Sunday, December 09, 2012

Buy New Music For Christmas! Kerry's rundown of her pals' releases

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Hours of creative activity in last 24: 2
Watching /Listening: 'The Killing', like the predictable middle-class artsy boxset-loving Guardo-reading lass I am / Cerys on 6Music, who has just played excellent National Jazz Trio of Scotland alternative Crimble EP
Hair Day: APPALLINGLY long, by my standards. Which is very short by most other people's.

I thought I'd compile a list of friends' releases this year, that you should really consider buying as Christmas presents for your most discerning nearest and dearest. What better way to give than by supporting some of the UK's finest alternative musicians? YES.

Firefly Burning - Lightships
Easily one of my favourite live bands, this Portico Quartet-meets-Arcade Fire-meets-Fleet Foxes produce totally sublime, folky and complex music that makes you slightly weep.

Jimmy Rosso - 32:32

My DOLLYman compadre Jimmy in his solo debut, which is a more experimental, spooky, glitchy mixture of James Blake, Bon Iver and Panda Bear.

Tom Hewson - Slightly Peculiar
Blissed-out solo jazz piano debut, inspired by Messiaen, Bill Evans and John Taylor.

Sam Lee - Ground of Its Own
2012 was a runaway success for folk troubadour Sam, who was hardly been off the radio or awards circuit since the summer. Beautiful arrangements including shruti box, Japanese koto, jew's harp, wound around Sam's melting croon on a bunch of traditional songs.

Roshi Feat. Pars Radio - Don't Breathe It To A Soul
Ethereal electronica inspired by a silent movie, with digital remixes from Pere Ubu's David Thomas, Gargarin, Now, and ME, in my Fisher-Price first remix (under my You Are Wolf moniker)! Also available as a limited edition 7" vinyl.

Lazy Habits - Lazy Habits
If you haven't seen these chaps live, you've not lived! The Habits' UK hip hop/brassfunk finally lands in their long-awaited debut.

Gabriel Jackson/Vasari Singers - Requiem

Wicked choral composer, BBC Singers Associate Composer and British Composer Award-winning Gabriel Jackson celebrated his 50th birthday this year. Here's the Vasari Singers in the first recording of his Requiem.

Anna Meredith - Black Prince Fury
Re-released on the Moshi Moshi label, this is brilliantly edgy composer Anna's electronica debut.

Have Yourself a DOLLYDOLLY Christmas
And I'll squeeze in one of my own: DOLLYman's rather alternative Christmas EP. From wild squealy 'O Come All Ye Faithful' to fall-over-lovely medleys, you KNOW it makes sense!

Monday, December 03, 2012

British Composer Awards: EXCLUSIVE! Kerry's acceptance speech that never was

Level of conviction in own genius: 6
Hours of creative activity achieved in the last 24 hours: 5
Reading / Watching: 'Electric Eden' by Rob Young  / 'The Hour', lovely classy stuff from the Beeb 
Hair day: Not bad actually, especially after emergency hairspray run in town

So I'm just back from this evening's British Composer Awards (the 10th, and going strong), held this year at the supremely blingtastic Goldsmith's Hall next to St. Paul's Cathedral (and I mean blingtastic: displaying flagons once quaffed by Charles II, rugs bigger than the floorspace of my entire flat, chandeliers with real candles that took 45 mins to light, and a ceiling the height of about 15 composers stacked on top of each other...). I have managed to get in the door for the third year running, this time in the shortlist for the Education and Community Award for my work on the Art on the Underground project 'A Lock Is A Gate', which I was cheered to hear a track from played on Radio 3 this week - all those rum Hackney kids, singing little solos on the wireless!
The after-awards drinkies and after-party (when I say after-party, I mean 10 of us sloping off to a deserted posh city bar for a final drink. NEXT YEAR I'm hosting it, Elton-John-at-the-Oscars style) was fun enough. I rocked up with Gabriel Jackson and Sarah-juicette. Good to chat to John Barber and his lovely Firefly-lass Bea, Simon Speare, Stuart King and Claire Shovelton from CHROMA, Richard Barnard (who refuse to break throughout intense questioning as to which category he had judged, PAH), various publishers, and I got some Oxford University Press gossip from super-sweet Alan Bullard. Amusingly, composer Gavin Higgins had his photo taken with Andy, insisting that he was his hipster glasses/side-parting/Top Man jacket-wearing doppelganger. Hee hee. 

I had never really thought I stood a chance of winning (though was gratified to hear that there was a skirmish over my piece in the final judging; I like to imagine that there was proper fisticuffs and bloody noses, and much using of bad words, interspersed with 'but she's a GENIUS!', hur), especially with music animateuring/composering wunderkind John Barber in there with me, but you know how these things go. You start thinking there might be a ghost of a chance, and that ghost morphs into near-future visions of getting up on that stage and making the speech of your life. So I did indeed prepare a proper, tub-thumping speech, which seemed especially right following on from last week's rather more high-profile Evening Standard Theatre Awards and the ongoing spat between Maria Miller and Nicholas Hynter. This truly was the reason I was gutted not to win (congrats though, Paul Rissmann!); I REALLY, REALLY wanted, as John Barber also told me he'd planned, to give a verbal two fingers up to Michael Gove. 

The all-round cultural hero (and overseer of the Cultural Olympiad) Ruth MacKenzie gave a simple, succinct and powerful speech about the state of the arts in this country and the EBacc proposals. I planned to do just the same: to say how fantastic it was that the Education and Community category existed at the BCAs, because there's such a rich history of music education and amateur music-making in this country, as well as a history of professional composers and performers working with various ages and abilities, from Britten and Maxwell Davies to, well, John Barber and Paul Rissmann for starters! And the reason I find it so rewarding is to see the palpable joy and sense of achievement from participants in creating their own music. And that, of course, is the key term: creating. Whether it's writing a love poem, stringing a few chords together on guitar, crafting a present for someone, or doing a sketch, there is nothing more wholly beneficial than expressing yourself through a creative medium. Which is why it's so worrying that we are in a climate where the government seem to regard the arts with such disdain. The Culture Secretary says that she agrees with Nicholas Hynter that the arts is very beneficial for the British economy; yet the cuts keep coming. Newcastle Council have cut their ENTIRE arts budget!  The Education Secretary says that of course the arts is an important subject, yet flagrantly omits this sixth pillar of learning in his proposed EBacc, saying it can be taught as an optional, more extra-curricular subject. How can he not understand that the arts is not an accessory, it's the freakin' dress (and mine was an Asos exclusive Lauren McCalmant design tonight, thanks very much)! While Hynter focused last week on British artists' contribution to the economy, it's important to remember that arts education in schools isn't JUST there to produce fantastic, exportable, tourist-magnet style artists; it's there to help send into the world imaginative scientists, creative engineers, and everything in between. We MUST keep making music, with and for everyone; I might suggest, for starters, two radical reworkings of songs, perhaps with 100 Year 4s on violin and an adult djembe ensemble, and send the recordings to my two least favourite departments of government: 'Crazy Man Michael' by Fairport Convention for the Education Secretary, and, obviously, 'How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?' for the Culture Secretary.

Ha, and there's my speech practically in full. I was pretty disappointed that no-one, apart from Ruth, stuck it to the man a bit in their speeches (not even Harrison Birtwhistle!); it was all rather bland and apolitical. It's a teeny niche we contempo musicians live in, but one with at least a Radio 3 profile and some press coverage, and surely it's worth making the most of the limelight to say your piece and stand up for music in this country. 

Mega-congrats to everyone tonight. Here's the list of winners in full!

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Level of conviction in own genius: 6
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Watching / Listening: 'Homeland'. And 'The Killing'. And 'Fresh Meat'. And 'The Hour'. / Fairport Convention's 'Liege and Lief'
Hair Day: Brassy blonde and overlong. Unsure as to how to resolve the issue.

I've gone absolutely crazy on folk song, all fuelled by the wondrous writings of Rob Young in his glorious overview of 20th century British folk music, 'Electric Eden'. It has made me realise that the traditional music of this country has been darkly pulsing away in my bloodstream all along, and I'm just starting to really feel it - or as Dave Simpson of Fairport once said 'Nothing resonates like old song'. I don't think I'm happier than when singing these old songs, and am feeling fit to burst with all the things I want to do with them. But one thing at a time. All-round wunderkind MaJiKer will be producing my 'birdlore' songs for some sort of first You Are Wolf album; and I'm working on a wee set about London's lost rivers, whose buried meanderings feel like latent folk songs in themselves, with Leeds music-mash-upping 7 Hertz.

And so on to spreading the Good Word: I'm bang into my Wigmore Hall community chamber opera workshops, seeking out traditional songs and stories from 9-year olds, elderly West Londoners and a community choir. I've been planting the seeds of the idea of song-collecting amongst them, and some have done beautifully; it was especially lovely to hear a South African lullaby sung by a Year 5 pupil (and learnt from her grandmother) then recognised by two other classmates who remembered it being sung to them by South African relatives. Then there's Robert, a sweet elderly singer who, whilst in the early throes of dementia, just needs the slightest prod before he's off crooning folk songs from his Geordie childhood.

I went to an evening at the EFDSS to celebrate 80 years since the library opened. Dame Shirley Collins, whose louche, dulcet tones and exquisitely flat vowels I have been sighing over of late (especially in her early album with blues/raga/roots guitarist Davy Graham, Folk Roots, New Routes), gave a talk about Bob Copper's song-collecting, accompanied by archive recordings and photos; then The Copper Family rolled up for a second half of singing old rural songs from Sussex, which have trickled down through generations of this famous family. It was unbelievably lovely and heartwarming, a robust sound (though I might suggest that every single arrangement being in the same key and in the same arrangement is a little uncreative) sung by two generations of siblings and cousins, and brought a tear to my eye with their last one, belted out as they hugged and kissed each other and swigged their last dregs of beer. You might as well scrape mud off some ploughed Sussex field and shove it in their mouths, such is the authenticity and honesty. It made me want to start a folk clan, made up of friends who can harmonise and are up for singing in pubs, forcing ye olde songs on unwitting hipsters in Shoreditch. I'm going to call it Foxheads. Any takers?
Mix that with the singer I saw last night and voila! That's where I want to be. It's quite ridiculous that I have only very recently come across Julie Tippett, and her performance along with Keith at the prepared piano in a long free improv set at The Vortex made all the dots join up for me, between contemporary classical music, jazz and folk. Seeing her sing for the first time, and go between operatic-ish high notes, hardy chest voice, squeaky pointillist notes, funky vocal percussion and everything in between was an epiphany! She seemed like (NB: for Buffy fans only) The First, the one from whom everything else followed! I'm going to try and get a lesson...

I had a fun - if a little close to the bone, with my score not arriving til two days beforehand - first bash at performing John Cage's Aria (a seminal solo 20th century coloured graphic score, where the singer needs to choose ten vocal styles to veer between) up at York Uni's monumental Cagefest, 'Getting Nowhere', along with the other juicettes. My Johnny Cash seemed to melt into my Tom Waits, by Bulgarian into my Camille, my Mariah into my Ella, but I managed to get away with it all by painting my face like a clown and using Anna's kids' toys as my required auxiliary sounds. It's very easy to be funny by holding up a musical fluffy frog and looking a bit grumpy when you look like this: (I'm told with conviction that I have a future in the circus...)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

100% Live Girls!

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Watching / Listening: The end of the majestic second series of 'Boardwalk Empire' / excellent Percy Grainger chamber music on Radio 3
Hair Day: Thankfully settling down into a more blondey-blonde. Phew.

It's been a very folky week. I met musical compadre (and hopefully producer of my first You Are Wolf album) MaJiKer for a Gilbert and George - I mean, a Turkish at Mangal 2 in Dalston, where the artist duo eat nightly - before tracking down the remarkable Dalston Boys' Club for a Nest Collective gig. What a venue! Seemingly a bohemian, near-illicit church hall, it's packed full of slightly risque paintings of nude men proudly displaying their crotches, along with stone cupids and strange dolls; it has an out-of-tune baby grand and tons of dank armchairs and candles. Sam Lee, of the Nest Collective, warned us gleefully in his welcome that it was an illegal (unlicensed) gig, and that the police could bust in at any moment and stop everything. I crossed my fingers all night for the fuzz to burst in noisily to find a load of Dalstonites sitting on the floor listening attentively to Julie Murphy or the Ballina Whalers singing a sea shanty. Alas, it never happened!
It was my huge pleasure to have Scottish folk hero Alasdair Roberts come and play in my series at Handel House, and even more so to sing a couple of numbers with him. He is currently performing a lot of his new, epic, characteristically raven-dark material, which belies his very charming and sweet nature, as I found by putting him up in Camberwell that night. I also managed to go to dinner with not just my favourite folk singer but my favourite poet Robin Robertson as well (his friend, and I've set some of his work), in an abrasive evening of grizzled Scots art-kingpins.

In a whirlwind weekend, I put on what I called on Twitter 100% Live Girls! but was actually 60% live girls and 40% live bassist husband and electronica wizard Graham Dowdall. The Vortex needed a last-minute gap filled, so I volunteered my You Are Wolfing services, plus the fantabulous Laura Moody and Roshi feat. Pars Radio. It turned out to be a pretty magical gig, a lovely crowd that included folk denizens Nancy Wallace, Lisa Knapp and Sharron Kraus. Hurrah! Perhaps this will revive mine and Andy's idea of putting on 100% Live Girls! , cutting-edge music by girls, in a strip joint once a month. It certainly helps with my blog audience numbers - I noticed that there was a significant peak of readers in my last-but-one blog, 'Schnittke Hot! And An Incredible Encounter'. Hhm. Expect all posts to sound slightly salacious from now on.

juice have just launched their first crowd-funding mission: to commission beatboxer supremo (and more recently, composer) Shlomo, and to work/co-write more with MaJiKer. If you're interested in being part of our band of commissioners, please do visit our wefund site and check out all of the amazing presents and incentives you can earn yourself!

I'm currently starting preparatory work on my community chamber opera for Wigmore Hall. It's in the very early stages, but as it's been commissioned as part of Wigmore Hall's Britten centenary celebrations next year, the themes are folksong/lore and the outsider figure. I am reading Marina Warner's excellent book on the male grotesque figure in folk history, 'No Go The Bogeyman'; did you know that the word 'bug' comes from words such as 'boggle', which meant the Devil, also called the Lord of the Flies in the Bible? Strange that variants on words for bogeymen are now leading brands of yummy mummy prams, the very thing parents were supposed to protect against...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Old Music

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Watching: 'Fresh Meat', yay!/ Andrew Bird on The Space, singing from A Room For London
Hair Day: Thankfully settling down into a more blondey-blonde. Phew.

A busy week! First up, I rocked up at my endz in Bucks for the Little Missenden Festival, and my commission from the Festival for the early music consort Alamire. I'd written a 13-minute 8-part vocal piece setting texts by Nicholas Culpeper, barmy Tudor herbalist/physicist/astrologist, which I very much enjoyed composing: a lovely time was had honing his meticulous prose into quirky little poems about marsh plants (Missenden means 'where the marsh plants grow', don't you know...). I did my usual thing of mixing pretty folky stuff and open 5thy stuff with extra-vocal yelps, whispery bits, swoons and swoops, etc. I think Alamire are rather more used to the glowing richness of Byrd and Tallis, which they did marvellously well in the teeny old Norman church, than having to stutter little hi-hats but they did a good job; I was a little nervous about what the audience might think, but I had some lovely feedback, and was compared to both Lachenmann and Richard Strauss, which can only be a winner, if entirely incorrect. Ha ha.

I took my Dad to see Sam Lee open the Festival the night before, and what with him being the rangy, tousle-haired Crown Prince of New/Old Music and notching up his Mercury nomination, the place was packed full of old ladies hoping to get his autograph. I loved it: he'd brought along Irish traveller singer/storyteller Thomas McCarthy, who I've seen before, and just brewed up a gorgeous atmosphere of tales, songs and a love of the land, all cooked up with a shimmery melting pot of strings, Japanese koto, ukelele, tabla and shruti box. PLUS he was wearing the most excellent (bespoke, hand-drawn country scenes, obviously) shirt.

It was back to London the next day for a discussion of my music and some You Are Wolfy songs as part of Culture Kitchen, the London Review of Books' new occasional series of supper clubs. The last one was with a fashion designer favoured by Lady Gaga! I nattered amongst a delicious North African spread of beetroot humous and pomegranate molasses, rose tea and figgy scrumptiousness, and felt highly self-important. Hur.

This week has been made hugely excited by the arrival of my first nephew, Holden, who freefalled in six weeks early and is still in hospital. Obviously, he is the cutest thing that ever lived (though he does look QUITE like a frog, feet and hands-wise...)

My bro Richie, had he not been in a new-fatherly daze, would have been mad jealous of my next gig, as an ad hoc singer in Aphex Twin's night of theatrical experimentation at the Barbican. I was part of the Heritage Orchestra/Choir, who were Aphex Twin's human synth for the night: we were fed nasty sine tones in headphones, and had to sing/play what we heard, responding to a dynamic gage on a big projection screen. I was on the end, so was lucky enough to have a cameraman practically IN MY MOUTH half the time, beaming my wan, un-make-upped face to a sold-out Barbi crowd. Erk. It was a fun half day, but in truth, the piece itself was 40 minutes of bafflingness. Quite why Richard D. didn't introduce more textural variation, rather than just having long, whiny glisses for 40 minutes, I'm not sure. It was a supremely excellent toy, and would be amazing in the hands of an array of musicians/composers, which is clearly where it should go next. Apparently the second half was a blast: here's a review.

FINALLY, I had the second in my series of gigs at Handel House, trying out lots of new stuff with recorder whizzmistresses Consortium 5. My second commission, badluck birds, which has an open source flavour (the pieces are in layers, or fragments, which can be arranged by either the performers or audiences), went very well; I had to bully adults into coming up and directing the players, but they were great. The webgame version of one movement, Screech, is still to come!
Had a cracking time in Amsterdam over the weekend. It can be summed up thus: canals, rain, coffee, art, rain, mint tea, lostriversongs research, photography, rain, warehouse bar/clubs, rain, boutiques, rain, canals.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Schnittke-Hot! And an Incredible Encounter

Level of conviction in own genius: 8
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 4
Reading: Hopping between 'Electric Eden' and a biography of Gertrude Bell
Hair Day: Alarming change from yellow-blonde top half to near-white (not expressly of my wishing), giving me a glimpse into my Hair Future when I am aged 75. Have been embellishing with emergency temporary pink.

The first of my curated season of gigs at Handel House went off with a bang, with a sold-out crowd (ok, so you can only squeeze 30 people into the Georgian front room, but trying to put on new music in a Museum famous for le Baroque is tricky business!). Ensemble Amorpha, led by rising composer and Junior Trinity compadre Luke Styles, came along to perform Michael Finnissy's installation-esque piece The Molly House; four players, plus Michael on harpsichord, wandered around the first floor playing from his flexible 'kit' of score sheets, and occasionally playing a hoover, hairdryer or electric whisk for good measure. In truth the additional instrument was the insane floorboard creaking as the audience meandered around with them,but nobody seemed to mind too much. This was chased up with strong showings of contemporary string writing, from a taut Ligeti viola sonata, to Luke's own excellently astringent violin/viola duo, and finally Schnittke's gorgeously claggy 'lento', which sounded as thick and luscious as a quartet rather than just violin and 'cello (I thoroughly credit my title joke to 'cellist Louise). The austere, robust music worked excellently in the House, and the audience seemed hardy to it and appreciative.
Two notable meetings happened - one was meeting composer Laurence Rose, whose day job is high up at the RSPB; surely an encounter just having been waiting to occur given my obsession with birdies in my music. But easily topping that was when a tall, bearded chap in his 50s introduced himself as 'my namesake', and I realised that the high drama moment had finally arrived when I met not only my name, my full initials, but also my job doppelganger: London-based composer Kerry Andrews. I kid you not. I half-expected us both to spontaneously combust upon setting eyes upon each other, or else, lock into some sort of immediate vicious battle to the death using only our bare hands and teeth, but instead we shook hands, and I said, hopefully in not too Dr. No-style 'we meet at last!'. I've been long aware of Kerry (and so, it turns out, has he of me), often through confusion on others' parts - that rogue 's' makes all the difference between being a male sound artist/visual artist/composer and, well, ME. We exchanged stories of confusions - the best being when he went to a job interview and introduced himself, to which the interviewer replied indignantly, 'no you're not! I know Kerry Andrew and you're not her!' to which he had an excellent reply of 'well, I was here first!'. Ha ha. He and I have both been congratulated on various funding wins or recent events that the other has done. I suggested that we put on a joint concert, though perhaps that will confuse everyone even more. Well, it's either that, or start a long-running feud, Saruman and Gandalf-stylee. Hur hur.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Me Do New Things

Level of conviction in own genius: 6.5
Hours of creative activity achieved today: 0

Reading / Listening / Watching:  Just started Rob Young's wondrous 'Electric Eden' and hence have been listening to early The Incredible String Band and Vashti Bunyan and dreaming of English pastures... / Brill documentary series, The Clintons
Hair Day: too long to quiff up properly. Emergency haircut required!

Phew, it's been a long time since I wrote in here. I've been signing off old projects and looking forward to embarking on new ones.

I wrote a 13-minute piece for (mostly) early music consort Alamire over the summer, which premieres in my endz in Bucks next week. Report to follow! I finally finished my set of 'open source' pieces for recorder quintet Consortium 5, which has being gently rolling along in stages this year, with various incarnations as a webgame (soon to be launched), 'control the players'-style live versions, and improvising graphic scores, including for school recorder groups to have a go. The live versions are being premiered as part of my curated concert series at Handel House, which also includes one of my folk heroes, Alasdair Roberts, with whom I hope to sing a teeny bit, woo hoo! I saw Alasdair play a lovely set at the Nest Collective's monthly folk session upstairs in the bunting-festooned, steamily packed Old Queen's Head; they were supported by rebranded, but still reliably joyous, Firefly Burning. It was great to hear some new tunes from them, which combined complex rhythmic workouts alongside gorgeous Fleet Foxy harmonies sung with a near religious fervour. Bliss!
Soon I'll be passing over the relay baton at Handel House, with perfect timing and little fumbling, to the next composer-in-residence, Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, I've a few loose ends to tie up, chiefly a set of miniature folk/improv songs based on London's lost rivers, which I'll hopefully be doing with Leeds' fab classical/folk/improv trio, 7 Hertz. Elsewhere, the Big Project for me over the next nine months is a super-exciting community chamber opera for Wigmore Hall, a 45-minute piece that I'm writing the text and music for, with a bumper cast of 90 kids, a 40-strong community choir, an elderly group, a professional sextet and a tenor. Cripes! I'll be channeling Britten (whose centenary it is next year) by incorporating some folk theme/music element, as is my wont.

It's always scary doing new things, the webgame being one of them, but therein lies the fun and the learning too:  I recently read a lovely interview with rising star violinist Thomas Gould, leader of the Aurora Orchestra and the Britten Sinfonia amongst other things, in which he said it was important to always say yes to everything (within reason), and to never think yourself above certain projects. A good philosophy. Thomas was part of another musical whippersnapper, Trish Clowes' second album launch at Kings Place this weekend, in which she showcased her knack of combining a traditional jazz quintet with a string quartet, and jazz conventions with a classical sensibility. I stood in for Trish's usual singer with a couple of numbers, which was great for me - with nothing other than a sound check as a rehearsal, I was kept on my toes with some fiendish lines! But it was lovely to get lots of compliments about my voice, which is apparently like 'silk', and not, as it felt with a head-pummeling cold, like a rub on a jagged, stripped fence. 

This week I joined juice in donning bespoke cloche hats, slinky dresses and pearl-laden wrists to sing in composer/electronicist Mira Calix's new live score to Alfred Hitchcock's little-known (and to be fair, he was not a fan of it either!) silent film, Champagne. This was part of the BFI Southbank's mammoth The Genius of Hitchcock series, and the film was a biggie too, rolling in at 1 hour 50 minutes. We had a large chunk of live vocals to sing, sometimes scored, and sometimes improvised; Mira decided to grab loads of texts from girls' power pop songs, meaning we played around with Kelis' 'Milkshake' to scenes of 1920s flappers... great fun. Juice are looking forward to cooking up some more love song arrangements over the winter and recording our second album with Nonclassical early next year. Bring it on!

Friday, July 06, 2012

Folk-opera-sical and birdlore launch!

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Hours of creative activity achieved today: 3
Listening: Sam Lee's excellent new album, Ground of Its Own
Hair Day: still blonde

I thought I should see Dr Dee, what with admiring Damon Albarn's polymathic vibes, plus its trumpeting of being a folk opera about England. It was a folk opera of sorts, but makes more sense if you splice the word 'musical' in there. Folkoperasical. Yes, that's it. It was a strange mix, which sometime worked beautifully, and sometimes felt like a bad musical in a posh opera house.  Theatrically, it was astonishing at times - there were RAVENS! Real, live RAVENS! - with clever set-changes, a huge barge of musicians which slowly ascended and great use of projections to demonstrate Dee's vast mind. Musically, Damon Albarn's rich, croony heartbreak of a voice was the diamond; having him crouched there in an operatic context just made me want more contrast between singers: between those delicious pop imperfections and vulnerability, and the glowing sounds of the classical singers. He also also knows how to work a microphone; the other voices' amplification had a slightly garish music-theatre edge, though it did mean I could hear all the words (something the Guardo complained about here). As it was, the counter-tenor (hamming it up to ghastly heights in his last moments) sounded a little uncomfortable to me, and the chorus either didn't exaggerate the rough sound enough or they were just really shoddy. There was also very, very little story to speak of. Give me a damn opera house to work with! The omissions were obvious to me: the lovely early music consort (plus glittering kora and drums) made a great sound, so why bother with the orchestra at all? They were under-used and unnecessary. Just have the amplified consort and go to town with the orchestration, getting them not just to do pretty Elizabethany things but much more experimental too. And if Dr Dee wrote feverishly about the language of the angels, then how can you not write chorus lines that are divinely, eerily strange? It's a no-brainer...
To Deal! The premiere of my new set of You Are Wolf songs, birdlore: murders, charms and murmurations (funded by the PRS for Music Foundation's Women Make Music scheme) which I plugged on BBC Radio Kent the day before.  I've ended up making two versions of this project: one for the usual one-girl-band-plus-occasional husband (loop, melodica, ukelele, gong, recorder, FLUTE!, and Andy on bass) and one for me, a touch of the loop station and string quartet and clarinet. The latter was for flexible chamber ensemble Sound Collective, including lovely tattooed behemoth Stuart King on clarinet. We performed it at Deal Festival, in this divine ecological gardens place, Pines Calyx - the venue itself was built into the hillside and had a hobbity air. I was sooo happy with it and like to think it had a sense of my current musical spirit: a mix of trad. folk, spoken word, classical chamber music, with touches of experimental stuff. We caught brill original folk trio Lau in the evening and, exhausted, I slept sitting down in Deal's most gorgeous wee pub, The Ship.
The next day I took traditional music to Year 11s and 12s at a school in Dover; I'd been a bit gulpworthy about this, not knowing anything about the kids, who I imagined would snort in derisory fashion at this stooopid old music. Instead, we had a super-sweet bunch of teenagers from soulful, music-theatre singers, to dancers and a Laura Marling-a-like, who jumped feet first into arranging different versions of the traditional tale/song Two Sisters, having given them a whirl on Jamie Woon's version of Wayfarin' Stranger. I practically wept at the 17 year-old lad with tattoos and a side-shave bellowing 'bow and balance to me!' with extreme sincerity. Adorable!

Tomorrow it's off to premiere the original version at a no doubt sodden wee festival, SoL Party, in deepest Kent. I've been getting to gips with a few new tricks on the loop station, plus all those instruments to make it a bit more eclectic. I'm proud of my hard work: I've created a set of songs based on British birds, with arrangements of traditional stuff galore, plus some originals. There's music sounding like a weird medieval-funk procession who are off to kill a wren, Central African Pygmy-yodelling cuckoos, a drone-rock, and a spooky new song about a barn owl. Now I'm just off to talk to a man about some live ravens...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Kerry and The King of English Folk

Level of conviction in own genius: 6
Hours of creative activity achieved today: 2
Watching / Listening: "The Descendants' / Alasdair Roberts & Mairi Morrison
Hair Day: all-new blondified top half and super-short sides. YES!

Barring some early exposure to Fairport Convention by Father, I first got into folk via Eliza Carthy, with her then ruby red locks and clotted cream skin on the cover of 'Red Rice', a double album of traditional and not-so-traditional settings of folk songs. It was later that I discovered her whole clan, and thought about them as I wandered occasionally down the slope at Robin Hood's Bay, where her folks live. And this weekend, I supported Martin Carthy at Leigh Folk Festival! Ha, brilliant. I was quite utterly awestruck, what with Martin being basically the King of English Folk, though he seemed a little more taken up with finding some intangible tunings, and sleeping, than addressing my starry-eyed nerves. I played a few songs to a packed and very welcoming church, before Martin gave a cracking set, with his wonderfully robust voice and stunning, slightly off-kilter guitar picking, just shading the melody much of the time. He truffled up some great stories too, way darker than some of my chosen folksongs, what with their hangings and child-beheadings... 
We were treated to a hearty dinner at the house of one of the festival curators, along with an impressively-bearded Alasdair Roberts, who is frankly my folk HERO, Sharon Kraus, and the lovely Roshi and Graham. It was slightly unreal hearing a much more relaxed Martin giving anecdotes about playing with the likes of Ivor Cutler and John Martyn, or his friendship with Dr Feelgood guitar-jerker Wilko Johnson, who was in the crowd, and apparently dug me! Erk! We talked birds - debating which doves cooed, our least favourites (seagulls, pigeons) - and Alasdair and Martin sang a Scottish folk song about porridge over dessert. I would like my life to be like this more often! 
I'm almost on top of my You Are Wolf birdlore project, having been frantically arranging a string quartet and clarinet version for Deal Festival. Hence I thought it might be judicious inspiration to see Handspring Puppet Company's production of Crow at Greenwich Theatre. Combining some of Ted Hughes' violently dark, crooked collection with puppetry - hooked, angular crows which morphed, changing size and shape - physical theatre and a broodingly sonorous score by Leafcutter John for the most part worked well. It was unremittingly grim though, and the dancers' 28 Days Later zombie-style gutteral flailings got a bit much, as did the spitting, choking human caws. I'd heard them so much that I couldn't help emitting a couple of cawings once outside the theatre, only for an elderly lady to caw straight back! Ha ha. Black as DEATH!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Jim'll Fix It Times! Kerry DJs, Sings Standards, Performs in Drum n Bass Band and backs David Thomas Broughton

Level of conviction in own genius: 6
Amount of creative activity achieved today: 3
Reading / Listening: 'The Tiger's Wife' by Tea Obrecht
Hair Day: a rest day
There have been some lovely Jim'll Fix It-style moments of late. Two have been at weddings: singing a spot of backing vocals for Andy's band Step 13 (the only time I'll do b.v.s for a live drum 'n' bass band, I'll wager my life upon it), and doing my best Ella on some standards in the garden with a lovely jazz trio. 
Even better was DJing on behalf of the Nest Collective at Victoria Park's Apple Cart Festival. With little to none in the way of actual DJing chops, it was a slightly nervewracking experience, especially with surly soundchaps not liking my set-up which spurned decks and mixers in favour of Ye Olde Laptop. Still, got there in the end, and whilst perhaps some of my earnestly-practised subtleties were lost under the next band's soundcheck as a band, I was still proud of my set, and think there's potential for me being an unusual folk DJ; I mixed up dialogue from The Wicker Man with Jamie Woon, PJ Harvey's wailings on 'England' chased up with Shirley Collins' 'Adieu to Old England' undercut by James Blake, and spots of Windrush-era calypso, rockabilly and , a sure-fire winner, a bluegrass verison of 'Walk This Way'. Yes! The festival took the full force of our diluvian British summer, but I still caught some enjoyable stuff before we made our escape: Billy Bragg, Kid Creole, The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Bill Wells and Aiden Moffat.

Finally, Sarah-juicette and I joined our surreal, theatrical troubadour hero, David Thomas Broughton, as part of his backing band at Cecil Sharp House last week. Amusingly we turned up and introduced ourselves to a guitarist and pianist, saying we had no idea what David wanted us to do; they said they hadn't a clue either. Turned out, once David, slightly dishevelled and morose, arrived, that he'd gathered a whole backing band who'd never played with him before, and we were to improvise with him for the whole set. I had no idea until I got home that we were performing with something of an indie-folk supergroup, with RH Hubbert, Napoleon III and Sam Amidon, a regular cohort of Nico Muhly, all in there, as well as a wonderful pianist and an electric guitarist. It was a cracking gig, and Sarah and I had a whale of a time, totally liberated into doing whatever we wanted both musically and theatrically. We'd do it again in a flash.
I caught The Opera Group's revival of Harrison Birtwhistle's Bow Down at Spitalfields Festival last night, in the marvellously complementary surroundings of Village Underground, where I've only normally caught live hip hop gigs. A score of the 1970s devised music-theatre piece for six actor-players had been given to me by my tutor years ago, but I'd never seen a live version. It ticks lots of boxes for me as an artist: telling the story of the Two Sisters, a folk ballad found in different permutations all over Europe, it perfectly reflects the journey of the folk song itself. Different versions are weaved together, and parts of the story retrodden or changed, something I did in my big PhD piece, sedna stories. Material-wise, the piece is basically The Wicker Man meets Beckett: mostly spoken by the interchangeable cast of performers who acted, played and sung folkily (well, as folkily as you can get for a couple of clearly-trained singers - it would be great to do it with a couple of proper folk singers) and simply. Best were the austere, Noh theatre-like moments of spare ritual, perfect under the shadowy brick arches, with one or two simple musical elements to bounce off. Less favourable, at least to me, was the clownish dialogue in the middle, where it all got a bit 'Antichrist'-y, with nipple and clitoris-chopping. Yummy! Here and there, it felt a bit too consciously '70s-ish and studenty, but it was great to see it put on, and a gazillion times more satisfying as a piece of music-theatre than opera, and gives me lots of inspiration for my community opera, to be composed for next year...

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Fondation Hartung Bergman Poems 2

The second half of the sequence of poems I wrote at juice's amazing residency in France with MaJiKer. If I wasn't writing music I was writing poems. Many of these reference Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergmanthe artist couple who built, lived and worked at the incredible modernist residence

his daily swim
moving slowly along sulfateuse paths
moving in infinite space
an improvisation in water

NB 'sulfateuse' is a hose used to spray fertiliser, which Hans Hartung used very liberally in his later paintings.
his last paintings follow the journey of uncontrollable laughter
and puncture sunflowers; vomit fizzes and coils,
and kids’ sparkler trails brand night skies

there are long, slow sweeps, too,
like dvuet-smoothing the length 
of Anna-Eva's spine at night

the paintings start to recede, draining
from somewhere on the canvas
as if someone is behind the frame,
inhaling colour

and then they are back, full-blooded and furious,
spitting carmine and goldenrod
a deer-man with a slit throat, his selflife
diffusing first into hairs and then stars

Although she was here, in sun
slippery as butter, she could see
Greenland shrinking; something brooding
under the ice.

                             Striking out, alone,
for colours that might yield, and alloys;
she holds a knife and looks for the
glitter of metal-leaf.

Under the snow,
she has been told, there is a mosaic,
half-rotten, of gold leaf and firebrick

She adjusts the orbit of strange planets
and places offerings just so: a bear-head,
a horizontal sarcophagus, an eye-patch,
and a silver turtle shell.

                                           A simple life.
Five dogs, cats called Whisky and Vodka,
and, always, painting. Hans and Anna-Eva,
in the overalls that made them look like parachutists,
or big-specced and eccentric in the ‘70s,
they painted together daily.
Some say she was in his shadow. She painted
next to him but was far away,
panning for gold in the Northern fjords.

though they died
two years apart
they were scattered
together, more offerings,
into the Mediterranean

mixed, paint and metal
leaf and oil
cast into her horizon
into that beyondness

or a final swim
in their saline pool
holding their breath
watching the colours slow

It is an igloo, this house.
Matte slabs planed to precision
and placed at angles to parry with the sun,
with a ping-pong crispness.

It is a chapel, framing the pool
where every surfacing is into a new life.

Windows to the frizzed bushes.
An atrium to the wide hug of sky.

Ice-chapel of light, water and stars.

And not a curve.

It isn’t always like that. On some nights
there is the filigree white noise of rain
on the pool, which is half in light,
half-not. Another of her horizons.

The rain unbuds the throats of frogs
and crickets, their polyrhythmic stutter-rites
scraping to the sky, which squats, dripping,
an indecent mauve.

Pine trees sop with oil. Little islets
of seeds are mashed and caramel-coated,
and little long leaves are like sprats,
piled in on a wave and stranded in tide-salt;

they have banked in arrangements
that are a gift to both of them. He sees
swipes and kabuki poses; she finds grace
there, and enough spaces between them
for the paint to fall.


The rain hiding in the trees.
The rain practising tiny beatbox hi-hats.
The rain playing hoop-games with the pool
or conjuring the air-kisses of starlet fish.

The pigeon draping its song
over a three-hooped farthingale.

The morning rain hiding with it in the trees.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fondation Hartung Bergman Poems 1

Half of the sequence of poems I wrote at juice's amazing residency in France with MaJiKer. If I wasn't writing music I was writing poems. Many of these reference Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergmanthe artist couple who built, lived and worked at the incredible modernist residence.

everything that they needed is still here:
light that kicks on white stone
birds snipping diamonds out of the air
cloud-drift rasping over the pines,
which have an assuredness I’m envious of

olive trees, three hundred years old,
lean their elbows on the walls
of the pool, taking in the water
and its merry-making with light –
a paint-fight, happily spattered,
like those canvases which didn’t stop,
their arteries spraying out onto the
vast concrete walls

the canvas is stabbed like a heart,
the knife yanked back and it all comes
gushing out, a life-flash in paint:
the explosion of birth the hurt the love
the shouts of joy the mixing of languages
bodies juices the babble the tongues
the thousands of hands clamouring
the battles the shocks the rain
a race down the zip-line of memory
one long ululation towards death

and at night
when the winds are still
the pool becomes a dreamtime

unbreathing, you swim up to walls
which turn you and turn with you
showing their ancient, secret side
- Anna-Eva, dreaming of Miro:

her violet-black rooms and iridescent cave-shapes
of things you never thought possible
blueprints for mazes and animal kings
men who can fly, the shape of the sun’s eye
and otherworlds connected by shining threads

breathing and in the air again
the patterns of the pool dance
a fire-circle in your skull

and now it’s just me and the night
and the clouds that are like galaxies falling in

Hartung moves along the walls, spraying
orange tree-shadows on the stone

and I’m sure something will rise up out of the pool
or maybe the pool itself will lift, a slab of water
levitating above its grave, defying it

each star has a different plumage and way of hovering
and each is waiting to swoop and pluck out my tongue
we think the sky is arced
but it is us, leaning back on our heels
trying to pull the universe around us like cloak

The sky just


there’s lemon, and rosemary,
and pink petals lolling in hot water
daisy-fresh goat’s cheese
and tapenade black as rain-rich earth
anchovies, eggs seduced by butter
and tomatoes loosening in their skins
but I suck, stickylip, on the sun’s last fingers
its sugarcreamspongepuddingness, drip drip…

the pines’ rusting bars prong open
the shadows lean the other way
I inch my way along the wall, mugging
like a criminal in a silent comedy
trying to stay in the sun


the night is a wallflower finally chosen
each star-speck flicked onto shimmer-mode
as his trumpet picks them out, one by one

and that voice

the pool unstills, shivers as his vibrato
slinks in, playing with its light-ribbons

his phrases powdering into indigo breaths
which tinge the far hills