Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sardines, Free Jazz and Spray-Tan: a Holiday Report (plus Latitude)

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0, been sitting on trains for most of it
Reading /Listening: 'Last Orders' by Graham Swift / CD of French Impressionist-ish 'cello music that cost a mere 3 euros
Hair Day: awright

juice took their original score to the silent film 'The Danger Girl' to Latitude, courtesy of the Bird's Eye View Film Festival girls, and bagged free tickets for the weekend of plus ones/babies/babysitters too, meaning Little Miss Molly Snow was the coolest baby in town with her oversized special baby ear-protector thingies. Our gig was fine, though we thought we'd gone down like a lead balloon until we were told afterwards that there's a special dampening of audience sound onstage for the techies, so the deathly silence and tumbleweed were mere imaginings on our part and in fact the sizeable audience was chortling merrily away. Phew. For the rest of the time we got on down to festival fun, and with this being Latitude it was a mix of music, literature, comedy, poetry, theatre and much more. Highlights were: Sigur Ros, so ridiculously elegaic I'm surprised that they didn't sprout wings and float off into the celestial heights, to the accompaniment of sousaphone, bowed guitar and 5-piece brass of course; Seasick Steve, a charming hoe-downy hound-dog of a man and damned funky with it too, proving that all you need a 1-string 'piece of shit' guitar and a twinkle in your eye to get on down; Joanna Newsom, who crooned her odd, supple songs to sleepy Sunday morning festival-goers until she forgot the words to one particularly lengthy song, and was mortified as she kept on forgetting them too; some nice readings of choice quotes about dreams in the Literature tent, performers including the tigery-growling Gary Dourdain from CSI!!!; The Irrepressibles performing their wondrous chamber art-pop whilst dressed in gimp masks and metal shards in the woods; the immensely funny Ross Noble, who had the crowds outside the Comedy tent rolling around on the grass with laughter like the extras in 'Monty Python and the Life of Brian' when Michael Palin's Pontius Pilate starts saying 'Welease Woderwick!'; and speaking of the 'Life of Brian', it really did turn into that, with Ross Noble inspiring such heights of adoration that he got half his crowd following him in a strange running conga across the Latitude site until they got to a Vegan stall where they starting chanting 'Meat! Meat!' loudly as he crowd-surfed and people tried to touch his flowing locks, etc. He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty comedian, etc.

Then Andy and I trained it long and hard down to Mazamet, south-west of Toulouse, to stay with my old school-mate Christina in her recently-moved-into pad with her partner and 3-year old moppet. When I say pad, I mean mansion: 7 bedrooms, a cellar, a bar, sky-blue wooden shutters, a pool with a self-cleaning robot thing, a log fire - really it's quite hilarious what you can buy with the money from a crappy 3-bed in High Wycombe when you fancy a change of scene. Besides hanging out with them drinking criminally cheap rose, we enjoyed the following:

1) Lounging around at the Lac de la Montagne, a big lake surrounded by butterfly and bird-festooned woodland, where you can swim in its filmy, milky-brown waters and squish your toes in the mud. All very Roger Deakin's 'Waterlog'.

2) Miro sculpture exhibition in Carcassonne. Much more impressive than the fully-intact medieval city, which while so turreted and domed and walled it's ripe for a BBC drama series location, it would only be for interior shots as inside we found less stinking streets of manure and guards with spears drinking mead and more shops bursting with cheap tat and slow tourists drinking Lipton's Ice Tea.

3) Striking gold whilst staying in Narbonne - a contemporary music festival! We sat in a stunningly dramatic open courtyard in the Palais D'Archeveques, looking up at the stars and the arches and stairways lit so that the stone simpered pink, glowered red and lamented blue whilst a group called Vrak'Trio (comprising drums, sax, tuba, electric guitar/loops and a high-falutin', screaming, shouting flute player) played a non-stop hour of avant-chamber-free-jazz fun, plus visuals. They had to stop their encore when fat rain plopped down; amusingly Andy and I were the only people in France with umbrellas. Ah, so English...

4) Playing about on the coast of the 'l'etang', a huge 'pond' just off the coast near Narbonne, with samphire-filled marshes and rich fish and birdlife. We had fun making beach-sculptures from found materials and peering at the spooky sea-ghost jellyfish lurking by the tide-lip. The seaweed was spread over the beach like dessicated coconut and crunched under our feet like tissue paper.

5) Culinary highlight of the week was not our modern tapas in Narbonne, or our extremely avant-garde luminous green and pink gaspacho soup in Beziers, but in a crumbling, overgrown garden in an out-of-the-way auberge. For 12 euros we had a massive salad, piping hot lemon cake and best of all, sardines fished from about 20 metres away slapped down on ashy smoking coals in a big brick barbecue and served up with nothing more than a wedge of lemon. Apart from the crazy flies, it was bliss; we had tea with fresh mint from the garden whilst 2 compulsively sneezy and somnambulant bassett hounds plodded around our feet.

Still, it's nice to be back. If I'm an English Rose then in France my petals wilted, dropped off and got mulched to pieces in the mad hazy 34 degrees heat and I can only take so much of that and spending most of the morning getting Andy to spray-tan me - ahem. so it's back to the laptop and the gig-getting and the rest of it...

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Real Music Makers

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3
Watching: Men's Singles Final Wimbledon highlights on BBCiplayer as have been too busy to see them - mmm, biceps...
Hair day: blonde and flat

juice did a sweet and perfectly formed concert down at the Deal Festival yesterday, at the end of a mad 11 days straight of work for me, involving juice community concerts, music/dance projects, primary school workshopping, Wigmore Hall meetings, etc etc. Deal was lovely and we were pretty great, particularly on the lurid tights/naughty shoes front (Sarah trumping Anna and I with her butterfly-patterned legs and sky-high electric blue suede heels YOWZA!), and our every vocal utterance, whether a gorgeous chord or nasty growl, met with gentle smiles from our appreciative crowd, which included a couple of classes of spotty teenage girls. We even signed a few giggly 12 year-olds' programmes. Ah, fame at last.

I followed this up back in London with the other side of classical life as the plus one of Rachel, wearing her English National Ballet badge, at the Arts Club for a champagne reception held by Classic FM to celebrate their educational scheme, Music Makers. My badge said nothing apart from my name, which was incorrect as it had an 's' on the end which I of course furiously scribbled off so as to not be mistaken for my evil nemesis, male electroacoustic composer Kerry Andrews. I kid you not. The evening was a little pointless, and I scoffed as Simon Bates marvelled at Music Makers' radical schemes (huh! Loads of companies do cool music educational stuff - I WORK for half of them!) in his effortlessly velvety, radioclass tones. But sipping champagne and nibbling on baffling canapes was fun (mango chicken dressed up as tiny ice creams in cones, anyone?), as well as spotting Classic FM-types, who I beamed at but really was imagining tripping over and pulling their expertly coiffed hair and holding them down whilst grunting Meredith Monk songs in their ears. There was Julian Lloyd Webber looking angry and scruffy, Nicola Benedetti looking spray-tanned and spotty (nothing next to her mum who was so cosmetically-surgeried-up she looked like a startled panther), and a buffed and toothsome vocal boyband who I whispered to Rachel must be that group G8 or whatever they were called. We also had Hayley Westenra singing snoringly popular classics into her reverby radio mic, and the Raven Quartet (another of the Benedetti clan plays with them I've now realised), seen last week at scuffy nonclassical, fitting right in here, looking even skinnier with their big Xena belts squeezing them in two, belting out their classical hits with bionic, photogenic ease. I also said hi to Sarah Derbyshire who runs Live Music Now and bumped into an old family friend and also an ex-Yorkie who now rather fortuitously work for Hazard Chase, the agency who should really be signing juice. Ah, how I love to network...

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1
Level of conviction in own genius: 6
Hair Day: so-so

So Andy and I enjoyed a night of high culture last night – it’s nice to know you can cram both the watching of prancing muscular types and playing pool to uncompromising 20th century orchestral music into one evening. We started at the Royal Festival Hall on sneaky press tickets from ENB Marketing honcho mate Rachel (failing utterly to fit into the rather upmarket VIP free drinks section in the interval). I don’t see much in the way of ballet, but it was really exquisite: we first had a blink-bright plain set and some beautifully precise shape-throwing to a Bach’s Concerto No.1, with the dancers in sky-blue lycra; I nearly choked when, having just gestured the end of the first movement, the three sleekly glistening chaps turned round to present 6 exceptionally pert buttocks to the crowd. Rafael Nadal’s tennis balls would have poinged back in his face off those. The next was a premiere set to Mahler’s Ruckert-Leider: we didn’t have a programme but I’m assuming the lyrics weren’t about bunnies and chocolate drops, given the slightly shticky gothic set, smoke pouring from the ceiling and the black gauzey outfits. The choreography was merely lovely until the last song, where three guys with bare torsos danced an incredibly physical, often precariously-balanced piece full of anguish, all bathed in brooding golden light and glowering shadows. I practically wept.

Dance just makes you so aware, in the same way as music does to sound, that there can be grace and interest in every bodily movement. So we sashayed and pirouetted our way prettily to Hoxton to show our faces at this month’s nonclassical (huh – Time Out previewed THIS one but not ours!). Last night it featured The Raven Quartet, a rather Classic FM-esque set of girls with glossy manes and flashing teeth who played soundtrack music, Brian Eno and some trashy classics, including some Romeo and Juliet ‘for Gabriel’ which even I could tell was dodgily tuned and brash. Irritatingly, I’m sure they’ve a glittering future ahead of them. We were there to big up the Dead and Alive boys who were DJ-ing –they again insisted we come on for the last show and are always so nice to us (Joshua was snorting ‘all over the place!’ in my ear when the quartet were playing, tee hee). Wine now seems to have a new effect on me – getting names calamitously mixed-up. After two glasses and heading home, I asked Tim as he was stuffing his face with kebab outside The Macbeth whether he’d played any Gareth Barry yet – which, as Andy pointed out, would be a question better-suited to Fabio Capello, Gareth being a notable English midfielder and not a well-respected, hard-edged contemporary composer. I died a small death of embarrassment. Then I got home and pointed out our newest picture nailed up on the wall, a cute, intricate drawing by that wonderful satirical cartoonist, Heath Ledger. Ouch! Oh well, near enough...