Friday, August 19, 2005

rock on, contemporary music

august 19th

Current level of conviction in own genius (out of 10): 7
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: imparting much creative knowledge, complete with madly-enthused hand-waving
Hair day: bit sweaty

Coming to the end of my sojourn in Epsom, which has felt like its own little micro-planet – am going to have to get out of the cycle of three cooked meals on the dot (just as well - cooked breakfasts, obscure vegetable/bread bakes, soapy mousse and highly-sugared coffee are turning me into a right bloater) and a strict timetable of work and play amongst the coiffured lawns and creaky pipes…have had to log on to the Guardian website for my daily injection of current events (very sad about Mo Mowlam, lots of crazy plane crashings making me never want to set foot in an air terminal, need to absorb more about Gaza etc).

But it’s been great here, with intense tutoring sessions balanced by hard-drinking evenings shouting at the table football men for being so regimentally undisciplined whilst yelling lustily to the Kaiser Chiefs. My students have really been most impressive in creative output: tomorrow is recording day, and there will be 20 substantial compositions to perform, including quirky tangos, slightly pastoral cheese, a superb WW2-themed battle piece that keeps threatening to lapse into the ‘Casualty’ theme, a nod to Glass-y minimalism and some extremely nuanced avant-garde works. No surprise that our oldest students have breezed through their A-Levels and are off to York and Cambridge. Clever and charming kids.

Elsewhere, the younger kids have been writing shorter pieces but having much fun with improvisation sessions, as demonstrated in their concert tonight. We had abstract pieces based on Kandinksy involving Bee Gees discos and war dances, others earnestly depicting nuclear war’s effects on forests, and most impressively, a group’s response to a few scenes from Metropolis!!! Not only that, but it was more effective and affecting than the hammer dulcimer/Murnau South Bank gig of a weeks back. Really inspiring and inspired stuff!!!! It makes me enthused about the idea of getting 30 10-year-olds to improvise handheld percussion soundtracks to surrealist silent movies and making my Junior Trinity students write music for juice in response to abstract expressionist paintings etc!!! Am rather dreading the heavy teaching schedule, but must just remember weeks like this and how much these kids have got out of it.

At the other end of the scale, the most fun I had today was co-ordinating the 3-part vocals (and hula-hula swaying) to our version of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, complete with 6 guitarists and samba drumming. Proper music, I say… ho ho.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

the invention of sound, kerry style

august 17th

Current level of conviction in own genius (out of 10): 7
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: ooo! Quite a lot!
Hair day: bit woo, bit waaay

Am amidst a week’s work as an assistant composer on spnm’s Sound Inventors residency, whilst working deep into the night waxing lyrical about my last 5 years work for my PhD write-up…

Whilst we’re based at Epsom College, a undulatingly-lawned mecca of posho education (cricket pavilion? colt field? 3 farms? indoor rifle range? I ask you!) in deepest Surrey, the kids have come from far and wide, all in the name of spending a week working with professional players and coming up with a finished opus to take away on CD. I’m working with the head honcho and droll genius-teacher/composer Alisdair Nicholson with the top group, a motley selection of teenagers; these include several wan, flaxen-haired boys who look like they’d capsize if you as much as breathed on them, some ├╝ber-confident choral scholar types who like to invent composite words such as ‘chordality’ in order to sound brainy and super-eyelinered girls who like to flirt with any male within firing range. But to a fault they’re all studious, musically literate and rather lovely to tutor.

It initially felt all very 1st-year-at-uni, what with being deposited in our spartan single-bedded rooms, attempting to make friends in that slightly panicked way, and being fed shedloads of stodge every meal time. There are about some very hardened professional musicians here, all indefatigable players but they all make me feel very studenty and idiotically young ... still, have been happy to paint the town red (ok, a mild shade of dusky pink) with the younger, funkier types, experiencing the chavvy delights of Epsom pubs, which included an al fresco blow job in the adjacent garden (cheered on by punters) and a lady drunkenly toasting her upcomnig divorce and showed off her arm-long tattoo: a phoenix rising from the ashes of her wedding bouquet with the name of her dog*, lost in the separation, inscripted at the bottom. Tasty.

Had a trial by fire yesterday having pluckily agreed to deliver a 5-10-minute vocal exercise in the whole school’s singing session – after hurriedly making something up the day before, I had to get up in front of 100 kids and 20 professional players and get them to improvise a vocal soundworld based on the phonetic breakdown of their first names. Agh! Heck, guess it went ok, and I’m proud that I was able to bounce about with confidence with all these faces looking rather quizzically at me, but the actual product was a slightly turgid mess and I’m left feeling that I either semi-pulled off an inventive vocal coup or made a complete arse of myself. Who knows….

However, also had a very good play of my hastily-composed piece for the awkward, potentially dirgy ensemble of oboe, bassoon, horn, viola and double bass; had a slightly frosty rehearsal two weeks ago but a much more successful reading today, revealing me not only to be (as we all know) a vocal composer of some genius but also a nifty orchestrator with a line in well-controlled, richly-timbred chamber music. Hurrah! (exit stage left, blowing own trumpet...)

* the dog's name was Spud. Touch of class.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

keep very cla'ham

august 9th

Current level of conviction in own genius: 6.5
Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: depends what you mean by creative - i slept in very creatively this morning
Hair day: fair to middling

Managed through top mate to bag cheapo tickets to Ben & Jerry's Summer Sundae on Clapham Common, all in the name of raising money for the Clapham Bandstand and revive the art of dancing a gentle foxtrot to the merry burblings of a septuagenarian band or something. Actually, seemed more like a whopping plug for said USA duo's cheerily-packaged iced confectionaries, given the encouragement to try as many flavours as possible in order to win a year's supply and buy cow-spotted rugs etc. The name was dropped like a lead balloon every introduction by the hyper- irritating, Nickolodeon-Wack-Summer-Picnic-aspiring presenter, who tried in vain to stimulate the lolling masses with shouts of 'Y'ALLRIGHHHHT CLAPHAAAAAAAM!!!!!!!' and weak attempts to get the Pimms-quaffing, oversized-shades-wearing Claphamites to do Mexican waves. Stil, for a tasty 5 quid we got some sunshine and some live music in the form of:
1) Yeti - formed by ex-Libertines bassist, 5-piece dullards attempting breezy summery indie pop a la Byrds/Beach Boys/Dodgy but just sounding like a half-decent 6th form band.
2) British Sea Power - highly fashionable, highly now art-rockers, slightly leaden set enlivened by appearance of 9ft bear who terrorised the musicians into battling him with their guitars.
3) Alabama 3 - highly unfashionable, highly 90s global trance/country hillbilly conglomerate, much more entertaining if only due to songs about Johnny Cash and plucking your 3rd eye out for Jesus, and for the addition of two kids playing harmonica and a very un-Bez-like member who stood, proudly pot-bellied and pint in hand at the edge of the stage, robustly singing along.

On the Kerry-musical-news front, have once and for all completed my new demo, now lovingly adorned with groovy spiderweb photo, and will now send off to lots of cool little labels like fat cat and one little indian before selling out and signing my life away to V2 hurrah! Really, I'm chained to my laptop doing hand-cramping and exceptionally snore-inducing PhD editing (light at end of tunnel being that I will be able to introduce myself, Tom Baker-like, as 'The Doctor'), doing some occasional madrigal-busking with juice in Covent Garden (fa la la la la la zzzzzzzzz) and knocking up new funding/gig/agent ideas with the trio. So much to do, so little time!!!!!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

boogaloo, euphoric gay house & drum'n'bass

august 2nd

Current level of conviction in own genius (out of 10): 6.5
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Hair day: short and sweet after barginous Saks Academy cut last week - bought unimpressive hair clay unfortunately

Had, for 27-occasionally-going-on-63-what-with-my-cream-tea-fetish-and-all moi, a highly active dancetastic weekend. It started by joining galpals at the Lady Luck Club (after fighting past the hellish zoo which is Piccadilly Circus on a Friday night), where we found ourselves woefully underdressed amidst the '30s-'50s-attired throng. Reflecting the ace mixture of blues, boogaloo, swing, mambo and rock'n'roll, we were surrounded by spats-sporting gangsters, girls with glam little-black-backless-numbers with pillbox hats jauntily perched, teddy boys and busty ladies with 50s-style tattoos threatening to take over their limbs etc etc. There was also a sweet old man making a hopeless attempt at red-leathered transvestitism, a beatnik, and, adversely, a punk. Channel 4 were there filming a show on burlesque, and so we tried to show some retro shapes in front of the camera (all very high school dance in Grease) whilst they recorded the floor show danced perkily to Tom Waits' Rain Dogs album. Class! Only downside was having my bag nicked and my idiocy at having left it unattended being ironically rubbed in by Ella Fitzgerald singing 'A-tisket, a-tasket, I lost my yellow basket' at that exact moment. Still, much-recommended night - shimmy over to for details.

Saturday saw a 30th birthday party in a hired-out pub in Kings Cross and a valiant attempt at enjoying house music with some mild box-stacking, chicken-feeding etc etc, followed by an all-dayer at Guilford's mini-festival, the Ambient Picnic. It being an eco-friendly affair, we tucked into our spicy vegan burgers, ambled around the stalls selling slightly rubbish handmade necklaces made by long lost Amazonian tribes, bongs a-plenty, exotic herbs such as peppered lemon verbena, chocolate basil and peanut butter parsley (or something) and cakes probably made out of tofu, hay and water in an effort to avoid the evils of flour, eggs, milk and sugar. I was there as groupie to Step 13, a recently-revived live drum 'n' bass act starring my beloved on bass. This meant I enjoyed the full tour experience of loading up at 9am in Ilford, rumbling down the M25 in our Tour Bus of Rock guzzling all manner of illegal substances (ok, it was a mini-bus called Amber Coaches, we all ate fruit and we stopped at a National Trust site for tea). STILL, the Step 13ers and other East London band and crew Electricity Comes From Other Planets were a world away from the juice trio gig experience of hiring an EasyCar, feeding each other double chocolate chip cookies whilst listening to India Arie and talking about pants...

Before Step 13 ( crashed onto the main stage, we were subjected to some fairly terrible amateurish attempts at rock including nods to Blink 182 and Dire Straits (hhhmmm) before other East London pals, Lazy Habits (, saved the day with their bouncy, jazz-inflected hip hop, including their beatboxing genius WanDan, who frankly knocks spots off any extra-vocal technique that juice can muster. Step 13 were on later, delivering a way-too-short set of eclectic, kick-ass drum'n'bass, to which I boogied around at the front with much admiration and a little envy cause damn! my boyfriend was playing big fat hefty bass in a great live band to thousands of people whilst I can only dream of playing to a couple of hundred chin-strokers...

But on that note, have finally almost finished tinkering away at a demo of wispy groovy songs and edits of my coolest old pieces. Am currently contemplating whether to call myself Kerry Andrew or come with a more ambigious, band-esque title like SpangleChild of Katmandu or The Sulphur-Dried Apricots or something. Suggestions on a postcard....