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August 2018 – husk, rime and lanterns – a double dose of Jack Hayter in a Gravesend lightship (18th August)

14 Aug

I like the idea of a mobile arts venue. A seabound one is even better. LV21, a forty-metre decommissioned former lightship, once kept other ships from foundering on the rocks along the Kentish coast. Now it’s a floating art space and performance facility, moving intermittently between Thames estuary towns. Although it’s been resting at a long-term Gravesend mooring since summer 2016, LV21 still fits the measure for art-on-the-move (while its sister vessel, LV18, performs a similar function at a similar mooring up the coast at Harwich).

International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend @ LV21, 18th August 2018

Wherever it happens to be at the time, LV21 opens up in full each summer for the overlapping International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend and International Lighthouse Heritage Weekend, allowing visitors to explore the vessel and immerse themselves in lightship and lighthouse history from around the world. Also on offer at the event this year – this weekend – are lessons in tying sailor’s knots, a soldering and radio workshop (build your own pocket amplifier and speaker) and Nicola Pollard of stripped-down drama company Up The Road Theatre inviting discussion for the next UTR production, ‘Peril At Sea’ (set to explore “stories, memories, myths and songs of smuggling, shipwrecks and survival” and to tour around English coastal towns including Lowestoft, Portsmouth and Wells-next-the-Sea).

Jack Hayter @ ILLW 2018, Gravesend, 18th August 2018Of course, it’s music rather than knots that’s attracting my interest. Also on hand is Jack Hayter – wandering multi-instrumentalist, onetime Hefner member, ex-Dollboy-er, Ralegh Long and Papernut Cambridge collaborator; the writer and performer of memorable contemporary folk songs and a relatively recent new Gravesend resident. He has two interesting – and very different – nautical music productions going on in the bowels of the ship.

The first of these is ‘Flashes & Occultations’, a sonic installation in the generator room comprising “a seventy-seven-minute-long sonic improvisation on lighthouse life.” It was originally released by London indie label Where It’s At Is Where You Are in 2017 as part of their ‘Seven@77‘ compilation, on which it loomed massively over the thirteen other pieces (each of them clocking in at a measly seventy-seven seconds). In typically dry and witty fashion, Jack describes it as a salvage job on a foolhardy, ambitious effort to sidestep the requested seventy-seven-minute pedal steel improvisation in favour of an attempt to make “a transient sound sculpture from the identification patterns of distant lighthouses, buoys and light vessels; to convert their flashes and occultations into small voltages using telescopes, light-sensitive resistors and photodiodes, then to use those derived signals to trigger samples and control analogue synths. I was overambitious and my experiments were largely a technical failure. I also got cold and muddy while recording foghorns. Worse still, those supposedly unique and exciting light patterns often turned out to be “one flash every twenty seconds” or “red occulting thrice every minute on a Tuesday. Then I ran out of time.”

Salvaging the project wreckage, Jack returned to the original brief – improvising on pedal steel around field recordings, stirring in documentary dialogue, eight-bit synth pads and calling in a few friends and favours to obtain further ingredients: poetry, wordless harmony singing, harmonium drones and electronic oscillator. Despite his disclaimers, he came up with an effective, charming piece – at different points lulling, humorous and lyrically haunting – which absolutely deserves its second life amongst the Gravesend solenoids and gauges, where Jack claims he might play along with it “from time to time” on live fiddle. Here’s a short excerpt with accompanying video (filmed up at the Firth of Forth) – also, if you’re curious but can’t make it down to LV21 this Saturday, here’s the whole piece in audio.



 
Jack’s second musical contribution of the day is the one-off free live gig he’s performing in the ship (on deck? in the hold?) during the evening, in which he’s going to be performing “a set of my songs and stories which will loosely follow the river from Deptford down to Gravesend finishing up at Margate, with diversions.” Here’s where you get to see Jack in the raw – a rangy, weatherbeaten feller with a voice as chewed-up and resilient as an ancient poster still clinging onto a seafront fence. His recent album, ‘Abbey Wood‘, is one of 2018’s under-the-radar triumphs, a compelling song collection recorded in defiantly threadbare folk fashion but with infusions of avant-garde turn-up-and-play instrumentation. Its ace in the hole, however, is Jack’s songwriter vision. As ever, he writes with a documentarian’s timing and eye for sparse, telling detail; with a poet’s knack for sifting detritus and forgotten trash to find significance; and with a determination to tell stories from those broad, deliberately ignored margins of society which actually make up its overlooked majority.

Jack’s songbook includes tales of post-war slump and of the rural working class swept into conflict; the hopes and dreams of sewage workers; the luckless POWs sunk with the SS Andora Star; the fumblings of early love under the shadow of the Cold War. Crucially – and despite his sharp, assured literacy – he always writes these from the inside and on the level, rather than as booky preachings from above. These are stories about people on lean means, living within strung-together moments: a compassionate, sometimes subtly angry cinema of life’s grain outside the slick and aspirational. They vouch and voice for the itinerate, the sidelined; the workers who just get on with it; the kids with foggy futures stirred and impelled by vast indifferent forces.

Jack’s delivery of these tales, meanwhile, is battered, warm, inclusive, strangely dignified, and mesmeric. Check out an earlier review I did of one of Jack’s previous live performances; or have a dip into the selection of tracks below.





 
Jack Hayter @ International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend 2018
Light Vessel 21, (currently moored at) St Andrews Quay, Royal Pier Road, Gravesend, Kent DA12 2BD, England
Saturday 18 August 2018
• ILLW full event duration: 12.00pm-11.00pm
• Flashes & Occultations installation: 12.00pm-4.00pm
• Jack Hayter free live set: 7.00pm-11.00pm

– free event – information here, here, here and here
 

August 2018 – upcoming London folk gigs – Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows – Åkervinda and Night (17th August); Gasper Nali and Ellie Ford (also 17th August); London Contemporary Voices (24th August); Alabaster dePlume and Luna Silva (31st August)

12 Aug

Here’s the second set of August’s Nest Collective Campfire Club open air park/garden/playground shows…

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Another pair of simultaneous Campfire concerts are happening on 17th August, the first of which features Scandinavian vocal quartet Åkervinda and Nepali folk band Night.

“Iris Bergcrantz, Lise Kroner, Linda Bergström and Agnes Åhlund – the four singers of Åkervinda – take pride in their original and modern interpretation of the traditional folksongs of Scandinavia. The group’s name is inspired by a Swedish wildflower whose roots spread far and wide like rivers under the ground. Like the flower, gracefully entwining melodies, rock-solid groove, and ever intriguing harmonies will take root in your mind. Like the flower, they will be impossible to remove.

“Jazz singers at heart, the young women of Åkervinda share a deep love of folk music. Through improvisation, the group gives new life to traditional folk songs and stories of women throughout the ages. In 2014 they released their debut album “Kära Mor” (“Dear Mother”) and has been touring in Sweden, Denmark, the US and Canada since. Åkervinda have performed at Aarhus Vocal Festival, Malmö Arena, Hillerød Folk Festival and various folk festivals in Sweden (as well as museums and venues in Toronto, New York and Chicago) and collaborations include work with the Swedish folk musician Jens Ulvsand, the Canadian fiddle virtuoso Jaron Freeman-Fox and the internationally-renowned Swedish trio Nordic.


 
“Reworking Nepali traditions into “stunning new soundscapes” (‘Making Tracks’), Night is a Kathmandu-based folk band formed in 2006, with members coming together from different musical backgrounds. The band focuses on reviving lost and endangered Nepali instruments, on creating new sounds rooted in collective Nepali heritage and on reintroducing said music and instruments to a world audience.

The people, places and cultures of Nepal have been Night’s greatest inspiration. Most of the songs are composed “in the field” where the band stays with people in villages. After living with a melody, a song or a drum rhythm over a period of time, they slowly start sensing its deeper meaning; and, through developing their own compositions, try to express and share this understanding with others.”


 
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The second of the two 17th August concert features Malawian roots musician Gasper Nali and Brightonian folk harpist/singer-songwriter Ellie Ford.

“Performing “simple but joyous… totally infectious” music (‘Songlines’), Gasper Nali plays a Babatoni – a three-metre one-stringed home-made bass guitar – with an empty bottle and a stick, and makes the most beautiful and catchy original Afro-beats possible. Gasper is a one-man-band, with the Babatoni, cow-skin kick drum and very catchy tunes. He is absolutely unlike anything else. It’s super Malawian roots, it’s very upbeat and incredibly danceable! Or – as a Bandcamp fan nicely put it: “Gasper is a one man party! It’s completely impossible to stop moving – and just as impossible to stop smiling!”


 
Ellie Ford is an alternative folk artist whose expressive vocals are accompanied by her percussive harp playing and eloquent songwriting. Her combination of classical and modern musical styles – of the serene with the guttural – makes for a captivating solo performance. With a debut album release under her belt and a second album to follow in 2018, Ellie Ford is forging her own path as an alternative musician and performer.”


 
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On 24th August, utility choir London Contemporary Voices deliver the second of their two Campfire concerts this year. Suppliers of “session singers, backing vocalists, choristers, beatboxers and a cappella entertainment”, LCV are an in-demand studio-and-live chorus who spend much of their time working with pop and dance artists, providing music for corporate events or singing “choireeoke”; but in between these engagements they host their own events or pursue more unorthodox projects. Beside their previous 2018 Campfire event earlier in the season, the latter have recently included providing a soundbath for Folkestone’s experimental Profound Sound festival and staging a celebration of female songwriters at Union Chapel back in May.


 
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The last of the August concerts comes on 31st August, and features spoken-word/instrumental polymath Alabaster DePlume and trilingual folk/jazz/pop musician Luna Silva.

”From Manchester, now based in London, Gus Fairbairn – better known as Alabaster DePlume – is a performer, writer and musician. A saxophonist with an unusual tone (reminiscent of Ethopian free-jazz legend Getatchew Mekurya), Alabaster collaborates with members of the folk and jazz scenes of London, Bristol and Manchester. He uses music and spoken word to portray sentiments, often contradictory, that together evoke a new feeling. Whether in recording, writing or performance, his work has an emphasis on inclusion, encouragement and sincerity (and was recently described on Radio 3 as being “cheerfully uneasy”).

Since 2011 Alabaster has produced three albums on Manchester label Debt Records, toured Europe as a solo performer, produced short films, and written/performed a play with circus-aerial in Dublin. His latest album, ‘Peach’, was produced by Paddy Steer, and accompanies a short film called ‘I Feel Good’ directed by Melodie Roulaud. He also regularly presents a series of combined arts events celebrating both his and others’ work.


 
“Daughter of an English actress, a Spanish circus performer, and raised in France Luna Silva is a daughter of the world, singing in three languages and influenced by the cultures she has come across in her travels. In a world that is increasingly connecting, communicating and cooperating; Luna Silva’s music is deeply resonant. Her music is a mixture of contemporary music and traditional musics of this world (the arrangements touching on Eastern European folk, English folk, straight pop and Congolese jazz) but above all one feels a love for creativity. Accompanied by her ukulele (or a quartet also including guitar, double bass and percussion) she takes us on a journey of our own – an acoustic set with sass.”


 
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Full dates:

  • Campfire Club: Åkervinda + Night – Lumpy Hill Adventure Playground, 15 Market Road, Lower Holloway, London, N7 9PL, England, Friday 17th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Gasper Nali + Ellie Ford – Phytology, Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, Middleton Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9RR, England, Friday 17th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: London Contemporary Voices return! – Glengall Wharf Garden, 64 Glengall Road, Peckham, London, SE15 6NF, England,Friday 24th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Alabaster dePlume + Luna Silva – Spitalfields City Farm, Buxton Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 5AR, England, Friday 31st August 2018, 7.00pm – information here

More Campfire Club shows to follow in September…
 

August 2018 – upcoming London gigs – flexi-clectica at Apple Tree: The Live Lounge Vol II with Rudi Douglas, J. Aria, Awkward Ndure, DJ Sonikku, Martell O’Neill, Daryl Fox-Huxley and DJ Kevin Morosky (2nd August)

31 Jul

Apple Tree: The Live Loung Vol. II, 2nd August 2018Since its launch earlier this year, broad-based London music-and-performance event Apple Tree has set itself a bold framework. Curated by tireless promoter and club personality Mark-Ashley Dupé and by cross-disciplinary designer/film-maker Samuel Douek, its Live Lounge event is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQIA musicians and artists from across the city (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and asexual/allies, for those having trouble keeping up with those ever-burgeoning inclusive acronyms). It’s also happily intersectional in both intent and in entertainment. The convergence of queerness and blackness already seems to be a specialty, offsetting the compressive grinding of racism and the bristling aggression of homophobes by providing a stage for some fiery and assertive performers.

If this is starting to sound too specialised, too academic, or too much like a sexual/political cul-de-sac, I should reign things in a bit. In fact, the backbone of the debut Apple Tree evening back in June (which I only caught up and heard about recently, several months after the event) seems to have been electric/eclectic soul, provided by singer-songwriters Miggy Dela Rosa, Albert Gold and Awkward Ndure. Gay electro-acoustic composer Daniel McBride was also on hand, his work bridging that gap between the capital’s young classical scene, its queer-arts scene and the electronic music continuum which unites (in both work and play) pop, dance culture and high-art experimentalism. Bringing the words was topical poet and fervent discursor Black Ops Poetry; bringing the costumes and personae was queer cabaret sensation Rhys Holis (performer of Rhys’ Pieces and founder of Dalston cabaret night Queefy); and bringing damn near everything was operatic/discursive costumed electro-acoustic performance artist Oberon White (who considers himself “part of an eclectic tradition incorporating shamans, clowns, automata, cyborgs and drag artists”).

In other words, Apple Tree’s shaping up to be an event that’s equally comfortable with party pop and far-out high art concepts, unifying them through a flexible, diverse queer lens. There aren’t that many places where you can see a happy, possibly camp singalong immediately followed by a text-spouting man dressed as a mythical Greek bird-god.

The upcoming second Apple Tree Live Lounge show at the beginning of August is perhaps a tad less adventurous than the debut was, but it’s all part of the ebb and flow, and comes packaged with dinner care of Shoreditch’s Hoi Polloi brasserie and a DJ set from photographer/film director Kevin Morosky. As for the performers, Awkward makes a return from the launch event with her Latin-tinged folk-soul – at least I think it’s her, since some of the publicity suggests that it might be Evan Williams from MTV teen comedy ‘Awkward’ (which in turn makes me feel as if I’m slipping down some rabbit hole of an involved in-joke). Assuming that I do have the right Awkward, here’s a clip of her performing with guitarist Sim Chappelle a couple of years ago. I’m on more solid ground with the billing for accomplished soul’n’stage singer Martell O’Neil (whose past and current work includes the travelling Motown revue ‘How Sweet It Is’); and for Daryl Fox-Huxley, the current/former guitarist for house-tinged indie pop act The Hook, now concentrating on solo work with a folk-pop base, “his own East London twist and lyrics to match” and probably at least a few other hints and approaches brought in from his abiding love for reggae, techno and techhouse.



 
Headliner Rudi Douglas is a onetime ‘X Factor’ contestant (he was in the 2006 series when he was nineteen) but don’t hold that against him, or allow it to constrain him. Instead, take a look at and have a listen to this – ‘He Won’t Swim In My Ocean’, a four-year-old but evergreen song which proves that Rudi doesn’t need the Cowell circus to help him make grand heartbursting pop, with a gay theme but a universal touch.


 
For this session, the more experimental kudos is provided by DJ Sonikku (who mashes ‘80s house into chiptune with the aid of the purloined and repurposed guts of Sega Mega Drive consoles) and even more so by Jacob Aria – a.k.a non-binary soundscaper J. Aria. Interested in “tension, desolation, morbidity and eroticism”, J. creates intricate, absorbing musical washes, beats and tapestries via sampler, turntable and voice in which hauntology, psychedelic ambience and hints of house engage in a spectral, full-bodied mysterious dance: a ghostly neighbourhood of percolating histories for “a world of heterotopic ‘otherness’, pushing senses of horror and psychosis within queerdom and the incidental beauty of the fractured”.

 
Apple Tree Live presents:
Apple Tree – The Live Lounge – Vol. 2: Rudi Douglas + Jacob Aria + Awkward Ndure + DJ Sonikku + Martell O’Neill + Daryl Fox-Huxley + DJ Kevin Morosky
Miranda @ Ace Hotel London Shoreditch, 100 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 6JQ, England
Thursday 2nd August 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here
 

July/August 2018 – upcoming London opera – the rest of Grimeborn 2018 including a baroque ‘Xerse’, a reconfigured ‘Membra Jesu Nostri’, a reclaimed ‘Carmen The Gypsy’, repertoire hits, kids’ shows and jazz-dance (24th July to 26th August)

20 Jul

Grimeborn 2018, 24th July to 26th August 2018

While my previous post on London alt.opera festival Grimeborn 2018 dealt with many of its obvious heavy-hitters (including the revivals of Turnage’s ‘Greek’, Britten’s ‘Rape of Lucretia’ and Ethel Smyth’s ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’, plus its premieres of Keith Burstein’s ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ and a slew of BAME/female-originated one-acters), there’s plenty more to the season. First of all, let’s take a quick look at the reconfigurations.

Most boldly, Opera Louise’s ‘Teenage Bodies’ takes on ‘Membra Jesu Nostri’ – Baroque composer Dietrich Buxtehude’s seven-song five-voice cantata on the body of Christ. In a corkscrew dive from the sacred to the secular, director/lyricist Julien Chavaz, choreographer Oliver Dähler and music director Jérôme Kuhn rework it as a meditation on puberty and development, mixing live music, physical movement and new text. I’m assuming that the original Biblical listing of “feet, knees, hands, sides, breast, heart, and face” have either been replaced or restored to the carnal. Equally, perhaps they’ve turned into a politicized view of the relationship and power dynamics between young and old bodies. The publicity photos and videos show what seems to be a Theatre of Cruelty classroom with an elderly man and several younger figures cavorting around each other. It could signify anything. At any rate, it’s one of the best-equipped operas in the festival, complete with small orchestra.

 
For ‘A Fantastic Bohemian: The Tales of Hoffman Revisited’, Opera MIO & Co-Productions take Jacques Offenbach’s rollicking Victorian fantasy opera ‘The Tales of Hoffman’ and turn it into an Anglo-Spanish immersive theatre piece spread across three spaces, kitting out the Arcola as Mexico City during the 1940s (during its Golden Cinema Age). The original score will be interspersed with bursts of Mexican danzón, all of the music being played by a four-piece band of piano, cello, clarinet, and violin.

Grimeborn 2018: 'Carmen The Gypsy' - 22nd to 25th August 2018In turn, Romani polymath and Romany Theatre Company head Dan Allum has rewritten Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ as ‘Carmen The Gypsy’, setting it within the contemporary British traveller community and highlighting both anti-Romani racism (“when the outside world thinks you’re scum, can you ever be free?”) and Carmen’s own struggle to liberate herself from “a brutal husband and the shackles of tradition.” This reworking features original Gypsy songs played live on guitar, drum, violin and accordion, plus staged cage fighting (presumably replacing Bizet’s bullfighting) and, as with many RTC productions, a combined English and Romani libretto.

Baroque tradition meets contemporary minimalist theatre in Ensemble OrQuesta’s straighter revival of Francesco Cavalli’s ‘Xerse’, directed by Marcio da Silva. The company triumphed last year with their production of Armide, and return with this dramatic comedy of “jealousy and unfulfilled love” set in the royal court of Persia (with a company of eleven singers, baroque violins, cello, lute and harpsichord).

Milly Forrest

Milly Forrest

For repertoire shows, The Opera Box’s compilation piece ‘Recitals’ (performed by soprano Milly Forrest and pianist Alastair Chilvers) features “new spins” on pieces by Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf, Vincenzo Bellini, Franz Liszt, Francis Poulenc, and Joseph Haydn. In ‘Onegin & Tatiana’, Opera Company director Guido Martin-Brandis presents “an award-winning cast explor(ing) the dramas and psychologies of Alexander Pushkin’s immortal characters”. Centred on the character of Tatiana Onegin (and focussing on female desire, fantasy and personal upheavale) it features music from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, plus additional songs by Strauss, Fauré, Massenet, Barber and Schubert.

The remaining pieces might be heading away from the opera template, but seem to be aimed at pulling in both children and the classical-averse, providing entry points to musical drama. Children are catered for via a return appearance by Melanie Gall, with her acclaimed anthropomorphic kids theatre shows about musical animals winning through against the odds (‘Opera Mouse’ quotes Puccini and Mozart, while the scat-happy ‘Jazz Cat’ is built around the music of Harry Woods, Louis Armstrong and Robert Johnson.)

Melanie Gall: 'Opera Mouse'

A more adult-orientated jazz evening arrives with Nancy Hitzig and Cat Foley’s ‘Swing Sister Swing’ “a cabaret-inspired show celebrating female choreographers, kick ass musicians and pieces created and inspired by jazz-greats” (a trinity of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday). It’ll be performed by Nancy and Cat themselves with fellow dancers Christine “Tine Machine” Gatchalian, Katie Stotter, Benjamin Cook and Stephen Atemie and European champion chorus-line The Dixie Dinahs, and with recorded and live music by Katie. “Through lindy hop, swing dance, vintage burlesque, song and comedy, performers will explore what it means to be a in a partnership and alone.”


 
All performances at Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 2DJ, England.

Dates:

  • The Opera Box presents ‘Recitals’ – Thursday 26th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Nancy Hitzig & Cat Foley present ‘Swing Sister Swing’ – Sunday 29th July 2018, 4.00pm & 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Melanie Gall presents ‘Opera Mouse’ – Wednesday 1st August 2018, 11.00am – information here and here
  • Melanie Gall presents ‘Jazz Cat’, Wednesday 1st August 2018, 2.00pm – information here and here
  • Opera Louise presents ‘Teenage Bodies’ – Thursday 2nd August 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Opera MIO & Co-Productions present ‘A Fantastic Bohemian: The Tales of Hoffman Revisited’ – Saturday 4th & Saturday 11th August 2018, 2.30pm / Sunday 5th & Sunday 12th August 2018, 4.00pm – information here and here
  • Guido Martin-Brandis presents ‘Onegin & Tatiana’ – Monday 13th & Tuesday 14th August 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Romany Theatre Company presents ‘Carmen the Gypsy’ – Wednesday 22nd to Saturday 25 August 2018, 8.00pm / Saturday 25 August 2018, 3.00pm – information here and here
  • Ensemble OrQuesta presents ‘Xerse’ – Friday 24th to Sunday 26th August 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

 

July/August 2018 – upcoming London opera – Grimeborn 2018 revives Britten, Turnage and Smyth (plus Ravel, Donizetti and Foreman & Silverman’s ‘Elephant Steps’) and premieres Keith Burstein’s ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ plus diverse-source multi-cultural operas from Ruth Chan, Juwon Ogungbe, Sayan Kent, Daniel Saleeb and Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian (24th July to 26th August)

15 Jul

Grimeborn 2018, 24th July to 26th August 2018

London’s mockingly-titled ‘Grimeborn’ festival (based at Dalston’s Arcola Theatre) stages opera with a difference: pocket budgets, but broad-field coverage and bold new work both in terms of staging and composition. Amongst the body of work being offered up this summer are premieres (Keith Burstein’s ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ and the cluster of diverse new works which make up ‘Mozaic’); revivals (most prominently the Arcola’s own new productions of Britten’s ‘Rape of Lucretia’ and Mark-Anthony Turnage’s ‘Greek’, but also including Ethel Smyth’s ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’, Gaetano Donizetti’s ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ and ‘Rita’, and Maurice Ravel’s ‘L’Heure Espagnole’); plus reconfigured Offenbach and Buxtehude, some mixed’n’themed repertoire concerts, kids shows, infiltrations of jazz and rock theatricals and the first British performances of the “occult, surrealist rock-opera extravaganza” ‘Elephant Steps’.

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Fulham Opera's 'The Prometheus Revolution' - 7th/8th/10th August 2018Dealing with the new material first: Fulham Opera are premiering ‘The Prometheus Revolution’, the first new opera by composer/librettist Keith Burstein since his anti-War On Terror work ‘Manifest Destiny’. The latter blew up a pile of controversy at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe with its suicide bomb-vest scenes, its agit-prop metaphysics and its pungent criticism of Western motives, and eventually led to a wrangle over free speech and alleged promotion of terrorism at the Royal Courts of Justice.

‘…Prometheus…’ looks set to extend at least some of the ideas behind ‘Manifest Destiny’. Like the earlier piece, it’s a politically-heated metaphysical examination of where we are as a society, and what we might do about it, It’s set in an alternative present which closely mirrors our own, with democracy decaying into corrupt war-mongering authoritarianism and economic meltdown, with a peace movement “standing between tyranny and chaos, (although) they too are cleft by internal struggles”. Inspired by the 2012 Occupy Movement’s “99% versus the 1%” ideology, it’s billed as a “dark parable” of “star-crossed lovers, rebellion and revolution against the backdrop of a corrupt political class… shot through with pathos and ironic humour.”

As with ‘Manifest Destiny’, you can also expect more of the vigorously tonal Burstein approach to music and tunes, with a post-Britten-and-Berg score additionally “laced with the sounds of vaudeville, Broadway musicals and pop ballads.” It’s arranged for piano and singers: you’ll have to imagine the intent of a full hovering orchestra.

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Using a mixture of live and recorded music, the Mozaic Opera Showcase stages new works by black and British Asian opera creators (and, it seems, female ones) drawing on stories “yet to be seen and heard in contemporary Britain… from West Africa to Armenia to ancient China and beyond” and encouraging us to “hear opera traditions from around the world mixed with jazz, Chinese orchestra, edgy contemporary classical and more.” Three days of workshops aimed at “empowering BAME artists and associates to create new, diverse operas” will be followed by two days in which six such works are presented.

As well as the new ‘Red Seed’ (by rising theatre polymath Sayan Kent), there’ll be Hoc Opera’s production of ‘Occō’s Eternal Act’ by composer Daniel Saleeb and librettist Oge Nwosu. A ‘Huit-Clos’-ian chamber drama for five singers and eight players(previously staged at the Barbican and the V&A) its titular Occō is “trapped in a purgatorial space peopled with four significant characters from his life. He can’t escape them so he makes them perform, over and over again, for his imaginary audience…”

From Sheffield, West African-inspired theatre company Utopia are bringing down their’Pied Piper of Chibok’. Composed by eclectic Anglo-Nigerian composer Juwon Ogungbe, who balances Western opera with Afro-jazz and pop (and with a libretto by Ariya director/writer/producer Olusola Oyeleye), it conflates the European legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin with the horrific real-life story of the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria who were kidnapped by Boko Haram.

The Myaseen Collective is presenting ‘1000 Songs’, a collaboration between visually-slanted harpist/singer/composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian and multi-instrumental singer Ziazan (who’s providing the libretto). In this “story we’re gradually going to tell” (which appears to explore the interrelated contemporary rise of neo-fascism and of woman-silencing), a woman “escapes a mob attack and locks herself away. She speaks to no-one but her tame nightingale, until she forgets how to speak – and only sings.”

 
Film, television and theatre composer Ruth Chan, known for everything from Ghost Orchestra to work with Dario Marianelli and the RSC) makes several contributions. There’s a revival of her 2014 mini-opera ‘Rain’, a collaboration with librettist Elaine Ruth White, in which Barry, the threatened head of an incompetent English water company gets into profound, potentially life-changing conversation with his Sudanese cleaner Asha (a woman from a region “where women have to walk miles to polluted streams and wells, risking the dangers of rape and death to fetch water for their families”).

 
Also being performed is Ruth’s ‘Between Constellations’ on which she worked with librettist Zoë Palmer (Musical Rumpus) and dramatist Jennifer Farmer. This was a semi-finals winner in Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s ‘Fight For The Right‘ initiative, “a global commissioning competition for female composer and librettist teams to create original music dramas inspired by themes of girls and women transforming their lives through education.”

Finally, Ruth’s also contributing a revival of ‘Turandot Reimagined’ – a partly-Mandarin, Yuan Dynasty-set version of Puccini’s opera (which she’s re-arranged to a new libretto mostly by Simon Wu)/ It was originally staged three years ago by Tête à Tête, in association with Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal and the SOAS Silk and Bamboo Chinese Instrument Ensemble. Hopefully the latter will be up and involved again for the Dalston performance…


 
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Elsewhere, current events and undercurrents are making their presence felt on the Arcola’s two homegrown revivals. Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Rape of Lucretia’ has been in the general repertoire since its 1946 premiere, but the new Arcola version (directed by Julia Burbach of the Royal Opera House, who’s recently made a mark with revelatory productions of ‘Madama Butterfly’ and ‘Tosca’) links its story of decadence, virtue and ravishment to the outrage and repercussions around the #MeToo movement. (The press release reads “in Rome, 510 BC, Lucretia is sought out in the night by the prince Tarquinius. In Dalston, 2018 AD, a man and woman invite you to watch a re-enactment.” I’m not sure where they take it from there…)

Since its own arrival in 1988, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s four-handed multi-character piece ‘Greek’ has also made its own mark on the repertoire. For this year’s Arcola version, original adapter and stager Jonathan Moore returns to direct. It’ll be interesting to see how the piece has aged. Its old, seething vision of the East End (based around Steven Berkoff’s bare-knuckled, gutter-mouthed reimaging of the Oedipus legend) may have been slightly blurred and dissolved by the odd bedfellows of gentrification on the one hand and white flight, but it’s world of territorial café kings and hair-curling working-class invective should have kept some of its dramatic power intact regardless, calling up memories of the 1979 Winter of Discontent and the imminent, bloody birth of the Thatcher era.

Fulham Opera's ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’, 9th/11th August 2018The second of Fulham Opera’s two Grimebourne offerings is a piano-and-voices, Italian-language, contemporary-setting version of Gaetano Donizetti’s ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ – the repertoire staple (with its famous “mad scene”) of a woman ground up between the feuding rages of men. Perhaps it’s tied in with the fresh feminist reading of ‘The Rape Of Lucretia’, but if operatic narratives of tragic and tormented women (being ravished and/or losing their battles) just gets your goat, you might prefer to see another Donizetti piece, ‘Rita’, appearing as half of an Opera Alegría double bill (with Maurice Ravel’s ‘L’heure espagnole’). Both pieces showcase, via new libretto translations by Lindsey Bramley (who’ll also be performing the piano accompaniment), strong female opera characters possessing both wit and agency. In ‘Rita’, the fiery landlady of an Italian inn and her intimidated husband Peppe find the already fragile state of their marriage further tested by the arrival of her first husband, previously presumed dead. In ‘L’heure espagnole’, Concepción (the cheerfully unfaithful wife of a Toledo clockmaker) embarks on a farcical day of attempts to smuggle her assorted lovers into her bedroom, each wedged into the case of a grandfather clock…

Spectra Ensemble's ‘The Boatswain's Mate’ – 30th/31st July, 1st August 2018

Likewise, you might enjoy ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’. Revered by feminists and musicologists alike for her determination, her musical daring and her fullhearted involvement in the Suffragette movement, Edwardian-era composer Ethel Smyth wrote and staged several of her own operas. Dating from 1914, ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’is a battle-of-the-sexes comedy set in a Margate to which “young and old alike have flocked… for summer loving, healthy air and strolls on the promenade. But, at a quiet pub set back from the seafront, the landlady has a nuisance on her hands. She’s confronted with a suitor who simply won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. When he comes up with a last-ditch plan to win her heart, our formidable heroine gives him more than he’d bargained for…” Spectra Ensemble present a rare revival set during the 1952 coronation and the height of post-war seaside culture, scored for voices and a piano/cello/violin trio (and celebrating, in part, the hundredth anniversary of female suffrage in Britain).

Patrick Kennedy Phenomenological Theatre's ‘Elephant Steps’, 20th to 22nd August 2018
I’ll close the first bit of the preview with a quick look at Patrick Kennedy Phenomenological Theatre’s European premiere/fiftieth anniversary staging of ‘Elephant Steps’, a total theatre work from composer Stanley Silverman and librettist Richard Foreman (whose New York theatrical adventures have been described as “disorientation massage” and in which “music, light, images, movement, graphics, films, incense, machinery, props and performers are incorporated into a spectacular mix.” The first of seven alternative operas which Foreman and Silverman wrote together between 1968 and 1990, ‘Elephant Steps’ is a bizarre night journey following the ailing Hartman, apparently under malign spiritual attack from the suspect guru Reinhardt as he seeks to free himself, is strongarmed into false confessions, and is guided by mysterious Elephant-Angels. Silverman’s eclectic score includes elements of rock, ragtime, madrigals, Roma violins and Rodgers & Hammerstein, while Foreman’s words and concepts make an intoxicating stew of film noir, surrealism, paranoia and dream-logic imagery (all mixed with Kennedy’s new staging inspired by David Lynch, Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau).

* * * * * * *

More Grimeborn to follow in a later post… meanwhile, here are the dates for the shows listed above. All performances at Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 2DJ, England.

  • Arcola Theatre presents ‘The Rape of Lucretia’ – Monday 23rd to Monday 30th July 2018, Wednesday 1st to Saturday 4th August 2018, times t.b.c – information here and here
  • Spectra Ensemble presents ‘The Boatswain’s Mate’ – 30th July to 1st August 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Opera Alegria presents ‘Rita’ & ‘L’Heure Espagnole’ – 3rd & 4th August 2018, 8.00pm / 5th August 2018, 5.00pm – information here and here
  • Fulham Opera presents ‘The Prometheus Revolution’ – 7th, 8th, 10th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Arcola Theatre presents ‘Greek’ – 8th to 18th August 2018, times t.b.c. – information here and here
  • Fulham Opera presents ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ – 9th & 11th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Mosaic Opera Collective presents ‘Mosaic’ Creative and Produce-orial Workshops – Monday 13th, Tuesday 14th and Wednesday 15th August 2018, 10.00pm to 6.00pm – information here
  • Mosaic Opera Collective presents ‘Mosaic’ Showcase 1 (‘Red Seed’/’Rain’/’Occō’s Eternal Act’/’Pied Piper of Chibok’) – Thursday 16th & Friday 17th August 2018, time t.b.c. – information here
  • Mosaic Opera Collective presents ‘Mosaic’ Showcase 2 (‘Between Constellations’/’Turandot Reimagined’/’1000 Songs’) – Monday 13th, Saturday 18th & Sunday 19th August 2018, time t.b.c. – information here
  • Patrick Kennedy Phenomenological Theatre presents ‘Elephant Steps’ – 20th to 22nd August 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

 

July 2018 – strange folk indeed – Sutari and Dead Rat Orchestra’s joint-headlining English tour through Colchester, Norwich, London, Nottingham, Hull, Leeds and Oxford (10th to 16th July 2018) with The Dyr Sister and Sarsa Awayes

4 Jul

News on an imminent set of alternative folk gigs – eerie, funny, magical and pertinent (aiming as it does at our history of migrations and settlings).

* * * * * * * *

“Two of the world’s most prominent avant-folk ensembles join forces for a joint headline tour of the UK.

“It’s not often that you can say you met someone over a meat cleaver but in the case of Dead Rat Orchestra and Sutari it’s true. Not that anyone who knows the work of the UK’s DRO – or for that matter, Poland’s Sutari – should be surprised. Kindred spirits not only in their approach to free-folk but in their use of unusual objects – including meat cleavers – in their performances, this tour will see them join forces to explore the cultural impact of Polish and European migration in England. Performing in locations across England that have been centres of Polish immigration, and engaging with British, Polish and European communities, the tour will utilise Sutari and DRO’s unique approaches to performing traditional musics to lead audiences in a performative and timely discussion about the cultural impacts of the UK leaving the European Union.

“Formed by Daniel Merrill, Nathaniel Mann and Robin Alderton – and performing internationally for over a decade – Dead Rat Orchestra have gained a reputation as one of the most innovative ensembles on the UK music scene. Raw, elemental and poignant and with a love of adventure, their performances feature flailing axes, salt and sawdust, throbbing harmonium, grinding fiddle and two thousand shards of micro-tuned steel cast to the floor in cascading, shimmering joy. DRO create works that blur boundaries between installation and performance. Activities have included ‘The Cut’ (2014), a site-specific musical tour undertaken by canal boat along two hundred and seventy-three miles of waterway; and ‘Tyburnia’ (2015/17) exploring seventeenth and eighteenth century gallows ballads and their sociopolitical history.

“Dead Rat Orchestra are adventurers adrift in a sea of sound and possibility, plucking textures and melodies to craft their idiosyncratic vision of what music and performance can be. Most often they have steered their ship through the idioms of folk and improv, to shout, sing and glisten at audiences from the UK to mainland Europe, Scandinavia to Canada. They have created music using the architectural surroundings in which they find themselves; coppice woods, abandoned abattoirs, paper mills, churches. Necessity has sometimes dictated duo performances of any permutation, always imbued with a sense of the missing member. Instruments are constantly swapped. Rarely performing in a conventional manner they often step away from the stage, to sing and holler a cappella amongst the audience. Acutely haunting, occasionally brutal and raucously joyous, their music always attempts to enchant and entrance, be it emotionally or physically.

 

“Sutari are Kasia Kapela, Basia Songin and Zosia Zembrzuska – a trio of young singers, instrumentalists and performers, each from different musical and theatrical backgrounds, who come together to continue the tradition of home-made folk music. The Sutari project is a fusion of diverse music experiences and passions: they use a mixture of traditional instruments (violin, basetla and drum), and also make use of everyday objects, exploring their potential as musical devices – for instance, a hand mixer, grater, bottles and a wrench… kitchen avant-garde!

“They explore deep vocal harmony traditions, searching for the essence and hidden character of traditional songs, whilst exploring themes of femininity in folklore. Their compositions are based on Polish and Lithuanian folk songs; and they are particularly inspired by the sound and character of Lithuanian Sutartines, sung only by women in perfect harmony. An affecting and elegant fusion of traditional folk, theatrical flair and contemporary mood music.”



 

There are a couple of support acts along the way. In Nottingham, the support comes from Sarsa Awayes – a Nottingham-based Polish spoken word artist. In Colchester, it’s Sally Currie – a.k.a. The Dyr Sister (where “dyr” is Old Norse for “deer”). A Hull-born “multi-instrumental cervine beat mistress”, she “conjures up surreal tales with the aid of viola, synth, mandolin her voice and an array of DIY samples. Performing her catalogue of haunting, ethereal, modern day folk songs as a one-woman band, she paints a fascinating canvas of sound.”


 
Dates:

  • Colchester Arts Centre, Church Street, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1NF, England, Tuesday 10th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Norwich Arts Centre, 51 St Benedicts Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 4PG, England, Wednesday 11th July 2018, 8.30pm – information here and here
  • (secret location), Bow, London, England, Thursday 12th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Maze, 257 Mansfield Road, Nottingham, NG1 3FT, England, Friday 13th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • The New Adelphi Club, 89 De Grey Street, Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, HU5 2RU, England, Saturday 14th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Leeds Polish Centre, Newton Hill Road, Leeds, Yorkshire, LS7 4JE, England, Sunday 15th July 2018, 4.00pm – information here and here
  • Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street, Oxford, OX1 3SD, England, Monday 16th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

 

July 2018 – two eclectic London music evenings – SOIF Soiree with Society Of Imaginary Friends, Jennifer Bliss Bennett, Dekay Ex, Stone Deep, Outre Dan Steele and William Summers (6th July); Rude Mechanicals with John Callaghan, Hypnotique and Rotten Bliss (13th July)

3 Jul

SOIF Soiree, 6th July 2018

The last Society Of Imaginary Friends Soiree for the summer is cartwheeling into view. I smashed two or three of their Beat-y burbles together to bring you this:

“Friday 6th July is our 21st Century Avant Garde Soiree at Karamel, N22. We have in store for you a magnificent exploration of 21st Century new and experimental music with incredible performers already lined up. The fabulous, supremely talented Jennifer Bliss Bennett will be performing master composer Martin Gaughan’s pieces for voice and bass viol: a must hear. There’ll be an appearance from the one-and-only Dekay Ex (queen of the underground urban music arena, virtuosic battle rapper superstar) with guest musician Gerard; and brand new dark intriguing soul music from Stone Deep.

“The multi-talented Darren and Isobel Hirst will be performing as the fascinating, spellbinding duo Outre Dan Steele, and the amazing William Summers (Circulus, Princes In The Tower, Mediaeaval Baebes and innumerable period/Baroque ensembles) will be performing 20th century recorder music. Plus us, the Society Of Imaginary Friends, and that’s just for starters. Delicious vegan food and unbelievably free entry.”

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
21st Century Avant Garde Soiree: Society Of Imaginary Friends + Jennifer Bliss Bennett + Dekay Ex + Stone Deep + Outre Dan Steele + William Summers
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 6th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

A few examples of the evening’s entertainment:




 
* * * * * * * *

There’s no August Soiree (since the Society will be either on holiday or concentrating on their appearances at the Green Gathering festival in Chepstow), but there should be more of these evenings in the coming autumn.

However, you can make up for their upcoming London summer absence with an evening of music and video hosted by Cos Chapman’s Rude Mechanicals, and taking place in a onetime Dalston dance school turned into arty pub and hangout space…

Rude Mechanicals + John Callaghan + Hypnotique + Rotten Bliss, 13th july 2018

“The art-rock inspired Rude Mechanicals have been compared to Nick Cave, The Tiger Lillies, early Roxy Music and Can and described as post-punk, swamp blues and dark cabaret – altogether creating a music that was best be described by Tom Robinson (on BBC6) as “wild, wicked weirdness… a little bit Flying Lizards, a little bit Native Hipsters and a great deal like nothing you’ve heard before…” The evening will feature the premiere of MHG Music Videos’s animated video for Rude Mechanical’s ‘Paperwork’.”

Meanwhile, here’s something a little older…


 
“Originally hailing from Birmingham, John Callaghan is an unusual songwriter and performer of thoughtful and spiky electronica. His self-directed video for ‘I’m Not Comfortable Inside My Mind’ aired on MTV. His live performances are energetic and imaginative, and range from one-man auto-karaoke shows to specially-written dancefloor sets. Recent well-received shows have included London’s Spitz, Ginglik and Electrowerks, Cambridge’s Portland Arms, Crystal Palace Bowl and last year’s jaunt around Germany, including Berlin’s Club 103 and Bar 25 and Hamburg’s Golden Pudel. He is 173cm tall, weights 73kg and has a blood pressure of 110/60Hg.”


 
Hypnotique is a thereministe, electronic musician and auteur based in London whose lyrical subjects range from the apocalypse, post-feminism, erotic narrative and allotments. She’s performed solo shows at Edinburgh Fringe, worked with Gong and The Heliocentrics, toured the Amazon and annoyed Simon Cowell. She’ll be performing her live sound design for Georges Méliès 1902 film ‘Voyage de la Luna’ (‘Trip to the Moon’)…”
…which she’s previously and recently also done at a Colliding Lines film evening: find out more about that here.


 
“Described last year as “a thing of disquieting dark beauty rolling in through a ghostly fog on timeless ripples whose ebbing wash peels back the years to reveal a vintage crafted in archaic folk tongues” by Mark Barton of ‘The Sunday Experience‘ (and, by ‘The Wire’ as a writer of “coarse and beautifully heavy songs (betraying) hallmarks of folk, metal and classical without subscribing to any particular tribe”), Rotten Bliss is the violent, warm and weird visions of London based avant-garde electric cellist and vocalist Jasmine Pender. Equally inspired by the wild physicality of Jacqueline du Pre and the shrieking glory of a cello played through FX pedals, Rotten Bliss packs diverse influences into an elemental voyage of outer-limits FX-laden drones, weird folk and sound art, raging from tender a capella lyrical fantasies through to ecstatic nihilism.

“Jasmine performs regularly around London, also playing in 11th Hour Adventists (with Jowe Head, ex-Swell Maps) and False Echo (with Tim Bowen, ex-Chrome Hoof) and has toured England, France, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. Her debut album, ‘The Nightwatchman Sings’, was released in October 2017 on the Reverb Worship label.”

 
Also on hand for the inbetween bits are DJs Enri, Blue and MJ Ultra, and Rude Mechanicals are bribing any advance tickets buyers with the promise of a “free unique, special edition CD and badge”.

Rude Mechanicals present:
‘Paperwork!’ – featuring Rude Mechanicals + John Callaghan + Hypnotique + Rotten Bliss + DJ Enri + DJs Blue & MJ Ultra
Farr’s School Of Dancing, 17-19 Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England
Friday 13th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

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