Sunday, December 04, 2011

Kerry Becomes A Regular Feature On Radio 3, Goes A Bit 'The Shining' In Aldeburgh And Glams Up For The British Composer Awards

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Listening: Kate Bush's very silly but quite enjoyable '50 words for snow'
Hair Day: disappointing. Needs work from my man in Herne Hill! (Apparently I go to the same hairdresser as Florence Welch, you know)
What I can see from my window no. 19: Chelmsford. By night (I am on a train).

Broadcasting House became as regular a workplace as Handel House or Wigmore Hall for me in November, with two more appearances following my big choral premiere on The Choir. First I went in to record a brand new You Are Wolf song, specially-commissioned by wordsy show The Verb, on the word 'darkling'. I mashed up bits of Keats, Hardy, Milton and Shakespeare in my customary looping stylee for a spooky number. In 10/4! Nice to have a chat, down the phone as I couldn't make the proper recording date, with the lovely poet/presenter Ian McMillan, who, in his voice as molten and rich as the middle of my Mum's homemade Yorkshire pudding, later described me as 'unfeasibly wonderful' and apparently enjoys this blog and my football one

I later went in to record a piece about last year's British Composer Awards for Hear and Now's preview of this year's awards. Juice went along this year as nominators of Dai Fujikura's piece for us, 'away we play', a pithy bit of virtuosic vocal sparkliness, which had been shortlisted in the Vocal Category. Never one to miss an opportunity to glam up to the max, we sashayed around in all our sequin-jumpsuited/hot-pink-skirted/cleavage-flashing finest, gleefully composer-spotting whilst gulping champagne and scoffing our mini paper cones of scampi and chips. Alas, Dai didn't win in his category, but we reckon we were pretty close in the running and it's really good to get our name out there as flag-bearers of experimental stuff. We at least had one person to whoop for, Firefly's John Barber, winning in the Community and Education category. Here are the other winners. Nice to see the likes of Anna Meredith, Emily Hall, Mira Calix, Michael Zev Gordon and other fab new musickers; Anna managed to get a wink off  stadium-drawing comedian/musician Tim Minchin, nominated for 'Mathilda' and something of an uber-star amidst our lickle contemporary world. Result! The Awards sadly piffle out at an exceptionally early hour, so Sarah and I allowed ourselves to be happily dragged off to an old man pub with the tipsy and excitable Oxford University Press crew, brilliant soprano Lore Lixenberg and the arch, super-cool Gabriel Jackson, the only choral composer to look like an East End hipster/greyhound-racer.

The Awards were a glitzy, shoulder-rubbing relief in the middle of a rather intense week at Aldeburgh, where I've been one of five composers writing for pianist pair duoDorT on their Quantalum project. Obviously, staying by the sea and working amongst idyllic marshland had some very special moments, but the intensity and isolation, what with mostly working on our own for days on end, did leave me with something of a thousand-yard stare. I'm relatively happy with my piece, a three-movement exploration of pianos, looping and spoken word, with my ubiquitous birdy theme. Favourite moments were a) coming out onto a night beach to look up at a sky like a split fig, near-dripping with stars, some shooting, one plunging down into the sea and b) my afternoon walk at Snape, with the moon already out, spotting birds in the wetlands, surrounded by peeping, burbling calls like dial-up modems, and getting slightly lost in the Warrens as the dusk fell. Here are some pictures!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Kerry Chats To Aled Jones, Gets Spat On By Michael Sheen, And Falls In Love With Camille All Over Again

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Reading: Carol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie
Hair Day: quiffy
What I can see from my window no. 19: Westminster, in the hazy sunshine

Am having an excellent autumn, full of projects coming to a close or promising new ones shimmering into view. I finished up my first Handel House commission, a mix of spoken word, squeaky harpsichord and jangly spinet; I'm calling it 'a portrait of the House by the House'. Hey, here it is!
Graininess and Sheen by Kerry Andrew Composer

A choral piece I wrote in the summer for Making Music choirs, Rhymes and Charms for Fly-Away Things, was premiered on BBC Radio 3's The Choir at the weekend. It's very much at the most accessible end of my choral week (some may say twee....) but I'm still very pleased; the aim, after all, is to attract many amateur choirs to sing it all year round with gusto, not three Ferneyhough-lovers to salivate over it. I went to the studio to chat with the ever-cheery, super-pro Aled Jones, who presents the show, and like to think I came over well, though Andy tittered at my slightly posh radio voice. Next time I'll call Aled 'A-Money' and come over all 1Extra on their asses, then... Listen to it here while you can!

In performance news, juice had a lovely time up at North-East Scotland's most excellent Sound Festival, verily a cornucopia of all things exciting and new in music, and where we crammed in three gigs and a school workshop in two days. Here's an ace review. We didn't feel like we saw much of Aberrrrdeen - during the day we peered through grey mizzle at granite buildings (with a stop for brief colour explosion at the Art Gallery), and the night, which seemed to arrive at about 3pm, hid what were probably the sights of glorious Aberdeenshire. Most eccentric was our visit to the depths of the countryside for our gig at Haddo House, a wondrous estate with signed scores from Benjamin Britten and Van Dyke portraits of Charles 1st; it was bluishly cold except in the library, steeped in ancient history books, where we performed. We drove back through exotic-sounding villages - Drums, Tarty, Quolquox and Cultercullen... elsewhere, I had a lovely You Are Wolf gig behind another grand painting of angrily-pointing politicians in the House of Commons, in the National Portrait Gallery. Here's a video!

Ever-keen for inspiration, I'm trying to keep up the cultcha. Yesterday I saw one of Kit Downes' bands, The Golden Age of Steam, in St. James' rather 'live' acoustic as part of the London Jazz Festival, and chased that up with seeing Michael Sheen's Hamlet, at the very intimate Young Vic, meaning Andy and me, both huge fans, were merely feet away from the sweating, curl-tumbled legend as he spat his way masterfully his soliloquies. The production as a whole didn't feel entirely convincing (set in the wing of a psychiatric unit, with Sheen's supposed madness slipping, I thought, confusingly OUT of view when it should have been appearing), but it was ridiculously exciting nonetheless. Even if you could see flashes of Tony Blair's devil-grin and Brian Clough's assurity here and there...

Gig of the year no. 2 (alongside Peckham's Rite of Spring in the summer) was Camille at Hackney Empire. I had just been starting to get into her new album, so different from her two multi-layered, loop-heavy previous albums, but the whole thing sprang utterly alive in the theatre. Camille, frankly, is an utter goddess of the vocal world, exploring this time, through a beautifully effective bit of theatre (largely the shadowplay created by a long lightbulb on a rope),  pared-down songs - often totally unaccompanied - exploring such a range of sounds, from squeaky child-like ones to technically-difficult inbreaths and operatic stuff. She just made us melt. Ilo Veyou, Camille!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mists and Mellow Artfulness

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Listening/Reading: New Bjork, James Blake and Camille stuff / Roger Deakin's very lovely 'Waterlog', to fuel my new love of cold-water swimming
Hair Day: sliced and diced; I now look like a 1950s greaser. YES!
What I can see from my window no. 18: the Shard, becoming humungous

'Tis an autumn season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, or in my case, wurlitzers, pop-up theatres and feminist arttalks, ah ha ha ha...

Sarah-juicette and I went to our Nonclassical labelmates The Elysian Quartet's 10th birthday celebrations, which took the form of an all-day experimental music festival in a new fringe theatre, The Yard, up in Hackney Wick. The 'Wick's rather unsalubrious vibe may have sent a few shivers down the spines of some South Londoners, but brought happy tears of joy form me, ensconced back in a land of pub-turned-squats, industrial wastelands and canals. The Yard is a most fabulous new space run by young director Jay Miller, tucked in a square amongst a range of businesses so eclectic I can't believe that Channel 4 hasn't filmed a documentary here yet: vegetable peelers, an evangelical church, mechanics, female mud-wrestlers and a swingers' club (we saw an unhealthy-looking couple - he sweaty and overweight, she haggard and wearing a mere notion of a dress - going furtively into a door marked only with a homemade sign saying 'FUNTIME'. Erk!).

The Elysians had programmed a whole world of leftfield wondrousness: we just caught the end of  multi-media percussionist Joby Burgess' set with a Max De Wardener piece, and then enjoyed the lilting, off-kilter loveliness of Seamus Fogarty's folkish electronica. Quartet members performed some of their splinter projects, with Laura doing her 'cello/voice art-pop thing, and Vince and Emma soaring through their strings/loops/noisy drums shizzle as Geese. The guys move in excellently arty circles, and some of their more high-profile musician-mates also made it along, with folktronica dude Adem delivering a gorgeous solo set just with him and this wonderful contraption that was a bit like a musical etch-a-sketch. I want one! Simon Fisher Turner, renegade grizzled chap whom I know best for writing an a cappella soundtrack to Derek Jarman's film 'Blue' (the most high-art film I have ever seen!), showcased some new electronica and then improvised with the Elysians in a beautiful film made up of stills taken around Hackney.

The quartet has been around 10 years for a reason: notwithstanding their propensity for throwing themselves into mad cool cross-arts projects, their ensemble is just fabulously instinctive and their sound soooo together. They played some Meredith Monk pieces, semi-improvised in my favourite piece of the day to a film of Swedish cranes (the birds! not the construction vehicles!) from Kathy Hinde, whizzed through a brilliant jerky soundtrack from chiptune chap Gameshow Outpatient which he had arranged for them (do you know any other quartets who perform acoustic versions of chiptune?) to a hilarious short animation of a houseproud vole, and finished it off with a live soundtrack to Tony Comley's cute film about a world-saving panda. It was all brilliant, made more marvellous by its setting and the wedges of rosewater and raspberry cake... juice should start planning their 10th anniversary party, scheduled for 2013!

I've been enjoying curating my Composer in Residence season at Handel House, where Claudia Molitor and Sarah Nicholls installed all sorts of interactive, thought-provoking pieces for a mostly arty crowd (barring the American couple who thought they had booked tickets for a Baroque concert and instead found Sarah slowly attemnpting to play the harpsichord with bundles of pound coins for half an hour, ah ha ha! They had faces like THUNDER!); last night Leon Michener tinkered with harpischord, wurlitzer and e-bows on a clavichord, improvising with bassist olie Brice and quite wonderful singer Seaming To, who I really hope to see again soon. She was clad in a stunning high-fashion take on gothic Victoriana, and manipulated Leon's homemade magic lantern music box to project creepy cut-out's onto Handel's shutters. Excellent! Elsewhere this week, I've also crammed in part of a feminist art talk (disappointing, mostly about being a mother, yawn) up in my old hood and gone to the Amersham Arms' newish jazz night, run by the SE Jazz Collective. Check it out if you're in the South, as the Camberwell Crypt has now died a death...

Very happy to see the final part of my Art on the Underground project snaking down the escalators at Bethnal Green, completely free of adverts. Here's a snap!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Broadstairs vs. Boulez (And Poems)

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Listening/Reading: Very cool new jazz group Thought-Fox; Just finished the superlative and immersive 'Wolf Hall'.
Hair Day: in need of pep and vim
What I can see from my window no. 18: see last poem below

In the last few weeks I have become a South London water-baby, with just an eyelash-flutter of sun being enough to send me down the hill to Brockwell Lido for a cold swim. It's a highly addictive, heart-thrumping pastime, wonderfully communal (eg wiggling into my dry things in full view of all other swimmers, all manner of bodies out on show, kids running around), and the water, less chlorinated than indoor pools, is a milky thing of wonder. So the hot autumn spell was a perfect excuse to avoid work and douse myself, and even better was the trip to sunny Broadstairs, where we visited Louise and Stone Bays and got some hearty sea-swimming in. So much did we gulp up the last summer rays that we missed the train to take us back to the South Bank's Boulez concert, and by the time we got there, they wouldn't admit us. Curses! So I forsook possibly my only chance to see the man in person conducting his own music, but, hell, I think I like outdoor swimming more than just about anything else, the master of Modernism included. We consoled ourselves briefly with watching a bit of 'Pli Selon Pli' on a screen, with none other than vocalist legend Linda Hirst, who'd also been waylaid; the music was given an - at times remarkably germane - extra layer of percussion by the barman on our floor crashing around sporadically with ice buckets and stacked glasses. Hur hur.

Two gigs of late: Metamorphic had a really lovely one at the Forge, reviewed ecstatically here. Juice introduced the newest group baby to Elisabeth Lutyens in rehearsal (much crying ensued) and gigged in Hexham Abbey, giving our 'Laid Bare: 10 Love Songs' songbook another welcome airing.

Here are some recent poems!

Thames Moon Swimming

With gasps that are more delight than shock,
we rush into a clamour of reeds.

As light crumbles towards the moon,
we swim between the patches that are left
- the boathouses, the single streetlamp -  
our heads polished like brassrubbings.

Walking back down the path
in light that is now more like a scent,
we are halflings among the hedges;
our sealsouls bobbing in the river.

Daylight Fox, Waterloo

Crossing in front of the cars and my bike,
he shocks like a burn on the skin.

A mulch of winter leaves, a dank sinew
reeking of urine and musk, and
capable of screams that brand the heart,
he is a brazen wildness amongst metalshine
and tarmac.

How long have they been here, waiting
by our feet at crossings, slipping past
on sidestreets, weaving through us
as if we were birch and elm?

Rosemary and Peter, Picking Blackberries

At separate points along the path,
they collect only the ripest, the ones
with the innocence of children
when you hold out your hand for them.

Her plastic rainhat upturned, she moves
with a dancer’s grace; she is first-snow and rubies,
sugar paper and bone, hands flitting
through the brambles like goldcrests.

He is a hero and charmer, idling in the bushes
with inkwell mouth and fingers.

In their second marriage, one that has lasted 40 years,
their eyes shine like the berries they can’t quite reach.

Brambles, bones, blackberries.

5th Floor (for Nicholas Hilliard)

over to the west
into light that is silvering
the edges of my ivy, mint and sage
starlings flock
rising from the far buildings
as if on the street below
a manuscript detailing
the colours of precious stones
their heaviness and their glitter
has been dropped
in the evening wind

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hay Bales and Knitwear

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Listening: Ewan MaColl and Peggy Seeger's 'Radio Ballads' project
Hair Day: 50s pin-up
What I can see from my window no. 17: the Olympic stadium

I made an autumnal resolution to see more (hopefully cheap) culture and generally hobnob a bit more, and it's kicking off in style! Last week we made our last trip of the dying summer to visit Bold Tendencies, who run the artsy events at Peckham's brooding 7-storey car park, to catch a showing of Andrea Arnold's three short films in the hay bale-walled pop-up cinema - the most well-known being 'Wasp', a grimly British bit of filmic gristle which nabbed an Oscar. I find her work, alongside her later features 'Red Road' and 'Fish Tank', totally inspiring, and am currently planning my own foray into short film-making, hopefully with a slightly more dreamy quality: bringing myth and folktale elements into an urban environment. All I need are actors, cameras, directorial nous and money... ahem.
Last night I was invited to the swanky Hospital Club to see a London Fashion Week event, where my friend Elspeth Brooke had created the music, a sort of Kraftwerk-meets-Corelli soundtrack, to a choreographed show of a new collection by Brooke Roberts. I hung around in the bar with Elspeth and her fashion writer friend Sharon, drinking the best-titled cocktail ever: The Second Coming of the Earl, which was frankly just as surprising as it sounds, hur hur. Brooke has the surely totally individualistic twin career of innovative knitwear designer and radiographer, and uses medical imaging in her work. It was refreshing to see dancers modelling, thus displaying heartily muscular calves rather than twig-like pins... Along with Brooke, Elspeth is a Creator in Residence at the Club, and I'm looking forward to choosing something from her collection to wear when I play with Elspeth in her burgeoning Creeping Jenny electronica/pop project!
Rather than dreaming of magical realist shorts and x-ray-inspired sheer tops, I should ACTUALLY be writing some music: current projects are a sporty-themed choir piece for Youth Music Voices, who will be performing as part of the Cultural Olympiad next year (am channeling the Honda ad as we speak, but with less windscreen wiperage and more canoe paddles), and planning my downloadable mp3 track for Handel House, which will mix spoken word interviews and music... 

Monday, September 12, 2011

White Peak Poems

Here are the five poems I wrote whilst in the Southern Peak District last week:

September 6th, 2011


for DOLLYman

he thuds into the earth,
great white beast,
shedding ashen feathers all over the road

something savage
has sought out his heart
(sensing its extraordinary sweetness)

death has already spread her cape
over his back and begun to work him,
licking his ears with a coal-wet tongue

hours later, he’s nothing
but ink and oil, and dank night pool;
nothing but the road

September 6th, 2011

September Heron (First Day Back At School)

A heron smartly rises from the brook:
one sheet of 100mg A3 ivory paper, cut
with a craft knife and crisply folded
at acute angles, given a deft stroke
of charcoal and hung over a yellow compass;
it rises, and it soars.

September 7th, 2011

Under hawthorn and hazels
which hand the rain down
leaf to leaf, drop by drop,
we wait by the weir, daughter
and mother, easily talking;
the sound of the rain
and the sound of the weir.

September 8th, 2011

The Roaches


The peregrine falcon hangs on the wind
above rocks the colour of ravens.

She turns, and the weather turns
with her wing-tip flash: the tarn flares
and walkers become bright as gorse flowers;
the fawn and violet of early heather
find their way into the pine trunks
and mushrooms like golden eggs are found in the grass.

Then back they come, the clouds as dark as bogs,
seeping into the grass; pine-barks gloss over
and the truths of heather’s bruises surface;
walkers run for cover, the tarn turns
its shutters, and the falcon soaks up the dark
of the raven-rocks in her far-spread wings.


A laugh on the wind
is snatched by a crow;
the crow’s throat-rattle
shivers through the pines;
the pines’ needle-shimmy
is rallied by chiff-chaffs,
hidden in the scrub
by the trail that we wind up,
talking, and laughing.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Walking With Mothers

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1
Listening: Ella Fitzgerald, PJ Harvey, Roshi 
Hair Day: greasy
What I can see from my window no. 16: the death of summer. Sob.

I went to the South Peak District for a Walking With Mothers holiday this week, the sort of break where you are ONLY cool if clad in cagoule, walking trousers and the best boots Mountain Warehouse has to offer, ohhh yes.  We had some top walks in the very untouristy White Peak area and enjoyed some brilliant natural wonders:

1) Thor’s Cave was a gaping maw high on a hill in the Manifold Valley, as if blasted straight out of the rock. With its scalp-smooth limestone and pitch-black hollows, it was all my ‘The Descent’ fears come to life: Mum had to force me to use my camera flash to shine into dark tunnels, where I assumed a rubbery mutant would be half-heartedly growling back at me.
2) Chee Valley saw Mum and I venture, Indiana Jones-style, into the mud-and-nettle trails next to the Chee River, glowered on by canyon walls, clambering over stepping stones and trees before the monsoon rains hit and battered us into a taxi rescue.
3) Hen Cloud and The Roaches were marvellous crag-topped hills and ridges with amazing views of the Tittesworth Reservoir.
4) Lud’s Church was a brilliant, forest-hidden chasm 100 yards long, drenched in luminous green ferns with water dripping irregularly like the sound of a clock dying. The Lollards apparently hid here in the 14th century; I just about resisted the urge to run about pretending to be Sir Gawain fighting the Green Knight in the epic poem also thought to be set here, though did clamber up as many sopping rockfaces as as I could and squeezed through some tiny gullies, as is my wont.

Birds of note: grey heron, nuthatch, youngish dipper, yellow wagtail, peregrine falcon, buzzard and kestrel.

Animals of note: hare, stoat, 4 dead badgers.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kerry Goes Underground

I had the launch for my Art on the Underground project, working with artist Ruth Ewan and a load of pesky youngsters at Hackney's Laburnam Boat Club, at the Museum of Childhood last week, meaning I could cast a dewily nostalgic eye at my old manor just behind it. (I still love you, Mulberry House!) The mini-concept album that I created from the spoken word/songs/field recordings of the LBC-ers, or as it was rather nicely called by Culture24, 'an a cappella scrapbook', is available online and I guess the pillarbox red posters will be around soon, meaning my name will be all over the tube network, hurrah! Do bend your ear to these marvellous kids here and share it around if you like it!

Next up at the weekend was the Association of British Choral Directors' Convention in Birmingham, where the National Youth Choir of Great Britain premiered my ABCD 25th anniversary commission, The Earth Hath Voice, in Birmingham Town Hall. It was a fairly meaty concert, with Ars Nova and the spookily good (like a load of super-poised high priestesses. With uncanny intonation.) Cantamus packing out the first half - the latter's Judith Bingham piece, Lace-making, being a big highlight. The NYC did a fine job on my piece in the second half, and it seemed to go down pretty well with the audience. Mike Brewer, I think, put everyone else's pieces to shame with their wonderfully funky, boisterous joyfulness. Though of course nothing is more exciting than having Eric Whitacre gracing the Convention with his blonde-maned presence, and ripples went through the choral delegate audience, turning everyone into a bunch of tittering maiden aunts as he swept on, looking like some sort of glamorous, sharp-suited Hollywood star compared to all of us pasty, snaggle-toothed Brits, hur hur. I'm utterly fascinated by his success: what other choral composer is also a) signed to the Storm Model Agency and b) gives keynote speeches to the UN Leaders' Programme, for goodness' sakes!! I was very sad not to get a chance to meet him and if nothing else, have some sort of Fabulous Choral Composers' Hair-Off Smackdown, in which obviously I would win the 'Edgy Quiff Award' but he would wipe me out with the 'Mr Glossy Locks' and the 'Hair-Tosser of 2011' gongs. Ah ha ha.

Still, I DID get spend time with an actual friend who is, some might say, MORE famous than Eric: Paul Mealor, erstwhile Composer To The Royals, who was there to give a talk about rewriting his music into Ubi Caritas for the Royal Wedding. Paul used to hold court in the postgrad room at York, bestowing all sorts of useful compositional advice and plenty of giggles back in the day, and it was a real pleasure to see him again, and have a few buckets of white wine in the hotel bar with the ABCD-ers. He fed me drops of juicy gossip about all his composer friends, hanging out at the Classical BRITS, popping over to America, and all the other things he does now that he is MAD famous, and was as entertaining as ever. What a star!

Two cultural things of late: Twombly and Poussin at the Dulwich Picture Gallery - I much preferred Cy's solo show at the Tate, though it was lovely to spend time sitting in the company of the big splodgy beasts in his Quattro Stagioni; and Ralph Fiennes in The Tempest, a treat from Andy, who somehow managed to suppress his fear that I would throw myself onto the stage in wilting ardour. Actually, Ralph is a bit old and terrifying now, but it was still great to see him live (I saw him do Richard II many moons ago), even if he looked a little uncomfortable in Prospero's cape, especially when he had to groove to his sprites' fairly awful crooning. Ha ha.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Swimming Pool Poems 2

Here's the second instalment of poems written in France:

August 15th 2011

holding your breath in the water

fish fold through the light
dark fingers and pale hands
in falling hair
and there’s a sound

bird-rattle and tongue-click
a crackle of some unfathomable energy

the sea is trying to speak

a pearled stuttering so close
it is just for you, inching into your skull
an ancient almost-song

you hear of seaquakes, millennia ago
of rifts, wide as half the earth
and changing everything
of the moon, undancing tyrant
of the long ice-darkness
of whales which throb like hearts
of love-letters in phospherence to the sky
of battles with rain
of ships, cradled like trinkets
and of you, caught in its throat
the one it sings to and the one
who stops it singing

August 15th 2011

the sun slips into a moon-skin

the sun slips into a moon-skin
feigning a frown
and assuming a mottled brow
he loudly mopes ‘I despair of sin’
and steals away

(he does this many times
throughout the day)

August 17th 2011

on my back, nightswimming no. 1

it is impossible to tell
which are night-moths
and which are stars

August 18th 2011

on my back, nightswimming no. 2

Pinned to the water
at precise points along the bone,
and strung with threads (whisper-thin
but trembling with the night’s strength)
that disappear into the impossible above,
my fingers are uncurled one by one,
my arms drawn out and up in a slow
gymnast’s bow, my spine tautened
with a tension at the crown, my feet
tugged by the toes, one by one,
and my legs pulled apart by the heels,
and I am pinioned into their
perfect puppet-star.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Swimming Pool Poems 1

I wrote a little collection of poems whilst in France, with a diet of one a day, written whilst sitting on a sun lounger and occasionally hurling myself into the pool. Here's the first instalment:

August 8th 2011


after the pen-lift
it is still
veining out
into its Antarctica

August 9th 2011

les orangers
for Rob and Theresa

in a heart-light blue gaze

under trees
bunched with bees and berries

in a garden
of throat-pink songbursts

August 10th 2011

Portrait of Andy Reading ‘Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power’ by Robert Dallek (On A Lilo)

you drift on words
which form in wind and water
spooling phrases slip off
and over each other, lithe as eels

lit for a second
they flit in parallel
darning themselves
into their new wet world

with each new page
the word-eels congregate
their liquid tussle making
a dark door beneath you

August 12th 2011

Early Evening Swim, Antibes

on your back, you’re a sweet self-crucifixion in salt

the church sucks its bells like boiled sweets
shadows long for their beginnings
the horizon wells up, more water than mountain

you leave a shape as if you have lain there all night

August 13th 2011

Love Song To A Sun-Umbrella By A Mistaken Bee

oh Bright ZigZag GianteSS
GoddeSS of bloodberry and polkadot
I lovelorn fumble in your SkirtS
you taste –

August 13th 2011

Dream No. 1:

A barn owl asks for milk
with his pebble-clack beak:
I steal it from a newsagents
and let him drink, my fingers
in his ruff, airy as whisked egg-whites

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sexy Beast(s) en France

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1
Listening: TSF Jazz, France's bonzer jazz radio station - jingle: 'cent percent jazz' (said in soothing lady's voice)
What I can see from my window no. 15: Brixton Town Hall

I have returned, daisy-fresh, from a recuperative holiday in the sun-deluged sud de France, just up from Antibes. The days were beautifully reduced to the simplest of things as we fattened on sleep, swimming, food, books and writing, centred around our pool, which had views of the Alpes and glittered in a sort of turquoise leopardskin vibe. It was like playing out scenes from 'Sexy Beast' (without Ben Kingsley barking 'NO! NO! NO! at us), French artfilm 'Swimming Pool' (without the murder, waspishness and swimming-trunked erections) and English artfilm 'Archipelago' (without the insufferable middle-classness. No, wait...). Art-tasks included learning Chopin preludes on the electric piano whilst drinking gin and tonics, writing most of a new DOLLYman song (about badger-death, naturally), and penning a poem a day - the full collection to follow in some other blogs I think!
 Swim-activities became creative and competitive, lilo-surfing being the most hilarious (and brief: 2 seconds before hurtling in was the record), and keepy-uppy reaching new levels of masterful complexity. Chess pieces wound their way to death or victory on the sun-baked poolside, making long shadows on the grass; ping-pong and the sport of aged Frenchmen, petanque, was won resoundingly by the boys (Andy and Matt) whilst I sulked into my rose. We got stuck into David Simon's latest masterwork: 'Treme', simply a televisual dream, being basically a more relaxed  'The Wire' but with sousaphone. Best quotes: 'You got a gig? LIFE is a gig' and 'Why did my marriage fail? I married
a musician, thats why'. See it!
We did make it out a few times - to Biot's cutesome village, teetering on top of a steep hill (including watching a hokey blues-rock lot in in outdoor amphitheatre on a warm night - would have preferred avant-garde skronk-step, obviously); along the coast to Monte Carlo (ghastly, wreathed in a murky humid fog that was probably the rich hoi polloi's every waking thought), Eze (Neitzsche's old hood, bakingly hot) and Villefranche-Sur-Mer (sea-swimming!); and to Antibes' old town, where I overcame my fear of being nibbled on by shoals of peckish fish by swimming goggles-down in the sea to watch the equivalent of 'Finding Nemo' rainbowing around me. The best extra-villa experience was given to us by our wondrous host, Matt, who took us to a fabulous restaurant where the owners, friends of Picasso, have a private gallery that you they will unlock the doors to, just for you; so we had a post-prandial, exclusive saunter through the cellar displaying a cornucopia of cubist paintings, op-art, 80s sculpture, and much more. It was like they'd been slumbering in the basement and had roused themselves awake, to be on display, just for us.
Whilst we were doing 'Sexy Beast' et al, I was sightly expecting to come back to a dystopian city that was part 'Attack the Block' and part '28 Days Later', with London's hooded yout' pitted against teams of multi-ethnic shopkeepers and super-hipsters. It was horrible to watch on the news (especially when you're trying to translate - badly - from French) and I hated being away for those few days. Glad to come back to a civilised and sedate-ish neighbourhood for my big bro's wedding; London IS the best, no matter what.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

She Must Have Something Heavy Inside...*

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3
Listening/Watching: Many, many compositions by young whippersnappers / High & low art combination of Dudamel  and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra on the BBC Proms. And 'Con Air'. Ahem.
Hair Day: flopsy, mopsy
What I can see from my window no. 14: dark sunsetty rain

Phew, what a monster week! I went a did a You Are Wolf set at the Cambridge Folk Festival, having a lovely time on the Den Stage for emerging folkies. I was a bit baffled by the relative lack of traditional music in favour of boys and girls with guitars blathering mundanities, and the whole festival was so massively uncool that Andy and I felt like the most avant-garde of super-hipsters in the company of a load of middle-class fortysomethings bearing nothing more dangerous than a canvas chair and a ruddy complexion. Now I have just returned, zombie-like and bleeding from the ears from the third Sound and Music Summer School, meaning another high-energy, all-powerful turn from me as Key Tutor for the Composing For Voice group. It was a stellar year for my crew, a charming bunch of composers aged 15-18 who were keen to learn, creative and happy-go-lucky to an almost embarrassing level (when they started doing body percussion and harmony versions of 'When the Saints Go Marching In' in the canteen on the last night, like a particularly surreal and horrific episode of 'Glee'). We had a range of pieces getting teenage angst out in the form of Britten-esque Wilfred Owen settings, Faure-esque Bukowski settings, snippets of Martin Luther King and T.S. Eliot and Norse epic poetry; some body-slappin' looping gubbins (as is my wont); and two very fun pieces of vocal theatre, one by a highly talented BBC Young Composer of the Year. These were all performed with extreme brio and gumption by an A-Team of Sarah-juicette, Laura Moody and Matt 'DOLLYman' Dibble. The other tutor groups came and wrote some one-word miniatures, our favourites choices of words being 'pumpkin', 'regicide' and 'futrit' (a stoat in the Aberdeenshire dialect of Doric!).

The week was marked up a notch by being put up in the local Hilton, complete with kidney-shaped (and practically sized) pool and mini-spa, meaning I could squeeze in power-dips and plan my next teaching moves whilst hyperventilating in the steam room. In an effort to avoid the Official World's Worst Catering Ever (raw jacket potatoes and stricken jelly being the most disturbing examples), I spent time with ace staff musicians in Watford's greatest curry house, Bushey's cutest pub, Aldenham Road's least glamorous Carvery and on the Purcell School's most calming staff room sofas, recovering from recording sessions with gallons of Rooibos tea before going in for another bout. Laura, Matt and I also danced like nutters in the final tragic-yet-brilliant disco, in hysterics that teenagers were going crazy over the Prodigy and Nirvana (music made way before they were born) and showing them our skillz moves in the dubstep finale. A totally great week; I am looking forward to nurturing my stomach back to health (having recoiled in horror from the canteen scenes, it is currently the size of a small mammal's) in the South of France for the next ten days. Expect me back freckled up to the MAX!

* A quote from one of our more silly pieces...

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Listening: See below.
Hair Day: frizzy
What I can see from my window no. 13: a thousand cranes

A seismic cultural event happened last night, possibly shifting the weight from one old-timered hip to one fashionable skinny-jeaned hipster, um, hip. And it took place in a multi-storey car park in Peckham. YES!
Nonclassical, juice's label, and Bold Tendencies, who run the sculpture exhibitions in the summer in the car park, clubbed together to put on a live performance of The Rite of Spring on the penultimate floor with a full orchestra. And, though the same piece was being played across town by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France for the flask-bearing Prommers, here it was played by a motley crew of Oxbridge and College students to 400 ultra-hipsters drinking smuggled tinnies or camparis from Frank's Cafe on the roof. Packed into the dark, low-roofed space, the audience sat on canvas chairs, or, like us, crammed themselves knee-to-elbow on the dirty concrete floor at the front: had we been any closer, we would have been sitting on the cellists' laps having our tummies bowed. The storey hummed with anticipation as the crowd swelled; the orchestra doodled; it was announced that the first bassoonist (obviously a rather key player what with having the most famous bassoon line in history to open the piece) was stuck on a fire-stricken train. Being career-hungry volunteers desperate to play Stravinsky's classic (including some of my old Junior Trinity students, making me thus feel as old as the hills and twice as lumpy), the gung-ho orchestra were visibly a-glow getting their teeth into the muscular music in a fantastically stark acoustic. I might say that the intonation could have been a bit better here and there, but that's an irrelevance. It wasn't about which orchestra played, or which conductor, but about the event itself: a twentieth-century behemoth performed in an edgier-than-thou setting to a crowd of eager-to-hear Londoners, whilst the trains grumbled past outside. And of course it is the perfect piece: 30 visceral minutes of those gut-stabbing downbows, grandiose homophonies, and fluttery-shriek woodwind solos, enough to keep restless ears busy. It was an amazing, visceral performance, and being there felt like a significant moment in time.The piece ended to massive whoops and cheers, and we all piled up to Frank's on the roof for a stonking gobstobber-coloured sunset plastered onto the panoramic city skyline.
This weekend, juice also played the Truck Festival, getting lost in bucolic Oxfordshire lanes before finding this wee weekender on a farm. Much smaller than I imagined, and strangely quiet for a festival - you could swan up to any bar and pick up your pint of Stowford Press just like that! - it was a slightly underwhelming affair, though perfect for running across the site from sleeping tent to performing tent in our glad rags. I did a little You Are Wolf set to open the Nonclassical stage (having to pretend to be a melodica as I cleverly left it at home), and juice did two sets throughout the evening. It was soooo nice for us three to be on stage again; having not sung as a group for three months, it was like the simplest Fisher Price jigsaw puzzle being slotted back together. Also playing were the fabulous Consortium 5 ladies, whose playing of contemporary rep amongst hay bales and fading light was dreamily atmospheric. Elsewhere, highlights were Graham Coxon rocking his skinny guts out, a wood-burning stove, half pints of perry and hot just-made doughnuts, served in most unlikely festival fashion by the cheerful septuagenarians of Didcot Rotary Club...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Radio Balladeering and Drum'n'Swing

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Listening: A mixture of electro-swing on Spotify and OUP's new 'Carols For Choir 5' promo CD which I am on - a winning combination! Ahem.
Hair Day: pinned up '50s style
What I can see from my window no. 12: Westminster, wreathed in mist

I've had my newish producer/sound artist cap on of late, working with lots of raw material - spoken word, a cappella songs, vocal sounds, field recordings - recorded with the pesky kids at Laburnam Boat Club in Hackney for an Art on the Underground project. Chained to my desk and Logic, reinventing/re-arranging lots of little chunks into a mini-concept album about journeys and growing up, then going mad listening to the infinitesimal differences in EQ with my co-producer and DOLLYman bandmate Matt, it's been a great experience, and one that makes me realise I want to travel further down this road. I was massively inspired by artist Ruth introducing me to Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger's Radio Ballads, a heart-wrenching mix of social observation and folk song. There are loads of possibilities for spoken word and music marriages in the next year with some promising commissions... I'm looking forward to getting stuck in.

Metamorphic were sad to lose out on a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize 2011, but seeing as there's only one token jazz nod each year, it came as no whopping surprise. It IS ludicrous- what say occasionally they pop two in, just to shake things up a bit? And even a risky experimental a cappella/remix album for good measure!?? Mentioning no names of course. My money's on James Blake, who could and should win. Metamorphic had a couple of good gigs recently, rocking out at Luna Lounge's free-ish Thursday session, and going for broke at the Troy Bar in the execrably-named night 'The Funky Factor'. juice are off to Truck Festival tomorrow, and bracing ourselves for the bad weather. Anyone know a retailer of glamorous hail-shields and wellies with kitten heels?

I've seen some interesting giggage of late. Sarah-juicette and I went to the ENO for Nico Muhly's Two Boys, which had received wildly differing reviews all round. I was on the two-star end of opinion... best things were: a) second-row seats thanks to Sarah's stellar connex! b) Nico's excellent chorus writing, convenying the multi-babble of online conversations. Least good things were: a) a plodding plot and lumbering libretto b) dated visual design - always the way when you bring the online world into the arts world c) the sneaking feeling that we were actually watching Prime Suspect: The Opera and d) the detective singing the words 'Bloody Christ!' as a sweary exclamation, when NO-ONE IN THE WHOLE WORLD HAS EVER UTTERED THIS. Urgh. At the other end of the scale was the new single launch for our hip hop/jazzfunk friends Lazy Habits at Shoreditch's vast and unnervingly clean warehouse space, Village Underground last night. The sound was sadly godawful, as if the bands were actually performing to us man fully whilst flailing in the depths of a murky well, but it was well worth it to finally see electro-swing madmen The Correspondents live. Supported by a beardybear DJ, the singer, a whirling dervish who appeared to be a mix of Harry Potter, a vengeful court jester and Death Himself, flung himself marvellously about the stage with some of the best moves I've ever seen in his clingy, uber-art outfit. YES!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Songspin Is Released! Plus Canal and Portugal Fun

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3
Listening/Reading: Tune-Yards, my favourite band - African-influenced New York punky funk-pop!
Hair Day: newish dirty blonde streak in the front, slightly crimped fringe, shaved side, like 1986 never stopped
What I can see from my window no. 11: The Royal London Hospital helicopter

juice released their debut album, 'Songspin' (Nonclassical) to a whirlwind  - well, at least a gustnado - of national press excitement from The Observer  ('astonishing variety, spark and brilliance'), The Independent ('the range of this new vocal trio is immense') and The Irish Times ('sassy, vibrant and enthralling'). Woo hoo! The three of us are mightily pleased and crossing our fingers for a few more, especially from over the water where our friends at Naxos USA have been putting the word out. It has filled the gap nicely for juice during their summer break, what with one-third of us adding a second baby juicette to the fold, though we are looking forward to an appearance at the Truck Festival (which Anna mistook initially and rather hilariously for TRUCKFEST, an altogether more oil-grimed and builder's-bottomed affair...) in a couple of weeks. 

I've been keeping myself busy in four places:

1) In front of the piano at home, writing my Making Music/Music Publishers Association commission, a 15-minute choral and piano piece. Having chosen loads of traditional sayings about aerial beasties, I have been thoroughly enjoying bringing these old English texts to life in my possibly overly cutesomely-titled 'Rhymes and Charms For Fly-Away Things'. It's now been handed over so I'm hoping the 1500 choirs who belong to Making Music think the same and pounce on it... fingers crossed!

2) Bishop's Square for the Spitalfields Winter Festival - two gigs in June's utterly inclement weather of finger-numbing wind and rain, humph. I shivered through a You Are Wolf set and sang some songs by Tansy Davies. Brrr!

3) At the Laburnam Boat Club in Hackney, a ramshackle little joint on the canal near Kingsland Road, where I've been involved in an Art on the Underground project with artist Ruth Ewan. A weird haven from the dust of building work, the towering academy school next door, and the grimness of boarded-up '60s flats, LBC welcomes kids of all ages to come all kayak, canoe, hang out and do occasional art projects. It's brilliant seeing East London urchins hurling themselves merrily into the canal water,  the total opposite of the sedentary wastrels I hear about on Radio 4. Ruth and I have been working on getting the kids to create songs, sounds and art responding to their surroundings, and now I'm grappling with the recorded results and trying to bash it into an EP format.  

4) In fact, I did some editing work this week in the best sort of office possible: a villa in the Algarve, where Andy and I had a few days with DOLLYman's Lucy and friends. Funny, the most inspiring place to work seems to be NOT my study at home but a 7-bedroom quirky old place overlooking sunbaked hills, in 35-degree heat, eating fresh sardines and drinking champagne, with a 15m pool to throw myself into and play the most camp of water games with various Hello Kitty-themed inflatables. Sheer, freckle-exploding bliss...