in the rehearsal process - both a luxury and an uncomfortable not-knowing; but joyous to see scenes being stitched together for the first time, and to see how director Hazel Gould has managed to work with the un-operatic surroundings of the lovely, but chamber-sized Hall. I confess welling up at more than one instance, which means that I must be some sort of genius, right?! Ah ha ha. What has been most rewarding has been community choir members telling me how much they love the piece, and how magical it all is. There is nothing better than praise from the shop floor. Wiggy Hall's very first opera hits THIS FRIDAY at 6.30pm - do come if you can!
The Ignite crew, Andrew, perky Lonely Child singer Amber and myself ambled to Broadcasting House this afternoon to go to the Radio 3 In Tune studios to chat about Woodwose to the unflappable, super-cool Suzy Klein and present two lovely extracts of music, as well as meet James Rhodes, the raffishly rock 'n' roll pianist of the classical world, who was also on the show. Listen to it here again, about 49 minutes in!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

DiddleLeigh DiddleLeigh Dee

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 4
Reading /Watching and Listening: Vera Brittain / Glasto telly, which has picked up after a disappointing start. Highlights: Lianne Le Havas, surprisingly quite liked the honky-tonk-meets-Jeff Buckley-meets-small-child Tom Odell, but Public Enemy blew all competition out of the water and had me throwing shapes around the living room rather than working this morning... they know how to do a proper show! The Mumfords are currently doing their usual Burton-man-goes-barn-dancing-shtick.
Hair day: lightly pink; large blue bird atop.

Another year, another Laurie Anderson show at the Barbican, this time with the Kronos Quartet in tow, to perform 'Landfall', a song cycle using Hurricane Sandy as a starting point. I have to say, as of the last show I saw, I was pretty disappointed. Laurie has settled into a default setting of late, entailing some electric viola playing, storytelling - some in a creepy, but unintelligible, low pitch shifter - and some keyboard/synth stuff. The Kronos material, arranged by someone else, added a beautiful bit of depth, but it was still the same show I've seen several times running. There was a lot of text being projected, and I enjoyed the relationship between spoken and visual text; the best moment was the second violinist apparently triggering words through some energetic pizzicato stabs, but it still looked like an A-Level Powerpoint presentation. I don't mean to be harsh - a recent Guardo interview affirmed my faith in her general vibes and being (lack of kids, love of New York, striving for art and new technology), but I was hoping for more. It still made me want to create my own big swimming-themed show (prediction: all my pieces for the next two years will be swimming-related)! And she has enabled me to refresh my uncanny Laurie impression, where I talk about extremely mundane things like what was on special offer in the veg section at Sainsbury's in a sing-song, low American-accented voice, Very Slowly and with odd. Pauses. It's a winner!
Whilst Andy was enjoying the mild sunshine at Glastonbury, painting his face half black and half white to play with Step 13 on the Hell Stage at Shangri-La to a thousand-plus people at 5AM ON SUNDAY MORNING (so proud!!). I was on the other side of the festival coin, with a trip to Leigh Folk Festival for a You Are Wolf set, following up my support of Martin Carthy last year. It felt somehow rather exhilarating and slightly anarchic down in the Old Town. Under the hottest sun of the year, it heaved with splendidly (and not-so-splendidly) tattooed locals all unselfconsciously pinking under the high sun, queuing for chips and sloshing lager, and serenaded by bands of all descriptions - folk-rock, hurdy gurdies, squeezeboxes, local acoustic cover duos - spilling out of pubs, sheds and truck stages. With the heat and the incessant music coming from all corners, it felt a bit like SXSW had come to Essex, ha ha. There were morris dancers, one man bands and a chap wearing a pink dress and carrying a teddy bear, and all around was festooned with ribbons and bunting. There was a very English, outsider-art, pleasingly traditional bent to the whole thing, but not in a namby-pamby Cambridgey, or hipster, sort of way, but rather more like the old gods rearing their heads.
I played in the lovely New Road Chapel, after Wounded Knee, a swarthy Scotsman who had a highly entertaining wheeze of getting the audience to pick a ball out of a bag which would correlate with his notebook of numbered traditional songs, and then he'd score points as to who could name the tune. He simply belted them out unaccompanied or accompanied only by a shruti box. The best was a yearning, robust one about being in the mountains in Scotland, so damned authentic that I swear there were heather fires burning in his stomach. Following me was the lovely Sharron Kraus and Nancy Wallace, with an Anne Briggs/Gillian Welch sort of delicately reedy voice, with some wonderfully rich songs based on the medieval Welsh Mabinogion.
I was reeaallly hoping for a sea-dip, and had packed my vintage 1950's 'looking' (as opposed to 'swimming', obviously) swimming costume for the very purpose, but alas, upon arriving at Leigh, I found the tide to be at its lowest, a mile away over the mudflats. So I made do with a dreamy sit-down at the quiet western edge of town, squinting at the distant sea with a sort of blissful melancholy, imagining its cool saltiness around my calves, as plovers burbled and the dry grass prickled my legs. It's another sort of Essex, this, with simple themes: seabirds, marshes, reeds, and mud-caked boats that look more ancient than humans; under a dusty late afternoon sun, there was a dryness, and a bite, and a sense of things fading. Except the sea, which edged closer, but never close enough.