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...