Archive | 2003 music RSS feed for this section

REVIEW – Show-Yen: ‘Show-Yen’ album, 2003 (“the precision roar of a squad of slick hand-tooled motorcycles”)

25 Apr

An instrumental power trio from Kyoto, Show-Yen attempt a twenty-first century take on complex fusion rock. Balancing earnestly between early ’90s metal heroics and formal ideas drawn from ’70s art-rock and the stiffer end of jazz-rock, Yasuhiro Nishio and his bandmates encounter mixed results in trying to reconcile them. Yasuhiro, the bandleader, leans towards ersatz Joe Satriani guitar skills and facility in his own melodic, theatrical playing. The band as a whole cup the juggernaut blues-metal legacy of Cream in one hand and embrace the stern compressed minimalism of King Crimson’s ‘Red’ with the other, with digressions into classical guitar and Hendrixian sustain. All accomplished; all, still, a little too over-familiar.

In too many respects the album ends up as a classic rock guitarist’s solo project in all but name, with all of the posturing highs and lows of its kind. Drummer Masanobu Tonomura is a cheerful accompanist, and Hiroaki Fujii provides solid fretless bass, often erupting into the kind of chorused slithering which suggests he’s plotting an escape into full-blown jazz-fusion. Yet neither do more than underpin Yasuhiro’s music. The album sinks, swims, but more often flounders over the guitarist’s wavering levels of inspiration and originality.

This is a shame, as Yasuhiro is a fluent and accomplished musician. When he’s on form, he’s several cuts above the clumsy cut’n’paste standards of neo-prog: his blending of sources is smooth and instinctive. Several core Show-Yen pieces will press the buttons of staunch classic rockers. Much of the album offers the precision roar of a squad of slick hand-tooled motorcycles, but some of the other tones and textures involved suggest that someone’s slipped a little acid and a handful of smart-pills into the petrol tank. On the cruising riff of Network Broken, the entire band sounds groovy and assured, with Yasuhiro even inspired to add a little disruption via Frippish yells of burning guitar. Reallusion’s chugging, businesslike metal riff is cut with haughty descending decorations of Crimsonic phrasing; there are breaks for classical arpeggios; and Yasuhiro pulls off a neat compositional trick of cross-cutting into full-blown Gary Moore blues descends crammed with articulate wah-wah wails.

Yet on the other hand pieces like Move Up or the flashy, jolly Ran sound like little more than ambling, melodic instrumental metal cast-offs. Parade, with its neo-classical tones and cute clarion fanfare, might aim to unite Rush flourishes and latterday math-rock precision: the final result sounds more like a listless chew through the pops-orchestra end of classical rock. While Yasuhiro can readily summon a breezy classical-rock style for these moments (not far off what the perpetually underrated Kevin Peek aimed for with Sky) this sits badly with the hard-rock bristle elsewhere.

Attempts at carrying off something weightier – via the five-part piece Asels – results in sixteen minutes of strolling through some over-familiar galleries. In predictable succession Show-Yen offer up an electro-classical guitar study, some Curved Air toccata-rock (with uninspired rhythm parts slogging under distorted lead guitar breaks and flanged bass responses) and a mid-paced trudge through Crimsonic metal. The final destination is a kind of Hoagy Carmichael dinner-jazz, highlighting melodic bass lines and clean, sleepy guitar. Part-way through, Yasuhiro tosses in a solo slice of twirling, gut-strung hammer-ons (echoing Van Halen’s Spanish Fly). The ultimate result is that of a bitty, end-of-term music showcase: not the seamless gelling of unlikely elements that marks the best prog.

Show-Yen’s problem is that whenever they aim for committed musical context, they always end up in a historical echo-chamber. Bouncing around inside prog-fusion consensus, they’re voluble and skilled in their instrumental focus; yet those stylistic limitations they work within so earnestly also render them voiceless. Tellingly, the band pass this debut album off as some kind of conceptual work, yet refuse to provide story, background or even a suggested listening order. They claim that listeners can create their own sequence and story, then immediately contradict themselves by stating that instrumental music renders any narrative composition irrelevant.

A sense of pointless backtracking, of feet being fallen over and ideas imploding under the weight of inverted rock pretensions, is overwhelming. If it is all an oblique joke, it’s particularly annoying given that Show-Yen can obviously think and do more. When they let their inner hairy beast break through the schooling and the canonical salutes – and when they properly churn (rather than simply milk) their technical skills – everything works better.

Driving jazz inflections and visible thinking are all on display in Fu-Ga with its appealing back-and-forth march of mirrored chords. On Ominous Footsteps II, Show-Yen take a tip from the flattened fifth. Their dark flashy rock explorations now not just a showcase for technique but the generator of a pleasing structural puzzle: it’s built on short menacing low-register pulses, from which Hiroaki’s bass guitar gradually escapes as the piece progresses. Lucifer’s Child shows them grabbing their mid-’70s Crimson fetish whole-heartedly, but letting it fire them up. Yasuhiro leads in and out with endpieces of complex Frippish picking (hitting a feverishly cramped pitch), but ultimately slams the band headlong into a crushing, sticky stoner wah-wah riff over which his car-bumping lead phrases crash down. This is where the band really starts to work – where the method meets the moment.

Show-Yen, then. Deserving of being taken seriously, so long as they start taking themselves seriously. How often do you get to say that about a rock band and genuinely mean it?

Show-Yen’:’Show-Yen’
Musea, FGBG 4406.AR
CD/download album
Released: 22nd July 2003

Buy it from:
Musea.

Show-Yen:
Homepage MySpace LastFM

CONCERT REVIEW – North Sea Radio Orchestra @ St Clement Eastcheap, Monument, London, 15th March 2003 (“a polished Victorian never-never land of intricate miniatures and toymaker’s details”)

15 Apr

Once you’ve found it (tucked away in the cramped, confusing whorls of buildings and alleyways near the Monument) the diminutive Christopher Wren church of St Clement Eastcheap is like an old-fashioned kid’s treasure-box, hidden in a chest-of-drawers. Small but perfectly-formed (and bearing the decorous marks of its mid-Victorian refurbishment), it perches pertly between two well-known architectural schools – “enchanting” and “cute”. Tidy pillars spring up hopefully at the sides of its nave. That creamy yellow tint in the immaculate plasterwork of the walls sets off the lovingly-worn mahogany of choir stalls, pews and the massive pulpit. It’s tiny enough for a smallish art-rock audience to squeeze into and feel cosy: and there’s a nursery-rhyme connection too, if you know your oranges and your lemons.

Really, the North Sea Radio Orchestra couldn’t have picked a more appropriate venue. For the music of this retrofitted, romantic-progressive chamber ensemble, St Clements fits like a glove. It shares those hints of modestly-mingled English eras of scaled-down splendour, the atmosphere of nostalgic time travel and aan affectionate polish of traditional heritage. Once you’re inside, both of them also tempt you to blissfully engulf yourself in a luxurious dream of old England – open fields, spinneys, bright stars, sunlight and green thoughts – while all around you the ruthlessness, frenetic urban pace and concrete encroachment looms and sprawls. This may all be an imaginary, selective stance. On a superficial level, you could also get suspicious of well-spoken contemporary white musicians in London warding off angst by cooking up a hand-crafted pre-industrial daydream. But this does the NSRO a disservice. You could accuse them of forcing their innocence – and maybe yours as well – but whatever else they’re doing here is done entirely without malice.

Twenty people settle onstage and get a grip on their violas, cellos, trombones, bass clarinets or whatever. Familiar London art-rock faces abound. Conductor-composer Craig Fortnam and the ensemble’s soprano singer Sharron Saddington used to bob up and down on the fringes of the Cardiacs scene, first in the psychedelic tea-party of William D. Drake’s short-lived Lake Of Puppies and then in the bumptiously charming folk-pronk of The Shrubbies. James Larcombe (Stars In Battledress’ elegantly-tailored smoothie of a keyboard player) is soberly fingering a chamber organ. His brother and bandmate Richard is boosting the numbers in the eight-strong choir, right next to the wild Persian afro of onetime Monsoon Bassoon-er (and current Cardiac) Kavus Torabi. Out in the audience, the aforementioned Mr Drake sits next to Tim Smith, his old friend and former boss in Cardiacs. Across from them, there are various Foes and Ursas and Sidi Bou Saids. There’s a sense of occasion. We get a beautifully designed arts-and-crafts-styled programme to take home. It’s a long way from Camden pub gigs.

This isn’t solely because of the surroundings. North Sea Radio Orchestra might carry their assorted historical splinters of psychedelic rock, folk, and even punk along with them, but they are unabashedly classical in intent. Even the twistiest and most abrasive of the art-rockers in the lineup are sporting the sober concentration of churchgoers, and Sharron has traded her former outfit of cosy specs and jumpers (though not her artlessly warm smile) for a modest diva gown. Craig, his back turned, conscientiously conducts the ensemble. When he sits aside to strum a little polite guitar, he has to crane his neck round anxiously, making sure that the music is still running smoothly.

He needn’t worry. Despite the shades of complex tonality which inform the NSRO’s compositions (Frank Zappa, Benjamin Britten and Tim Smith have all left their mark on Craig’s inspiration), the music flows readily. Sometimes it’s a simple organ drone as a base for Dan Hewson’s trombone expositions. At the other end of the measure, there’s the rollicking Occasional Tables: a dancing interplay between clarinets with a gloriously drunken, attention-switching Frank Zappa/Henry Cow approach. With its mediaeval echoes, and an additional infusion of the peculiar darkness of post-Morton Feldman Californian conservatoire music, it’s given an edge by the astringent, atonal vibraphone shiver (and by Craig’s strict, almost military turn on bongos).

Intriguing as these are, it’s the NSRO’s orchestration of poems which connect deepest with the audience. Mostly these are Tennyson settings (with a sprinkling of Thomas Hardy and other contemporaries) but even Daniel Dundas Maitland’s modern Sonnet looks back to ornate Victoriana. So does Craig’s music, swirling its Early Music and contemporary classical influences together to meet halfway in a polished Victorian never-never land of intricate miniatures and toymaker’s details. Sharron’s vocals – sometimes piping, sometimes emoting in keen, theatrical wails – make for exquisitely brittle sugar-sculpture shapes, while rivulets of strings and woodwind launch themselves from the melody.

The heavenly sway of Move Eastward Happy Earth sets Sharron’s winsome soprano against the lazy, streaming clarinet of Nick Hayes and against Ben Davies’ slow waltz of trimmed-down piano. The choir (with a hearty, clever enthusiasm that reminds me of nothing so much as Gentle Giant) leaps in for stepped, skipping choruses and glorious vocal resolutions. For The Flower, drifts of strings slip from the vocal line and weave busily like something out of Schubert’s Trout Quintet. Onstage, everyone who isn’t smiling looks happily dazed, as if drunk on the sunny harmonies.

And so it continues, with parts of the NSRO dropping in and out to suit the music. For Thumb Piano, Craig trims it down to a revolving arpeggio of guitar harmonics in trio with the blues-tinged fluting of Hayes’ sweet’n’wild clarinet and Katja Mervola’s pizzicato viola. Harry Escott provides a cello improvisation, impressively-voiced chordal melodies sliding on top of a slithering bass drone. James Larcombe sketches out a collage of beady, kaleidoscopic chord progressions in his studious organ solo. The chorus, for their part, sing lustily in a London melting-pot of diverse accents. For the canon setting of Yeats’ He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven, the whole orchestra sings its way through Craig’s pop-folk melodies.

When the whole ensemble is running at full strength, St Clement brightens with music. Shelley’s Skylark, in particular, is profoundly ambitious – semi-connected cello lines swing like foghorns, thick Michael Byron-ish string parts disgorge dominant melodies, and the chorus is a rich blur of voices, pumping resolution into Hardy’s words. But best of all is a generous Fortnam orchestration of a piece by his former bandleader William D. Drake – a setting of William Johnson Cory’s Mimnermus In Church. With Richard Larcombe stepping out from the chorus to duet with Sharron, and the North Sea Radio Orchestra performing at its fullest stretch, the results are captivating. The voices of Sharron and Richard move around each other in dusty, reedy, yearning harmonies (he floating up to countertenor) while strings, piano, clarinets and brass open out like a delicate night-bloomer, fragrantly illustrating Cory’s salute to flawed and transient life in the face of a perfect yet chilly heaven. “All beauteous things for which we live by laws of time and space decay. / But O, the very reason why I clasp them is because they die.”

Yes, in pop culture terms it is music for an ivory tower, or for a detached oasis where you can secrete yourself away from the world. Only a mile or two to the west, I’m sure that electric guitars are roaring out rock, garage clubs are spinning off beats and bling, and someone’s delivering tonight’s definitive urban hymn. But emerging into the City of London – all higgledy-piggledy with glass skyscrapers, Renaissance guildhalls and mediaeval street names, a ragbag of congealed history in parallels – I couldn’t care less.

Like the best musicians, North Sea Radio Orchestra tap into timeless things (beauty, transient joys, the shift of seasons). But like the stubbornest, they also know the colours and shades of the times which they’ll want to employ, finding a way to make them mean something whenever and wherever they’re played. And though an antique church and a Victorian altar cloth made a beautiful frame tonight, this music – at its peak – would’ve sounded good even if the whole ensemble had been balanced atop a Docklands trash-heap.

North Sea Radio Orchestra online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace

St Clement Eastcheap online:
Homepage

Edwige: ‘You Show Them The Moon And They Look At Your Finger’ album reissue (“opera singer, cat purr, wise seductress, vocal trapeze”)

27 Jul
Edwige: 'You Show Them The Moon And They Look At Your Finger'

Edwige: ‘You Show Them The Moon And They Look At Your Finger’

I seem to remember that that title is a Chinese proverb about fools missing the point: presumably this is a warning that Edwige is pointing to somewhere interesting, and that if you pay too much attention to the way she does it then you’ll miss the why. Certainly you can get sidetracked by trying to pigeonhole her music. Like any city-smart pigeon, it struggles and flits away from capture.

So what is this? It’s folky, but with at least one eye trained above the treetops. It’s French but it isn’t (despite the accent and the chanson/cabaret flutter, Edwige is London-based and Anglophone, aligned to the world in general, and open to angels). It’s poppy, but salted with the ascerbic willpower of a woman who’s lived long enough to have her own individual way of doing things. And while she’ll welcome fellow travellers, she’s confident enough not to be too worried about whether you go along with it or not. I think I like that.

It brings back a memory, too. When I was about fourteen, one of the key albums for my raging, hormonal inner life was Kate Bush’s ‘Never For Ever’. I used to have an odd relationship with that record. I’d play it all the time, never sure whether I actually wanted to or not. I remember it felt like a wayward friend on a perpetual mood swing: it was poised on a wobbly adolescent axis of feyness, promise and wisdom, and put me through bouts of frustration and love. How could one album zoom so unpredictably between cutesy kiddie fairy tales and vaginal vamping, between stardust fantasy and nuke-generation fears, vengefulness and nurture? And how could it tangle them all up in such a wayward, compelling way, but still make me want to smack the naivety out of it? No wonder I eventually ended up shoving it in the cupboard and heading for the more straightforward push and bump of indie-pop to soundtrack my later teens.

Many years of The Smiths, The Fall and My Bloody Valentine later, ‘You Show Them The Moon…’ reminds me of that early shamanic Kate Bush girl-pop. It’s not just because those arch, slanting vocals constantly recall ‘Never For Ever’s Coffee Homeground; or because I Am A Temple, from its Nile guitar twang to its waft of desert synth and the aerial-bending vocals, is a ringer for the storybook mystique Bush brought into play on Egypt. OK, Edwige’s music doesn’t carry the same weight of sensual bewitchment. It betrays its budget origins via keyboards that sometimes dip into tweeness and rinky-dink; and by a no-frills recording that sonically cramps her cosmic-tinged imaginings, cramming the cornucopia into a garden shed. But ‘You Show Them The Moon…’ does show the same fascination with the free-flowing mind that’s one of hippydom’s more useful legacies, and it can carry its eccentricity convincingly as well.

A lot of this is to do with Edwige’s voice: a wonderful, peculiar, obliquely beautiful thing. It curves itself round the tones of opera singer, cat purr, wise seductress, vocal trapeze… all with glass-etching clarity and weird ricochets. It’s like a combination of Liz Fraser from Cocteau Twins and a French Eddi Reader without the gawkiness or the broadsheet approval. Actually, don’t stop there: look towards the Strange And Flamboyant Women In Pop section. In spite of the two-dimensional production, Edwige also pulls off the trick of sounding a bit like Bjork’s long-lost boho auntie. She doesn’t possess Bjork’s genius spark of child-vision, or her way with a contemporary sound (it’s French cafe culture round here, not club culture: you’ll find no beats, samples or Trickies). But she does have that same bungee-elastic vocal yaw – admittedly delivered with Edith Piaf’s brand of declamation, and with the sort of melodies and poised guitar strums that go with ten-foot silk scarfs swirled round swan-necks.

The songs themselves fizz just on the right side of easy listening. They’re frequently soft and fluffy, but with deceptive bends. Each is a moment, polished and expansively lit, in a life that’s become a quest in which there’s no goal but an understanding – an ordinary life illuminated by extraordinary lights. Downtrodden and downbeat on No Shape For Love, Edwige can be revived enough to put on a spiritual throb of benediction for Be Blessed. She’ll caress you with a dedication of warm, supportive love on Serve You Well. She’ll also slap you down with a moment’s notice, scolding and instructing in slightly fractured English. “If I open up my heart, it’s not to please your fantasy… / You think you are my king, you’re just a slave of your own enemy.”

Throughout the album, Edwige slings assorted moods and styles around herself like hula-hoops, keeping a core of determination but remaining free-floating. She will go all Jane Siberry and produce fluffy-edged clouds of electric guitar for The Dearest – a fragile love song where the unselfconscious fairytale imagery teases out a winning pathos. If pushed, she’ll become flamboyant, defiant and unreachable, as she is on I Am A Temple (“don’t you dare pry into my life!”). Yet she’s happy – on If You Were The One – to suddenly ditch the eerie and mystical to trill away on the kind of cosy tap-dancing tearoom jazz that you’d have thought long-lost on 1950s lounge records, or to toss out a dash of Celtic sounds with ‘The Omen’ (Clannad harps and tricky jig-in-a-box/jump-into-the-sea rhythms).

Back in 1999, the original version of this album was also noisier. Edwige occasionally dabbled in a kind of accidental techno, or flew in some famished rock guitars to add roar. For this 2003 reissue, she’s ditched these particular quirks and re-recorded a couple of songs as acoustic versions. Something’s lost when Tune Up All Your Violins has its bull-in-a-china-shop clatter removed, but Edwige, strumming away solo and singing forcefully, still uses it to plunge through cosmic arcana like a costumed hero on her own cryptic spiritual mission. They Won’t Make Me Nervous is shorn of its crashing electric guitars and bendy orchestral fogs of synth, but keeps everything else, including the super-soaring choruses on which Edwige zips and kinks like a skidding comet.

The two songs at each end of the album unfurl Edwige’s searching musical and spiritual ambitions to the full, the instruments coming alive out of their budget politeness and warming the air. To Discover lounges in rich, luxurious music – lazy acoustic guitars, damask curtains of synth – but Edwige’s voice cuts through the slumber like a little silver knife. In the middle of comfort (“thinking love is here forever to remain… / and life has no more to offer than what you already knew”) there are breakdowns and hard lessons ahead: “you still have to discover.” And the climatic grandeur of Stillness suggests that she’s reached some sort of peace, looking back over the terrain of the life-quest with a sympathetic eye.

“You need to be loved, and you need to be told, but there’s no reassurance… / You feed yourself with books and beliefs / and stick on your windshield / pictures and maps / so you won’t see your direction… / And try to get peace rearranging confusion… / Still looking for Eden, El Dorado, still looking for a search / when in the stillness…is home.”

Then The Voice shoots up to ecstatic heights, hits the stars, ignites them in a wave of flame, and sees out the album with an ascending, aspirant note. Edwige is smiling and pirouetting somewhere on the pavement where Parisian cafe music (accordions and sparklers) meets the sussed cosmic chick (tarot, tai-chi and her own flat). Someone get her a decent producer and the space to fling a few more scarves around, and she’ll take us off to a brighter night, where a giant moon is untroubled by idiots pointing and where cats somersault over the chimney pots.

Edwige: ‘You Show Them The Moon And They Look At Your Finger’
Quasar Music, EDW1CD/KCA (634479459061)
CD/cassette/download album
Released: 2003 (originally released 1996)

Buy it from:
Quasar Music or CD Baby.

Edwige online:
Homepage YouTube

Concert review – North Sea Radio Orchestra @ St Clement Eastcheap, City of London, England, 15th March 2003 (“a polished Victorian never-never land of intricate miniatures and toymaker’s details”)

18 Mar

Once you’ve found it (tucked away in the cramped, confusing whorls of buildings and alleyways near the Monument) the diminutive Christopher Wren church of St Clement Eastcheap is like an old-fashioned kid’s treasure-box, hidden in a chest-of-drawers. Small but perfectly-formed (and bearing the decorous marks of its mid-Victorian refurbishment), it perches pertly between two well-known architectural schools – “enchanting” and “cute”. Tidy pillars spring up hopefully at the sides of its nave. That creamy yellow tint in the immaculate plasterwork of the walls sets off the lovingly-worn mahogany of choir stalls, pews and the massive pulpit. It’s tiny enough for a smallish art-rock audience to squeeze into and feel cosy: and there’s a nursery-rhyme connection too, if you know your oranges and your lemons.

Really, the North Sea Radio Orchestra couldn’t have picked a more appropriate venue. For the music of this retrofitted, romantic-progressive chamber ensemble, St Clements fits like a glove. It shares those hints of modestly-mingled English eras of scaled-down splendour, the atmosphere of nostalgic time travel and aan affectionate polish of traditional heritage. Once you’re inside, both of them also tempt you to blissfully engulf yourself in a luxurious dream of old England – open fields, spinneys, bright stars, sunlight and green thoughts – while all around you the ruthlessness, frenetic urban pace and concrete encroachment looms and sprawls. This may all be an imaginary, selective stance. On a superficial level, you could also get suspicious of well-spoken contemporary white musicians in London warding off angst by cooking up a hand-crafted pre-industrial daydream. But this does the NSRO a disservice. You could accuse them of forcing their innocence – and maybe yours as well – but whatever else they’re doing here is done entirely without malice.

Twenty people settle onstage and get a grip on their violas, cellos, trombones, bass clarinets or whatever. Familiar London art-rock faces abound. Conductor-composer Craig Fortnam and the ensemble’s soprano singer Sharron Saddington used to bob up and down on the fringes of the Cardiacs scene, first in the psychedelic tea-party of William D. Drake’s short-lived Lake Of Puppies and then in the bumptiously charming folk-pronk of The Shrubbies. James Larcombe (Stars In Battledress’ elegantly-tailored smoothie of a keyboard player) is soberly fingering a chamber organ. His brother and bandmate Richard is boosting the numbers in the eight-strong choir, right next to the wild Persian afro of onetime Monsoon Bassoon-er (and current Cardiac) Kavus Torabi. Out in the audience, the aforementioned Mr Drake sits next to Tim Smith, his old friend and former boss in Cardiacs. Across from them, there are various Foes and Ursas and Sidi Bou Saids. There’s a sense of occasion. We get a beautifully designed arts-and-crafts-styled programme to take home. It’s a long way from Camden pub gigs.

This isn’t solely because of the surroundings. North Sea Radio Orchestra might carry their assorted historical splinters of psychedelic rock, folk, and even punk along with them, but they are unabashedly classical in intent. Even the twistiest and most abrasive of the art-rockers in the lineup are sporting the sober concentration of churchgoers, and Sharron has traded her former outfit of cosy specs and jumpers (though not her artlessly warm smile) for a modest diva gown. Craig, his back turned, conscientiously conducts the ensemble. When he sits aside to strum a little polite guitar, he has to crane his neck round anxiously, making sure that the music is still running smoothly.

He needn’t worry. Despite the shades of complex tonality which inform the NSRO’s compositions (Frank Zappa, Benjamin Britten and Tim Smith have all left their mark on Craig’s inspiration), the music flows readily. Sometimes it’s a simple organ drone as a base for Dan Hewson’s trombone expositions. At the other end of the measure, there’s the rollicking Occasional Tables: a dancing interplay between clarinets with a gloriously drunken, attention-switching Frank Zappa/Henry Cow approach. With its mediaeval echoes, and an additional infusion of the peculiar darkness of post-Morton Feldman Californian conservatoire music, it’s given an edge by the astringent, atonal vibraphone shiver (and by Craig’s strict, almost military turn on bongos).

Intriguing as these are, it’s the NSRO’s orchestration of poems which connect deepest with the audience. Mostly these are Tennyson settings (with a sprinkling of Thomas Hardy and other contemporaries) but even Daniel Dundas Maitland’s modern Sonnet looks back to ornate Victoriana. So does Craig’s music, swirling its Early Music and contemporary classical influences together to meet halfway in a polished Victorian never-never land of intricate miniatures and toymaker’s details. Sharron’s vocals – sometimes piping, sometimes emoting in keen, theatrical wails – make for exquisitely brittle sugar-sculpture shapes, while rivulets of strings and woodwind launch themselves from the melody.

The heavenly sway of Move Eastward Happy Earth sets Sharron’s winsome soprano against the lazy, streaming clarinet of Nick Hayes and against Ben Davies’ slow waltz of trimmed-down piano. The choir (with a hearty, clever enthusiasm that reminds me of nothing so much as Gentle Giant) leaps in for stepped, skipping choruses and glorious vocal resolutions. For The Flower, drifts of strings slip from the vocal line and weave busily like something out of Schubert’s Trout Quintet. Onstage, everyone who isn’t smiling looks happily dazed, as if drunk on the sunny harmonies.

And so it continues, with parts of the NSRO dropping in and out to suit the music. For Thumb Piano, Craig trims it down to a revolving arpeggio of guitar harmonics in trio with the blues-tinged fluting of Hayes’ sweet’n’wild clarinet and Katja Mervola’s pizzicato viola. Harry Escott provides a cello improvisation, impressively-voiced chordal melodies sliding on top of a slithering bass drone. James Larcombe sketches out a collage of beady, kaleidoscopic chord progressions in his studious organ solo. The chorus, for their part, sing lustily in a London melting-pot of diverse accents. For the canon setting of Yeats’ He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven, the whole orchestra sings its way through Craig’s pop-folk melodies.

When the whole ensemble is running at full strength, St Clement brightens with music. Shelley’s Skylark, in particular, is profoundly ambitious – semi-connected cello lines swing like foghorns, thick Michael Byron-ish string parts disgorge dominant melodies, and the chorus is a rich blur of voices, pumping resolution into Hardy’s words. But best of all is a generous Fortnam orchestration of a piece by his former bandleader William D. Drake – a setting of William Johnson Cory’s Mimnermus In Church. With Richard Larcombe stepping out from the chorus to duet with Sharron, and the North Sea Radio Orchestra performing at its fullest stretch, the results are captivating. The voices of Sharron and Richard move around each other in dusty, reedy, yearning harmonies (he floating up to countertenor) while strings, piano, clarinets and brass open out like a delicate night-bloomer, fragrantly illustrating Cory’s salute to flawed and transient life in the face of a perfect yet chilly heaven. “All beauteous things for which we live by laws of time and space decay. / But O, the very reason why I clasp them is because they die.”

Yes, in pop culture terms it is music for an ivory tower, or for a detached oasis where you can secrete yourself away from the world. Only a mile or two to the west, I’m sure that electric guitars are roaring out rock, garage clubs are spinning off beats and bling, and someone’s delivering tonight’s definitive urban hymn. But emerging into the City of London – all higgledy-piggledy with glass skyscrapers, Renaissance guildhalls and mediaeval street names, a ragbag of congealed history in parallels – I couldn’t care less.

Like the best musicians, North Sea Radio Orchestra tap into timeless things (beauty, transient joys, the shift of seasons). But like the stubbornest, they also know the colours and shades of the times which they’ll want to employ, finding a way to make them mean something whenever and wherever they’re played. And though an antique church and a Victorian altar cloth made a beautiful frame tonight, this music – at its peak – would’ve sounded good even if the whole ensemble had been balanced atop a Docklands trash-heap.

North Sea Radio Orchestra online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace

St Clement Eastcheap online:
Homepage

ATTN:Magazine

Not from concentrate.

Xposed Club

improvised/experimental/music

I Quite Like Gigs

Music Reviews, music thoughts and musical wonderings

Make Weird Music

Because 4 chords aren't enough

The Recoup

The 232,359th Most Trusted Voice In Music

A jumped-up pantry boy

Same as it ever was

PROOF POSITIVE

A new semi-regular gig in London

We need no swords

Static and debris. Skronk and wail. This is music?

:::::::::::: Ekho :::::::::::: Women in Sonic Art

Celebrating the Work of Women within Sonic Art: an expanding archive promoting equality in the sonic field

Ned Raggett Ponders It All

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Headphone Commute

honest words on honest music

Yeah I Know It Sucks

an absurdist review blog

Pop Lifer

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Archived Music Press

Scans from the Melody Maker and N.M.E. circa 1987-1996

The Weirdest Band in the World

A lovingly curated compendium of the world's weirdest music

OLD SCHOOL RECORD REVIEW

Where You Are Always Wrong

Fragile or Possibly Extinct

Life Outside the Womb

a closer listen

A home for instrumental and experimental music.

Bird is the Worm

New Jazz: We Search. We Recommend. You Listen.

Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

eyesplinters

Just another WordPress.com site

FormerConformer

Striving for Difference

musicmusingsandsuch

The title says it all, I guess!

%d bloggers like this: