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!

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