Sunday, October 06, 2013

Leonie Evans and "Circulus Æquinoctialis"

secret woodland location near Canterbury
22nd September 2013

This was number 10 in our series of intimate acoustic woodland gigs, and happened to fall just a few hours after the autumn equinox (3:44pm that afternoon). I'd had a chance to chat with Michael Tyack from Circulus when I was compèring the main stage at Smugglers Festival a few weeks earlier, quickly described the setting, mentioned Dævid Allen having played there, and got him interested. We came up with a date shortly thereafter, and it just happened to be the equinox, which seemed ideal.

Leonie Evans jumped at the chance to come down from Bristol and play a support set, bringing her guitarist boyfriend Ben with her. She played a few of her originals (using low-volume electric guitar through a little busking amp): "Delightedly Slow", "Leda", "Black Widow", etc., then introduced us to Ben, with whom she does a bluesy duo thing called "Good Biscuits" (a tribute to Memphis Minnie who recorded a song with that title). They play her songs as well as stuff by Bessie Smith, Geeshie Wiley and other such pre-WWII blues gems.

For the last few numbers Leonie called Owen (from Arlet) up with his clarinet — a great idea, as he soloed expertly all over Memphis Minnie's "I Can't Afford to Lose My Man" and "Up Above My Head" by Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The latter was a real treat for me, as I'd been introduced to it by Pok via this video a few years ago...

...and then forgotten all about it, as can happen all too easily in these media-saturated postmodern times. They encored with a hilariously scandalous "Come on In" (originally by Washboard Sam, I believe). The set also included a celestial rendering of Irving Berlin's "Reaching for the Moon" which you can see them doing here (just try to imagine watching this across a big stack of burning birch logs in a Kentish woodland on a still night in late September):

While Circulus (just the acoustic duo of Michael and Jenny, as seen at Smugglers Festival) were getting set up, I delivered a short talk on what exactly the autumn equinox is, astronomically speaking. This involved using the fire to represent the Sun (naturally), and a plastic globe I'd found in a dusty old toolshed to represent the Earth. This was a novelty globe, seemingly based on a 17th century map of the world. The day before I'd become absorbed in looking at the pictures of sea monsters, camels, Zulu warriors, etc. included in relevant parts of the world, and happened to notice that the equator was labelled "CIRCVLVS ÆQUINOCITIALIS". This is just the Latin name for the equator — "the circle of the equator" — but remarkable to me, since if you take into account that it's "always the equinox" if you live on the equator, another way of looking at this is that at the moment of equinox, the whole world is effectively the equator. So that night we were all on the Circulus Æquinoctialis, which is how I introduced the duo. "Damme! We've finally been identified!" merrily exclaimed Michael, then commented on how the woods hadn't changed for a few hundred years (as if they'd stepped out of a time machine, which is rather how it seemed), then launched into some wonderful 17th century dance pieces for period violin and cittern.

Jennifer Bennett is a virtuosic early music instrumentalist, has played with numerous touring ensembles (in fact just that afternoon had been up in Holborn rehearsing some Biber with the Amphion Consort), and together with Michael's eccentric charm and encyclopæic knowledge of psychedelia they make quite a pairing! More dance tunes (with an almost Irish flavour) followed, then a flute-based rendition of what I think was Cliff Stapleton's "Dream Waltz" (which I used to play with the Dongas) while Miriam ran off to get some rosin for Jenny's bow. Michael switched over to lute for a while, including an extended intro to the Circulus classic "Power to the Pixies", played in an arrangement they'd apparently never tried before (you'd never have guessed), with Jenny on viola da gamba. She then played an extended instrumental while M entertained us with a hilarious (but entirely true) story of digging holes in Somerset, finding a mysterious hexagonal stone at a spot he'd dowsed on the line between Glastonbury Tor and Castle Cary (he had pictures on his phone to prove it!). He then explained that when he met Jenny she'd barely heard of The Beatles, let alone the Stones, having been immersed in the classical world and completely oblivious to popular culture...but now she's writing songs. She sang one of her own, based around a translation of the Lord's Prayer into Aramaic and then back into English (so as to be unrecognisable). They ended the set with another Circulus favourite, a beatiful interpretation of "My Body is Made of Sunlight". For an encore, after briefly reprising my astronomy talk, I suggested the beyond-wonderful "Within You is the Sun", which they happily delivered in a simple, graceful and uplifting manner, a perfect start to the dark half of the year.

Before we all drifted, awestruck, away from the fire late that night, dear friend Sarah from Ashford produced a bar of Fairtrade organic 85% dark chocolate, from where else but...Ecuador!

Jenny was literally weeping with joy the next morning, so moved was she by the whole experience and the beauty of the location. I think they'll be back next year : )

Jenny and Michael, probably at Glastonbury Assembly Rooms earlier this year


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