Historic Spitalfields @ Charnel House, Raven Row Gallery, Wilkes St., Dennis Severs' House

Historic, melodic, majestic

photo: James Berry

I was appointed Runner at this year's Spitalfields Summer Music Festival; which does not only mean I get to run around carrying flyers and mic stands. I also get to sneak into crypts and travel in time capsules! Well, sort of...
The idea behind Historic Spitalfields was to set up a series of miniature concerts at historic places which lay within a few steps (around... or down under!) the market. These five inspiring, time-defying destinations were chosen to welcome the Royal Academy of Music students and composers, tonight's music makers:
photo: James Berry
Charnel House. The crypt of the chapel of St Mary Magdalene and St Edmund the Bishop, built in 1320 and rediscovered during excavations in 1999.
Raven Row Gallery.  A contemporary art space constructed in Artillery Lane (known as Raven Row until 1895) within 18th century domestic rooms.
The Andaz Hotel Masonic Temple. A century-old, Grecian-style temple with marble columns, a zodiac ceiling and throne-like mahogany chairs hidden behind its studded doors.
Dennis Severs' house. The unlikely lair of an artist dedicated in providing his visitors with the unique experience of stepping into a still-life 18th century painting. A time capsule in disguise!
Number 14 of Wilkes St. The old house came to offer an atmospheric replacement to the Routemaster bus that... run out on the festival the last minute.
My Runner duties keep me mostly under the Bishops Square canopy (and, occasionally, under the rain), but I do get to have a lucky sneak preview. 
photo: James Berry
Accessed through an almost imperceptible door on the wall, Charnel House is game in all its' historic significance! Classical guitarist Manus Nobel has already taken a seat on the gravel, a few steps further down through the debris. You could easily spot him through the glass-and-steel skylight, if you happened to be passing by. He's warming up for some classic Dowland, as well as Laurie Bamon's world premiere of Charnel House; a contemporary piece which borrows the name, as well as the mysteries of this otherworldly place.
Slightly jealous of the steward staying behind, I make my way towards Dennis Severs' house - which is an even bigger treat!
I simply can't get enough of this time-resistant ambiance. Packed with 18th century paraphernalia, the rooms behind the enigmatic front door don't give out a clue as to the modern routine going on in the surrounding Spitalfields streets. The smell, the dim light, every carefully designed detail travel me to an unknown time and place; a voyage that breaks by the fact that I brought a flimsy stand to baroque cellist Emily Smith... I have to leave this beautifully absurd three-dimensional painting behind, but I still got to walk it. Your "Still-Life Drama" is so full-on Dennis Severs!

photo: James Berry

My tasks, eventually, bring me to the Raven Row Gallery, where I happily get to see composer Phil Dawson and saxophonist Daniel Czwartos in action. Raven Row comprises two modern art spaces disguising their 18th century past behind immaculate white paint. It's there, in room one, that the musicians set up their gear to play a traditional VS contemporary cocktail uniting the gallery's past with its' present: Thomas Arne's flamboyant 1756 Keyboard Sonata in F major (he was a popular British composer at the time, thanks to his operas and songs like God Save the King); and Dawson's own On Tenterhooks - another world premiere.
As the latter comes forth to present his piece, we find out that tenterhooks were used to stretch woollen cloth first; and then... to torture people! His goal was to recreate feelings of stress and angst that connect both with the phrase on tenterhooks, as well as with the Spitalfields riots of 1769 (which were partly cause by the demise of the silk-weaving trade). Czwartos' saxophone plays the role of the machine evoking sounds from an 18th century trading house, while Dawson keeps busy stretching these sounds with electronics - 'like a sonic contortionist", as he puts it. Metaphor and resonance at their fullest, with time and sound interweaving in one eloquent music statement.
photo: James Berry
It's with great pleasure - and a historic riot still on my mind - that I wait for the two musicians to gather their gear, in order tow lead them towards 14 Wilkes St. ...Unfortunately, not in time for the concert, as we hear the last notes from Rehana Browne's flute on the hallway between the kitchen and the stairs.
While, ten minutes later, the Historic Spitalfields wanderers meet in the street with the Jack the Ripper tour fans (it is his old neighbourhood after all!) we say goodbye.
It's the majestic dusk - and it's full of history, music and food for the mind and the heart...

photo: James Berry

Neil Cowley Trio, Polar Bear @ Village Underground

Spitalfields Music Crash 


photo: James Berry
 Two bands similar in philosophy but different in attitude joined the Village Underground stage, courtesy of the Spitafields Summer Music Festival.
As an extrovert and experimentalist, pianist Neil Cowley showed himself to be a unique entertainer. Meddling catchy extracts from his third album, Radio Silence and tunes that wittily “may be called Spitafields Road Crash”, he gave a sweeping rollercoaster performance. His whimsical piano dynamics met with an equally playful double bass and drums in a show that, much to the audience's delight, remained unpredictable throughout.

photo: James Berry

Embracing the more esoteric and idiosyncratic aspect of jazz, Polar Bear managed to successfully juggle a plethora of sounds: Two saxophones, drums, guitar, double bass, laptop and the odd... balloon interweaved their unusual noises and melodies, each adding a piece to the band's adventurous music puzzle.
From Cowley's comic flair and unbeatable energy to the Bear's mystical film noir atmospheres, the night covered a sonic palette full of colour – and, above all, exceptional British talent, much to Spitafields Music credits. Be sure to catch them live - wherever you are.
Review by Danai Molocha, a.k.a. rockets4solitude, for Live At Your Local, www.liveatyourlocal.org.uk

Nonclassical @ Bishops Square

Mercury, Wolf and other oddities


photo: KASH creative
Nonclassical gets temporarily adopted by Spitafields Music Festival, tacked under its' widely eclectic umbrella of events - and under Bishops Square's canopy, to be more specific. Its' mission is to fill up lunch time with music generated by the label's exciting group of up-and-coming artists. A concept that nonchalantly brings together professionals from the surrounding offices, rastafarians, mums with strollers and cool Old Spitafields Market aficionados who take a rest in the nearby benches.
Gabriel Prokofiev created this decidedly adventurous label to bring unusual, genre-defying music to an audience that doesn't like to be restricted in typical concert halls, but would rather listen in a club with a pint of beer within reach. During lunch time at the square not much beer is flowing around, obviously, but plenty of coffee and sandwhiches offering that same cooled-down, free-spirited attitude that welcomes everyone to come and discover music without boundaries. That is the point, and it's free of charge.

Mercury Quartet first take the miniature stage on Monday the 13th. An ensemble sharing Kronos Quartet's sense of adventure, but adding piano, clarinet and sax to the latter's strings-only recipe. Pieces from the quartet's debut release Mercury Acoustic meet Messiaen's Quartet For The End of Time, in a fascinating ride from improvisation to 20th century classical melodies.
Peter Gregson takes over on Tuesday, introducing Gabriel Prokofiev's Suite for Cello and Electronics next to Max Richter and Johann Johannsson melodies. The serene sonic sceneries typical of Johannsson's are rather difficult to grasp (or even hear at all) in a busy square with the wind blowing, and the lack of crescendos eventually makes my attention drift.
photo: Gerald Jenkins
Consortium5, five young women armed with an array of contemporary and replica baroque recorders take their turn on Wednesday and quickly manage to get that attention back. Despite the weather's tantrums, a bit of Purcell and excerpts from their acclaimed Nonclassical release Tangled Pipes prove quite popular with the crowd.
Pianist Will Dutta, with Richard Lannoy on turntables (Mr DJ along with Prokofiev at concert breaks) mix music from UK electronic duo Plaid, Max de Wardener and Dutta himself adding edge to a typical grey Thursday.
Against the uncooperative weather altogether, the week ended with a smash: You Are Wolf, Sarah Dacey and Laura Moody mingled vocals with a loop station, electronics and cello respectively, covering a wide musical spectrum from (Non)classical to Dolly Parton. Laura Moody, especially, gave me the impression that we were in for something different at soundcheck - and not necessarily in a good way; but let's blame it on the moody cold. Seeing her actual performance, reminiscent of PJ Harvey's dynamic, idiosyncratic delivery and Tori Amos's theatrics, made me an absolute fan after all.
The true Nonclassical extravaganza, though, is coming up in July (23/7), at a multi-storey car park in Peckham, where a 102 musicians will perform Stravinsky's ground breaking Rite of Spring (http://riteofspringproject.tumblr.com/).
Impressive staff - and it's all for free.

Crystal Stilts, Still Corners, The 1990s @ Xoyo

Listen to oblivion


I've been interested in seeing what the Stilts have to say live since I first listened to their debut Alight of Night (wasn't everybody into this kind of nugaze reverb psychedelia?).
This was the night... Two support bands, one industrial cool underground club and a new album, In Love With Oblivion, to highlight my meeting with the headliners at long last.

When first Still Corners hit the stage I can't say I was enthused. Ah, another band with a cute dreamy pop singer (how many Isobel Campbells and Jane Birkins can we take?), playing their charm card and ending any sonic excitement right there on the mic. Luckily - for us and for them - song No2 brought quick enough the revelation that Still Corners are a beautiful band through and through. Their noir pop didn't carry any wild originality with it (and it doesn't have to), but it travelled me afar with an emotive cinematic power that was their own (since romantic retro vocals are not my thing, my credits went mostly to the guitar). All defences down, I ended up loving every minute.

The Glaswegians 1990s, on the other hand, sounded pretty promising on paper - and they were, for most people in the audience. But not me. Even though the vocals were spat out a la Richard Hell (and that's as good as it gets in my book), or the New York Dolls, all their glam-wham-bam just didn't do it for me. They have their third album coming up - new single (My Baby's) Double Espresso wasn't all that bad. Let's just say I'm more of a double jag of filter coffee kind of girl.
So, to move on to my stars for the night...
First, I would like here to clear out that I'm not a Jesus And Mary Chain fan (I only crack up with Crackin' Up). And even though I love distortion the My Bloody Valentine / A Place To Bury Strangers way, most reverb in my eyes only tries to make up for the lack of sensation in the band's sound or the singer's pipes.

The sexy garage power of the Stilts had made me cut through that feeling up to now. Pretty curious to see what they had come up with in their sophomore recording attempt.
We already knew Shake the Shackles, and it was pure guitar wizardry. I hadn't admired a guitarist live for a long time - since And Also The Trees' Justin Jones had me staring in jaw dropping awe a year ago; but there you have it JB Townsend. I can hardly judge guitar potential to an impressive Conoscenti level, but his heart translated to skill and vice versa - and that was good enough for me. The band takes a few noisy steps away from the romantic gloom of the Trees, but that sound (and I'm not even an expert to say if it was a mandolin-guitar sound, but it certainly reminded me of both the mandolin and the Greek bouzouki) was pretty close.

I'm not crazy about Hargett's vocals, by the way - too lazy, happy to get over-buried in reverb (do you lack skill Hargett? Speak up!!). But sexy moments like the album's opener Sycamore Tree and Blood Barons (Townsend, you rule!) made my night.
I have yet to listen to In Love With Oblivion enough times to judge if I like it better than Alight of Night.

But I will say this: Once the guitar kicks in, it's a no-brainer.

Photography by rockets4solitude, a.k.a. Danai Molocha

Current 93 @ Queen Elizabeth Hall

Black flips ate the mind


To simply speak about how beautifully they played their vocal card - and guitars and piano and percussion - is way too shallow for a band like Current 93.
Not that they don't deserve a really in depth musical mention. But when David Tibet - and all that blessed company of his - hit the stage, there's only one thing that possesses the mind: impassioned paranoia. In perfect experimental neofolk (and whatever else they call them) unison.
Tibet orchestrates the ensemble, no doubt, but the way they all manage to deliver those all-time melodies that strike a chord beyond control is mind-boggling.

James Blackshaw - what an amazing addition to this ever changing line-up. Don't just limit yourselves to his guitar work - try his solo piano concerts for a change.
Baby Dee - what an individual seamlessly integrating her unique personality into Tibet's vision. I noticed how a click of hers made all the difference, creating heart-breaking sensibility from one single and silly high note; and that's owed to the songwriter's genius, as much as her own soul spilling in perfect tune with the
There was a really young guitarist who joined in for a few songs. Pays justice to their eclecticism.. He probably left early to go to sleep (curfew in effect).
In the posh Queen Elizabeth Hall not many heads were moving and not many bodies were swaying in their seats (try next to none; well, mine was).
Current 93, well, they are not for everybody. Definitely not for the faint-hearted and the so-and-so.
Somebody in the end commented, "wow, loads of passion here". You got it. I had been looking for people that burn and shiver like Current. Ninety three burns and ninety three shivers with every verse that make your head flip and your heart spin. And when it's all over, you don't know how to live without. How do you really get back to life, where things don't twist and turn the way that makes every moment purposeful?

I appreciated Honeysuckle Aeons and their other latest stuff better (though once more, they left me hanging not including my favourite Niemandwasser - their king of hearts, as I like to call it).
But I appreciated living life to the full even more. Like David's friend Sebastian, who died. Who, as David said, had jackets with little pockets for heroine syringes.
Either way... Wake up!

Spanner Jazz Punks @ Round Midnight


Anarcho-Gallic madness

From the moment the septet crammed into Round Midnight's mini stage you could tell something intriguing was going to happen. The band's fashions – Trilby hats, black and white check designs, orange boots, stripy flip-flops – were pretty telling. Especially considering the multiple influences and diverse origins of the music that was about to follow.
A theatrical figure reminiscent of Tiger Lillies' Martyn Jacques and Ian Dury, Dan Spanner led the band in sounds that colourfully blended Jazz, Ska, Balkan beats, Blues and Hip Hop, but also dancing, circus and Vaudeville.Upbeat original rhythms like Sunday Arak (sang in French) and Punk Jazz Spanner met with covers such as Tom Waits' Raindogs. Hollow Man captured attention with a symphony of spooky voices, while instrumentals like Medicine showed off the band's strong horn section.
The septet had a few dedicated followers that formed quirky dances with every new sonic cocktail. To others, though, the changes in rhythm and style were baffling. All things considered, the band's signature eclecticism can add some flair to the show; but it's mostly in the traditional sounds of the horns where their true talent and the best part of their performance lies.

 Review and picture by Danai Molocha, a.k.a. rockets4solitude, for www.liveatyourlocal.org.uk

Jamie Woon @ Shepherd's Bush Empire

Woon the swoon

He hardly... swooned me, that (S)Woon. His soulful R&B lament was plain pain to my ears, making it really hard for me to understand what that acclaimed recent debut (that's Mirrorwriting) was all about. Of course, I could just as easily be prejudiced, as I simply can't understand this kind of music - i.e. softly moaning and groaning about romances; if you wanna groan, groooaannn man!...
But just as I thought that nothing could avert the audience from screaming madly in
tune with his every soul-burning chorus (enter Night Air), there's a small chance it was equally torn. A conclusion I derive from the fact that someone came to inform me there was a bunch of attendees calling him "loser" by the bar.
The massive singalongs and the swaying body of fans that followed his cover of Would I Lie To You - the '90s super hit of that other freaky pop-soul duo, Charles & Eddie - was enough to give me nightmares. Though, I have to say, this swoon a la Woon was far better.
What really did add to the show for us annoyed bystanders was the beautiful work effectuated by the lighting team- an absolute booster for the modern crooning that was dancing in the air.
If I could have just watched that with soundtrack from, let's say, Parov Stelar, we'd be talking perfection...

Jukebox Fury @ Stoke Newington Town Hall

The music that opened minds

Four of Britain's most accomplished and adventurous music writers were invited by Stoke Newington Literary Festival to present their choice of ground breaking songs which inspired them to write about music.
Enigmatically refereed by Stoke Newington Librarian and past life, ex Buzzcocks-manager, Richard Boon, who beckoned his wife to play the grammy from the Gods and cast the deciding vote of HIT or MISS.

Who's My Generation, (Charles Shaar Murray ) was an undoubted HIT! And  despite it's psyched up rhythm,  reminded him of Dylan's Times They Are A-Changing. A rather awkward speaker, Simon Reynolds went for Sex Pistols-Bodies, and spoke of Punk's “evil” and its' infinite vocab of bad words.
Paul Morley felt it had made him "want to go and immediately and cut his hair”!  He then chose - Buzzcocks' Boredom – then voted it a... MISS!  A great example of “how a band's deficiencies can be a fantastic thing”,  (Simon).
Final strike, Lucy's Planet Claire. She loved how the B 52s embraced “the fluorescent side of punk”.
Despite the buzzing guitar riffs, the provocative lyrics and edgy pop attitude, Jukebox Fury failed to connect with its' audience. We wanted to see more witty interaction between the panel and hear more music! And why couldn't we have HIT/MISS cards to choose too??
They did give us food for thought.  Punk opened up minds. But what about the legacy of music press branding?

Review and photography by Danai Molocha, aka rockets4solitude for www.liveatyourlocal.org.uk/music

The Kills @ The Roundhouse

No, you ain't born typical


I like The Kills. I've been watching them since moment one.
That's why it stroke me as a bit sad that thanks (but no thanks) to Jamie Hince's affair with some unknown model that goes by the name of Kate Moss, the band's raw sexual energy turned overnight into a trend. Along with women's magazines trying to fit Alison Mosshart into any other rock chick's shoes.
Luckily, for the true fans, she doesn't seem to give a f*** all that much (we certainly hope she doesn't). She keeps on hiding behind black layers of clothes and black layers of hair, flying from side to side with brutal energy.
More on the rock steady side on stage, Hince somehow manages to send out the same amounts of heat and sweat.
This year's Blood Pressures - their fourth album - was the gig's focus. And it's good but, frankly, it fails to raise the same passions, the same viciousness, the same dirt to its audience, no matter the band's efforts for a thunderous live rendition. Inevitably, older hits like U.R.A. Fever (from 2008's Midnight Boom) won the award of the night's biggest crowd pleasers. You could tell, unfortunately, by the screaming beauties giving it a go right behind us. High in volume - but with a quality that said "liking The Kills makes me Kate Moss" (sorry, girls).
So be it. As long as they keep their eyes on the two of them and the two of them only, this duo rocks.

...And, to turn the spotlight on another duo, which came on first, Cat's Eyes - Mr. Faris Bodwan of The Horrors and soprano/multi-intrumentalist Rachel Zaffira brought a beautiful record (of the same name) artfully up on stage. My only objection comes for that unbelievably snobby (or plainly indifferent? which is equally bad) live presence that undermines anything Horror-esque. This project's musical credits do give Bodwan and co the excuse to play it serious. The duo's melodic outreach - with Zaffira's Siren voice and keyboard harmonies - and relative calmness do stand for themselves. But to see their guitarist (of unknown origin for the time being) chewing gum and looking around like he's waiting in line at the supermarket basically pisses me off. And it spoils the fun...

The Zombies @ Shepherd's Bush Empire

Moments in Time


I was among the few people (under the age of 50, at least) that were actually looking forward to seeing The Zombies.
Their tunes have always hidden a cool sexual energy in their retro romanticism. And after the instrumental part they played in Thomas Vinterberg's 2005 film Dear Wendy - where they provided the main source of inspiration for the teenage gun-addicts The Dandies -  The Zombies found their way back into our hearts in the '00s; not that they ever had left in the first place.
So, there we were, waiting to see the band back on stage for it's 50th anniversary.
And, boy, did they look it! Frankly, looking at them couldn't help but bring to mind those '80s comedies where some old, decrepit wannabe rockers grab the guitars and cause... havoc. It was far from havoc, but seeing Colin Blunstone open his arms to the public singing God Gave Rock'n'Roll To You (and the public's voice could hardly come out, let me tell you!) WAS pretty comical.
You'd think sitting there laughing was all I was doing at The Zombies that Friday night, but I actually found myself astounded at their lasting musical ability. Cause behind those wrinkly, long gone looks, beautiful songs as hell kept coming out the one after the other - and we're not only talking classic gems like Time of The Season and She's Not There.
Songs like Moment in Time or Any Other Way, from new album Breathe Out, Breathe In established the band's ability to find true psycho-beauty and honest rock feeling in their melodies, craftily putting them down in notes for all to share. Rod Argent is no doubt in top song-writing form.
I was deeply moved. Those men really got the magic, 50 years on...

In The Nursery @ The Barbican

Man With A Movie Camera Vs Men With Laptops


A lazy Sunday afternoon welcomed us at the Barbican - under the dark sheal of the theatre on a bright, windy day.
Admittedly, a scene likely to make you prone to sleep.
Luckily there was plenty of avant garde film extravaganza (or, should I say... extravantgarda?) and on-screen Dadaism, doubling up with the emotive power in In The Nursery's music to keep us awake for the 68 min. duration of Dziga Vertov's silent masterpiece.
A monologue in black and white shots of daily life in Moscow - and though it was the year 1929, there was enough nude, and even a woman giving birth in close-up.
Suprematism in Russian painting had preceded this film by over a decade but, still, I couldn't help but feel surprised that art in Russia - bold, innovative and soulful, simultaneously, was way ahead of its' time.
In The Nursery's music has established it's cinematic quality over the years; still, my previous live experience, with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari playing in the big screen, was an itchy bit sleepy... Luckily, Man With A Movie Camera found the Sheffield duo in much better shape. Daily routine in Moscow seemed to inspire much more melodic sensibility - and power, in them than Dr Caligari's horrors - and they expressed themselves accordingly.
I can't unfortunately say I didn't slightly drift, with the relaxing music and the succession of images dancing me into short moments of afternoon siesta; but I still thought it was rather my own tiredness (and my friends' too - coincidentally, I hope!)  that brought up the effect and not the goings-on (or the absence of them) on screen and on stage.
Viva Vertov. In The Nursery... way to go.

Cults @ Rough Trade East

Most Wanted


I  hadn't heard of Cults till their Album of the Month slot at Rough Trade East put them in the picture (and all over the place).
The New York duo and their accompanying musicians took over the stage and earned our respect with the following talents:
1) To have a sense of humour. Especially that Mr Brian Oblivion. It doesn't come easy with up-and-coming bands. They're way too serious crawling into their game of fame and fortune to even think of cracking a joke.

  2) To have the looks of Keira Knightley - the Madeline Follin indie slacker way; and for some strange reason...
3) To sing like a much soulful and introspective Gwen Stefani - or where she would have been if she hadn't been too busy playing Sports Spice-the ska version and American show-off Harajukus. And...
4) To actually bring to mind vocals a la Madonna's Like A Virgin phase - down to earth and black clad. And with a '60s girl-group crush.

That said, and even though the above qualities draw me in, their romantic pop side isn't quite my cuppa. Luckily, there's a dark, menacing streak lurking here that gives Cults all the edge they need.
...And when Madeline sings up high, heart in hands, then yeah, we really Know What She Means.

The kids are alright.

Photography by rockets4solitude