Sunday, March 16, 2008

Kerry Andrew, Thespian

Level of conviction in own genius: 8.8
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3 actorly hours
Hair day: bit flat

It's not everyone who can say that they made their professional acting debut in Wigmore Hall, but that's precisely what I chalked up yesterday. With my only previous experience being one of the minor nuns as a postgrad. in a charity version of 'The Sound of Music' (complete with slightly burlesque swinging crucifixes, ouch), I appeared on the gleam-wooded stage of the WH as the Soldier in a family concert version of Stravinsky's brilliantly quirky 'A Soldier's Tale'. I was originally employed only as a workshop leader, but kept being asked to do a bit more: sing a song written by primary school kids to be slotted into the show (no problemo!); say a couple of lines to help fill out the script (hell, why not?!); say quite a few lines complete with proper costume, props and the rest in authentic actorly way (er, gulp, ok...). But I loved it. I guess the minor drama queen in me was given a run around, and what with being given fab direction by lovely James who narrated and was mostly in charge, and bouncing off Proper Actor Ben, who both hammed it up marvellously and slithered around in blazing-eyed terrifying fashion as the Devil, got by decently. I opted for a boyish, naturalistic method approach, only talking in understated Cockney all week and saluting people in the street, etc. Ahem, not really. I did have to get over the fact that I was not going to look sexy in my boxy army jacket and oversized hat. Once I did that, I channelled my inner Prince Harry and revelled in my extremely temporary spotlight. Hurrah! It was also a step up rubbing shoulders with the Wigmore/Royal Academy animateuring team, who are a cut above. Must do more…

So, one gig of the weekend starred moi. Friday night starred Andy, in – as usual for us two eminent performers – the rather different setting of the disorientatingly dark, ear-assaulting Rhythm Factory, where Step 13 were making a comeback after 6 months away having lost their singer and drummer. They’ve been replaced by an even more blurred-armed, 3,000-bpm stick man and rockier, super-sexy lass with Beyonce-beating legs upfront. Half the time I was rocking out at the front, the other half I was thinking ‘hhm, must go swimming/cycle/stop eating curry soon…’ They were ace, got filmed by website Drum ‘n’ Bass arena and all the boys were resplendent in all-new, all-Andy-created Step 13 t-shirts.

We covered the rest of the weekend’s musical bases by ticking off jazz, hip hop and spoken word at one of motormouth beatboxer Shlomo’s monthly love-ins at the QEH last night. He’d got in jazz-punks Polar Bear, poet Lemn Sissay and a band of his own to collaborate with. Musically, it was pretty successful, but marred somewhat by Shlomo’s embarrassingly giggly, 12-year-old non-musical persona (honestly, one minute he was looping beat after beat after trombone riff after growly trumpet in a kind of vocal calypso epic, the next he was tee-heeing like a kid in a sweetshop). Polar Bear, a motley crew with a guy who looked like Santa’s overweight elf on bass, two square dads on tenor saxes, the ever-ubiquitous, storm-cloud-headed Seb Rochford on drums and enigmatic wood-nypmh Leafcutter John on the laptop, started weakly, with boomingly swampy sound not helping much. They warmed up however, and there were some good ‘Star Wars’-meets-free-noise moments when LJ and Seb faced each other off like jedi knights, complete with the former’s lightsabre bleeps. Shlomo’s own band were nothing to write home about, but his two tunes with soul-prophet Lemn Sissay were. Beatboxing met beat poetry in gloriously enriching style. The second half’s collaboration between Polar Bear and Shlomo was cool, mostly when it was just Leafcutter John sampling the beatboxer’s increasingly avant-garde sounds and near-Arabic wailings and firing them back at him. Honestly, a midi-mandolin? A red balloon played like a banshee and used as percussion? Loops manipulated by a games console? LJ is an electronics High Wizard and I can’t wait to meet him – he’s headlining Gobsmack (the next experimental vocal night that I curate) at Bush Hall next month!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Danger Girls

Level of conviction in own genius: 8.5
Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: 20 mins
Watching /Listening: BBC 4's new ace US import, 'Mad Men' / Camille's 1st album
Hair Day: bedhead hair

Last night saw juice's debut at the BFI Southbank, where we performed all-new, live 'n' kicking vocalistics as part of the women filmmakers' festival, marvellously-named Bird's Eye View. They have a series of silent films with live music, this year with the likes of our pals the Elysian Quartet, jazzers like Nikki Yeoh and even, rather exclusively, Imogen Heap doing a solo piano set. Our night was paired with Mercury Music Prize nominee Zoe Rahman, feisty and funky jazz pianist; she was the main feature, playing her rock-and-tumble style to 'I Don't Want To Be A Man!' a fabulous German comedy which involved drag, perky slapstick and men kissing, which seems rather racy for 1919! We had a 20 minute short, 'The Danger Girl' from 1916, starring a young, fierce-eyed Gloria Swanson capering about with a variety of men; cue fast cars, lots of falling off swings and more drag. We'd worked really hard on writing snippets of close-harmony material, supplemented with stylised sound effects, imagined sung dialogue, comedy musical quotes (The Killers' 'Somebody Told Me' and 'Walk on the Wild Side', plus a trumpety 'Superman' fanfare) and had taken pains to really add to as well as complement the film. Zoe Rahman was ridiculously over-complimentary afterwards, which was very cool... We hung about backstage beforehand with 'Smack the Pony' star Sally Phillips, who was introducing the films; initially frosty-seeming, it turned out she felt terrifiedly under-prepared and she relaxed when we started talking about babies: she was enviously astonished that Anna, with wee Molly only 4 weeks old (and hanging out in the BFI with Ed), looked so damned slim.

I have been working hard helping Tower Hamlets tykes write mini-operas based on Hamlet, as well as introducing Stravinsky's 'A Soldier's Tale' to a mixture of cheerily raucous Year 8 girls from a ramshackle Catholic school and long-fringed City Academy students, whose school looked like a humongous airport hangar. Next weekend I make my acting debut in Wigmore Hall no less, playing aforementioned solider! Eek.

In culture news, visited Wimbledon College's ace MA show at Bow Arts Trust, with my mate Harry doing a lovely, near-weepingly beautiful interactive photo/storytelling piece. Saw a very good but as hard-hitting-as-a-baseball-bat-in-the-face Deutsche Borsche prize at the Photographer's Gallery. Saw the awe-inspiring 'There Will Be Blood' at the Barbie - see it now, if only to sink, sighingly, into your seat at the sound of Daniel Day Lewis' mouthful-of-tobacco voice! Have seen two great gigs, Rachel Unthank and the Winterset with acquaintance Stef playing metal-funk piano to the gorgeously busty, ruddy-cheeked Geordie lasses' husky songs; plus nu-jazz double-whammy, Basquiat Strings (two of whom are with the Elysian Qtet and thus played at our wedding!) and the Portico Quartet at Union Chapel. Basquiat were angular and fairly rockin', but definitely need to improve on their flat-tyre stage presence; Portico created a richly glowing aurora borealis of sound with their unusual 'hang', an invented instrument that looks like a posh BBQ with the lid down, in the mix, but were maybe a bit too Fast Show-esque 'nice' for Andy and I. We need our gateway-jazz with a little more grease and muck and, well, Led Bib, frankly.

Soon DOLLYman will shake up the world of post-post-jazz, or whatever it is now: we've just recorded new material which sounds bleedin' ace! Portico, beware...