This Is The Kit and Abigail Hubbard in the woods
secret woodland location near Canterbury
I suspected that this might be a real highlight of the woodland amphitheatre season, and I wasn't wrong. We got lucky with a brief window of clear weather, and a perfect-sized audience (I was concerned about it being so soon before Smugglers Festival, and This Is The Kit not being so well known around here, but everyone showed up, and everyone loved it.).
I hadn't met Abigail Hubbard before this evening, just seen her sing briefly in the medieval Eastbridge Hospital undercroft during the 2011 Sondryfolk ArtsTrail. Yiannis had mentioned her a while ago as someone whose music would work in the woodland setting, and then recently I met Matt, her collaborator in the electronica duo Liotia (an old friend of my old friend Sarah — ancient Whitstable connections). The fact they've named themselves after a genus of sea snails is a definite plus in my book! She turned up with her Welsh friend Rhiann who added a little bit of glockenspiel to a few songs, very sweet. I won't try to describe her remarkable voice or songs — check her stuff out on Soundcloud. Her cover of "Police and Thieves" was a lovely surprise, great choice. I'm glad to have been able to set up such an attentive audience for her, and she seemed very happy with the whole event.
This Is The Kit had turned up in the afternoon. I was just expecting Kate and Jesse with acoustic guitars, but they had two of their French band with them: Phillipe the drummer (who quickly improvised something involving cymbals, string, and an old plastic dustbin) and Vincent. "We're looking for something for Vincent to play, maybe a melodica," explained Jesse. I suggested my harmonium (a pedal harmonium I was given last summer and whose bellows I gradually repaired), and they leapt at the opportunity. The harmonium was carried into the woods, I rigged up something with a blanket at the back to slightly dampen the sound, lubricated the pedals, and they were away. I was coming and going from the amphitheatre sorting things out — on one occasion I arrived to find Vincent playing The Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" on it, and on another to find the four of them filming themselves practicing a doo-wop song-and-dance routine (part of another project they've got going on in Paris — clearly a genuine love of doo-wop involved, but also a great deal of mirth!).
In the end Kate played banjo, unamplified semi-acoustic guitar, and sang, Jesse played bass through a little busking amp, a bit of guitar, some backing vocals, Vincent on harmonium, banjo and vocals, and Phillipe was tucked away at the back with his swinging cymbals and dustbin foot taps (surprisingly good bass!). If you don't know Kate Stables and her singing and writing, again, there's no point me trying to describe it. Just check it out here. I think it's fair to say that quite a few people left that night with a new favourite band. Kate has such a strong presence, and the voice and words seem to come from somewhere very deep within. So confident, yet without the slightest trace of ego affecting her performance. She's got an incredible gift and she's decided to share it with everyone. Jesse and friends are the perfect crew to help her do so.
She started the set with a couple of songs on her own — "Birchwood Beaker" and then "Creeping Up Our Shins" (the latter involving some body percussion from the other three). Then "Easy Pickings", "White Ash Cut", "Nits" (stunning! gorgeous harmonium accompaniment), "Silver John", "Moon" — such tasteful backing from Vincent, Phillipe and Jesse.
Then some serious magic wherein Kate, Vincent and Jesse gathered close at her beckoning, put their hands on each others' heads in overlapping triangles (initially inducing giggles from the audience), then suddenly started singing chilling harmonies about mortality and the unknown, which then descended into a choral drone, then into a primal psychedelic, almost krautrock riff (the kind of thing The GOASTT have been doing quite well) this chugging along very pleasingly for a while, even interpolating a crazy freakout banjo comedy segment! The ability to effortlessly shift between profundity and silliness (even within a single piece) is what characterises a lot of my favourite psychedelia — The Incredible String Band, Gong, Circulus — and TITK are happily at home in such territory.
A song called "Magic Spell" featured a chorus taken from a song by Ebo Taylor, "Two Wooden Spoons" was dedicated to John and Vicky (one involving that lovely whistling Kate does), just a tiny bit of bass at first, the full band gradually fading itself in. Then a cover of a Connie Converse song "One By One" (I'd not heard of her, but the song's perfectly suited for Kate). Then four more classic originals to finish: "The Spores All Settling", "Floorboards" (I think), "Treehouse" and "Spinney" — a thrillingly insistent, propulsive energy in that last one. Vincent's use of the harmonium made all those hours of bellows-reconstruction (chamois leather and Araldite if you ever want to try it) seem worthwhile That instrument has great potential.
Before deciding on an encore, Kate explained how they'd not really properly rehearsed the set 'cos they were having so much fun in the woods during the afternoon messing about and singing doo-wop. "Doo-wop!" shouted someone enthusiastically, so we got a lovely "Daddy's Going To Tell You No Lie" (three voices + percussion) which Kate helpfully told us was by Sun Ra (I would never have guessed — a 1960 single credited to "The Cosmic Rays with Sun Ra & Arkestra"). Beautiful and funny at the same time, this was a huge hit with the audience, a perfect conclusion.
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Elise, Sophie and Laurie, the Sondryfolk collective who originally inspired the creation and use of this woodland amphitheatre, were in attendance, which made me very happy. Before heading off to Smugglers Festival the next day we all got to have a memorable, ultra-relaxed social breakfast with the band. One of those occasions which reminds you how good life can be. Thanks to everyone and everything involved!