Chris Banks and Circulus in the woods
Wednesday 14th May 2014
I felt an unexplainable urge to squeeze in a fourth woodland concert before heading off to Wisconsin for a month, despite the logistics complicating my already complicated logistical existence. But now I know why. This one just had to happen! I was just the vehicle...
Jenny from Circulus had been in touch about wanting to revisit the woods, so I enquired about the band's schedule, and it turned out they had a medieval re-enactment-type-gig in Lewes in mid-May, so we came up with a date they could visit Canterbury. It turned out to be the night before I flew out.
Chris Banks played another spellbinding support set — instrumental acoustic guitar pieces — despite tripping up a little bit at the beginning (nerves, I think — he's not been gigging much lately and an audience that attentive can be quite daunting compared to one that's half listening, half socialising). He soon settled in and had us all off on a sonic journey involving a lot of non-Western modes and harmonics, a lot of space in his music.
Because I thought to set my Zoom H2 recorder to the highest bit rate WAV-quality recording, Chris's set nearly filled up the memory card, and as a result only the first ten minutes of Circulus' set got recorded. This is a shame, of course, but very much conforms to my decades of experience with recording, in that the best stuff never gets recorded, for some inexplicable, metaphysical reason. Even Coltrane said this. And in another sense, I'm glad, because any recording, even of the most brilliant and inspired playing, could only be a disappointment, failing to have recorded the overall atmosphere. So I have to rely on my (now rather vague) memories.
Unlike last year when Circulus played as just the duo of Michael Tyack and Jennifer Bennett, this time we got the quartet lineup, involving Moog genius Olli Parfit and his brother George on ultra-sensitive percussion (these two came down from London, whereas Michael and Jenny are now Glastonbury-based). So along with the arsenal of viola da gamba, crumhorn, cittern and lute, etc., we got a mini-Moog producing classically psychedelic squelchy analogue sounds, and played by a true master (Josh Magill recognised him from The Heliocentrics, the psychedelic band who backed up Ethiopique legend Mulatu Astatqe on at least one album and UK tour).
It was full moon (as with the last Circulus gig which fell on an equinox, I introduced them by way of a fireside astronomy mini-lecture), in fact the exact moment of fullness occured shortly before the music started. And another still clear night. The set was largely seasonally themed, starting with the ancient "Sumer Is Icumen In", then the May song from one-time Glastonbury residen's recently unearthed "Zodiac Rounds". I remember they played the "Spring" movement from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" (Jenny absolutely shredding on a period violin, Michael with huge smile providing chordal accompaniment via his cittern, George tapping gently on his percussion box and Olli tastefully shadowing the whole thing with his electronic wizardry). And more violin pyrotechnics from Jennifer (I found myself gasping, after one particularly jaw-dropping passage, "Jennifer Bennett!!", which really ought to replace the outdated British exclamation "Gordon Bennett!!"). Jenny sang a beautifully (and bravely) written song of Michael's about chemtrails, called "Aeroplanes" (an "entry level" song on the subject, as he explained).
There was at least one classic from the Circulus back catalogue, "Reality is Fantasy". I wish I could remember more detail, but I'm mostly left with a feeling of having been in the presence of (to use an overused word) magic. I felt genuine sorrow for the people who wanted to come to this one but couldn't.
After everyone had drifted away from the fire I tidied the place up, collected all the candle lanterns, signs, etc., washed up, had a wood-fired bath down by the stream, and had my rucksack ready to walk to the railway station for the 5:30a.m. train to Heathrow. As I said in my introduction, Circulus are the perfect antidote to mainstream American culture, so with the evenings events still fresh in my mind, I felt fully innoculated, walking through Chicago O'Hare Airport on my way to get a coach up to Madison.
I spent a night in Madison with Maggie and Ken, met Seth from Reptile Palace Orchestra, heard about RPO's Biff driving Robert Fripp's "Frippertronics" gear over the Rocky Mountains for the start of the new King Crimson lineup tour (Biff is RF's Stateside guitar tech and all that old gear now lives in his Madison basement!) and borrowed a book about Brian Eno called The Vertical Colour of Sound by Eric Tamm. No jamming, as I was completely spun out from jetlag and disrupted sleep patterns. I'll be back down there in less than a week to see Syd Arthur supporting Sean Lennon's GOASTT, so perhaps then. Up here in Central Wisconsin my saz has yet to see much action, but I did get out the other night to see an extraordinary duo, half of the White Trash Blues Revival — like a kind of junkyard White Stripes, with a trashcan drummer and someone playing wicked electrified slide on a two string instrument made of an old skateboard deck and a beer bottle!