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!

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