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...)

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