Monday, April 16, 2012

live music back(b)log

Monday 2nd April, Lapis Lazuli at The Black Griffin, Canterbury An amazingly clean sound for a large band (with a couple of multi-instrumentalists), they had the place packed out and rocking to a 2.5 hour set (was it really that long?) of intricate twisty-turning genre-defying musical journeying. The new tango number was a treat to hear. They were set to be recording their entire repertoire (a properly 'prog' triple CD set!) shortly thereafter, perhaps that's already happened (Neil has the equipment and the knowledge to do this at their bungalow HQ on the Old Dover Road). Dan, the relatively new guitarist, has learned the set inside-out, played flawless throughout and brought some great guitar textures in the mix. But that night I found myself most enjoying the sections where they brought things right down and there were just, say, Dave's bamboo flute, Phil's accordion, guitar washes and Adam playing cymbals...they do that stuff very well indeed and hopefully will explore that quieter end of things more (as much as I love to hear them rocking out).

Wednesday 4th April, Spiro at The Magpie's Nest, the monthly "new folk/old folk/no folk" club upstairs at The Old Queen's Head in Islington. A bit of a reunion of old musial friends (Joel, Jo, Jim, Andy Bard), an extraordinary, sustained outpouring of musical joy from the band, an upward helix of energy in the space between band and audience, the sense of an almost tangible goodness being added to the Universe via four mutually attuned nervous systems interfacing with acoustic instruments. Something happened which I've only ever felt at one other concert (that was Orchestra Baobab) — the music sort of prising open my heart chakra, almost a physiological thing going on, really quite profoundly moving.

I saw Jane the other day, at Donga Sam's wedding (her partner Mike was playing bagpipes alongside his employer, Jon Swaine, when Sam made her entrance at Wells Town Hall), and apparently the Islington gig was an extraordinary one for them too, the highlight of their two week tour promoting Kaleidophonica.

Here's two-and-a-half minutes of that gig:

Thom from Zoo For You and Arlet (who acknowledge Spiro as their primary influence) was up there too. We got talking between sets and I was amazed to find out that his PhD on eco-poetics is being supervised by Jonathan Bate who wrote The Song of the Earth, a book I read with Vicky seven or eight years ago, one which made quite an impression on us both. Oh, and hurdy-gurdy hero Cliff Stapleton opened the evening with a surprisingly avant-garde solo set, mixing in weird improv sections with some recognisable tunes, including his "Dream Waltz".

Thanks to the relatively new high speed train from St. Pancras, it's now possible to go to gigs in London and get the last train back to Canterbury without missing anything or rushing. One of my last attempts at seeing a gig in London involved having to leave in the middle of the second song of a set by Matt Valentine and Erika Elder's Golden Road. Bummer. But no more.

24 February 2012, Rae and The Boot Lagoon at The Farmhouse, Canterbury Rae were magnificent, played several new songs, very much in the direction I've been hoping they'd go in since recording Era. This was the first time I'd seen them with Lorenzo (the sax player) present, the previous two times Owen from Zoo and Raven from Syd Arthur were standing in. His playing was a lot wilder and freer than Era had led me to expect, so that added to my growing enthusiasm for this crew. Leonie's singing continues to leave everyone stunned (Miriam, who's an extremely capable jazz vocalist, was standing at the front looking awestruck). The Boot then had the proactive Canterbury youth culture raving in 7's and 11's, quite something to behold, the mass movement in the audience. It's not the beard-stroking nerdy prog crowd that they attract — this kind of ambitious approach to writing and playing has a completely different meaning to their group of peers, and people come out to's as physical as it is cerebral, so quite an accomplishment on their part for bridging that gap. They even managed to slip a Rae tune into their set (not sure which one it was) and make it sound like one of their own.

9th March 2012, Leonie Evans and Nuru Kane at St. Mary's Church, Sandwich Another wondr'ous event gifted to the people of East Kent by via tireless efforts of the Smugglers collective. Nuru Kane had a four-piece band, all switching instruments a lot — a Morrocan mostly playing percussion, another African who played kora, percussion, gimbri, a French electric guitarist who also played an African stringed thing I didn't recognise and Nuru himself playing acoustic guitar and gimbri. Once the others had settled in on stage, he came out in Sun Ra/Lee Perry/George Clinton mode, huge ridiculous shades and a very long knitted orange pixie/festival hat tied up in a bundle on is head. They've got a pan-African sound, elements of Gnawa percussion, what sounded to me like Malian and Zimbabwean music, all wrapped up in Nuru K's particular groove. I'm sure a bit of that global reggae vibe (the Bob-Marley-playing-wherever-you-go-on-the-planet effect) has slipped in there too. At one point all four players were standing next to each other in a line for a minute or two, beaming out at us while effortlessly producing a super-tight, propulsive, minimal groove that made me think of a kind of African Kraftwerk (Trans-Africa Express?) — amazing! St. Mary's is an amazing old, very large, church space, hasn't even been deconsecrated, but usually used as an arts centre. The sound in there is OK, and a load of us dancing in a peaceful and ecstatic communion to this beautiful earthy-yet-spiritual music felt like exactly what should be going on in there. A lot of St. Mary's churches around Britain were built on top of sacred sites dedicated to the Great Mother Goddess, so big respect to Smugglers for their particular extension of local culture which is allowing such things to happen in an inclusive, unthreatening, unproblematic way.

Poggy and James who were once part of Cocos Lovers (now the basis of The Humble Oats) got invited up on stage to add some vocals, flute and congas as things loosened up towards the end of the night.

Here's Nuru Kane at the Astor in Deal a year earlier, same orange pixie hat, smaller band...

...and here's Leonie a couple of days later (15/03/12) at a lower-key Smugglers event in Westgate-on-Sea, backed up by the Hatton brothers (Dave who's in Cocos and James who used to be), singing a new one called "Foreign Lands" which she played with Rae at the Farmhouse (similarly getting us to sing the melodic line repeatedly throughout)...

Thursday 29th March, 2012, Spock at The Veg Box Cafe Spock are the basically the current line-up of the-quartet but with Matt Wright on laptop and turntable rather than Jack Hues on guitar. So that's Mark Holub on drums and Liran Donin on bass (the rhythm section from Led Bib (!)), and Sam Bailey on piano, plus Robert Stillman guesting on tenor sax — a formidable band. And this is another free Free Range event up at the cafe on a Thursday evening. Attendances have been pretty good, but not always to capacity, which I find hard to believe considering the current appetite for challenging and unusual music in Canterbury these days.

The week after was a Dada film and poetry evening with Andy Birtwhistle's spirited readings of nonsensical(?) tone poems by Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara, as well as Sam and Robert Stillman improvising to films by Duchamp and others. There was one particularly discomforting post-Dada film made in the 1950s which had an equally tense, claustrophobic soundtrack, but Sam played along with that too, to tremendous effect.

Friday 30th March, 2012, Cocos Lovers at The Farmhouse, Canterbury I arrived late and so missed sets by Will Varley and Famous James and the Monsters.  Cocos were up against a pretty dreadful PA situation with feedback, vocal mics repeatedly cutting out (all vocals lost for most of one song)...and yet they stayed remarkably calm and cheerful throughout.  It was a boisterous Saturday night crowd, the most striking example yet of a dedicated local following.  A sensitive new percussionist (Hans?) has brought the lineup back to seven — this was his first or second gig with them, I think, but already very much attuned to the sound.  They tried a couple of gentler new songs which relied heavily on vocal harmonies, but these were a bit lost in the noisy, sweaty atmosphere.  The highlight was Billy swapping his bass for Will's guitar singing his song "Barcelona" like a man possessed, his glasses even flying off his face at the peak of the song.

Saturday 7th April, Tinariwen at Colston Hall, Bristol Despite what everyone expected, they took the seats up for this one so Melski and I were very happy when we arrived to see that. Tinariwen were a five-piece that night. They announced something in French at the end, the general upshot of which seemed to be that one or more band members were unable to be present because of immigration related situations. But there was no sense whatsoever that anything was missing. Two guitars (both electric in most cases, sometimes one acoustic), a bass (played with gusto!) and a djembe/calabash player, plus five voices (one singer was also dancing thoughout, presumably in traditional Tuareg style) produced a huge sound, carried on mighty grooves (some of which the Bristol crowd found easier to dance to than others), an extremely enthusiastic audience. Alice, a Sondryfolk artist-in-residence I worked with recently, spotted me from across the hall, joined us for some rather silly dancing (Melsk was in particularly silly and irreverent mood).

The night before was full moon, found me around a rather smoky fire with Mel and friends in her garden in Dursley. She was singing raunchy blues and frivolous crooney stuff — that's the mood she's in at the moment. My saz struggled to stay in tune, but after a bit too much wine it didn't matter particularly...we got into some folkdance tunes like "Ambee Dagez" on saz and chalumeau, then the old folk songs ("Lovely Joan", "The Blacksmith", "Katie Cruel", "Spancil Hill", "She Moved Through the Fayre"), with just the saz and Mel singing, until the moon finally came out from behind the clouds.

Saturday 14th April, Dragsonsfly played at aformentioned Sam and Laurie's wedding reception (on the side of beautiful, overlooked Chalice Hill) the same line-up they've had for a while, augmented by Archie, the teenage son of Duncan the hurdy-gurdy and flute player. He was playing melodion and a little bit of guitar — turns out that he and two teenage friends recently won some BBC Radio Folk award, they're all an inter-generational Dragonsfly playing for an intergenerational French-and-Breton dance crowd. Afterwards, Carl the DJ played a set of gypsy-jazz-inflected electronica, gradually giving way to the tried-and-tested disco and Motown classics. Stef, Penni, Stevie, Sunny, Jim, Joel, Jonno and others got an acoustic dance set together after that, loud enough not to need a slightly innebriated saz player, so I enjoyed that from a distance, along with a number of fascinating late-night conversations with old friends and strangers. The next day a lot of us reconvened at Jonno's house near Baltonsborough for a jam and feast of wedding leftovers before I got whisked away to a train back to Kent.


Anonymous billy bunkum said...

spiro review = you hippy

9:53 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home