Rae in the woods
secret woodland location
Leonie had been in touch about a few days of woodland residency during a gap in an upcoming Rae tour (they've just recorded their second album Awoken, Indiegogo crowd-funded, and are re-invigorated as a result). They turned up a night early after a gig in Deal, their accomodation having fallen through, but I was more than happy to look after them. Rather than ending their stay with a woodland performance, they did things the other way around, starting by playing an utterly transporting set for a rapt amphitheatre crowd, and then hanging out in the woods for a few days rehearsing and working on songs.
Listening back, it was a relatively short set...but it appeared to cause time to stop in some curious way, and hence the whole concept of duration wasn't really relevant, as Libby picked up on and earnestly attempted to articulate later that night, clutching a bottle of wine, in an uncharacteristic lapse into metaphysics! They played an entirely new set of songs, which was welcome as the band gigged around here quite a lot a couple of years ago, but with limited material (in the sense that there wasn't that much of it). Leonie's guitar and Leon's bass needed minimal amplification, but everything else was entirely acoustic, so Leonie had to use all her vocal projection abilities and Lorenzo had to really hold back on the volume of his tenor sax... but it all worked exceptionally well. Some of the songs were familiar from Leonie's recent solo sets, but more fully developed of course.
There was a setlist scrawled on a piece of cardboard but I failed to hang onto it. The set was something like this:
- "New Day"
- (no idea of title, torch song vocals and a bit of a swing)
- "Foreign Lands" (I'd heard that one several times when Leonie was playing solo and got the audience to sing the repeating melodic line that underlies it)
- "My Plan" (brilliant!)
- "A Spy" [? perhaps it was "Espy", an old word, but one I can imagine them liking]
- (no idea of title, but based on a dream of Leonie' which involved gravity stopping and everyone jumping into different universes — perfect subject matter for a quartet whose music seems to defy gravity)
- "Song for Ben" [?] (the first line is "When I die..." and Leonie's boyfriend is blues guitarist Ben Sayers, so that could well be what she said)
- "Spline Motion" (that's what it sounded like she said, anyway)
They tried to stop at this point, but we weren't having it... someone tried to coax a joke out of Lorenzo in Italian (we had UTB...'s Ruta's bizarre/hilarious Lithuanian jokes via Thom a few nights earlier).
- (encore — no ideal of title, but Lorenzo let go and tore it up for a few second at the end)
Very restrained, in the best possible sense. There were the volume constraints which Lorenzo and Dan (the drummer) managed to work with so successfully. Also, the set length left everyone wanting more Rae, each song makes you want more of that song, the few solos make you want more, longer solos.
Generally, I find their music among the most difficult to describe (always a good thing). It's possible (but not particularly helpful) to link little fragments of songs to familiar musical territory, and it all sounds curiously familiar (certainly not "I've never heard anything like this in my life" material). In this regard, it's a bit like Syd Arthur's music, and could explain why the two bands "fell in love with each other" when they first met, as Leonie put it. The Dartington experience may have something to do with it — they've been forging their own path from the beginning.
Is that downstairs at The Louisiana in Bristol? Leon was instead playing his Höfner violin bass on this occasion.
It was yet another still, clear evening. Support came from Miriam and Dom, down from Battersea Arts Centre where they're in residency with Little Bulb Theatre, doing another run of their gypsy-jazz-infused Orpheus. They were immensely entertaining, even getting me to enjoy hearing jazz standards (really not my thing), but also throwing in some original Dom songs, a Billie Holiday blues and Tom Waits' "Dead and Lovely". A lot of those present know Miriam but had never heard her sing or play violin before, so I was glad to have been part of changing that! And I got to introduce them by telling the story of how I set out looking for nightingales to record with one midsummer evening seven years ago, and found Dom singing in a meadow by a stream, having just been on stage playing Puck (and now he's playing Orpheus!)
Rae played a properly amplified set at Bramleys the next night (part of their official touring schedule), a lot of the same faces in the audience, but also a lot of background chatter from the bar which seemed more annoying than usual — partly because of the delicate dynamics and quiet sections in Rae songs, but also because of the contrast with the hear-a-pin-drop attentiveness of the previous night.
I got to spend the next couple of days looking after the lovable quartet while they rehearsed, wandered among the bluebells, bathed and chilled. Such excellent company, and really good to get to know them all a bit better. Lorenzo (from Italy) is hilarious. He described arriving at Dartington College (where they met) with very little English, expecting a conventional music conservatory, suddenly finding himself being asked to lie down and listen to soundscapes, meditating, etc.
On Rae's final day in residence, Syd Arthur showed up with a film crew to shoot parts of the video for "Hometown Blues", which is to be the first proper single release off their forthcoming Sound Mirror album. They'd managed to get Robert Hales, who created a Tame Impala video they particularly liked (me too), to produce it, and so Harvest Records had flown him over from LA for a few days. He's from Macclesfield, very down to earth (we ended up discussing Crass, Conflict, Flux of Pink Indians and other such 80's agit-punk bands he grew up with). The video was to be shot with a drone (i.e. flying, remote control) camera, and a crew of operators in matching T-shirts showed up with a very sci-fi-looking £30,000 octo-copter device! The band set up in a forest clearing amidst the bluebells and red campion and then had to spend several hours miming (in double time!) while this device hovered and swooped above and around them. They decided Raven's Prophet synth looked out of place in the setting, so they borrowed my little pedal harmonium for the occasion (so it's going to be broadcast around the world!).
The Rae crew had packed their van and were about to leave so we all tiptoed over to the clearing to see the action and wait for a moment to say goodbyes. There was a very surreal, dream-like moment when they came into view, seemingly playing a gig to the trees, but with this alien/insectoid flying robot camera thing hoving just in front of Liam's head! They got sunshine for the occasion, and the camera was flying right up at the tops of the tallest conifers, so there will presumably be some stunning footage of the location in its wider geographical context. They packed up eventually and headed down to the sound mirror on the coast between Dover and Folkstone (which features on the album cover) for more dramatic footage, and were down in Canterbury early the next morning filming around the Cathedral, Dane John Mound and other historic bits of the city. I've never really been into the idea of music videos, but I trust this'll be good one — out sometime in mid-late May...can't wait to see it!