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.