Wednesday, December 01, 2010

And the Award Goes To... ME

Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 0
Reading: John Lanchester's Fragrant Harbour
Hair Day: just like Tansy Davies', apparently...
Things I Can See From My Flat Window No. 5: a snow-bespeckled wonderland

Last night saw the British Composer Awards in the shadow of St. Paul's; I trudged through the slush in full-on outdoor walking gear, dashed into the loos of the Stationers' Hall to reappear,  superhero-like, as Glam Composer Girl nominated in the Making Music category for community-commissioned composition. In illustrious company such as Thomas Ades, Howard Skempton, Rolf Hind, Michael Finnissy, Sally Beamish et al, I was one of the much-trumpeted newish composers with the double whammy of being both a) 33 or under (phew, just) and b) a GIRL. Bonus! What they didn't parp on about so much was the wonderful plethora of composers with different ethnic backgrounds, due to the company being almost exclusively WHITE.  Hhm, rather a long and more important way to go there, then. Still, a fairly unknown quantity I was, except to the person in the cloakroom who exclaimed brightly to the back of my head 'hello Tansy!'. Ahem. It probably IS confusing that there are two female composers in their 30s with mad real short haircuts. I spent the next half an hour wondering if anyone who looked my way was thinking 'Ooo, is that Tansy Davies?' before realising it was someone far less important and turning back to their champagne. Hur hur.

As much as I'd just been excited about the free bubbles and general hobnobbery, it was hard not to harbour and mould, as the awards went on, a small nugget of hope that I could actually win my category. Particularly as Peter Broadbent, the conductor of the Joyful Company of Singers who had commissioned my piece Fall had introduced me to a judge as 'Kerry has won- I mean, been nominated for -' etc. We had a heartfelt speech about the value of the arts from Jude Kelly of the South Bank, before the likes of Raymond Yiu, Cheryl Frances-Hoad (getting two awards), Sasha Siem, Ryan Wigglesworth and others won their categories. I was crossing my fingers for James Redwood and Jack Ross, of Firefly fame, to win the Community and Education Award but alas, it wasn't to be. I managed to miss the most memorable speech of the night (James Hamilton - Contemporary Jazz Composition: 'I haven't had a poo for a week')  by being in the Ladies' wondering if saying 'wicked and chris' in my speech would be too  much.

Finally it was my turn: up with Ian Farrington and John McLeod, there was a brief spiel from the presenters for the night, Radio 3's Sarah Mohr-Pietsch and Andrew McGregor, during which my heart started hammering on my breastplate like a particularly fervent Jehovah's Witness. So extreme was its palpitations, that as my name was called out (YESYESYES!) I managed to get onto the stage before it burst through, John Hurt in Alien-style, and slathered bloodily onto the stage for the handshake and photo opp. Andy and I had joked about me using my spotlit moment to a) give a two-fingered, anarchistic speech about STICKING IT TO THE MAN b) speaking only in aforementioned The Wire quotes ('either you in the game, or you out, you feel? In-deed' etc) or just c) standing there for 5 minutes giving the Black Power salute, but of course in the end I just smiled sweetly, stumbled slightly over a word or two and made my thanks to Peter, Robin Robertson my poet, and 'my spectacularly lovely husband Andy'. 

Post-ceremony was a whirlwind of congrats, photos and Radio 3 interview. I met the MPA/Making Music head honchos (who will be commissioning me to write a new choral piece next year off the back of this award) then tackled the assault course of people wanting to shake hands and give me their business cards as I fought my way to the bowl-food and wine. It was brilliant fun and is partway to my aged-14 dream of winning an Oscar for best score... hurrah!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Who You Gonna Call? JUICEBUSTERS!

Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: a highly-paid 1
Watching: Series 2 of Misfits
Hair Day: nobbut middling
Things I Can See From My Flat Window No. 4: Scruffy coal tits

Yesterday saw juice turn into the Charlie's Angels of the classical music circuit, with a last-minute call on the juicephone from Anthony Wilkinson of the Wimbledon Festival, desperate for us to replace Alfred Brendel at the eleventh hour. Yes, Alfred Brendel, the colossally-renowned pianist-turned-poet, who was supposed to be reading his surrealist poetry interspersed with his son Adrian on 'cello, until he lost his voice. Getting over the hilarious idea that three rather younger vocal ensemble lasses were to replace the uber-famous KBE-holder, we hot-footed it over to the very gloriously crumbling Southside House, a Georgian mansion fit to burst with costumes, period furniture and paintings, including a prized original of Charles II. Hot damn! Getting ready in the lovely little shabby/chic basement room, with the daughters of the house in waitress uniforms running out from the kitchen with canapes for the select guests milling about upstairs, all felt terribly Downton Abbey...

Following a lovely introduction from Anthony (calling us his 'secret weapon'), we really enjoyed our second half of Love Songs and juice faves, all met with a welcoming reception from the wine-warmed guests, none of whom seemed to want to riot at the fact that we weren't a 79 year-old Faber-published recitalist with several Grand Prixes to his name and honorary degrees from Oxford and Yale. In fact, some were overheard to say that they didn't feel that they were short-changed at all and that Anthony was a 'programming genius!' Hurrah! This is clearly the way to get ahead. Instead of (sometimes) having to scratch around for audiences given our (relatively) low profile, we kidnap Andrea Bocelli or Lang Lang, bundle him into the back of a car, make a crank call to the promoter saying he's caught man-flu and wait for the juice hotline to ring, then breeze in and perform wacky and technically-brilliant a cappella numbers to a gobsmacked audience who then buy up our debut CD in bulk. It's foolproof!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Extremely Wild Cats

Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 1
Reading: Bruce Cole's The Composer's Handbook
Hair Day: Drying
Things I Can See From My Flat Window No. 4: Battersea Power Station

juice had an excellent 2 days' final recording at Nonclassical Towers where, fuelled by chocolate, tea and prawn jalfrezi from Bethnal Green's friendliest curry house, we laid down nine more pieces to potentially go on our debut album. Whoopee! Our earlier sessions in the summer had been enacted in face-melting heat; this time, we really hit our stride, aided by Gabriel's subtle direction in the producer's hotseat. Now we just need a pithy title that gets across our genre-hopping, experimental vocal, text-exploring, gasping/hollering/crooning style in about three words. Ummmm....

I made my London Jazz Festival debut this week, singing with Metamorphic at a happily heaving Cafe Oto. Ace promoters The Local, helmed by drawlingly droll Northerner Howard Monk, had thrown three utterly diverse acts into the mix; following our prog-jazz shizzle was the delightful Kyrie Kristmanson, who delivered bravely bare songs with a smattering of trumpet, tambourine or guitar whilst appearing to sport the scalp of a yeti as a hat. After this gorgeous interlude, we were lastly pummelled into submission by the musical equivalent of an extreme BDSM session: hardcorenoiseimprov merchants Puma. An electric guitar/synths/drums trio from Norway, they were a study in crescendos, drawing us in fairly gently at first with brooding drones before we were unwittingly sucked into their snarling, mathy doomrock, with moments variously suggesting a bagpipe player on a murderous rampage, Kevin Bacon (the guitarist Stian was the spitting image) having a nervous breakdown, and some sort of witchy cave-ritual with extra gongs. It was like being dragged to the end of the world, led by the Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse, accompanied by the synth keyboardist's hell-raisingly joyful whoops. They left us glued to our chairs, our craniums throbbing and soggy, unable to fathom that we were still in Dalston and not in some eternal, slightly blissful underworld. Puma!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Robin Robertson and a Thousand Gigs

Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 3
Reading: Blake Morrison's South of the River
Hair Day: Snappy
Things I Can See From My Flat Window No. 3: Fireworks! Splendid death stars over to the north-east, lovely rainbowed cloudbursts way west and a few little plucky flares nearer home, south of the river; plus a lot more popping and crackling going on behind our flats...

It's been Big Gig Week here in Kerry Towers!

1) First off: another You Are Wolf trip to the always-supportive Monday Monday folk-ish night up at Camden's Green Note. I was playing with my favourite live band of the hour, the heart-wilting Firefly boys and girl, so managed to rope them in for a couple of trad. folk numbers, re-arranged in ad hoc style for the lot of us.  I tried out a new, supremely dark (quel surprise) version of Tam Lyn which you can see here!

2) On Thursday juice ventured to the unknown wastelands of The West to the very glamorous and posh contemporary gallery Louise Blouin Foundation  for their contemporary concert series. This was juice's first chance to air their long-gestating collaboration with our buddy Damien Harron. Damien is an amazingly theatrical and vocal percussionist; we've wanted to cosy up for ages, blurring our roles in bringing together the primal forces of singing and banging things. It wasn't a wholly successful concert - a stiff-shirted, largely bemused audience for one - though had some lovely moments (I loved rocking the 'Little Drummer Girl' look, and bowing the vibes) and it's at least a good starting point for future voice-percussion-offs.

3) On Saturday night juice glitzed up to the Frozen North to bring the Love Songs to York for their Late Music Concert Series. Though braindead from a hyper-busy two months, we gave it our gusto'd all, and had a lovely time in front of an audience of friendly Yorkie faces, including my Mum beaming away in the front row, whose proud motherly gaze I had to studiously ignore all concert for fear of corpsing. We brought rats, prayers, naughty childrens' deaths, and Sumerian insults (courtesy of our friend Stef Conner) to the wee chapel just near Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate.

4) Back to Friday: after doing my Dead Poets Society Bit For The Greater Good by kicking off a composition project in a rowdy secondary school near Bellingham, it was off to the Front Room of the QEH for a complicatedly-titled 'Friday Tonic Presents Ladyfest Ten: Girl Fawkes' Night' as part of Poetry International at the South Bank. I had no idea this would turn out to be my most populated You Are Wolf gig ever, singing to 200 or so folks. It would be the night that my throat became an arid dustbowl due to the evil aircon and my nerves kicked in, with my right leg turning into the pale milk jelly Mum used to dish up when she was feeling creative. After me was the totally ace Lulu and the Lampshades, a feisty set of girls and guy with a homemade rock 'n' folk feel; they pounded tin drums and sang harmonies with high-energy gumption, as well as belting through a barnstorming plastic-cup-percussion finale. Brilliant.

As a happy coincidence, my favourite poet Robin Robertson - whose poem/translation 'Fall' I had set for the Joyful Company of Singers (now up for that BASCA award, whoop whoop) was performing up in the gods at the Royal Festival Hall on Bonfire Night, so we went along, hoping to say hello afterwards. It was a much more brow-furrowed affair than the happy-go-lucky feminism of next door (where my favourite phrase of the show was, in promoting next week's Ladyfest anniversary celebrations, 'you could crochet a vagina!' Erk); I wasn't keen on Elisabeth Bletsoe's po-faced impenetrability, much more taken with Kathleen Jamie's prose on visiting the deserted isle of Rona, but most excited to finally see RR in the flesh, since we possess all of his books and I have been in a little correspondence with him. Onstage, he had a quite terrifying presence, all deliberately drawn-out burr and dramatic quiver, and seemed like some sort of Scottish Poetry Godfather who could probably casually slice you into bits with a deftly-enunciated dactyl if you so much as sniffed. His poems were - naturally - great: dark, sensual, wry and mired in the land. Afterwards, I went over, slightly nervously, to say hello, and Robin turned out to be bubbling over with charm and irreverent humour, immediately debunking the stuffy atmosphere and inviting Andy and I into the artists' area. Over free wine, he had us in fits over the demographic of his usual audience ('sitting there in their mobility scooters') and comparison of the approving sounds that poetry audiences to 'whimpering farmyard animals'. Whilst Andy and the terribly earnest intellectual chap who introduced the night gushed over American responses to W.G. Sebald, Robin cheerfully dismissed it all as 'bollocks!' to which Intellectual Chap backtracked slightly, stuttering 'yes, well, indeed there ARE cultural differences...' Tee hee. He told us of a new collaboration with Alasdair Roberts (whilst Andy tried to pimp me as their backing singer), and I rather got the impression that Robin was not keen on my contemporary choral setting of 'Fall'. Eek. It's probably just not his shizzle, but as he suggested that 'the Wolf thing' would be much better suited to his poetry, I think I'd better get onto it pretty sharpish before he whittles those dactyls...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Million Love Songs (Well, Ten) Plus A Load Of Mooning

Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 5

Watching: Getting wiltingly-addicted to Downton Abbey
Hair Day: It's a Hair Day Off
Things I Can See From My Flat Window No. 2: The BT Tower

juice are in the midst of a hairily-busy period; when we remember how much music we have to learn, we turn white and stuff our face with more cake that we shouldn't be eating to distract ourselves from the rising panic. Still, the Love Songs London premiere is out of the way, hurrah! Our Kings Place gig went pretty darned well I think - we performed them in bite-sized chunks (or as Sarah unwittingly put it, to the hearty guffaws of my friend Jim, a 'love sandwich'. Yummy.), interspersed with piano/film/sampling-stylings of Scratch the Surface featuring the likes of Leon 'Jagger' Michener, Sarah Nicholls and Claudia Molitor, who almost outdid us in the multi-coloured tights stakes. Many of the composers came along, including Errollyn Wallen, looking glamorous in leopardskin, Anna Meredith, Phillip Neil Martin and Mica 'Micachu' Levi. We're so proud of this project - it took a mammoth effort to get funding and was right down to the wire in getting them ready for performance. You'd think we'd want a bit of a rest following that; but no! A day later we returned to the bosom of Kings Place and their fabulously slick tech team to perform in Mikhail's 'Xenon' project. This included fun costumes: for the first half, we were Annie Lennox/Robert Palmer models in suits and red lippy (I had great difficulty in processing Mikhail's request for me to make my hair look 'less lovely and more androgynous' - my hair is the only thing that always looks FABULOUS!), and in the second we transformed into shiny-glam people 'excavated from the earth' - for me this meant looking like a big gold pudding in some hip-exaggerating (believe me, the last things that need exaggerating are my hips) gleaming trousers. But at least I got to spike my hair up, phew.

After that, and not forgetting another performance of 'Xenon' in Canterbury, juice enjoyed two days of trying out material with our friend, the brilliantly dynamic percussionist and composer Damien 'Father Damo' Harron down in the Cronx* for our concert in a weeks' time. I penned a very quick one which treats juice essentially as one voice, has Damien jabbering away and playing gongs, and which revealed a rather stuck-record approach to composing as it is about the moon. AGAIN. We're also performing pieces by John Cage, Tansy Davies, Georges Aperghis and many more. It should be great fun, though means we have about 10 more pieces to learn in a week. Followed by another premiere by Stef Connor two days later in York. We are clearly sado-musico-masochists. 

In exciting other Kerry news, I enjoyed not one but TWO iPlayer features this week, first with my choral piece 'Fall' being broadcast on BBC Radio 3's The Choir, and You Are Wolf's 'Lucy Wan' being played by Fiona Talkington on Late Junction. Yay! AND the former piece has been nominated in the 'Making Music' category at the British Composer Awards, thanks to Joyful Company of Singers chief Peter Broadbent. I'm not expecting to win or anything but am SO looking forward to Andy and I rocking up to the Stationer's Hall at the end of November, quaffing lots of free champagne and hobnobbing with composers-a-plenty...

* Croydon. Ahem.

Monday, October 11, 2010

John Lewis is the new Cafe Oto

Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: If preparing 'Composing in a Baroque Style' worksheets counts, then 5
Watching: Catching up blissfully with Mad Men after 2.5 weeks without the internet.
Hair Day: Super-cool and short and after central London expenso-trim
Things I Can See From My Flat Window No. 1: The London Eye

Things are hotting up for juice's appearance in the gulp-inducingly large Hall One of King's Place on October 22nd. As part of the publicity and to make the most of our PRS for Music Foundation groups award money, we had great fun in a London Fields studio a few weeks ago doing a new juice photoshoot. Little did we expect to be rocking the wildly contrasting looks of a) monochrome balloon-stabbing sexpots in teetering heels and b) Tim Burton-meets-Miss-Havisham playing with a Heath Robinson-esque machine, complete with bustles, corsets, pained expressions through lack of lungspace, and our hair spiked up, electric-shock style and sprayed grey. But rock them, I hope, we did. Hur hur.

Elsewhere, it's been the usual whirlwind of musical fun coupled with the not-so-cool pleasures of furnishing our new Camberwell flat (John Lewis's rugs are a godsend, I tell you! Urgh). I've started doing some workshopping at Handel House Museum, giving workshops to straw-boater-wearing Year 6s and Midlands-based Yr 13s when not getting hopelessly lost in the building's knottily labrynthine staircases and corridors. I kickstarted a Young Producers project at Wigmore Hall with a bunch of marvellously sparky 6th formers, mentoring them through the curation of a gig in April (I'm considering headhunting a couple of them to be my free PAs, they were so full of creativity and energy). I had lunch with the sage and wonderfully gregarious choral composer and conductor Bob Chilcott at the ICA, and popped along to Camille's producer MaJiKer's little album launch in Shoreditch to do a teensy bit of backing vocals.

You Are Wolf has been busy too, performing at a lovely intimate gig with Fuzzy Lights in Cambridge, alongside the effervescently charming Fiona Bevan at Beatnik in Hoxton, and finally at 'nonclassical' in Shoreditch. Here I had a wonderful time doing new arrangements of a couple of YAW folk tunes with Stuart, Ian and Olly (on bass clarinet, accordion and viola) from CHROMA Ensemble, plus trying out the first four of Berio's 'Folk Songs', in my own miked style. Sadly, also having a wonderful time were the attendees of a private party downstairs, whose beats and basslines from all sorts of common denominator party classics bled into nonclassical's upstairs room. Thus recorder quintet Consortium 5, launching their album with some supremely delicate woody flutterings and breath-attacks, were punctuated by driving four-to-the-floors, and CHROMA gave the London premiere of Mark Bowden's trio to the DAISY-age accompaniment of De La Soul's '3 Is The Magic Number'. Nice!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Are You Wolf? Erm...

Level of conviction in own genius (out of 10): 0. Perfect pitch and clever musicianship is little use in the world of mortgage lenders, solicitors and evil estate managers.
Amount of creative activity achieved today: Too busy attempting to buy houses, to little avail
Watching / Reading: Series 4 of 'Mad Men', hallelujah / A proof of 'The Report' by Jessica Francis Kane - a novel around the biggest single WW2 civilian disaster, in my old endz of Bethnal Green
Hair day: wilting

It took me to move out of Bethnal Green's sanctified environs (not by the Pope, you understand; merely beatified by the holy triumvariate of art, parks and undercuts) to discover a cool new hangout: 10 Gales, under the arches near the tube, which in true BG style, is a mix of boutique vintage shop, cafe, haircuttery, gallery and gig venue. The gig arch is very recent, so much so that it's still stinky, dank and a leetle drippy every time a train thunders overhead. But it feels like an underground room in Berlin with its hotchpotch chairs, little tea sets and £1 beers. I played a You Are Wolf gig there, which went very well, apart from my brain turning to plasticine and me introducing myself as 'I Am Wolf - no, You Are Wolf, no, that's who I am, You Are Wolf!'. Agh. It was nice to meet a mum and son there afterwards who were there as part of a local audience scheme, having been given free tickets to the night; they loved it and compared my voice to Alison Goldfrapp's. Nice! I also talked to a painter and did a significant double-take when the folk-singing best mate he kept referring to turned out to be Sheila Chandra. Sheila Chandra, one of my key experimental vocal influences along with Meredith Monk, Berio and Zap Mama, at least in the early days!

Andy and I were invited to the PRS Foundation New Music Award party in the Serpentine Pavilion last night, and had fun new-muso-spotting (and more importantly, beating Andy, in 5 mins flat, of black and red plastic chess, which is as good an achievement as winning to New Music Award in my book): Errollyn Wallen, Stephen Montague, Bishi, and a whole free-wine-quaffing host of journos, composers and players. Errollyn is a new acquaintance, having written one tenth of juice's monumental new commission, 'Laid Bare: 10 Love Songs', which was premiered at Catrin Finch's converted chapel venue in Wales for the Vale of Glamorgan last week. Considering that, as we also performed some little Tormis songs for the first time, we performed SEVENTEEN new pieces we'd never aired before, we did pretty well. The gin afterwards never tasted so good...

Monday, September 06, 2010

UK vs Sweden: Return Leg

Level of conviction in own genius: 8
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Watching: the screen of my beautiful new MacBook Pro for signs of dust which I immediately banish
Hair day: Bit dishevelled, but rockin' a marvellous Brockley-based cut.

Back in April, a motley band of dirty-minded, witty, rowdy British musicians collided head-on with a more sedately super-cool Swedish crew for some crisp-air-and-cutglass-lake-inspired collaborations up in a tucked-away corner of Sweden. This weekend saw the intrepid Swedes take the novel form of FLYING (we were scuppered by the Icelandic volcano and had a valiant 2-day affair featuring a squadron of local trains and one glorious ferry on our way back from Scandinavia). Where their country served up wonderful salmon and dill-based meals, wooden chalets, oceans of stars and a forest floor bouncy with pine needles, we offered student accommodation rife with silverfish, primary school-style packed lunches and windowless cells to devise in courtesy of the Guildhall's basement in the Barbican. Whoops!

So the working environment was a little more difficult to waft around in this time, but this was no-one's fault but the budget's (let's assume it's all down the evil Con-Libs and curse their heads). However, at the other end of the scale, we did at least show them: 1) the Most Cutting-Edge New Music Night in London (Gabriel's nonclassical at the Horse and Groom, with Joby Burgess' Powerplant doing delightful things with Fanta bottles and plastic bags - YES! 2) the Best Music Venue In London, Cafe Oto (catching the London Improviser's Orchestra) 3) Shoho/Spitalfields nightlife with some bevvies at the Ten Bells 4) Dalston's finest Turkish kebab takeaway 5) London's Best Club Bar None, Passing Clouds which some of them made it to, no doubt for some Congolese beats, squishy sofas and heart-warming vibes.

This time we were put in a quartet for two days. I think my group found negotiating the ground between choreography, loops, structured improv and personality differences a struggle at times, but I like to think we got there in the end. We went back to Oto to present our work; it was a wonderful gig, with the process of collaboration between such diverse practices bringing out a far more richly engaging night than most new music gigs. My favourite moments were:

  • The first piano/theatre/electronics piece - my friend described it as four surgeons carrying out nasty little operations on the piano; I thought they looked like futuristic zoologists working in a weird, robotic insect jungle.
  • Tappity-tapping canes on the floor, miked up and choregraphed/composed.
  • Larry and Bill's delicately suspended trio plus soundscape: a proper piece.
  • Leon wearing my piano necklace and looking like Liberace. Ha ha.
  • Performing our piece. I loved incorporating movement into our improv, so thank you Marie. And sorry to Matthias for probably giving him a heart attack by doing unexpected things to the loop station in odd places...
Back to work. This week sees an all-new juice challenge: get ten new pieces (some so new they're still toasty from the printer) ready for their premiere on Friday at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival. AGH!

Friday, August 13, 2010


Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 1
Reading: 'The Buddha of Suburbia' by Hanif Kureishi
Hair Day: Have taken the monumentally dramatic decision to start styling my fringe over the other way

Following some strenuous walking up in them thar hills of North Yorkshire and East Riding (highlights being watching gannets, their wings dipped in ink, at Bempton Cliffs, hiking some of the Cleveland Way from Robin Hood's Bay to Whitby, and overcoming my fear of cows enough to stroke one on the nose. Well, it was behind a highly secure fence), I nipped up to a hair-destroyingly torrential Edinburgh Festival. I was there to catch WOLF, a show for which I'd created some a cappella vocals; it explores the mythology of wolves and has a full run in the Caves at Just the Tonic. It was lots of fun finally seeing the whole shebang, the actors rubbing up against audience members, panting, whimpering, singing, snarling, and being utterly dark and wolfish.

I then had Edinburgh to myself, so in between disaster movie levels of downpourage, I drifted around catching a show or two and daydreaming:

I decided to check out some a cappella action, to see if there really was a scene in England for all-singing, all-dancing, camp vocal nonsense. Playing to 200 delighted people every afternoon in August seems to suggest that The Magnets are doing it for the UK. Styling themselves self-deprecatingly as a 'man-band', hammed-up back aches and all, they did a few too many pop covers for my liking (would have loved to see some more instrumental mimicking, and some more diverse choices of songs), but they were very slick and their A to Z of film themes was pretty spectacular.
Dayream #1: I loiter around afterwards, impress the boys with my discussions of the delicacies of tuning 5ths and ensemble enunciation, tell them all about juice, and ingratiate myself as their occasional vocal arranger.
Reality #1: I loiter, the skies split open and unleash biblical amounts of flooding upon the land, I skuttle off to the relative safety of a leaky pub umbrella, as the Magnets dissolve into the deluge.

Forest Cafe!
I stumbled upon Edinburgh's coolest hangout, a perfect mix of E2's half-haircutted art-sillines, but shabbier and with less pretension. During the Festival, you can apparently borrow a 'human library book' - ie a person with specialist knowledge who can chat to you about their subject over a cuppa. Before I left for Scotchland, Andy had joked about me running off with a Scottish man such as my creative Calendonian heroes Alasdair Roberts and Robin Robertson. Lo and behold, as soon as I walked in I spotted in the corner a brooding and beardy Alasdair sitting on the corner of the stage.
Daydream #2: I immediately go up and say hello, buy him a drink, get chatting and through our happily shared musical/lyrical loves become his BACKING SINGER FOREVER. Hurrah!
Reality #2: Pretend not to see him, plot my approach whilst skulking over a chai tea in an antique china cup, watch him leave with his guitar and lady friend. Curses!

Josie Long!
I DID manage to say hello briefly to Josie, who is a friend of friends. Having never seen a live stand-up show, it was a marvellous surprise to thoroughly enjoy myself in the company of a wonderful girl who is basically like me but much more ballsy and famous: she spoke of living in Hackney surounded by politically-ineffectual hipsters (check. Well, until 2 weeks ago), being a feminist which is of course NORMAL (check, ohhh yes), and wanting to be adopted by Billy Bragg or Nye Bevan (I always wanted Bill Nighy or David Attenborough as an uncle) with the aid of a projector and some very nice illustrations. She has a disarming, honest, and proudly female approach which is ACE.
Daydream #3: We hang out after the show, Josie is in awe of my extreme coolnes, we become best buddies and start having tea and politics mornings in Dalston delis along with Ruth Barnes, Fiona Bevan and other East London-dwelling creative feminist-types.
Reality #3: I follow my stomach to excellent diner Mum's for delicious haggis and neeps concoction followed by more tea and book-reading at the Forest cafe, plus a night in a hostel with three extremely polite Tawianese folk, trying to ignore the Ozzie/Scots fighting and police vans outside, which I can only assume was a early hours cross-nation street theatre performance (16+, some violence and much bad language). Though it's funny, I can't seem to find any info about it in my brochure...

The Fitzrovia Radio Hour!
Though they've played at the Last Days of Decadence in Shoreditch many times, it took a trip to Edinburgh to finally catch this marvellous troupe, tapping into the zeitgeisty trends of cabaret and Blitz-era style but with a more sophisticated, Radio 4-ish sheen. They perform radio plays of the '40s and '50s, with you, as the radio audience, able to see their resourceful sound effects and join in with appropriate cheering and groaning. The ripping yarns and quickfire dialogue is all delivered with spunk and gusto, and made me (in best cut-glass accent) terribly, terribly heppy. Much recommended!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Having a Field Day

Level of conviction in own genius: 6
Hours of creative activity achieved today: 2.5
Watching: 'Rev'
Hair day: Greasemonkey

Have had a recent frenzy of gigitude, travelling the length and breadth of our green, pleasant, dirty, rude etc land in the continued quest to rule over the nation with a mix of experimental jazz/folk/acappella nonsense. This has included performing to an audience aged 3-75 (mostly rather nearer the upper end...) with juice at the Harrogate Festival, where we had to get to grips with delivering a full-length concert starting at the very un-voice-friendly time of 11am, when all we really wanted to do was lounge in our jim-jams drinking tea in front of House Antique Makeover Dine With Me Challenge. Then I hared off to Liverpool to sing with Metamorphic at a lovely gallery on the same road as the Cavern Club, thus competing with various Lennon-busking charlatans. The day after that I took my loop station to the Victoria and Albert museum for their inaugural Summer Camp, which brought together an incongruous mix of European tourists learning to clog dance and West London fashionista snortheads drinking martinis out of special cardboard glasses. I sang to this eclectic bunch from the EFDSS stage in my first You Are Wolf outdoor gig, which included the twin rites-of-passage of singing to people stuffing their faces with barbecued pork and shielding my loop station from the rain.

Merrily, unlike last year's diluvian daymare, Field Day at the weekend enjoyed a spark or two of sunshine. We said our sad farewells to our dearly beloved East Endz by strolling to Victoria Park to enjoy some ear-pummelling from These New Puritans, some jangly quite-niceness from Beth Jeans Houghton, the perfect festival parpsters Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, who mixed bare chests, hip hop dancing and really big horns, the sunny clever-house lad Caribou and Parisian headliners Phoenix, whose lightshow made Cat and I super moth-happy. Sad farewells as Andy and I have moved out of The Coolest Place To Live On Earth TM*, to forge new cultural avenues on t'other side of the river, home of Florence Welch, art schools, composer's collectives, and, hopefully, retro flats with mega-views...

You Are Wolf has gone one step further now down the road to stardom with some play on BBC 6Music's Gideon Coe show and 6Music's equivalent in New York, the very ace WFUV. AND with the appearance of my debut video! Which is here, as made by KASH Creative!

*TM by ME

Monday, July 19, 2010

Devon, I'm in Devon, And My Hearts Beats So (From Walking) That I Can Hardly Speak*

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 2
Reading: Hari Kunzru's 'My Revolutions' & a week's worth of emails
Hair day: unsure of motivation

Have had a lovely, get-away-from-valiant-flat-buying-attempts time in North Devon, in Tarka the Otter Land (we stayed in Henry Williamson's house, with his secret writing hut ensconced amongst the trees; everything was called Tarka Trail, Tarka Beer, Tarka Surfing, Tarka Roadworks, that sort of thing; amusingly the local pub's chalkboard out said: 'Probably the pub Henry Williamson drank in' and a Carlsberg sign).

Highlights were:
  • The wondrous Putsborough-Woolacombe Sands, so smooth and vast that at low tide you felt like John Cleese's knight forever running at the castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail upon taking courage and dashing seawards to swim in the wonderfully sudsy sea. Putsborough is the more sedate end, with the usual chintzy charms taking hold at Woolacombe, an impressive cornucopia of pop-up tents, sandcastles, chip vans, rounders matches, metal detector-wielders, parasailors and watersporters, all going strong even when the burly clouds lumbered over and did their worst. Best sights were the elderly surfers, all wobbly-pastry torsos and craggy faces, and parents ingeniously drawing spirally lines on the beach and then racing their offspring around them like kiddie-scaletrix.
  • Body-boarding! We did this at both ends of the above beach, looking probably double-takingly like Keanu Reeves and Lori Petty in Point Break and not at all like two waddling seals on My First Gnarly Wave. Most fun though sometimes a little terrifying trying to judge the crest and break of some looming waves, and often getting totally bitch-slapped.
  • In Ilfracombe, the Victorians were not ones to let a great hulking cliff stand in the way of their constitutional improvements, so drilled right through it to create some tunnels and a bathing pool from a naturally-formed lagoon. On a coldish, drizzly day, the little beach was a spookily lunar oasis of charcoal-dark shingle and massive rock-shards thunked into the surf, with a wonderfully icy empty pool, later swallowed back up by the tide. So in we went! The bravado was well worth it, a brain-bracingly chilly experience in which I tried to remember that the unknown things brushing my legs were seaweed fronds and not the tongues of terrifying seapool critters. Ha.
  • Getting enough freckles to make it look like the sun had just sneezed violently all over me.
  • The Best Cream Tea Ever at a National Trust cafe on Baggy Point, following a rain-lacquered walk, with warm scones as pleasurable as putting your face into a kitten: clotted cream good enough to lay bricks with, peppy jam and strawberries, little red explosions of joy.
* Sung to tune of Cheek to Cheek, obviously...

Friday, July 02, 2010

Summertime, And The Livin' Is Busy

Level of conviction in own genius: 7.5
Hours of creative activity achieved today: 2
Reading/Watching: The Crimson Petal and The White by Michel Faber; Andy Murray bow out
Hair Day: Post-swimming haystack

Cor, another whirlwind couple of months has corkscrewed frantically, taking in lots of gigs and educational work. I caused some politely middle-class frissons of controversy at the (deep breath) South Bank's Chorus Festival London Contemporary Church Musical Festival preview (phew) by saying I wasn't religious whilst talking about my sacred choral writing, followed by a disappointing lack of outrage on the Radio 3 message boards after my Choral Evensong-broadcast magnificat premiere.

juice have been continuing to take their 'squeal!-pop!-grunt!' mantra to the masses, first taking the sedately-swaying marshes of Aldeburgh by storm with their week of teaching Aldeburgh Young Musicians; these are the cleverest young musicians in Britain, the sort of kids who think nothing of creating a Beckett-esque avant-garde recorder/voice/theatre work setting their own haiku in five minutes flat, or combining contemporary dance, chair-scattering, monologues and tuba-deconstruction in a hommage to Pina Bausch. Ha ha. We also toured special needs schools in South Yorkshire for Live Music Now, finding the time to zoom around various country parks sampling regional cakes (my first Bakewell pudding! Mmm...) or walking around our sublimely remote farm accommodation, surrounded by hundreds of sheep, fields of madly bleating vuvuzelas. We've also gigged at the Whitstable Biennale (getting down there early to dip in the blissfully tepid sea, yelping at the single large fish that kept belly-flopping near Andy's head), at King's Place to a great audience for our silent film soundtrack, and a few others besides. THIS week, juice have finally started work recording their debut album on nonclassical, our resolve and ability to only glow like ladies should being severely tested by the obscene heat of the studio once the air con is turned off.

In jazz news, the DOLLYman massive had a day of recording their rockiest numbers in an extremely non-rock 'n' roll private school in leafy Surrey, so look out for an EP soon... Elsewhere, Metamorphic had a nice gig at Leytonstone's Luna Lounge (a retro venue below an all-you-can-eat curry joint, with a lunar landscape badly painted on the walls). I sadly missed the High Art Drama when the last band played: the drummer apparently abruptly stopped mid-stick to accuse remaining members of the Metamorphic crew of talking through his set, culminating in near fisticuffs between the jazzers! Brilliant! Had I been there, I would have, of course, kung-fu'ed wildly in defence of my homies. Hiii-YAH!

I've managed to see a gig or two, including a stimulating OperaShots night which you'll find on my other blog given the high football content. It's nice to meet some like-minded musos in the field: You Are Wolf played a sweet gig at Green Note in Camden this week, and got chatting to a lovely American experimental guitarist who'd dropped by to watch before flying off to Berlin. Here's his shizzle! And at last night's nonclassical gig at newish venue the Horse and Groom in Shoreditch (probably the only place that evening showing a Brooklyn-based banjo player doing electroglitch remixes of Madonna's Like A Prayer), I met the very charming Tansy Davies - I have always imagined steeling myself for a girl-composer-hair-battle upon our first encounter, but thankfully, though she does have a right good barnet, we look sufficiently different at the moment not to have to enter that ring. Hee hee.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Arty Parties

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1
Listening: Joanna Newsom's new album 'Have One On Me'
Hair day: under a cloud

Two arty parties recently, at either end of the spectrum:

Whitechapel Art Gallery
I jumped at the guest list tickets from my new muso buddy Stuart, whose contemporary classical combo Chroma were appearing briefly. What I didn't realise was the high profile society Art-eratti vibe of the night, so Andy and I were slightly surprised to rock up just behind Tracy Emin in a big white coat posing for the paps. Hysterical! Inside was a legion of champagne flutes lined up to do a battle with the gulping gullets of the rich and posh and arty, an oyster bar, a DJ playing crappy Big House, many many small canapes, and lots of people dressed up to nines hiding behind their bling bags gossiping about everyone else. We spotted Jay Jopling, Gavin Turk, Peter York, Peter Blake, Jefferson Hack, Johnny Borrell, plus Bat for Lashes, Bishi and Jack Penate who were all performing with little attention from the yabbering, free cocktail-glugging hordes. Kate Moss was apparently there but had her own enclosure - what is she, the most famous goat in London? It was all a bit silly, but apart from Chroma's moment in the sun (messing around with a Beethoven loop), the most enjoyable moment was the Sotheby's-run auction for charity: minor offerings (most notably a Bridget Riley and some limited edition Gavin Turk/Sid Vicious prints) were snapped up double-quick for all sorts of silly money in an exhilaratingly rattled-out style. It was well we assumed a deadpan expression throughout: one unconscious facial tic later and we would have been going home £7,000 lighter with a crappy cat-cardboard-collage under one arm...

Mulberry House
Rather the same, except without the famous people, canapes and paparazzi, this was a rather more intimate affair chez Club Mulberry, ie our fabulous flat, for Andy and my April birthdays. Our wheeze this year was for people to contribute a piece of A4-sized art which we would then auction off. The concept took off brilliantly, with most people bringing offerings that encompassed the likes of photo montage, mixed media, graphic scores, glitter, beads and paint, some silly, some proper. Andy then auctioned them off, Sotheby's-fashion, and there was some unexpectedly heated, beer-fuelled bidding which resulted in about 20 pieces raising £137 for The National Autistic Society, which our mate Ed was running for in the next day's London Marathon (and which he did, having slept for only 2 hours, in 3 hours and 34 minutes. Hot dang!). Hurrah! The tabloids missed a treat!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Swede Dreams Are Made Of This

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 168 hours: 84
Level of conviction in own genius out of 10: 7.9
Reading / Watching: About volcanoes / a lovely archive film about a round-the-world Zeppelin trip in 1929 on BBC4
Hair day: shockingly unreconstructed

Part 1

Spent 5 days away in a tucked-away corner of Sweden, on an island and nature reserve called Saltogarden, courtesy of the PRS New Music Incubator: a music camp where, rather than teenagers getting caught in brace-wearing clinches with spotty fellow flautists, 10 UK and 10 Swedish boundary-pushing artists descended to make noises together of the mostly brain-expanding variety. Each day we would emerge sleepily from our log cabins to be put in groups of four, given a rather broad focus, and sent off into the ether to thrash out our differences and come up with something to perform at the end of the day. Each day was utterly different, but what noticeably happened over the week was a shedding of the extraneous: gradually the technical trickery melted away leaving mostly bodies and found sounds. I, for example, having lugged over my loop station and melodica, ended up mostly playing a wooden skewer on paper, stamping on shells, getting a group of Norwegian girls in the woods to sing and presenting a 9-minute silent film of a bush. YES!

The week was a rich palate of pared-down sounds: pianos played with feathers, primal screams, mini-paper-live-theatre shows, music played in locked houses, 11-string guitars, Chinese flutes, bird calls on clarinet mouthpieces, wine glasses, plates and maps. I had a total epiphany on the third day after an hour-long sound walk which became so detailed I could hear dried thistles rubbing against each other; this was chased with 15 minutes of jumping with my committed groupmates Bill, Sareidha and Lisa and then the most minimal improv ever. My calves are still suffering for my art, ha ha.

It's hard to explain how great it was without sounding like a total artwankeroon, so here are some edited highlights of our High Art Big Brother Experience:
  • Seeing Gabriel, chief alt-classical London honcho, performing a sort of homoerotic-body-playing-contemporary-dance thing on Pascal
  • Hearing Sofia's incredible experimental vocal work in her presentation
  • Any of the times Leon got near the piano
  • Snickering with Pascal, Anna and Claudia behind a load of gaffer-taped boxes with unsuspecting audience on the other side
  • Underground harpsichord soundz
  • Being called loving pet names by the Hardest Man With The Softest Centre and the Biggest Biceps in Contemporary Music
  • Being told that a long and baffling music-theatre piece was actually all about me - WHAAA?
  • My two morning walks: one making sculptures on the beach, one clambering up to a granite rock, sitting very still amongst the loftier parts of pine trees and watching two Scandi-punk crested tits land very near me. I think I actually became a Disney classic at this point
  • Skimming stones with the boys

Part 2
Having heard rumblings of rumours involving volcanoes and planes, we were thrown in the deep end on Friday morning at a teensy station near our camp. The UK crew then embarked on an extreme European assault course of suburban trains, rail replacement buses, platform stairs, and finally a wondrous hulking Ferry of Paradise all over 48 hours, including 5 countries, 4 currencies, no sleep and a diet of Friski mints and Danish liquorice. I think we win gold. All I can remember from the fog of delirium and tannoy bleeps are:
  • The falafel in the Lebanese restaurant in Copenhagen which hosted us for about 4 hours during our wait before the Long Night of the Trains
  • Leon looking like Mick Jagger only MORE ravagedly cool, his shades masking the fact that he'd left his specs back at the camp and had to be led round like a little lamb from train to train half the time
  • Outrageously brilliant South Park episodes watched from Larry's shoulder. In fact just Larry's shoulder generally
  • Meeting folks on their way home -Dan the Anthropologist from Oxford, Barry the Architect from Dublin, William the Lost One, etc
  • Playing an 80s British pop band-name game and being triumphant at remembering T'Pau
  • 36 hours into our trip still managing to have intelligent conversations about Percy Grainger's electronic experiments
I wonder what I will learn from this. Am desperately hoping my summer term will consist not of the usual slipping back into London noisiness and hectic life but instead finding a way to channel the meditative practices of the last week into my creative life. And a regime of Extreme Jumping, obviously...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Seal with a Kiss

Level of conviction in own genius: 6.5
Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: 1
Watching: Match of the Day
Hair day: windswept, in the walker’s style

Man, what a term. Three educational projects over, a hilarious audition for Shlomo at the South Bank (where I aced the vocal side but possibly came a leetle unstuck in the high intensity street-dance-off, ha ha ha!), and a curation of Gobsmack at the Forge in Camden (sadly skeletal in audience size but rich and nourishing in its line-up of Ben Crawley, Woodpecker Wooliams and Kay Grant). I also had my official EP launch at my nearest and dearest artcafe, The Gallery, lent out to me for an evening of You Are Wolfishness and CD-selling, which was super-lovely. This fortnight I have to cram in a recording with Metamorphic, my birthday, a gig in Leeds, a week in Sweden on the PRSF music exchange course, teaching at Aldeburgh, and this week attempting to finish a commissioned magnificant, currently called my magnifiCAN’T…

Yorkshire Tripper
A swift Easter trip to Yorkshire aimed to flush out London’s toxins. We went to Spurn Point to walk its flaccidly remote length; one wind-emaciated side was scattered with erroneous flotsam such as blue rubber gloves, a freezer, and old war defences tumbling in great blocks off the dunes. The south side, marshy, wide and calm, had a rock that looked like a bloated, beached seal. We thought we’d investigate; Andy, kneeling over it, shouted to us that it was a dead seal; said corpse promptly rolled over, opened it eyes and gave us the fright of our lives. We stood over it for a while, wondering whether it was in trouble, whilst it huffed and snorted at us in an uncanny impression of my dad. As we turned to leave, it belly-flopped over the beach, in the wrong direction from the sea, but I’m sure he knew what he was doing. Here is a picture of Simon.

Flamborough Head dished up sheer limestone cliff-faces choked with pretty kittiwakes - whiny baby monitors on wings - and hundreds of guillemots, plump sheeny monochrome types, lined up on vertigo-inducing ledges, beaks to the cliff and shuffling into each other, bored stiff of the sea-view.

A wayward countryside walk from the pub at Wetwang (which means, in too-good-to-be-true style, ‘a slap in the face with a wet fish’. In Norse.) took in yellowhammers, three hares, one of which came, well, haring down the track and stopping dead 10 metres away when it spotted me, before doing its ‘Bewitched’ thang, transporting itself in seconds far, far away over the horizon. We also caught sight of a buzzard skating the air, a pair of aloof sparrowhawks, a large tawny something-or-other on hedgerow and a keen-eyed kestrel. We managed to skirt the rainclouds all day as they gently pulled their jellyfish trails of rain, or sneezed themselves like charcoal powder across the sharp-focus view.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

You Are Wolf hits town and esteemed folkmen (and East London adventures)

Hours of creative activity achieved today: 3
Level of conviction in own genius: 8.5
Reading/ Watching: 'Alias Grace' by Margaret Atwood / just finished cramming The Wire: Season 5 - epic genius!
Hair day: getting chopped tomorrow

There are a thousand black wolves in my study: my lupine solo debut EP is steaming hot off the press and I've tons of them, watchful and panting, waiting to be told which necks of their unsuspecting, music-promoting prey to go and chew on. Happily I've already got a stonking review from alt-folk ezine The Ear Horn, and airplay from Head Female Music Pimper Ruth Barnes on her great Resonance FM show, The Other Woman and on BBC 6 Music's Introducing with Tom Robinson, (on in the ungodly hours of tomorrow morning); this means I am now the proud owner of a famous 'I've been introduced by...' online badge on my myspace sites. Well, proud to any of the 800,000 (of which I am one) who listen to BBC 6Music; if Auntie Low-culture Vulture has her way, I'll have a very short-lived moment in the sun before I'm pecked to death by 'Strictly Come Dine With My Overweight Supernanny' or whatever it is they show these days between 'Mad Men' and 'University Challenge'.

BBC Introducing with Tom Robinson on 6music

One of the great figureheads of new folk music is Alasdair Roberts, who Andy and I caught for free at Song East's mini-tour of venues out our way. Huge fans of his unashamed musical sparseness and stonkingly erudite lyrics which make him a sort of Gerald Manley Hopkins/Will Self mutant (words like 'simulacra' and 'saturnine' are as common as muck - I mean, fertile sod of low luminance - to him in his excellent album Spoils) , it was a joy to catch him close-up, rammed into the downstairs bar of the Vortex. He was more at home in this intimate space than with his bands in Bush Hall and the Luminaire, laconically spinning the history of the barefaced traditional songs to us and threatening any Campbells, should there have been any, in the audience. His voice keens like a mournful baby banshee playing in the reeds, and he tossed out his venturesomely-tuned guitar licks like sweets. Tall and skinnier than Peter Crouch, he's a cross between fiercely-nationalistic ambassador for Scots culture, and a folk-singing crane.

I knew that practically being face-to-face already, I had no excuse not to say hello and give him a You Are Wolf album. But I do hate the impudent networking game sometimes, and felt so nervous at approaching a musical hero I had to be made to walk the plank by Andy. But I did it, spluttering goofily about what a fan I was, and managing to prove I was at last a legit musician by mentioning a loose Robin Robertson connection (he and the Scottish poet are friends, and I've set one of RR's poems for a big choral premiere), before basically beating him over the head with an EP and running away in terror. For shame!

We popped into the Dalston Jazz Bar for a quick one, but man, that place is OLD NEWS. It's now very much all about Passing Clouds, a possibly only semi-legal 2-floor venue in off Kingsland Road, which is now my new favourite place EVER. Cafe Oto, you're fired! A chilled and smiley place of hip-but-not-twats East Londoners, there to bounce to affable reggae and later, our best hipjazzhop buddies Lazy Habits. Elsewhere, there was a peachy upstairs room of ragged sofas and fantastically erractic swing/Jungle Book/Tom Waits soundtrack, and a corner where gossamery French girls were doing face paints. Obviously I resisted this fey girly pasttime and did not insist on looking like a woodland fairy. Ahem.

kerry with flowers on Twitpic

With Passing Clouds ticked off my London to-do list, I vowed that the New Empowering Church, a recently-opened venue a mere hoppity-skipety jump away from where I type, would be next. Happily, 18 hours later, I was offered a last-minute You Are Wolf support slot there for FOLKLAHOMA, a Magpie's Nest night, so will be playing there this Thursday, before headliners from the Waterson clan take over. That's the way to do it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Beat There, Dung That

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Reading: Just finished Sarah Waters' 'The Little Stranger', a slow-brewing ghostly postwar novel, not her best, but pretty good
Hair Day: Pleasing

2010 has been a whirlwind of musical activity so far, and May's downtime currently seems a long way off. It's all my own doing of course, heartily saying 'YES!' to three educational projects in one term and a couple of choral commissions, applying for exciting courses and jobs, juice-ing in York, Manchester, London and Crewe whilst also trying to get a large-scale commissioning project off the ground, DOLLYman-ing with the gorgeous artfolksters Firefly, and seeing the arrival of my ONE THOUSAND (well, it was cheaper) You Are Wolf EPs. Coming up is much, much more, but I still find time to have a creative breather and catch someone else's work occasionally...

Concerto for Beatboxer
Anyone who was any(late twenty/thirty-something arty so and so)one was at the QEH last night for the classical/hip hop mash-up that was Anna Meredith's 'Concerto for Beatboxer and Orchestra'. The first half presented all the disparate elements of Anna's piece: Shlomo doing his usual Tigger-in-a-sweetshop solo routine; 'cellist Olly Coates playing a new piece with electronics that fizzed over with too many ideas; the Vocal Orchestra doing a cute, crowd-pleasing set; and Anna herself presenting a very hilarious mix of pipe-and-drum-inspired messy electronica complete with live bagpipe player, including a 'Flower of Scotland' bagpipe break - a sort of musical 'Fuck you, I'm SCOTTISH!'. That had given us plenty to chew on, and we didn't really need the chamber orchestra's slightly polite version of Terry Riley's 'In C' to take us into the break.

Anna's piece itself, created very much in collaboration Shlomo and the performers via plenty of workshops (I'd seen the kernels of the collaboration at Cafe Oto in September), was generally a great success. Set up a little like a Berio piece, with the Vocal Orchestra amongst the players, it was packed with lovely ideas, from the interplay between two drum kits and the beatboxers to the instrumentalists doing a spot of sweetly earnest acoustic beatboxing, and from the dramatic punctuating gestures at the beginning to the tasty 'Stimmung'-like chords. Possibly due to the sound engineering, it didn't seem much like a concerto; instead, to me, it seemed a marvellously deft integration of beatboxing and chamber orchestra, and was the most interesting form of beatboxing I'd ever heard: Shlo was challenged into exploring the textural potential of his sounds, rather than boxing himself into bombastic 4/4 beats as usual. It was rather short and sweet, and everyone was surprised to find themselves suddenly in a Q&A with a slightly flustered Tom Service so soon, which felt a bit pre-emptively self-congratulatory. Still, it was great to see a spot of the notation, whilst it was hardly revolutionary to the experimental-vocal-expert eyes of the juicettes. In a bizarre bit of programming, the sell-out crowd, all wound down after the Q&A, were then utterly baffled to find themselves listening to the piece ALL OVER AGAIN. I'm reliably informed by my estimable composer buddy Rob that this was de rigeur in the early 20th century, and it was worthwhile picking out more detail second time around, but I have never been so flummoxed. My pals and I mulled it over in the fabulous Skylon bar drinking pricey apple and vanilla bellinis and feeling right cultural and stylish, innit.

Chris Ofili
Also enjoyed punchy Brit Art at it finest at Tate Britain's super-middleweight exhibition. Raising issues and eyebrows (I most enjoyed the little old lady who doddered slowly up to a large painting of the Virgin Mary, her nose practically to the countless collaged images of ladies' proffered anuses - it just took her a minute for everything to jostle into focus before she was off quicker than her little legs could carry her), the large paintings, squatting on hardened balls of Ofili's tradmark elephant dung, smacked of race, women, religion, earth, and seemed staunchly British. My favourites were the less typical Ofilis - the pencil drawings using tiny multiple Afro heads to look like beads, the nude watercolours which represented REAL women, and the recent witching-hour-dark blue paintings, where the images brooded amongst bruised colours of blue, black and purple. Marvellous stuff.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

London rule!

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved today: Tis the day of rest
Watching: Series 2 of Being Human on BBC3 - the grown-up British Buffy!
Hair Day: Have fashioned cool twisty fringe hair today

Ah, London. Celebrated as the disarmingly cosmopolitan capital of Europe, if not the world, in BBC2's smashing History of Now: The Story of the Noughties last week, a haven for all nationalities where no-one gets done in because of their race, it was good to be back in the metropolis. As brain-bracing as the Highlands (see next blog down) were, their redemptive power of snow, whistle-clean air, panoply of outdoor wildlife theatre and steaming great big mountains can only last so long. You can't pick up the first fabulous dresses of the year (one so damn cool Andy declared me a style icon of considerable dimensions, and he wasn't talking about my thighs) there, or try out the latest funky Thai restaurant for diaphanous prawns, noisily fresh asparagus and pallid oyster sauce, or see the World's Most Depressing Movie(TM). You also can't go swimming next door to your house (lochs don't count), trying out your latest super-cool gadget, before catching the last day of an American conceptualist and photo-composer retrospective and still getting home in 20 minutes. No offence, golden eagles, seals and other hardy locals, but we'll see you in a couple of years; there's too much goddamn fun to be had down here...

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0.5
Reading: Susanna Clarke's 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell', marvellous winter hol reading.
Hair Day: Snowy.

I managed to pull out the stops to finish my latest choral commission, which I'm most pleased with, just before Christmas (premiere: Cadogan Hall, March!) so as to fully enjoy our annual winter break away from all worries of work, email, hell even phone as I left it at me ma's. Andy and I enjoyed a week away in the barren wastes of the West Highlands, and most splendid it was too. Highlights were:

1) The drive through, both there and back, the imposing Black Mount, Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe, an A-road through a world dreamt white. It was utterly surreal speeding in a warm car through this gorgeously forbidding landscape, mountains peeled straight from Ed Rushca's paintings, or an Ansel Adams wet dream. These hulking natural monoliths were like giant snowy owl gods for whom an inbreath lasts a century, opening one slash-black eye as we, tinny little nano-horsefly, zipped by meekly, and closing them again.

2) Loch Sunart's oak forests, under which we enjoyed satisfyingly crunchy walks through snow and leaves, whilst these thin, leperous old trees wrung their hands above us at the broad winter sky.

3) Wildlife Watch! We clocked THREE golden eagles, some snipe, 4 grey seals, a great spotted woodpecker, loads of big grey shaggy herons, some wild deer, and a couple of other birds of prey. We didn't see a single one of these in our icy-toed wait at the Garbh Eilean hide, snuck into the rock for the sole purpose of catching a few otters or the famed sea eagle, but the chill, silent view of the unfettered loch was so hypnotic it didn't really matter. Better than a meditation class full of 'ommm'-ing East Londoners, I can tell you.

4) Castle Tioram (Cheer-am), stunning ruin which is blocked off by the tide of Loch Moidart twice a day, and film scout's choice of many of Scottish historical epic. The Silver Walk, which starts there, was a delight of rock and fauna and mad icicles, always with a stonking view of calm loch, burly mountain and occasional seal breaking the silvery surface.

5) The sunset at Resipol over Loch Sunart as the sun bowed out between a lazy 'V' of two mountains, spilling amber, peach and lilac onto the loch, and paintbrush-flicking dusty pink streaks, lengthening by the second, onto the sky. The only sounds were the occasional disgruntled cry and churlish retort from gulls, while a lone seal slinked through the rainbowing water. A visually delicious, transfixing moment.