Monday, 16 April 2012

Friday, 13 April 2012

Heart & Lung Unit, LVPO, Soho (4.4.2012)

A visit to the Heart & Lung Unit might well be a place you wouldn’t normally want to go to, but the treatment on this once a month night is comedy and music, and the prognosis is a bloody good time.  I’d found out about this event having met one of the organisers Glenn Guest at a Spoonful of Poison gig.  Glenn liked my poet loops mix enough to invite me to come down and play his night, and although I normally only play London on the back of work, this invite sounded like one not to be missed.   I booked a cheap ticket on and found a shit hole of a B&B for thirty quid and was on my way, though I nearly didnt get there.

Let the chaos begin!

After weeks of beautiful sunshine, on the day I was due to go to London, it snowed - BIG TIME!  I looked out the window in the morning and there was a foot of snow on the ground and the traffic had all but stopped.  This was after two weeks of glorious sunshine.  I could hardly believe my eyes, or the bad timing, but I understood the way these things work – from chaos comes order, and after a few hours the gritter lorries sprung into action and the commuters had all turned round and gone home, so the roads were clear.  The show must go on.

Some hours later I arrived to a warm welcome at the upmarket LVPO just off Shaftsbury road with my pal Buck Theorom (phot right).  Buck is a talented writer and musician who plays in a number of bands including Lunar Engine and Book of Buzz.  Buck and I had arranged to do a one off musical collaboration and worked out a track whereby I would produce the live electronics, and Buck would come up with the words – all without a rehearsal.  It could all go horribly wrong, but I like that kind of risk, when you’re not quite sure what will happen next, as per my recent experience at Manchester's Hotch Potch.

By the way, while I think of it, here's a link to Buck's book:

Heart and Lung takes place in the basement bar which is a small space into which a friendly audience had gathered by the time I'm on the mic.  It’s a bit of a musical first for me as this is the only time I’ve taken the whole kaoss rig down to the big smoke.  I got the loops coming out of the loops and the poetry followed.  I played ‘Here come the words’, ‘Good year for the spiders’, ‘The Smells of London’ and ‘Disappeared Friend’.  Then Buck joined me for an improvised ending with something that had never been played before, and it worked surprisingly well.

Now let me tell you this, London can be a tough gig for outsiders, and I’ve played some of those gigs, places where the beautiful people gather and they don’t want their lovely ways polluting with the likes of me.  Superficiality reigns supreme and performances are judged by the latest fashion or who is present in the room.  Places where the performers are consumed by the desire for fame and frozen by the fear of it.

Thankfully, the Heart and Lung Unit is not one of those nights, just like the wonderful Spoonful of Poison, it has the feel of an all embracing environment where the variety of acts on offer are wide ranging and hand-picked for quality, and an audience willing to give anything a listen appreciate the difference, appreciate the openness, and even appreciate the moments when everything collapses into chaos and improvised madness.  I guess what I’m saying is, I couldn’t have asked for a better audience than the one me and Buck got on this night in London.

Buck and I are followed onto stage by Russell Swallow & The Wolf, a classy acoustic two piece combining electric piano and guitar.  Unfortunately, Buck and I missed the first half of their set on account of getting hugs from a cowgirl in the back stage area.  Ant Smith follows with some in your face comedy and poetry that challenges any delusions you might have had that this was a middle of the road sort of a night.  Glenn (who is also compere for the night) describes Ant as a marmite poet/comic and he's right about that judging by the deeply mixed response to his set.  Catherine Paver (the friendly cowgirl) plays some unique songs about horses and throws in some effective reverb for good measure, and then paradies a Kate Bush song (see picture left) about the frozen North, but doesn't mention the snow.  The dinner party rapper The Duke!! Duke Hancock combines jazz backing tapes with pieces of comedy spoken word such as "The Revolution will be Available for Download!" and to finish Eccentronic, described by Glenn as a lunatic couple in shell suits, take us through a set they are working on for the Edinburgh fringe.

The formula is a simple one at the Heart and Lung Unit and it comes in the shape of 3 bands, 3 comics for 3 quid, and the night has the feel of something that is evolving into bigger and better things.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Art Farmers Open Mic, New Beehive Inn, Bradford (14.3.2012)

There is something good happening in Bradford right now.  For starters, there’s a brave new monthly magazine called ‘HowDo’ (see cover shot of Issue 3 below) that is establishing itself as a positive voice for arts and entertainment in the city.  HowDo describes itself as an inclusive cultural magazine by the people of Bradford, that gives a platform for expression and a means to communicate cultural happenings.  Then there is the intriguingly titled group of ‘Art Farmers’ – a collective of like minded artists, musicians and creatives who have dedicated themselves to putting Bradford firmly on the cultural map, and have also established this once a month open mic at The New Beehive, on the outskirts of the city centre (see poster left).

If you’ve read my book, or any of my other blog posts, you’ll know that I have a preference for the eclectic and varied open mic night.  So the Art Farmers Open Mic had immediate appeal to me, the name suggested something curious and different – growing your own music and entertainment in a unique micro-climate.

The New Beehive is a wonderful venue and one in which the decor and dim lighting worked together in a way that made me feel like smoking had never been banned and gin was still sixpence a bottle.  I went back in time when I entered its old world rooms and only the wall paintings gave the game away, as the images of famous rock stars and singers are scattered randomly around the bar.  

I get talking to Doug Thompson who is a key person behind the Bradford uprising and HowDo magazine.  An artist in his own right, he is also a serial networker and before long I’ve been introduced to a sculptor, a graphic designer, a poet and a musician.  Time slips by through interesting conversations and then I notice all the seats are taken, and there’s little in the way of standing room, the place has nicely filled up with performers and listeners alike.

The compere, a skilled musician by the name of Jerrad Barraclough (pictured below with hat) kicks off the night with a song called Fat Chance.  Then Jerrad introduces the next guy as Harris, who takes us through a story song about stalking the Deli Lamar, which goes down a treat.  Ben Clarke reads two poems, the first is a clever piece called Epidermis and the second is called Waiting for Breakfast.   The poetry gets a good hearing at this open mic, which isn’t always the case at music open mics, but you get the feeling here that the audience are up for anything and will give everything a fair proper listen.

A singer called Ben is joined by a cajon player and its always good to hear a bit of rhythm moving things along.  Toes are tapping and heads are nodding, except for one guy in the corner who a little worse for wear, has fallen asleep at his pint.   Then Steve Pass reads a treat of a three minute story about a lad who was sent to school with pig tails, presumably through a misguided attempt by his parents to toughen him up.  When he finally gets his way and has the pig tails removed the piss taking doesn't stop, it just gets worse, as all his fellow pupils snear ‘Where’s your hair gone Piggy Becky?'  It’s easy to listen to something like this and not appreciate how much work goes into the words and I’d like to hear more short stories of this quality at open mics.

Then it was my turn and I played ‘A Good Year for the Spiders’ and ‘Smells of London’ and was knocked out by a positive response.  I mean you can never be sure what people will make of the live electronics mixed with spoken/sung words and I've had my fair share of knock backs, so it felt good to be appreciated for my efforts and I even got to play an encore.

After Poet & the Loops there’s a full band fronted by Sam, who had been doing the sound, they play some upbeat blues and ska tunes.  And then a singer called Katheryne (see pic below right), who it turns out has only played here once or twice before, plays some gentle and thoughtful pieces which the audience seem ready for.

There were more quality players too, but I'd fallen into an odd conversation with a drunk who took ages telling me of a place I should play somewhere I’d never heard of, and then finally got to the whole point of the conversation and asked me for a pound - "on a point of principle".  I'm still not sure what that principle was, but the band played on and it all felt like a very special kind of night, the type that doesn't come along very often, so I gave him his quid and he seemed happy at that.

There's some great things happening in Bradford right now courtesy of the Art Farmers and HowDo magazine.
[Photos courtesy of Douglas Thompson and Art Farmers Bradford]