Sunday, September 28, 2008

Before The Talkies There Was Torquay

Level of conviction in own genius: 7.5
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Reading / Watching: just finished silly Greek philsophy mystery thing / The Wire Series 2, MOTD 2
Hair Day: Sundayish

It's the start of a fairly packed autumn for me as performer, teacher of note and composer; things kicked off notably at the private launch of King's Place, the fabulous new music and art venue in King's Cross, funded entirely by a tortoiseshell-spectacled businessman called Peter Millican. The credit crunch, as my Junior Trinity boss Marion said, had certainly not hit King's Place: the place was rammed with a thousand musical/arty/architecty/businessy types making the most of the fountains of free champagne and pick-your-own cocktails. juice were there as part of our new artvocal wunderkind BF and male-Bjork, Mikhail, who was commissioned by Peter M to create a piece that showed off the soaring, disorientating acoustic of the atrium space. So Mikhail wrote a beautiful piece for us and singer Claire Wilkinson whilst he did his usual growly extra-vocal thing over the top, all whilst wearing a canary yellow silk top, trousers made up of fat overruffled stuff and a specially-made 1.5 metre-long foam mask, sent from Milan no less. Unfortunately, what with the quaffing and hobnobbing, the guests were in no mood to shut their braying, champagne-guzzling traps for one nanosecond, and our performance was rather reduced to barking our parts out in a vain attempt to be heard. A shame, but still many did hear snippets, and we had plenty of our own shoulder-rubbing to do afterwards with various promoters, agents etc, all the while smiling beatifically and necking our third apple martinis.

The weekend was spent at the Riviera: not the posh French one, alas, but in Torquay, for the (deep breath) English Riviera International Comedy Film Festival 2008, where Bird's Eye View had got juice along for the third time to repeat our live vocals to silent film thang. Whilst the sight of palm trees and a gloriously sunsome sea view from my hotel window was to be wallowed in, there was not much else to celebrate in Torquay, and we all swiftly realised why we live in London, where you can pick up some quick food from 100 different eateries of varying nationalities and the choice of bar is not limited to Mambo's, which our taxi driver had enthusiastically recommended to us, informing us keenly that its rum mix of stag and hen dos, men dressed in togas and cheap booze would sort 'us girls' out a treat. Hhm. I prefer a night sipping melon-y wine whilst perusing a video-installation-cum-contemporary-dance night followed possibly by a late-night beigel, but I don't believe you can find that at Mambo's, even if it does stay open til 4am.

The gig itself was rather calamitous, what with everything technically falling apart and delaying the show for an hour, then only our DVD (and not Zoe Rahman and her drummer partner Pat's main showing) working. So we had to go on first and then entertain the bemused scattered few who weren't at Mambo's with an impromptu performance of 'lullaby for the witching hour' before the other DVD finally worked, albeit on a tiny screen. We were introduced rather flatly by comedienne Shazia Mirza (whose fortnightly column I read in the New Statesman religiously), whose caustic, uncompromising wit - her last show was called 'Fuck Off, I'm A Hairy Woman!' - seemed slightly suicidal in the Palace Theatre, Paignton, especially what with the audience mostly consisting of old ladies in the floral blouses. Ouch. There was more Shazia to come, at the 'Gala Night' afterwards, which was like 'Phoenix Nights' on acid. Torquay's whitest-skinned, ruddiest-cheeked men and most 80's throwbacked (and not in a Star of Bethnal Green way - it was like the Breakfast Club in there) women came dressed in their finest to sit at tables garlanded with balloons and little gold stars and take part in an auction, see some short films and hear some comedy. The strange hunchback local comedian seemed to deliberately not know how to pronounce her name in a racist-tinged way and I wanted to curl up and die, particularly knowing how Shazia's face had dropped when she'd entered. But dang, you have to give her credit: that woman has balls. Her required 30 minutes turned into an hour, and she went for it full pelt, letting them in gently with friendly jokes about Primark and flying before talking about taking it up he ass and how 'WAGS' is a grammatically-incorrect term and it should of course be... you fill in the blanks and watch us whiteys squirm. She was brilliant, and afterwards we Londoners celebrated back in the safety of our thick-carpeted, thickly-upholstered hotel bar. Very fun hanging out with a famous comedienne, a Mercury-nominated pianist, our old York acquaintance and now TV producer Alex and the Bird's Eye Crew. Shazia probably didn't really get our sound (she asked if we'd thought about going on X Factor...) but over breakfast had taken our email address to give to her cabaret promoter friend. Celebs rule!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hello Oto

Current level of conviction in own genius: 9
Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: 4
Hair Day: Short and snappified

It's nice when the coolest venues become places you've PLAYED in, not just been to: having viewed Cafe Oto's rise from afar - well, two miles away in Bethnal Green), we've only managed to pop in for coffee, the rest of the time pressing our noses up against the glass outside another sold-out night of leftfield electronica and all things experimental. So though Anna is away in Brittany, Sarah and I jumped at the chance to fly the juice flag last night at a Twisted Lounge night, curated by our friend, arty supremo and avant-garde jumper-wearer Mikhail ( It was an eclectic evening of interesting vocal stuff, starting with young turk Matthew Lee Knowles' piece for harpsichord and speaker, the latter deadpanly reading out probably the most repellent Marquis de Sade text off a long thin roll of paper which was slowly uncoiled. Very, very hardcore and I wanted to punch their lights out both on behalf of all women, but hell, that's probably the point. Shudder. We also heard really lovely improvisational off-the-wall-jazz stylings from E:LAINE with Leon doing marvellously percussive and inventive things on the grand piano. Then Mikhail did his usual part-Bjork, part-Arabic-ish whisperings and roarings with some excellent harpsichord accompaniment by MLK. Linda Hirst, matriarch of the contemporary vocal scene, finished off the night in deliberately poised, simple style with 9 extremely short unaccompanied John Cage songs. Sarah and I did a couple of Meredith Monk duets, Sarah and Belinda did Roger Marsh's darkly glimmering song 'Black Hair' beautifully, and I debuted my 'catalunyanpoem' on the biggest and best loop station you can buy which I'd borrowed to see if it was worth investing in. Which it is given the lovely reception afterwards - having been shitting myself over getting the first and most essential loop in time and practising putting my foot down in the loos (any others in there must have thought I was a little insane), it all went rather smoothly and I had a ball performing.

Of course, we missed the triumphant return of England to some semblance of skill and form - or at least I'm assuming so, having seen that lovely score. But I suppose being at a high-art vocal evening and networking with a variety of cheery artpeople (video-makers who worship Christian Marclay not Ronaldo), singers (all over the pitch in a good way) and promoters (Twisted Lounge not Twisted Ankle - oh, I must stop) a good excuse for missing little Theo's hat-trick. More exciting for me than Engerland's win is the fact that Wycombe are sitting, pretty and proud, at the top of League Two. Go on the boys en bleu. So sure, it's only five games in, but I'm basking in the glory while it lasts...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Hurricane Led Bib

Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: 3
Level of conviction in own genius: 7.5
Watching / Listening: 'The Wire' series 1 - as rich and characterful as Dickens but set in drugsland Baltimore! / Mechanical Bride
Hair day: bit shaggy

It's been gigs-a-plenty this week, which is just as well as I've been lacking inspiration on the creative front. First up was a debut trip to the Electroacoustic Club in the scuffed opulence of the Slaughtered Lamb pub basement, strewn with many a chaise-longue and pouffe to recline on whilst listening to introspective guitar-picking (first support act) and ineffective yeowlings and badly tuned 12-strings (second support act). But we were there to check out Mechanical Bride, who I'd heard on myspace doing a great lo-fi, melancholic cover of Rhianna's 'Umbrella'. Her indie oom-pah band of beardy euphonium, horn, glockenspiel, keys and conga players/singers were beguilingly beautiful, with MB's bittersweet vocals ghosting over the top. Real lovely.

The next Sarah and I went to be inspired at a PRS-MCPS conference on how to make it happen as an artist, full of advice about using Twitter and wordpress and selling t-shirts from the source and things that were a bit over our heads really. Then we showed our faces at nonclassical at The Macbeth, this time to see a kora player and violinist pairing. It was charming, the violin bubbling away over the top of glittering kora improvisation and thrumming bass strings; jewels tumbling on a magic carpet. It was slightly hampered by the braying city boyz and others, who although having paid to get in, were happy to roar their way obstinately over the top at the bar. It's the only problem with interesting music in cool venues: the habit for people to talk when the're standing up and have a drink in their hand. But if they're told, as they are at places like the Luminaire, to shut up or get out, then it can work. They just need to be told.

Finally, I bent my head into the wind and narrow-eyed rain and powered into town yesterday afternoon for the inappropriately-named 'Spitalfields Summer Stew'. What better on a Friday tea-time than some mystifying, loopy jazz under the awning in Bishop's Square. I settled down, chai latte in hand and nose under my scarf, for the wondrous Led Bib, who had curated the day. They are so excitingly visceral with sheer, silly virtuosity and out-there funkiness that they draw gasps and giggles, at least from me. The band seemed to be playing to keep the rain off, a sort of protective free jazz shield. Mark, the drummer/leader constantly looked like he was in fits of laughter, whacking his toms with gangly-armed glee; the twin saxes wreathed around each other in a birddeathdance, stomping in big puddles of bass whilst the new-rave kid jellybeaned all over his keys, doing crazy acid mud-squelches. Most hilarious watching the tourists and city folk wander bemusedy past, and even better those in the audience sitting reading the papers, as though they were listening to undemanding dinner jazz in balmy summer, rather than insane noise-skronk in a rainstorm.

I have finally managed to do a new solo track: here's 'all things are quite silent', my new glitch-folk direction...