Saturday, June 23, 2012

"music in its purest form"

Another rather special birthday, musically. I somehow managed to arrange for Liam and Raven (half of the mighty Syd Arthur), the local 'chamber folk' collective Arlet and my old friend Stella Homewood to play in an intimate woodland setting the evening before, for an audience of about fifty, with a big central firepit and a roof over both audience and musicians. This was in the Canterbury area, but I'm not going to say more than that, we're keeping this one low-key... The seating space was based on the crude strawbale structure we put together for the Sondryfolk jamboree, but better built (and covered!) this time:

Christine Finn addresses the fireside strawbale amphitheatre
artist, journalist and archaeologist Christine Finn addresses the fireside strawbale amphitheatre during last autumn's Sondryfolk event (photo by Ed Q)

Because I asked everyone to switch their phones off, very few photos and no(?) video exists of the event. That wasn't really my intention, but these days most people capture stuff via their phone. But we've got the memories (and a sound recording of most of the evening). Here's are a few photos from Andy Renshaw, and then a clip of Liam and Raven on the (sadly now defunct) Furthur Stage at LOTF a couple of summers ago, playing a Trilok Gurtu tune:

the strawbale seating (still partially covered by ugly white plastic tarp)

Raven, Joel, and mystery person in hat, having just arrived, in front of the covered 'stage'

Liam seemingly summoning fire from his fingertips!

They didn't play that one on the night, instead we got a set of haunting, fragile, intricate and deep songs with Liam playing some of the best acoustic guitar I've heard from him, backed up expertly by Raven on both violin and mandolin. Rave had to exercise incredible control with the violin due to the relative volumes of the instruments, but this wasn't a problem for him. They were seated on strawbales (as were the audience), completely tuned into each other, everyone listening, just the sound of a gentle wind in the trees, birds, etc. ameliorating the music. At my request, they played "Honest Land", a beautiful song that was considered for the debut Syd Arthur album On an On, but is now destined to end up on Liam's solo record which is currently in production, due out on Dawn Chorus before too long (you can hear the live recording of that one on the latest of my Canterbury Soundwaves podcasts). We also got versions of "Dorothy" and "Black Wave" from On and On, a few Liam songs I'd heard once or twice before, a few that were completely new to me, including the instant classic "Eyes of the Seer". Syd have been absorbing all the 60's/70's psych-folk along with all the Canterbury stuff, psych-prog, jazz-fusion, etc. that's more eveident in their electric sound, and it all came out that evening.

The rain started towards the end of their set and steadily got heavier, so Arlet, despite being warm and dry had a slighly harder time hearing each other properly than usual. Owen's still off in South America, so his flowing clarinet lines were replaced, quite effectively by a flute, played by Seth, who's better known around here as the drummer in Boot Lagoon (I think he considers the flute his first instrument). It wasn't the most precise set they've played (they started with a piece they'd only just started rehearsing, played from sheet music, and there were a few wobbles), but no one minded at all — the overall richness and warmth of their sound filled the woods and everyone's hearts with gladness... Here they are a little while ago (again with Seth depping for Owen) playing a newish tune they played that night, recorded on a boat in the Thames:

And finally, with the rain really coming down quite hard (and making quite a bit of noise), Stella decided to come and join the audience rather than sitting opposite the fire from them where she'd hardly have been heard. A few people had to leave after Arlet's set (it was late on a Sunday night), so there was space on the strawbale 'amphitheatre', as it's become known. She asked me to accompany on saz for a few songs, including this one (which she wrote a few years ago after hearing my story about going out to listen to nightingales in these very woods):

It was a daydream-come-true, creating a magickal outdoor space where people would naturally be inclined to listen to delicate music with their fullest attention. The next day I received a stream of messages expressing heartfelt appreciation for having put the occasion together. It felt like a convergence of all the good things going on in East Kent lately with representation from the Smugglers Collective, Furthur/Dawn Chorus, FreeRange, Le Rig, Sondryfolk (in the form of how the space was inspired — sadly, none of the SF crew could make it from Bristol), various bands and assorted other good people.

Will Greenham from Cocos Lovers, who turned up with a small entourage of Deal music lovers, later described the event as "music in its purest form" (no electricity, no equipment, no buying or selling or promoting or hyping, just humans in the woods making and listening to music), which is the perfect description, really.

Stella stuck around, getting her train back to Sussex the next day (my birthday), so we got to have a wander around Canterbury, checking out the intense virgin-and-child statue in the Cathedral Crypt, the wildflower meadow on the island in the Greyfriars Garden, the Veg Box Cafe, etc., running into a few people who'd been at the event the night before and were still glowing from it. I ran into a load more of them that night at The Black Griffin as Lapis Lazuli, fortuitously, were playing. Once again, they filled the place up (a Monday night) and rocked the place with their twisty-turny, sprawling-yet-precise, genre-defying sound. I had a great night, immersing myself in the loud electric exuberance of it (quite a constrast from the night before, but I like these contrasts). They've just recorded a pair of debut albums! They were going to do three ("well prog!" laughed guitar hero Neil) but ran out of funds. And soon off to play a Zappa festival in Germany — a well-deserved break after all the hard work they've been putting in.

wow, all six members of Lapis in a single photo — quite an achievement!

And a couple of days later, the festivities continued with Cocos Lovers, Famous James & the Monsters and Brixton's Melodica, Melody and Me at the Duke of Cumberland during a wonderful sunny evening in Whitstable. I cycled there, wandered along the beach for a bit, stunned by just how beautiful Whitstable Bay can be on a sunny evening...then I ran into someone who recognised me from the Sondryfolk Autumn Jamboree last October, who shared his bottle of wine with me before heading to the Duke. I met my old friend Nick Dent down there, who doesn't get out to gigs much these days (family stuff), and he was having a great time, pleasantly surprised by it all, comparing the vibe to some of the better stuff going on around here in the early 90's (when most present would have been young kids). All three bands were superb, helped by the fact that the sound in there is pretty good these days. Cocos' new songs "Baron of the Trees" and "Gold or Dust" are already sounding like old favourites. MM&M really need a quieter audience, but that didn't phase them. They use a charango quite a lot, have a South American influence as well as a (understated) South London reggae/dub one. I remember a beautiful, moving song about the murdered Chilean poet and activist Victor Jara (whose words Robert Wyatt and Tracey Thorn sang on Working Week's "Venceremos" back in the early 80s).


Post a Comment

<< Home