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...

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