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.