Cocos residency and Until the Bird of the Soul Takes Flight from the Cage of the Body to Consort with the Nightingales in the Everlasting Garden
24th April 2014
The second woodland gig of the year, and another success. Most of Cocos Lovers had been up in the woods for three days, working on material for their fourth album, just back from their first Irish tour. Lead guitarist Dave wasn't able to participate, having to catch up with admin for The Lighthouse (the excellent new venue in their hometown of Deal which his mum opened late last year), and Nicola was coming and going, but there was a core of four or five working away on some really interestingly spacey, dreamy songs — quite unlike anything they've done before, yet still undeniably Cocos songs. They're gently breaking out of the region of musical territory they've been comfortably inhabiting for a few years now. My role (as with the Arlet residency last summer) was to prepare food, stay on top of water, firewood, etc., try to cultivate a good vibe, and make sure everyone had everything they needed. I've discovered that hosting, catering and facilitating creative activity for people just makes me really happy, especially such good-natured people as these.
One evening, while I was listening to them working on a song called "Bitterness Gone", Billy suggested I go and get my saz. I protested that there was enough going on musically, they didn't need a saz involved (assuming they were just being nice and trying to involve me), but they insisted, so I did. And it really seemed to work. I lost myself in the song, forgot where I was for a moment, then it was a feeling of "I know this music, I know my way around this environment". It felt quite effortless. We tried a few other songs together until I was nodding off, but it was very gratifying to be involved. I had joined them onstage a couple of times in the early days, strumming along with "Cracks and Boulders" at a couple of festival gigs, but they've since moved up to another level and I'd never have thought of being involved musically in what they do these days.
The evening of the gig was another still, clear one, fortunately, and we got a nicely full amphitheatre as an audience. Until the Bird... are a trio involving Thom from Arlet playing euphonium, trombone and accordion, a Lithuanian violinist called Ruta (studying contemporary classical compostion in London I think) and a singer-songwriter-poet-guitarist called Dave. Introducing them, I managed to remember their full name, choosing to point out its unusual status, not for being especially long, but for beginning with a preposition — I challenged the audience to come up with three other band names beginning with prepositions to win a free bottle of beer, and as expected, no one succeeded (Sarah F's new housemate Lucy came up with INXS, Underworld and Outkast, but none of those technically count)... I've since discovered a "joke genre" has been coined: prepositioncore!!
I'd heard some UTB... songs online, and quite liked them, appreciating the poetry of the lyrics and the gracefulness of the arrangments. But somehow, meeting Dave, seeing them live, it all made more sense. Will from Cocos concurred — in fact the whole Cocos contingent found them "shockingly good" and original in their arrangements and performance. As well as the band name referencing nightingales, their first single was called "Nightingales", so before they played it, I intervened for a minute so everyone could be quiet and listen carefully to hear the nightingales singing in the nearby abandoned pear orchard (over from the Continent a bit earlier than usual this year). Typically, their singing was rather minimal during that minute (I could hear a couple of far off warbles and trills, but only because I knew what to listen for), but it was good to at least acknowledge their presence. In introducing the song, Dave mentioned that it was partly inspired by Beatrice Harrison's outdoor cello-and-nightingales performances while WWII bombers droned overhead — I was mildly obsessed with her a few years back, so that was a pleasant surprise!
The last time they'd played in Canterbury was a support set for Zoo For You at Casey's a few years back, battling against a very noisy pub. This was something of a disaster and Dave swore never to return. But I expect he's glad that he did.
Cocos Lovers that evening were fully unplugged, as Billy had to go back to Deal for work, so it was just Will (guitar and vocals), Natasha (violin, musical saw and vocals), Phil (guitar, mandolin, banjo and vocals) and Stewart (drums and tabla). Without the bass (which is largely what gets the festival crowds dancing) and Nicola and Dave's virtuosic solo playing, the band were stripped down to their core of "musical togetherness". The vocal harmonies and delicate instrumental interplay shone fully without the ear (or feet) being taken off in the usual directions. It would have been great to have a five-, six- or seven-piece version of the band, but there was something particularly precious about this lineup in this setting, with no electricity involved, just really gentle, flowing, heartfelt music. Stewart's tabla playing was a revelation to me, and when they played "Bitterness Gone" with the tabla plus Natasha on saw, they called me up to join them (I had my saz tuned and ready in case, as the possibility had been mentioned in passing the night before, but didn't really expect it to happen). The song's in B-flat, not the best key for me, and I hit a couple of bum notes, but mostly it came out quite well, I thought. I was certainly a lot more relaxed flowing along with a group of friends than I had been playing solo at that folk night some days earlier!
The full set list:
- "You Will Love Again" (touchingly written for a close friend of the band in Deal who recently lost her husband — banjo and saw featuring heavily)
- "The Land Where No One Dies" (inspired by the Italo Calvino short story of the same name — listening back to the recording now, the saw in the intro sounds indistinguishable from a theremin, gracefully played and far from the hillybilly gimmickry sometimes associated with this found instrument...and a nice little groove to this tune)
- "Blackened Shores" (an older one from Elephant Lands — they weren't going to do the usual upbeat ending with this lineup but decided to at the last second)
- "Burning Trees"[?](a new song about a WWI soldier losing his religious faith, with Stewart on tabla, a bit too close to the fire, dripping sweat)
- "Bricks and Mortar" (as heard at that gig at The Parrot, beautiful wordless vocals from Natasha)
- "Dead in the Water" (from Johannes, not played live for years — they started it a capella and it built up into something euphoric with a rousing singalong for the reprise...Nicola's flute was missed, but there was a nice use of violin plucking by Natasha that filled in the necessary spaces)
- "Bitterness Gone" (with me on saz)
- "Moonlit Sky" (first encore — Thom H couldn't be persuaded to join on trombone, unfortunately, but still, it's hard to tire of this, almost certainly their most frequently played song)
- "Drowning in a Sea of Gold"[?] (another new one this, I've heard it once or twice with the full band, but hearing it like this was something else — instant classic!)