Friday, December 20, 2013

Buy Music For Christmas! Kerry's 2013 Rundown

'Tis the season to spread the love and BUY music as presents! Support the UK's finest alternative musicians! Here are my recommendations of friends' and acquaintances' music that has been released this year. Remember to buy them from the source (helpfully linked below)!

1) Roshi feat. Pars Radio - 3 Almonds and A Walnut

My main girrrl released her new alt-pop/electronica album early in the year. The first track is a killer version of an Iranian children's poem, with the rest of the album weaving Pars Radio's atmospherically-gritty electronica in more traditional Iranian material and evocative original songs. She's been nominated for a Songlines award this year!

2) Anna Meredith  - Jet Black Raider

The follow-up to composer-performer-daredevil Anna's first EP Black Prince Fury (both named after her ma's childhood horses, don't you know). It's four injections of punchy, bleepy, bonkers electronica, which got rave reviews in the summer. Anna's looking forward to supporting Anna Calvi in 2014...

3) Lisa Knapp -  Hidden Seam

One of my favourite folk artists brought out her long-awaited second album this year, and it's a gloriously-textured feast of loveliness, with mostly original tunes connected to the elements. It features guest vocals from Martin Carthy, James Yorkston and Alasdair Roberts with beautiful instrumental writing. Lisa's been nominated for BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in Feb 2014!

4) Rhythm Sticks - The Hen's Tooth

A load of 16-year olds from Tottenham! Steered by death-baritone Andrew Plummer and drum-devil Tom Greenhalgh! This album is properly excellent, mixing grooves, rock and improv. And speaking of Andrew and Tom, check out their single with terror-blues trio Snack Family from last summer.

5) Alasdair Roberts and Robin Robertson - Hirta Songs

My favourite folk singer in a collaboration with my favourite poet, collectively mining their dark and dolorous Scottishness. Alasdair sets Robin's specially-written lyrics in a love letter to the remote archipelago of St Kilda. Alasdair does his usual wizardry as a tunesmith and Robin will make your ears crumble with his readings...

6) John Potter, Rogers Covery-Crump & Chris O'Gormain - Conductus, Vol. 2

Lovely 13th century French vocal music and poetry from York-based tenor chaps including my ex-lecturer/guru/landlord John Potter...

7) House of Bedlam - Talking Microtonal Blues

Helmed by composer of brilliance Larry Goves, this instrumental chamber ensemble loose an album of wild, vivid sounds and textures, interspersed (and mixed with) spoken word from Mathew Welton. It's FAB.

8) Olivia Chaney - Olivia Chaney

OK, so this came out at the end of last year, but I hadn't yet got it... this is English singer-songwriter Olivia's thoroughly shimmering debut EP. Original songs, fab lyrics, and she's basically the 21st-century Sandy Denny. And now she's been signed to Nonesuch! Score!

Cheeky plug

Metamorphic - Coalescence

The original jazz-folk-prog sextet I sing with, led by pianist Laura Cole, released our second album in the spring, to great reviews (and Brian Morton from Jazz Journal's album of the year!). It's a mix of grooves, folk song shreds, wild improv, vocal loops, and P Diddy basslines, obvs...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Autumnal catch-up

Level of conviction in own genius: 6.5
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 2
Reading: Lucy Wood's debut collection of short stories, 'Diving Belles' / FIRE-themed music for my Strawberry Shortwave Radio Show
Hair day: GINGER

Cripes, it's been an AGE since I've written here. It's mostly because I have been pouring my writing efforts into a Faber Academy fiction-writing course, which I intend to aid in turning me into a sort of Sarah Waters/Hilary Mantel/George RR Martin combo (ahem). I have had a blissful time off composing given the operatic excesses of the larger half of the year, hurrah! Words are MUCH more fun.

Instead this autumn I have been celebrating juice's 10th anniversary, where we had a marvellous gig at Kings Place with friends and workshop participants, and juicing it up in America (see here for juice's breathless blog on both things). I've been getting an explosion of orangey hair and a new tattoo. I've been teaching songwriting at the University of Kent, a new department set in the historic dockyard at Chatham, meaning I have to dodge steam vehicles and emerge from blasting S Club 7 and Radiohead and Tom Waits at unsuspecting 20-year olds and look straight onto whopping great submarines and battleships.

I've also been keeping up the broadcasting fun by presenting and producing the Strawberry Shortwave Radio Show on Haggerston Radio, which takes a theme each week and includes everything from throat-singing on horseback, post-punk, electronica, mictrotonal detuned pianos and MORE. Check out the extensive archive here!

Saturday, August 03, 2013

New Complexity Car Park Massacre

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Hours of creative activity achieved today: 0
Listening / Reading: Joanna Newsom on my underwater mp3 player whilst swimming my daily kilometre / Game. Of. Thrones.
Hair Day: chloriney

How lovely that I can saunter a mere mile down the hill in this August's delicious early evening balm, end up in London's current coolest endz, climb a few storeys of a manky car park and immerse myself in some serious-assed contemporary classical music. YES!
I've finally had some free evenings to visit the London Contemporary Music Festival's epic debut run, in league with art commissioners Bold Tendencies, on the penultimate (disused) tier of Peckham's seven-storey car park. Thursday's steamy evening saw two operatic monologues: the first, by the outrageously talented Kate Whitley, set a chunk from the play Glengarry Glenn Ross, a top film of course with Jack Lemmon going into a meltdown. Baritone Charles Rice did a marvellous job of commanding the whole audience as he moved amongst them. This was a compositional answer to Gerald Barry's (not to mixed up with England footer international Gareth Barry, as I once did to DJ Tim Winter. BLUSH.) La Plus Forte, which was fun, but somehow not as much as Kate's piece. I enjoyed seeing the young 'uns in the orchestra (ably conducted by Chris Stark, as these things often are) squinting hopelessly into the fierce sun firing straight at them.

But perhaps a contender for gig of the year so far was last night's cracking, crackling evening entitled 'New Complexity and Noise'. In some excellent programming, we saw a poor Yahama grand piano being well and truly bitch-slapped: first by Mark Knoop in two visceral pieces from Michael Finnissy's English Country Tunes; and then by Australian free improviser Anthony Pateras, in a rampantly exhilarating solo that was like a silent movie pianist who had gone COMPLETELY OUT OF HIS MIND. Ferocious pounding, fierce tremeloing up at the top end, and stark, rhythmic dark chords were flung at us like bricks. Brilliant. Sara Minelli did a great, spitty, flutey job of Ferneyhough's Cassandra's Dream. I mostly really enjoyed the interaction with the trains rattling past outside, especially in the trombone solo work by Aaron Cassidy: the train squeaks seemed to emerge from some of those quiet, squalling brass notes, or vice versa, and it was magical to see a couple of hundred faces, sitting on the concrete floor at the front like us, or on benches, or standing crowded around (some having strayed from the hipsterville central of Frank's bar on the top floor), listening intently for ten minutes to what sounded like a very sad, very drunk mosquito. Anthony Pateras also paired up with legendary experimental drummer Steve Noble for a couple of free sets, with whining modular synths or thunking prepared piano interacting with Steve's manic 'FUCK the washing up!'-style improvs with shallow snare drum, cymbals and singing bowls. Finally, there was a set from noise merchant Russell Haswell that had me immediately dashing for the far wall, away from the PA. I like noise, y'know; I just wish it didn't have to be so loud. Ha. Well, I think I'm allowed to scoff at the nonsense that is the pornification of volume, seeing as I've got only one working ear. Still, I took in another few minutes, enjoying the sight of Russell, hunched and fag in hand, lit by a single hanging naked lightbulb, with the dark shadows of the crowd looming all around him; as if he was soundtracking his own imminent death by mass zombie attack. As I left the car park, the retching rumblings and eviscerating squeaks sounded like the apocalypse had truly come to Peckham. Fab.
So congrats to chief contempo music young guns Aisha Orazbayeva (a juice labelmate), Nonclassical's own Sam Mackay, and 'cellist and Kammer Klang curator Lucy Railton! My end of South London is the best place to be in the world this weekend. Kudos!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Wild Sing, Wild Swim

This week saw a smashing night for juice and MaJiKer at the very eclectic Holt Festival, where our fellow artists were the likes of John Hegley, the Britten Sinfonia and The Proclaimers. YES. I think it was our best joint gig yet, and marvellously received by all-comers, aged 8 to 98, who clamoured to take part in our interactive Radio JaJa piece. We are nothing if not inclusive... Then it was up north to co-devise and perform a music-theatre piece with wonderfully-named York University PhD student Nektarios, who has an unusual approach of really getting under the skin of his performers and creating pieces very personal to them. Last year, he got us to talk about our first loves (cue much heart-rending sobbing, at least from me, ha), and wove these into this final work which also included singing into a grand piano, imitating sirens, taking the mickey out of his grandmother, and accompanying a Cypriot song. I loved this bare-all approach: that the audience could watch us as musicians, and suddenly be confronted with such personal revelations; like we were removing masks and reminding them that we were just human, and just like them. Here's the trailer for Nektarios' piece!

Gig of the week was, however, over at the Manchester Jazz Festival, where Metamorphic were one of four bands chosen for Jazz on 3's BBC Introducing stage. It was a top gig, with a heartily whooping crowd; I made sure I wore my sluttiest possible outfit (ha) and rocked out on stage; I also enjoyed being a bit more adventurous in the freer vocal sections, inspired by working with Royst on the tour. Our set is being broadcast on Jazz on 3 on August 5th and on iPlayer for the next week, and you must listen to it!

Wild swimming scout of the North, Oli (depping on sax for Chris), had tipped me off about a cracking outdoor swim at Gaddings Dam in the Pennines. So after four hours' sleep (having celebrated at our classy Staycation apartment by drinking Oli's dreamy homemade elderflower champagne and being flung around commandingly by Tom, who turns out to be a dab hand at Lindy hop), Oli, his ebullient keo-mun-go player friend Eun-Jung and I got a train to the cutely squat market town of Todmorden. We climbed the two miles up onto sun-baked moorland to this four-acre-plus reservoir, with dry-stone walls sloping down to black water with a glint in its eye. We coaxed Eun-Jung in up to her waist before taking off to swim a length of the Dam to the far corner and to flop onto England's highest beach! On climbing out, we stood dripping and looking west into Calderdale, on the best view I've ever had after a swim: dancing cotton-sedge in the foreground and magnificent, pale mustard-coloured hills beyond. Heading back down, there were butterflies everywhere: trios of cabbage whites did Japanese fan dances, and red admirals kept repeating themselves over and over next to the path, as if they were bunting heralding our return. BLISS.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Woodwosed, Trembling and Itchy

Level of conviction in own genius: 10
Hours of creative activity achieved today: 2
Watching / Reading: The Tour de France finale / 'Game of Thrones' by George RR Martin, shamefacedly bought at Herne Hill Books, where I normally buy things like psychogeography by Robert McFarlane. Ahem.

Woodwose was a triumph at Wigmore Hall on Friday, hurrah! I was sooo pleased with it all, and with how much the participants seemed to enjoy throwing themselves into it. The community choir, Paddington's All Sing, were as gutsy and characterful a chorus as you could hope for, and the school groups all their bit, with some smashing face-pulling and zombie-poses from the Year 5s at Queen's Park and totally wicked acting and beautiful singing from the Year 7 lasses at Marylebone School, whose two-part South African lullaby made me blub. Amber from Marylebone, who played the Lonely Girl, did her best music-theatre hand-gestures and sang like a dream. I'm rather in awe of tenor Andrew Kennedy, a big bad operatic prof who breezed in this week to do the central role; his communication and Woodwoseyness was masterful, like he could do it in his sleep. I had some cracking praise afterwards, from the big tearful man who crushed me in his bearlike embrace, sobbing 'Britten would be proud!', to the man who told me that my talents outweighed my reputation and that I looked like Annie Lennox (I also got a lot of comparisons to Pink from the girls), to the All Sing-ers who enthused that the opera was a masterpiece and that it was one of the best days of their lives. SOB! This is really me, this community opera thing... more please! I hotfooted it to Brixton's Hootenanny for the unofficial Woodwose after-party featuring Step 13 - fresh from playing to a thousand people at dawn at Glastonbury a fortnight ago, and with Andy on bass - who made us all melt into sweaty drum 'n' bass puddles.

It's been gig central as usual this week. I went with photographer mate Dannie to Bush Hall to see the Incredible String Band's Mike Heron with Glasgow psych-folk-rockers Trembling Bells. The 'Bells are pretty great, melding folklore and place and a sense of real British rootsiness with rollicking drums, rock-ish pretensions and Lavinia Blackwall's astounding Sandy Denny-meets-classical-soprano voice, which soared and fluted effortlessly as she sang about Yorkshire rivers and rituals about earthworms. Mike Heron, bless him, was not in great shape, though this may have been due to having his arm in a cast following a stage calamity in the night before's gig, and his voice was pretty off-target. But there were some charming moments, my favourite being when drummer Alex Neilson and Lavinia did a simple, intertwining a cappella duet.
Finally, it was off to the Lexington for another round of doing improvising backing vocals for one of my favourite musicians, David Thomas Broughton (Sarah and I had done the same at Cecil Sharp House last year). This time, we were joined by musical compadre Laura Moody, who did a short solo set including two new ones involving serious Diamanda Galas-esque croaky distorted vocals, and a 'nihilistic sea shanty'. Hurrah! Then we had an absolute treat in the slight, colourful form of Japanese 'musician-artist-inventor' Ichi. Part-children's entertainer, part-magician, part-well funky musician, he is a delight, pulling out hybrid homemade instruments as if they were rabbits from a hat. He came onstage on stilts, playing a harmonica. He played a steel pans. He blew into a balloon which became a sort of bagpipe. He brought out a little harp/thumb piano/trumpet combo, whilst using his feet to hit a bass drum behind him, or clacking the little castanets on his toes. One of his stilts turned into an upright bass. Another mutant trumpet became a percussion instrument, pattered on with metal rings on his fingers. He disarmingly introduced songs in halting English by saying things like 'this song is about animal;' 'this song is about big mosquito' before launching into curious chanting, high-pitched mantras. The coup de theatre was when he combined several of his instruments into a delicate narrow slide for a ping pong ball, which miraculously rolled down into his steel pan, creating waves clanging, plasticky-metal ringing. Sarah and I watched the whole thing with our jaws slowly hanging further and further towards the floor. It was BEEEAUTIFUL and one of the best things I've ever seen. Catch him wherever you can.
With no soundcheck, David simply crouched to his merry band (Sarah, me, MaJiker, Laura, and guitar/effects dude Napoleon III) and said nonchalantly to just join in whenever, before he meandered onstage and began another night of his idiosyncratic brand of bewitching troubadour-clown-looping in his doleful baritone. He had a terrible chest infection, but brilliantly used it to his advantage, looping his coughs and looking miserable enough to make his audience uncomfortable. And we loped on with him soon enough, after the lovely Bishi had done a brief guest vocal. We picked up harmonies, copied his arm movements, beatboxed, stamped our feet, did mouth-pops and water-gurgles, and it was VERY FUN. I love how David truffles around for the imperfections that you normally try and iron out of a performance and makes the most of them, and how he turns a humdrum stage set-up into props for his baffled, trying-to-keep-it-all-together stage persona. And it makes us react to it, and do it to. Super-liberating and exhilarating!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Double Opera Whammy IN THE BAG

Level of conviction in own genius: TEN!
Amount of creative activity achieved today: like the Tour de France, it's been a sort of rest day, to make up for extremely arduous compo over the last 2 weeks
Reading / Watching: A.S. Byatt's deliciously evocative 'The Children's Book', all late 19th-century Arts and Crafts, politics and fairy tales / 'Game of Thrones' Season 3 has landed, as a perfectly-timed reward for opera-finishing! Hand-chopping, nipples being removed, slave soldiers... I've NEVER BEEN HAPPIER
Hair Day: Sedately fastened under a hot pink scarf, land girl style

BOOM! It's been a heavy two weeks of Serious Compo, finishing off Dart's Love, which I did yesterday, though boring part-making is still to come. A weekend of incessant score-formatting and tweaking has left me with an injury peculiar to composers, the very twingey and numb 'Sibelius wrist'. I'm sooo pleased that Tim, the MD, and Bill, the director - and Tamsin, the librettist - are all loving the look of it, hurrah! Now just to convince them that everyone needs to be in swimwear for the opening night... Here are the details for the August 17th/18th shows at the Tete a Tete Festival!

I've been writing a swimming diary to accompany the opera, which has been a lovely way to embrace my swim-sessions more deeply. The lido has to be borne in a different way now that the sun is (gloriously! MIRACULOUSLY!) out: the water is filmy, with much creepy human-derived flotsam and jetsam, and is crammed with slowcoaches. But it's still a blissful hop, skip and a dive away, and I've supplemented it with dips at the Hampstead Ladies' Pond and Shepperton Lake, where I went with DOLLYman compadre Jimmy for some open water swimming with the Iron Man-training big boys.
I went from finishing one opera to rehearsals of the other: it's Woodwose week, and everyone  - two primary school and a secondary school class, community choir and Open Age group, tenor Andrew Kennedy and band Ignite all piled into Wigmore Hall for the first time together yesterday. It's strange not to have been involved much in the rehearsal process - both a luxury and an uncomfortable not-knowing; but joyous to see scenes being stitched together for the first time, and to see how director Hazel Gould has managed to work with the un-operatic surroundings of the lovely, but chamber-sized Hall. I confess welling up at more than one instance, which means that I must be some sort of genius, right?! Ah ha ha. What has been most rewarding has been community choir members telling me how much they love the piece, and how magical it all is. There is nothing better than praise from the shop floor. Wiggy Hall's very first opera hits THIS FRIDAY at 6.30pm - do come if you can!
The Ignite crew, Andrew, perky Lonely Child singer Amber and myself ambled to Broadcasting House this afternoon to go to the Radio 3 In Tune studios to chat about Woodwose to the unflappable, super-cool Suzy Klein and present two lovely extracts of music, as well as meet James Rhodes, the raffishly rock 'n' roll pianist of the classical world, who was also on the show. Listen to it here again, about 49 minutes in!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

DiddleLeigh DiddleLeigh Dee

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 4
Reading /Watching and Listening: Vera Brittain / Glasto telly, which has picked up after a disappointing start. Highlights: Lianne Le Havas, surprisingly quite liked the honky-tonk-meets-Jeff Buckley-meets-small-child Tom Odell, but Public Enemy blew all competition out of the water and had me throwing shapes around the living room rather than working this morning... they know how to do a proper show! The Mumfords are currently doing their usual Burton-man-goes-barn-dancing-shtick.
Hair day: lightly pink; large blue bird atop.

Another year, another Laurie Anderson show at the Barbican, this time with the Kronos Quartet in tow, to perform 'Landfall', a song cycle using Hurricane Sandy as a starting point. I have to say, as of the last show I saw, I was pretty disappointed. Laurie has settled into a default setting of late, entailing some electric viola playing, storytelling - some in a creepy, but unintelligible, low pitch shifter - and some keyboard/synth stuff. The Kronos material, arranged by someone else, added a beautiful bit of depth, but it was still the same show I've seen several times running. There was a lot of text being projected, and I enjoyed the relationship between spoken and visual text; the best moment was the second violinist apparently triggering words through some energetic pizzicato stabs, but it still looked like an A-Level Powerpoint presentation. I don't mean to be harsh - a recent Guardo interview affirmed my faith in her general vibes and being (lack of kids, love of New York, striving for art and new technology), but I was hoping for more. It still made me want to create my own big swimming-themed show (prediction: all my pieces for the next two years will be swimming-related)! And she has enabled me to refresh my uncanny Laurie impression, where I talk about extremely mundane things like what was on special offer in the veg section at Sainsbury's in a sing-song, low American-accented voice, Very Slowly and with odd. Pauses. It's a winner!
Whilst Andy was enjoying the mild sunshine at Glastonbury, painting his face half black and half white to play with Step 13 on the Hell Stage at Shangri-La to a thousand-plus people at 5AM ON SUNDAY MORNING (so proud!!). I was on the other side of the festival coin, with a trip to Leigh Folk Festival for a You Are Wolf set, following up my support of Martin Carthy last year. It felt somehow rather exhilarating and slightly anarchic down in the Old Town. Under the hottest sun of the year, it heaved with splendidly (and not-so-splendidly) tattooed locals all unselfconsciously pinking under the high sun, queuing for chips and sloshing lager, and serenaded by bands of all descriptions - folk-rock, hurdy gurdies, squeezeboxes, local acoustic cover duos - spilling out of pubs, sheds and truck stages. With the heat and the incessant music coming from all corners, it felt a bit like SXSW had come to Essex, ha ha. There were morris dancers, one man bands and a chap wearing a pink dress and carrying a teddy bear, and all around was festooned with ribbons and bunting. There was a very English, outsider-art, pleasingly traditional bent to the whole thing, but not in a namby-pamby Cambridgey, or hipster, sort of way, but rather more like the old gods rearing their heads.
I played in the lovely New Road Chapel, after Wounded Knee, a swarthy Scotsman who had a highly entertaining wheeze of getting the audience to pick a ball out of a bag which would correlate with his notebook of numbered traditional songs, and then he'd score points as to who could name the tune. He simply belted them out unaccompanied or accompanied only by a shruti box. The best was a yearning, robust one about being in the mountains in Scotland, so damned authentic that I swear there were heather fires burning in his stomach. Following me was the lovely Sharron Kraus and Nancy Wallace, with an Anne Briggs/Gillian Welch sort of delicately reedy voice, with some wonderfully rich songs based on the medieval Welsh Mabinogion.
I was reeaallly hoping for a sea-dip, and had packed my vintage 1950's 'looking' (as opposed to 'swimming', obviously) swimming costume for the very purpose, but alas, upon arriving at Leigh, I found the tide to be at its lowest, a mile away over the mudflats. So I made do with a dreamy sit-down at the quiet western edge of town, squinting at the distant sea with a sort of blissful melancholy, imagining its cool saltiness around my calves, as plovers burbled and the dry grass prickled my legs. It's another sort of Essex, this, with simple themes: seabirds, marshes, reeds, and mud-caked boats that look more ancient than humans; under a dusty late afternoon sun, there was a dryness, and a bite, and a sense of things fading. Except the sea, which edged closer, but never close enough.

Friday, June 28, 2013


Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24: 5
Listening / Watching: Olivia Chaney / an empty screen, forlornly, as I’m waiting two weeks for ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 3 to become available to stream…
Hair day: pink, and with a little bird nestling in it

The Metamorphic/Røyst tour is sadly now over – it has been such fun hanging out and performing with this brilliant bunch of musicians. This week we had the official album launch at the Vortex in London, to a great crowd, with me rocking a monochrome androgynous look (Laurie Anderson / Tilda Swinton: you are my heroes!), though I needed a bit of help with the tie, ahem. I am going to try and force the boys to wear the same I think… we need a LOOK! Nerves always slightly get me at the Vortex for some reason, but it was still a top gig – Andy said that our thick-textured, bombastic collaborative pieces (featuring all 11 of us rubbing elbows on the teeny stage) sounded like a free jazz Polyphonic Spree, which can ONLY be a good thing. The week got better: Jamie Cullum played ‘Juicemaster’ on his über-mainstream show on Radio 2 (42 mins in), causing my Mum’s heart to SWELL with pride; and us being selected as one of four bands for the Jazz on 3 BBC Introducing Stage at the ManchesterInternational Jazz Festival at the end of the month, hand-picked by Jamie, Jez Nelson and Gilles Peterson. Woo hoo!
We finished up the tour in drizzletastic Liverpool, in the sublimely lovely View Two Gallery, a sedately arty oasis amongst the bubble-lettered retro horror of the clubs on Mathew Street, where the Cavern Club also sits. It turned out to be a gorgeous night, possibly the highlight of the tour, with an enthusiastic crowd including an old chap who is Led Bib’s superfan and basically stalks Chris – from Bib and our superfierce alto sax player - around everywhere. We sounded pretty sharp, Laura delivered a monstrous piano solo thunderous enough to wake the dead, John tore it up on ‘Blood’, and Tom did his usual brilliance even though he was playing a borrowed kit which basically comprised 2 dustbins and a couple of tin cans held together with masking tape. Seth and Oli, who make up the extended Metamorphic family, are ludicrously good improvisers, with Oli somehow evoking muted trumpets and Mariah Carey-style riffing on his bass clarinet, and Seth striking little matches alight and making whales sing on his bass. Yum. Røyst were on beautiful form, giving me goosebumps in one moment; they have really inspired me to be a bit wilder with my vocals; my default setting is pureprettyvoiceness, and whilst I make all sorts of bonkers notated sounds with juice, it sometimes seems hard to let rip when improvising. But muttering, percussively rattling and yelping with the girls has really helped, and I need to keep that up now that I am without them! Next up is Oli and Seth’s brilliantly-named trio Nutclub and Metamorphic in Birmingham, which will feel like a very slimline gig without tha laydeez…

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks; inbetween doing my mini-dance moves on various jazz stages, and attempting to write my second chamber opera of the year, I’ve been workshopping new pieces for us at the Roundhouse’s Voices Now Festival, and floating spectre-like around the fabulous Dennis Severs’ House with juice for Spitalfields Festival. We did over-the-top languid siren stuff whilst clinging to the walls (and accidentally getting stuck on a hook at one point, leaving Anna to frantically try and rescue me, whilst we sang serenely out of sight of the audience, ha ha!), twanging Vietnamese mouth harps, and generally being VERY CREEPY yet AMAZINGLY IN TUNE...

Friday, June 21, 2013

The North - Where WE DO WHAT WE WANT

Level of conviction in own genius: 6.5
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Listening / Watching: Metamorphic's album; Rat/bucket/fire-based violence on Game of Thrones, urgh
Hair Day: Limp
It’s been an EPIC week of gigging o’er hill and dale, bringing folky, energetic, multi-hued jazz on the Metamorphic second album tour with vocal trio Røyst to the unsuspecting and startled north. I missed the Darlington gig, with the fabulous Cecile from Røyst standing in, but made it back for a homecoming gig for Metamorphic’s leader, Laura, at Sheffield’s Millennium Hall, in what sounds like a lofty turn-of-the-latest-century piece of super-architecture, but which is in fact a Polish working men’s club. Arf. But it was a top gig, with an appreciative crowd, and other local lad Seth (double bass demon) feeding us spaghetti at his folks’ up the road. I hot-tailed it to York for a day with juice workshopping new vocal trio pieces for us (intricately notated finger-palm clapping, simulating drowning, making pretend snow angels on the floor, y’know, THE USUAL). Then it was to Derby, a joyless non-entity of a city (finding TopShop was a moment of unreasonable excitement and RELIEF). We played at Voicebox, hosted by amazing vibes player and Derby boy Corey Mwamba. Sadly, it was a smaller crowd here, but fusebox at 7 Arts inLeeds the next night made up for it! I certainly sang my best gig yet here, probably fuelled by glee at wearing my sluttiest top yet (Game of Thrones’ lightly-clad ladies are having an effect, clearly) in front of my mother, and sheer deranged exhaustion having only slept for four hours the night before. Some superhuman brainwork has meant I can finally do our meanest tune, ‘What Is Real’ off the page, complete with nifty moves. YES! (Now repeat after me: 4 bars of 7/8, a 4/4 improv, 4 bars of 7/8, a 4/4 bar, 5 bars of 7/8, a 5/8, a 2/8 vocal solo, 5 bars of 7/8, a 3/8, 3 bars of 4/4, a 4/8 vocal solo, 2 bars of 7/8, a 6/8, 5 bars of 4/4 improv, a 1/8 vocal solo, 3 bars of 7/8,  a 2/8, 5 bars of 4/4, a 5/8 vocal solo, a 3/8, 7 bars of 4/4 improv, a 4/8 vocal solo, 4/8 and YOU’RE OUT OF THE WOODS). Two people in the audience at Leeds said it was THE BEST GIG THEY HAD EVER SEEN. Metamorphic’s second album, Coalescence, was released this week and it’s had some lovely reviews here and here. You should probably BUY IT, and we’re rocking out The Vortex on Monday with the official launch.  
 With a day to kill in Leeds before our gig, I’d already looked ahead to see what outdoor swimming was to be had in the hood, and had my eye on Ilkley’s lido. Local outdoor swimming experts Seth and Oli (improvising bass clarinettist of wonder, and also very fierce throat singer in ALL styles; his kargyraa is something to behold) scoffed at this suggestion, as apparently the lido is grimy and full of muscle men (sounds ideal to me) and kids (hhm, p’rhaps not) and the only place to go swimming was in the Wharfe. So I badgered a rather nervous-if-cavalier Tom (drummer of extreme fearsomeness and genius) into coming with me and Oli to Burley-in-Wharfedale, a sleepy village at the foot of the Dales for my first wild swim of the year. Swimming there was the highlight of my month. The water was peaty, cool and blissful – certainly no colder than Brockwell Lido, and soft enough to make our hair kitten-fluffy afterwards. We dipped downstream, staggered and slipped our way up to the weir, plushly thick with moss, and sat in the full-pelt blast of its mini-waterfalls, before climbing over the top of the weir and into another river-world of serene, deep black water, overlooked by large trees on either side. It was HEAVEN.
It’s all inspiration for Dart’s Love, my wild-swimming-themed opera, which was commissioned to round off the Tête a Tête Festival on August 17th and 18th.  Hence I’m doing a lot of bad electric guitar playing, testing out of wine glasses for their ringing ability, trying to nick Oli’s best clarinet sounds, and working out the time signatures of my swimming strokes, tee hee.

I’m currently speeding back to London for a juice-heavy weekend of singing new music in the extremely spooky Denis Severs’ House for the Spitalfields Festival, plus a day of workshops as part of the Roundhouse’s Voices Now Festival, with juice nonchalantly turning their hand to spluttering out erotic medieval letters, darting through some utterly fiendish rhythms, and doing some monk-ish growling...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Same Old Drones

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: does watching 'Game of Thrones' count? If so, about EIGHT.
Level of conviction in own genius: a humble 6; my brain has melted slightly through watching too many horse decapitations, tongue removals and deaths-by-having-molten-silver-tipped-over-your-head
Reading / Listening / Watching: Back on the very-meaningful-to-me Vera Brittain / Melt Yourself Down, our new punk-skronk-jazz saviours / 'Game of Thrones', to which I have become woefully and predictably addicted, having got through Season 1 in about 6 days. WINTER IS COMING, etc (forgive any hints of GoT in this blog. I really have watched an AWFUL lot of it).
Hair day: unstyled, post-bath. HIDEOUS.

Much work has been undertaken in the shadow of Kerry Towers: rehearsals for Wigmore Hall's 'Woodwose' have started (premiere: July 19th), with brave Borough of Westminster folk aged 9-80 starting to get their chops around my music. Meanwhile, I'm halfway through my second chamber h'opera of the year, a lovely commission which is rounding off the annual Tête à Tête Festival. Auditions are now done, and I'm excited to see how the singers - a mix of operatic and more folky, grounded voices - combine. Dart's Love: a wild-swimming-themed chamber opera is for five voices and a four-piece band, hopefully will include a LOT of swimwear, and has mostly involved me making wine glasses ring, trying to play the electric guitar, and working out the time signatures for my swimming strokes on my hallowed visits to Brockwell Lido. It's being performed in two months' time so is pretty skin of the teeth stuff - I'll probably just pop a load of drones in for the last ten minutes...

Meanwhile, it's up to the North, home of wildlings and direwolves and unexpectedly lovely small jazz venues for the Metamorphic tour, which is Jazz Pick of the Week in the Guardian Guide. We're promoting the release of our second album, Coalescence and on the road with us is wicked Norwegian jazz-pop-experimental vocal trio Royst. Our first date was up in the desolate wastes of Morecambe (truly! The pub, the church, the shops - EVERYTHING was up for sale), with the great arts venue The Hothouse nestling on a street behind the sea front. They looked after us beautifully and it was a cracking start to the tour. Next: have at you, Sheffield, Derby, Leeds, London and Liverpool, and genuflect before our Hendrix/Wheeler/P Diddy-inspired proggy folkjazz majesty!

It was up to the North again a couple of weeks ago, where the noble Lord David Thomas Broughton of Otley Vale, a magically artistic world where basically every other darkstone manor houses a print-maker, illustrator, pianist or studio engineer, most of them Broughtons... DTB had invited the Three Screaming Queens of Juice to come up and record some semi-improvised songs with him. We first ventured up to the drizzly Chevin Forest Park, found ourselves a spot surrounded by sentry-like trees, and sang around some of David's lyrics whilst he meandered through his tunes and picked delicate guitar arpeggios. Thence to Otley's arts venue and a studio in an attic, and somehow we recorded five songs, which - having heard the pre-mastered sneak previews - sound BLOODY AMAZING! Read more about the day at juice's blog by Sarah, and await with BATED BREATH the vocal-folk-guitar-looping wondrousness that will appear at some point as an EP. If you don't buy it when it comes out, it shall be a lifetime at The Wall for you! Etc.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Bank Holiday Bumper Music Weekend

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24: 2
Listening: to ME
Hair Day: floppy and sun-kissed, post-swim

I crammed a lot of live music into 48 hours this weekend. We started off on Friday late afternoon outside Aldwych underground station on The Strand, these days of course unused apart from as film sets for drowning Keira Knightley or for go-getting contemporary music promoters... We were there for the first part of the London Contemporary Orchestra's Imagined Occasions series, which is spread throughout the year, and seeks to create 'immersive, site-responsive' experiences. In front of us was Thomas Ades, who had a piece being played, and who seemed to have trouble getting into the event, arf.
I have to say, I think the LCO were missing a trick or two; reading the hyperbolic preview in The New Statesman, it seemed we should have had our tickets checked as if we were heading into the Tube as commuters of a distant past; were to be handed newspapers about the event; and were to feel as if we were milling about in the main vestibule among other ghostly travellers. There was, I'm afraid, none of this. Andy and I had been on a tour of the station last year, so there was no novelty of being down there for the first time, and we wanted An Experience, dammit! One of the singers, friend-of-juice Cheyney Kent, delivered the most dramatic pre-concert health-and-safety announcement I've ever heard, and seemed to be setting the scene for a theatrical promenade. But instead, pieces were simply presented separately, and between them, we were led by stewards who simply told us where to move, getting us to shuffle awkwardly along a platform to stand in front of a film. It felt like really what the whole thing needed was a narrative of sorts, a performer who would lead us around the spooky tunnels and up the crumbling steps on a dreamlike journey in which there was no relaxing or chatting between pieces.

There were some lovely moments, and most of the actual programming was great: my favourite was the twelve singers with headlamps (including aforementioned Cheyney and Sarah-juicette) deep in a dank tunnel, singing Jonathan Harvey - although why the audience were then placed on a side platform where they could hardly see them I've no idea; the Stockhausen film with the Brothers Quay images on a wall slimy with mould and dirt was evocative, though again, almost impossible to actually see; I enjoyed sitting in an old tube train watching a quartet, though their performance again felt very untheatrical; and my favourite piece was the 'cello, viola and tubular bells trio which sadly again, few people could actually view. The Claude Vivier piece around which this performance centred was beautifully staged on the rail tracks and stopped startlingly (it was the last piece he was working on before he was murdered), but at £35 a pop, it didn't do enough for me, and I think needed a theatre director overseeing the whole shebang. Creases may have been ironed out for the second performance of the evening; at least Jon Snow and Jonny Greenwood made positive tweetings about it.

We made off into the rain, slightly underwhelmed by the experience, and to Cecil Sharp House for Lisa Knapp's gig. I'd never seen her live, though have long been a fan of her glorious voice and inventive arrangements. She played two sets, her feet going crazy clacking away on the foot-pumped harmonium, or delicately plucking a fiddle, or wheezing a shruti box. Her man Gerry Diver would swoon away on viola or add samples, and she was further complemented by shimmering hammer dulcimer, string bass and occasional drums. She played many of her 'May carols', my favourite being 'The Pleasant Month of May', long-sung by The Copper Family, which in Lisa's version, builds up from a simple pulsing bassline into a joyous carnival or hay-making and yelling. Lovely stuff, and I'm looking forward to her second album in the autumntide.

We were blessed miraculously with no rain at Field Day on Saturday, and tramped up and down Victoria Park looking for flashpan bands to whoop at. We kicked off first in the Caught By the River tent, which I'd have happily stayed in all day, had it not been pummelled by several sound systems around it, therefore somewhat destroying its embrace of all things field recording-related. Still, I saw a discussion with Chris Watson, London Sound Survey peeps and others which made me want to grab a massive microphone and head into the woods pretty sharpish. We caught Stealing Sheep, three wide-grinning lasses who did a charming turn in three-part harmony and indie-folk. We then dashed over to catch the last few songs by new punks Savages, as short and sharp as a jab in the arm with a penknife; their last one had the singer simply yelping viciously: 'Hus-BANDS Hus-BANDS Hus-BANDS'. It shouldn't be exciting in 2013 to see a band of four girls dressed in utilitarian black shirts, rocking the hell out of their short, nasty songs, but it IS. I'd love to see them in a proper gig, though I expect it would only be about 20 minutes long, given how quickly they stalked offstage here. We gave Ginger Baker's Jazz Confusion (pedestrian) and Django Django (djangly) short shrift, and got ourselves right at the front for Everything Everything. EE, clad in styled outfits that made them look like ASOS-loving bus drivers, were energetic and fun, with a singer delighting in his falsetto, and an array of clever guitar licks. We stayed put for Bat For Lashes, who made it all worth it by sashaying beatifically on in an outfit that made her basically the sexiest rainbow you've ever seen. Her set was all thrumming pop with electro sprinklings, added 'cello and theremin, and she had a cracking voice. Neither EE not BFL were exactly ground-breaking, but were certainly Good Solid Fun. Four Tet played fairly 'meh' techno-lite fare as the sun set, and Animal Collective's experi-indie was perhaps a little too noodly to headline, but it was a Fab Day. Hurrah!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Birds, Lobsters and Honeybees

Level of conviction in own genius: 6
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 1
Watching: Mike Leigh's 'Another Year'
Hair Day: Bit dank, post-swim

It's not hard to miss New York (see previous post) and it's gum-chewing, get-on-with-it insouciance, but, as my friend Dannie yelled gleefully last week, 'London's GREAT!', and I shouldn't forget it. Sometimes it's good to get oneself to another city, where - as you're on your hols - you throw yourself into everything that the relevant Time Out issue can offer, to remember that you can do EXACTLY the same thing back home. Minus the comradely banter between strangers, of course. That would be INSANE.

We took ourselves off to Dalston's (London's?) loveliest dancing club, Passing Clouds, for our burlesque champion/stylist/glamourpuss mate Char's birthday last weekend, for a night of silly music and big grins all round. Oh, and, as it was promoted by 'Badgerfest', most people were dressed up as woodland animals. Hurrah! Andy and I did our best with a limited dressing-up box palate and went all birdy - in more impressive efforts from other punters, we boogied amongst glittery frogs, fishnetted badgers, onesied squirrels, and terrifying Donnie Darko-esque rabbits. The first band was a classic Passing Clouds outfit: the sextet Sea of Mirth, appearing to comprise 18th-century pirates, who banged out a set of funk/stomp/ska/sailorfolk-tinged music that I can only class as shantycore. They had a song about a wrestling match with a crustacean, in which the hulking melodica player (looking very easily like an extra from 'Pirates of the Caribbean') dived offstage to tussle with a small man dressed in a massive lobster costume. Brilliant!

Alas, I had to get home a bit early due to my morning appointment as occasional pop hymn choirmistress at The School of Life's Sunday Sermon. This weekend, it featured writer Jon Ronson discussing his latest research subject, humiliation, and recounting delightful stories of the familial and human minutiae of life in his slightly giggly, wetly witty style. I leapt up, with Matt Dibble as trusty keys man, to lead the sold-out congregation of Conway Hall in singing Britney Spears' 'Oops I Did It Again' and Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain', before limping home to Brockwell Park to snooze and cold-swim in recovery for lack of sleep. I've STILL GOT IT.

THIS week saw me and DOLLYman bassist Lucy Mulgan head up to the Beeb's Salford headquarters to record for BBC Radio 3's 'word cabaret' show The Verb, as fronted by Ian McMillan, the poet whose radio voice is as claggy and scrumptious as Yorkshire pudding. The Verb had asked me to write a new You Are Wolf song for their bee-themed show, so I drew upon a few black-and-gold nuggets of beelore for a wee song that included drunken vocal buzzing and double bass 'prepared' with tissue paper. I was also interviewed a bit, got to listen to wonderful poet/beekeper Sean Borrodale and poet Jo Shapcott, and performed my song 'Cuckoo' at the end too. Ian fed us apples and honeycake (with almondy bees atop it) and told me about Barnsley FC's Greekly dramatic end of the season. Happily, my 'honeybee' song was also chosen to be on Radio 4's Pick of the Week, so a double radio whammy for me this week! You can hear it for the next week here on The Verb and here on Radio 4 (at 33 mins).

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

New York City, YEAH!

Level of conviction in own genius: 6
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: None
Reading / Watching: Brilliant book on New York's essential five years of genre-making music, 'Love Goes To Buildings On Fire' by Rolling Stone writer Will Hermes / Back in Blightly, getting our Brooklyn fix with the second season of 'Girls'
Hair Day: Under a hoodie. Best kept out of sight.

I've had a wondrously fulsome two weeks flitting about North American cities - initially solo while Andy worked his book publisher chops. It was a whistle-stop tour to Toronto, home of my early childhood (I was there ages 3-5), and thus I had a proper heart-pang when I saw the CN Tower spike perforating the wide blue sky. Rather than a suburban house on Bayview Avenue, this time we stayed in the uber-cool Drake Hotel. I didn't have time to investigate much of the town as all-new, grown-up Kerry, but Queen Street West was one long hipsterdream of vintage shops, boutiques and places selling raw carrot cake with maple syrup cream cheese icing and mushroom lattes. YES! The waterside was lovely, and I came across my ideal exhibition at Powerplant: Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop And Aboriginal Culture -  contemporary responses to Native Canadian traditions/mythology, featuring custom-made bikes, light installations, massive murals, and THIS very cool Cree/English/video/speech/song piece (intro only here):

To a week and half of neck-craning, eating and gig-going in New York! I made a concerted effort NOT to do all the obvious sights, but to absorb the city through a lot of street-pounding, and general hanging out. Here are some highlights:

Ginger potato hash at haute-Indian Devi with Andy's lovely workpals; crunch-and-melt falafel from a stall in Central Park, where we talked to the English football-obsessed server; divine Ukranian pierogi, borscht the colour of an East European vampire-bite and stuffed cabbage at my favourite East Village hang out, Veselka's; decaf lattes by Brooklyn Roasting Company, fresh from the grinder in Dumbo, home of Girls actress/writer/director/producer all-round heroine Lena Dunham!; polenta, poached eggs and home fries for brunch at Olea's in Fort Greene; a garlic wurst on rye which stared me down at Katz' Deli (Harry, Sally, etc).

We happily saw that Oli, who we'd met playing with Laura J Martin in Oxford last week, was in town with his main band, indie-folksters Stornoway; he invited us to their secret rooftop gig in the McKittrick Hotel, abandoned in the 1940s and recently opened up by Punchdrunk Theatre. We caught James Blake at Terminal 5 in the mid-West Side - he was pretty cool, some nice rumbly bass, but I felt it was a bit samey... I crammed in four bands at the Mercury Lounge: the three gorgeously dewy girls of Paper Bird (bluegrass harmony/pop/folk), who deserve to be Mumford-famous; the slightly disappointing, given her comparisons to Joanna Newsom and Sufjan Stevens, Dana Falconberry; Empress Of, talked up as the new Grimes, mixing power-pop balladry a la early Madonna, ribcage-splintering bass and ebullient electro; and the silly Doldrums, who stoked initial excitement by using only a mic and a suitcase full of gizmos, but ruined it all with crap songs delivered in a needlingly whiny voice. We also caught a night at the Glasslands Gallery in Brooklyn, featuring some indie-doom from Creep, wonky-pop with a Frank Zappa-meets-Jarvis Cocker frontman from The Flinstones, and yowly gloom-electro from Exitmusic, headed up by the actress who plays Angela Darmody in Boardwalk Empire. Finally, I played my own teeny You Are Wolf gig in Williamsburg's Goodbye Blue Monday!
New York gives off a damn good indie bookish vibe, and, partly for Andy's work, we scouted many a fashionably literary temple, and dreamed ourselves around the tomes. Housingworks was the best; we went to a brilliant event called 'Ask Roulette', in which two people are divided by a screen. One asks the other a question about themselves. The other answers, and then gets to ask a new person, picked out of a hat, their own question. I got picked, got my hair compared to Grace Jones', and ended up telling 30 people how terrified I was of cows and once got stampeded by them. It's a brilliant wheeze - wordy, human, and witty. We want to do our own London version!

The Highline, of course; around the gorgeous Prospect Park on a hot sunny day; and an epic hike from Brooklyn's Greenpoint past the Brooklyn Navy Yard, through Dumbo, over Brooklyn Bridge, through Downtown to the West Village. I also popped to Washington D.C. to see my old university friend Stu, and tramped enthusiastically through the whole city catching the sights.

At least in Manhattan, and in complete contrast to London, many people really want to talk. They got the jaw-jaw good there.

On the subway, a man asked to take a photo of my Beastie Boys t-shirt - he said that they were his favourite band, and we chatted about MCA. He asked what I was listening to, predicting Pantera; he was a little disappointed when I let him hear my headphone, and said that Roy Ayres was far too mellow for him. A waiter in a Queens diner told me it seemed like yesterday that it was 1994 and he was dancing to the 'Sabotage' video. A guy who ran a bike shop said the Beasties were around when 'MTV was MTV, y'know?" We went to MCA Day in Brooklyn, which celebrated the life of Adam Yauch, who died a year ago. Check the kids' tribute gallery!
I played chess in Washington Square with one of the hustlers, retired 60 year-old Joe, who persuaded me to play two games with him, one without his queen. He still won $10 out of me. He was a charmer, who sat there every sunny day, or else went and watched action movies, and told me my husband must be a dream to have married me...
At the Mercury Lounge, I found myself earwigging next to a guy who performs with the Wainwrights at their annual Christmas show, who was chatting to country/folk star Anais Mitchell, who it was hilarious to hear say that her current project was singing British ballads that are all 'a bit too long'. Ha ha!

A guy in the lift up to the rooftop at the McKittrick's compared hair product notes with me, and said he wouldn't normally be seen DEAD in the Meatpacking District (it was OVER a decade ago), but that it was for a friend...

The ethereally calm St Paul's Chapel, next to Ground Zero, which has become a monument to the memory of the victims of 9/11; being invited in to a Raw Chocolate Party in Downtown; Andy busted into an art fair full of chained concrete babies and sheep with telephones for heads; the gloriously calm and unkempt community garden of the Sara Roosevelt Park; the amazing Pratt Sculpture Park in Brooklyn.

I'm pretty happy to be back in London, though this cold is just outrageously affronting. The city feels like the shorter, wiser, wittier, friendlier older brother to Manhattan's tall, gym-buffed younger sibling. I'm looking forward to getting stuck into my second chamber opera of the year - this time a wild-swimming themed affair to open the Tete a Tete Festival in August! MaJiKer has also being whizzing through the mixing of my You Are Wolf debut album, woo hoo!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sunken Gardens, Dalston Power Lunches And Wonky Folk

Level of conviction in own genius: 6.5
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 3
Watching / Listening: ‘The Master’ on my flight to Toronto / Emily Portman’s back catalogue
Hair Day: The Most Expensive Haircut I Have Ever Had (like Emeli Sande but without the twin-sets and achingly dull songs); firmly considering having zig zag lines etched into the sides by a Brixton barber!

I’m a bit late with getting my oar in on the ENO’s much-trumpeted, look-at-us-we’re-down-with-da-yoot 3-D opera Sunken Garden at the Barbican; but I’m picking up my paddle anyway, to add to the smokin’ ‘was it good? Or was it SHIT?’ online debate, with the Telegraph/Guardian/Standard/Indie etc firmly crossing their arms in the former camp, and Norman LeBrecht looking a bit billy-no-mates in the latter. Sarah-juicette and I happily got bumped up to some good seats, upon which to take in the undisputedly impressive technical heft of the various screens and the synchronisation of filmed singers with live orchestra and vocalists. I do think there could be a lot of fun to be had with 3-D film in theatre, but fun was to be heard slamming the door and skipping off, laughing maniacally, to some club in Clerkenwell to pump its fist for four hours while WE sat, increasingly baffled and squirming slightly.
 As Mark Kermode is extremely wont to rail, 3-D is not a marker of quality, but instead too often thrown in desperately to add gloss to a soulless flibbertigibbet of a movie in which a) story b) writing and c) characters are found lacking. For every Cave of Forgotten Dreams, there are plentiful Transformers 3. Whilst Sunken Garden’s use of film, and in the second half, 3-D film, WAS integral to the story (documentary filmmaker gets increasingly drawn into his research about a missing guy, who has in fact been trapped in a verdant virtual purgatory by a crazy woman), I couldn’t help but hear Kermode shrieking like a disapproving great-aunt in the background. For this opera had a pretty dreadful story, chased down with weak characters and fist-in-mouth dialogue. Honestly, no-one should EVER have to hear the phrases ‘I am the head of a charitable arts foundation’ or ‘it’s an arthouse documentary’ sung operatically in slightly angular phrases. David Mitchell has not made an auspicious start in the world of libretto-writing, and Michel Van Der Aa’s music was mostly uninteresting vocal lines and swampy orchestral writing which had so many dramatic peaks that when the biggest revelations happened, they were rendered musical damp squibs. It was hard to make out the revelatory details anyway, as they were being histrionically wailed by two sopranos at pitches far too high to get the words out, and mostly whilst one did some madly hammy hand-thrashes to splash 3-D droplets towards the audience, and the other writhed around wrestling a long bit of apparently threatening material in unconvincing fashion (Van der Aa also directed). Having gone in rooting for it, we emerged underwhelmed and slightly embarrassed, and found many friends and acquaintances equally irked. Let’s hope the next big things do a little better…
 Two days later, Andy and I were in Mangal 2, rubbing shoulders and plates of tzadziki with various Beeb writers, conductors (André de Ridder, who’d waded his best through Sunken Garden) and BBC Radio 3 presenters (Sara Mohr-Pietsch, with him), which made up for the fact that we (gasp!) didn’t see Gilbert and George (they were reportedly in later. PHEW). We then headed to Dalston’s latest bottled-beer-and-dank-basement-dive called Power Lunches (of course!); it turned out to be a highly illustrious and extremely select audience, including André, Sara and Radio 3 producer Peter Meanwell, who had rocked up to see a bunch of Manchester music students, including young composer Tom Rose, put on their second night celebrating their new record label Slip Discs (nice). Olly Coates played a stunning solo ‘cello set as we sat on the concrete floor (Kagel, Britten, Squarepusher), followed by a fab electric guitar and laptop/drums duo with Leo Abrahams (who has the most amazing CV as a producer and session musician, from Brian Eno to Imogen Heap to Grace Jones), and Larry Goves did some live electronica alongside Olly. It was fun, and Very Dalston.
I had a smashing You Are Wolf gig in Oxford this weekend, at The Cellar’s Irregular Folk night. Vez, the promoter, looked after us beautifully (tea, cake, general super-niceness) the sound (by Geezer – that was his name!!), for once, was really excellent, meaning Andy and I could really respond to each other, and the crowd was fulsome and full of cheer. Headlining was the very wondrous Laura J Martin, a Scouse lass wielding the same Boss RC-50 loop station, a flute (she did some mean jazz-spitting and singing into it), a voice that really was like Kate Bush’s (rather than just a lazy reference point) in its mixture of ethereal gossamery tones and sudden, more strident edge, plus some mandolin and keyboard. She was occasionally accompanied by bassist Ollie from Oxford mega-folkpopsters Stornoway, and did brilliant fawn-like dancing to quirky beats that evoked Greek ancients having a rave. Check her out!
Creative news: juice have now recorded their final second album session, tackling Dai Fujikura’s 2.5-minute beast of a piece, and Anna-juicette’s marvellously dislocated Mariah Carey cover. The You Are Wolf sessions are now fully recorded, and beginning to be mixed by MaJiKer, who sends me rough cuts over email from Paris. And Woodwose, my community chamber opera, is finished! Hurrah. I am rewarding myself by hot-tailing it to New York via Toronto and Washington D.C.: full report to come!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Terror-Rave, Soundwalking and Leek Tartlets

Level of conviction in own genius: 6.9
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 5, if making instrumental parts from a score counts, urgh
Reading: Sped through the wonderful 'Londoners' by Craig Taylor, a birthday book from Andy; now weeping hopelessly at every other page of Vera Brittain's amazing 'Testament of Youth', 80 years old this year.
Hair Day: Needs Serious Cutting Soon

As is my wont, I packed in a few cultural things into my birthday last week. I was in Cambridge the night before to collect my joint winnings (along with fellow Yorkie and all-round fab lass Stef Conner) from the Incorporated Society of Musicians' inaugural choral prize, hurrah! The Queens' College Chapel Choir sang my SATB version of the trad. song (which I do as a You Are Wolf number) 'All Things Are Quite Silent' in a very pure, super-perfect version, as well as singing Stef's and other winner, talented whippersnapper composer Toby Young. We were then ushered into the ostentatiously Arts and Crafts-y Queens' College Hall for a posh meal, complete with slightly weird, archaic graces in Latin and toasts to the Queen and that sort of thing. The Oxbridge ways seem pretty damned sniggersome to the likes of progressive -'60s-university-going husband and I, and even more so as I'm reading about Vera Brittain's (see above) breathless recounting of her debut at Oxford in 1914, complete with through-the-night cocoa parties with equally lofty, serious fellow studentettes. Still, it was nice to chat to Toby and also to meet gregarious, uber-gifted clarinettist/composer and voracious reader Mark Simpson over tenderised beef and leek tartlets...

It was back to Queens' for a lunchtime concert from Mark, Melvyn Tan, Guy Johnston and Jack Liebeck; there was no better day than my birthday for my first live performance (shocker!) of one of my favourite pieces of classical music, Messaien's 'Quartet For The End of Time'. It's so masterfully and transparently constructed and with such craft: chamber music as filigree jewellery. The final movement - though the 'cello and piano is my favourite - with its ever-soaring violin line, was enough to make me fall apart. After a brief schlepp about Cambridge, it was back to the safe heartlands of Dalston for a hang-out in a new tea shop, dinner at Mangal II with friends (and Gilbert and George, naturally), and we mopped it all up with some punishing terror-rave at Cafe Oto from the likes of Birthday: BAM!

It's been a packed concert-going schedule: the next night we went to Wigmore Hall to support Team GB, otherwise known as seeing some of the George Benjamin celebrations, with a concert version of his first, chamber, opera, 'Into the Little Hill', which was pretty marvellous, though even seated right at the front below the bellowing/shrieking soloists I still thought that the words could have had more space. The highlight for me though was David Sawer's 'Rumpelstiltskin' suite, which whilst not exactly ground-breaking in soundworld, was a brilliantly-orchestrated, deeply delightful affair.

This week, juice were busy in Sussex, recording and filming a new music-film piece for composer Paul Robinson, and we were filmed by a chap who is usually to be found shooting the likes of 'Frankenweenie' and 'Fantastic Mr Fox'. We also did initial workshops for four composers as part of the Sound and Music 'Embedded' scheme, trying out loops, hockets, vocal white noise and medieval erotic letter-settings, and discussing being wheeled around in shopping trolleys to represent Jupiter's orbiting moons. This is quite, quite normal for juice...
Juicette Anna was also part of Brit composer and hair arch-rival Tansy Davies' UBS Eclectica series retrospective at LSO St Luke's, singing her song cycle 'Troubaritz' with our percussionist/composer buddy Damien Harron. The night was packed full of halting riffs and broad genre references - the highlights being violinist Aisha Orazbeyeva's solo scratchy, glitchy piece, influenced by the Bach partita that preceded it, and the closer, 'Neon', complete with Tansy standing up to piledrive in a bit of electric guitar. It was quite a sceney night, and good to mingle with new musicky types in the pub afterwards.

Thank god for the sun today! I was not so lucky at The School of Life recently, when running my first workshop, in the art of listening and soundwalking. We'd planned for it to be April so that the birds would be tweeting merrily, the zephyrs balmy, etc; instead we got air so cold it practically scalped you, and a sound-palate of cars and people shivering. STILL, a successful night was had by all, and I got the class of clever adults thinking about their sonic environment and composing soundwalks, inspired by the likes of my walk-art hero Richard Long, John Cage, Chris Watson and many more. The next one will be in sunnier climes!

Lots of radio recently! I went into the Resonance FM offices in Borough to record a little session for Sam Lee's Nest Collective Hour (also to be found on Folk Radio); it's a very marvellous, old/new/no-folk show, and a pleasure to be on, though frankly my performance was a mitigated disaster of loop station confusion and general calamity, urgh! STILL, even James Blake accidentally left a sliver of yelpy loud loop in his recent 6Music session, so the loop station gremlins get about a bit. Curses upon them! It was also rather lovely to turn on Jazz on 3 and find myself singing on it - a second album track from Metamorphic opened the show, yay!